Operating costs - Galley vs. Caravel

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,729
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Actually the galleys of the Mediterranian Sea had also sails. To this we should add that Venetian galleys didn't employ all slaves. Only the "sforzate" ones. A good part of the Venetian galleys embarked paid sailors [called "buonavoglia"].
 
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Actually the galleys of the Mediterranian Sea had also sails. To this we should add that Venetian galleys didn't employ all slaves. Only the "sforzate" ones. A good part of the Venetian galleys embarked paid sailors [called "buonavoglia"].
Wasn't it often just one or two lateen sails though? In other words a heck of a lot simpler to rig than something like a three-masted, mixed-rigged carrack?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,729
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Wasn't it often just one or two lateen sails though? In other words a heck of a lot simpler to rig than something like a three-masted, square-rigged carrack?
It depended on the kind of galley, anyway yes, generally the sails weren't impressive, but functional. In Italy we define them mixed propulsion vessels.

An other detail related to this discussion is the historical context: when?
Because at the beginning of their history, the caravels were considered suitable for expeditions of exploration, not for cargo carrying [the available room wasn't that wide, in reality, on an early caravel].

As for I know, in the XVI century it was the "caracca" the main cargo ship around and it was going to be substituted by the galleon.
 
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Aug 2019
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A bit of info on the economics of Venetian merchant galleys:

"Merchant galleys of the type that had carried precious goods for Venice since the early part of the fourteenth century were costly and safe, because of their large crews. But with continued improvements in the design of ships and rigging ... merchant galleys ceased to be economical. In 1513 the Venetian government recognized this fact by permitting round ships to load spices and other goods previously reserved for the merchant galleys of the muda. As a result, transport costs (not charges, necessarily) sank to about one-third their former level ... Old-fashioned merchant galleys were not abandoned at once; but when they lost their legal monopoly of the spice trade they lost their economic raison d'être and became unprofitable. The last muda sailed to Alexandria in 1535; thereafter Venice, like the rest of the world, depended solely on round ships, privately owned, for carrying trade goods."
source: 'Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797' by William H. McNeill, University of Chicago Press (1974), pg. 128
Another bit on their economics:

The great galley had always been so expensive a vessel that its freight rates had been double those of the round ships. As long as the galleys were so much safer that it was considered innecesary to insure the wares they carried, they could maintain their position. But when better rigging and the use of muskets and cannon deprived the merchant galley of their superior safety, it could no longer compete with the cheaper type of shipping.
Certainly the decline of the merchant galley fleets of Venice was out of all proportion to the decline of her trade. To some extent what had before 1535 been carried by the galleys was thereafter carried by round ships.

Brian Pullman. Crisis and Change in the Venetian Economy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.
 
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An other detail related to this discussion is the historical context: when?
In the op I said around the first half of the 16th century. I was curious about the transition era between late-medieval to early-modern.

Because at the beginning of their history, the caravels were considered suitable for expeditions of exploration, not for cargo carrying [the available room wasn't that wide, in reality, on an early caravel].

As for I know, in the XVI century it was the "caracca" the main cargo ship around and it was going to be substituted by the galleon.
Good point. I guess the reason I mentioned caravels in this thread is because they were a bit closer to galleys in sailing characteristics than carracks. Broadly generalising here, caravels and galleys were both known during this period for being relatively narrow, fast, and more maneuverable vessels, while the carracks tended to be more sluggish (in no small part due to those large superstructures). I know caravels are well known for their role in Atlantic exploration, but I thought I had seen some mentions of them also being used as merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. For example, page 269 of the book 'Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World: Illustrative Documents' (trans. R.S. Lopez and I.W. Raymond, Columbia University Press, 2001) mentions a caravel that was involved in a legal dispute over a cargo of wine it was carrying in Majorca.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,106
MD, USA
Broadly generalising here, caravels and galleys were both known during this period for being relatively narrow, fast, and more maneuverable vessels, while the carracks tended to be more sluggish (in no small part due to those large superstructures).
Oh, I tend to think of it a different way--warships of any sort being sleeker and faster, merchant ships being wider, deeper, slower. We also need to be a little careful with our terminology, since the differences between various sorts of sailing merchant vessels may have been more vague than we tend to think!

