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Muscle power

Longships and galleys

Because they made the vessel largely independent of the wind, oars continued to be used after sails became well established.  Viking longships relied on oars alone until at least the 8th century AD.  The Greeks and Romans, and indeed later civilisations, used oared ships – galleys – largely as warships.  Over a short distance, they were much faster and more manoeuvrable than a pure sailing ship.  However, their speed could not be sustained over long distances, as the oarsmen became exhausted, so they usually carried sails as well.  A large crew was needed for rowing, and recruitment was such a problem that slaves or condemned criminals had to be used.  But even if they did not need to be paid, slaves had to be fed and watered, and provisions had to be carried.  After an hour’s brisk rowing in the Mediterranean heat, each of the many oarsman of a galley would need to drink a litre of water, all of which had to be carried in jars in the hold.  A further limitation of oars is that they are difficult to use in heavy weather.  So galleys were largely confined to sheltered waters.  Galleys were in use as late as the Napoleonic wars, but could not match the fire power of contemporary sailing warships.

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