galley, long, narrow vessel widely used in ancient and medieval times, propelled principally by oars but also fitted with sails. The earliest type was sometimes 150 ft (46 m) long with 50 oars. Rowers were slaves, prisoners of war, or (later) convicts; they were usually chained to benches set along the sides, the center of the vessel being used for cargo. Galleys were decked at the bow and stern but were otherwise open. The typical galley was the trireme, with three banks of oars; smaller and more manageable galleys (biremes) had two banks. These vessels became very large, some reputedly having as many as 40 banks of oars, but smaller vessels were again common by the 1st cent. B.C. When galleys were employed in war, the sides were so designed that they could be raised to afford protection for the rowers. The Romans used hooks to fasten onto enemy vessels and carried bridges for boarding. Galleys were used in the Mediterranean by the French and Venetians until the 17th cent. In modern usage the galley is the kitchen of a ship.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.