I know caravels are well known for their role in Atlantic exploration, but I thought I had seen some mentions of them also being used as merchant vessels in the Mediterranean.
Explorers didn't use exploration vessels, they just used merchant ships! I suspect there were plenty of people or even sailors who never heard of Columbus and his adventuring cronies. Sure, Columbus found that certain types of hull and rig were better for crossing the Atlantic and nosing around the Carribean, but they were all just various merchant ships.

Matthew
 

AlpinLuke

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Oct 2011
27,729
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The caravel was a development of a ship used by fishers and it kept on being used in that way without problems. The fact that it suffered of lack of room doesn't mean that they didn't use it as a cargo ship [it's true that they used what was available ...]. It was the almost contemporary development of wider vessels to make the caravel more suitable for explorations [bigger and slower vessels were obviously preferred to transport goods].
 
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Oh, I tend to think of it a different way--warships of any sort being sleeker and faster, merchant ships being wider, deeper, slower.
The Mary Rose and the Great Harry were warships; I wouldn't consider them sleeker or faster than a caravel like the Niña. I think it's much more accurate to draw lines between ship classifications like galleys, carracks, and caravels, than broad categories like "warship" and "merchant ship".

Explorers didn't use exploration vessels, they just used merchant ships! I suspect there were plenty of people or even sailors who never heard of Columbus and his adventuring cronies. Sure, Columbus found that certain types of hull and rig were better for crossing the Atlantic and nosing around the Carribean, but they were all just various merchant ships.

Matthew
Yes, that's why I said I'd include caravels in a discussion about mercantile vessels, since afaik they were used in that role at times.
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,764
Portugal
Slaves aren't the kind of people I'd trust to do rigging work on a sailing ship.
Actually, the Portuguese and Spanish ships often had many slaves onboard, that sailed and fought side by side with their masters. Often in the chronicles we don’t even understand that they are slaves, until the point that the chronicler explicit states that he was a slave of x.

Oh, I tend to think of it a different way--warships of any sort being sleeker and faster, merchant ships being wider, deeper, slower. We also need to be a little careful with our terminology, since the differences between various sorts of sailing merchant vessels may have been more vague than we tend to think!
Quite true, we must be careful with the vague terminology of the time, often a term would refer to several different ships and the same term could mean different ships from a country to another. For instance the caravel, widely used in Portugal and in the south of Spain was a ship used for exploration, and quick voyages, while the round caravel was warship.

Explorers didn't use exploration vessels, they just used merchant ships! I suspect there were plenty of people or even sailors who never heard of Columbus and his adventuring cronies. Sure, Columbus found that certain types of hull and rig were better for crossing the Atlantic and nosing around the Carribean, but they were all just various merchant ships.
Many of the exploring voyages were also commercial enterprises that needed protection, so it is not surprising that many ships had all the features.

The first ship used to explore he West coast of Africa was the “barca”, soon replaced by the Caravel. Columbus learned to sail with this later ship when he was in Portugal, apparently most of his previous experience was with galleys.

The caravel was a development of a ship used by fishers and it kept on being used in that way without problems. The fact that it suffered of lack of room doesn't mean that they didn't use it as a cargo ship [it's true that they used what was available ...]. It was the almost contemporary development of wider vessels to make the caravel more suitable for explorations [bigger and slower vessels were obviously preferred to transport goods].
The first trade that Portugal made with West coast of Africa was with the Barca and then with the Caravel. So this were at the same time exploring, trading and military ships.

***

I have somewhere a book from the 16th century that refers the cost of the shipbuilding for Spain, and other for Portugal, and I think that I already quoted them here in the forum, bu my memory fails me. I think that one even speaks about the “fustas” (a kind of galley). But it is only about the construction. Not about the maintenance. If I have the opportunity I will try to post it here.
 
May 2019
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Actually, the Portuguese and Spanish ships often had many slaves onboard, that sailed and fought side by side with their masters. Often in the chronicles we don’t even understand that they are slaves, until the point that the chronicler explicit states that he was a slave of x.
Were those slaves working as riggers/pilots/helmsmen/carpenters/etc? I've never heard of slave labour used to crew ships other than galley rowers (this is discounting menial jobs like officers servants or cook's helpers). Not saying it wasn't possible though...