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OTTOMAN SAILING SHIPS, FROM GALLEYS TO GALLEONS


When the Turks arrived in Asia Minor from the East and discovered maritime life, they also became acquainted with the nautical culture of Mediterranean, which had been formed centuries earlier. The Ottoman Navy was based on the tradition of warrior of the Islamic faith (ghazi) which had been active in the Western Anatolian Sea since the fourteenth century. The Ottomans started their European conquest after they captured Gelibolu (Gallipoli) (1354) and they continued their advances both by land in the Balkans and by sea with their new political policy. After they settled in Eastern Europe, the Ottomans established their shipyard and powerful fleet facilities in Gelibolu in order to control the coast of Marmara Sea and the straits of the Dardanelles at Çanakkale. In early period, the Ottomans rapidly established and developed shipyard in Edincik, Gemlik, Karamürsel and especially in Izmit; the ships built there constituted first nucleus of the Ottoman Naval Forces.

The Ottomans became the most powerful maritime Empire in the Mediterranean in the first half of the sixteenth century. It is possible to identify three important developments in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries: 1. Sultan Bayezid (Yıldırım) selected Gelibolu as the base of Ottoman fleets and shipyards, 2. Sultan Mehmed II. (Fatih) conquered Istanbul and expanded into the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, 3. Sultan Yavuz Selim I. developed the shipyard in Istanbul as the naval base. 
The long war between Ottoman and Venice continued for sixteen years (1463-1479).  It had a great influence on those coast cities of the Aegean Sea which remained under Venetian control. In the meantime, the Ottomans captured Eğriboz (1470) and took control of the important part of Albanian coast. Finally the Ottomans and Venetians signed a peace accord (1479), which accelerated Ottoman naval advances. The end of Mehmet II’s period marks the beginning of the Ottoman Navy’s attempt to advance toward the Western Mediterranean.

The maritime policy developed under Sultan Mehmed II continued in the period of Beyazid II. Kili and Akkirman, the most important ports in the Black Sea, were captured by the Ottomans in 1482 and thus all outlets for trade on the south and north coasts were under their control. After the Ottomans took control in the Black Sea, they returned to the Mediterranean, and began to develop their navy yards and to build ships. Ottoman mariners investigated Venetian, Genoese and Spanish ships for a long time and they built both çektiriler (oared fighting ships) and kalyonlar (galleons) in the Venetian style, and gökeler (coggas/ cokes) in the Spanish style.

In the period of Sultan Bayezid II, there were two important Ottoman conflicts in the sea: one was against Spain, the other against Portugal, which had conquered ports in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. At the end of the fifteenth century, it is possible to see an increase in the number of Ottoman pirates in the Mediterranean. Lots of pirates, none with official titles or positions, started to aid Ottoman’s maritime activities. These pirates were called levent. When, the Ottoman fleet began to assert itself in the Mediterranean, pirate ships started to join them and they put their powers together.

The first Ottoman shipyard was built on the Bay of İzmit in 1327 by Karamürsel Bey, of the Karesi Beyliği (principality). After 1453, Istanbul was developed not only as the new center of the Ottoman government but also as the center and base of the Ottoman Navy. The Sultan established the first navy yard in the Haliç (Golden Horn). The Ottomans brought carpenters, shipwrights and artisans from the coast of the Ottoman Empire to the Haliç to work there. In the period of Sultan Yavuz Selim I, the Ottomans placed great importance on maritime affairs, because of the Portugese threat and the because of the difficulty of defending their many coasts and keeping the Ottoman seas under control. Selim I placed a priority on expanding the navy yard in the Haliç from Galata to Kağıthane, and built a great number of ship-building wharfs in order to improve Ottoman Navy.

Tersane-i Amire (the Ottoman Naval Arsenal) was developed during the period of Sultan Suleyman and his son, Sultan Selim II. It became the main base of the Ottoman Navy, and helped maintain Ottoman domination in the Mediterranean in the years of Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa (1473-1546) and his famous sailors, who were trained by Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa. During the sixteenth century, the navy yard in Istanbul became one of the most famous of its kind in the world; the only similar one was located in Venice.

To meet the need for timber for building ships, an important part of the Izmit sancak’s (provinces) forests were allocated to the Ottoman Navy. In addition, twelve Kadılık (administrative districts) connected to the subdivisions of Izmit and Bursa sancaks were also required to supply timber and other ship materials to the Navy, in designated quantities specified by the central administration every year. Most of the hemp which was needed to produce ropes for the Ottoman fleets was supplied from Samsun. Besides Samsun, Ahtapolu, Menemen, Mihaliç, İnebolu, Selanik, Mezuri and Bartin were also required to supply fixed amounts of hemp. Sub provinces like Livada, Menemen and the plain of Ece supplied canvas for sail cloth and tents to the Ottoman Navy. While most of the canvas was woven in these areas, some sail cloths and tent linings were ordered in Egypt. As for cannons, they were poured in Istanbul Cannon Foundry. Gunpowder was also made in Istanbul, though the important part was brought from Egypt.

Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa, who became well known as the sultan of Algeria, served the Ottoman Navy, and was appointed to the rank of vizier as beylerbeyi to establish a province regarding the maritime affairs, and to the admiral of the Ottoman fleets. This was a turning point in the Ottoman Naval History. The most important success of Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa during the struggle for sovereignty in the Mediterranean was the Preveze war (1538).

With the siege of Preveze and Malta, the Cyprus campaing (1570-1571) and the conquest of Tunisia (1574), the Ottomans took control of the Mediterranean away from the European powers. However, the legend told in Europe since fifteenth century, that Turks could not beaten, was destroyed by the Ottoman’s failure at Lepanto war (1571). The After the Ottomans conquered Egypt and reached to the Red Sea, they took over Bagdad and Basra and continued their battles with Portugal in order to reach the Gulf of Basra. By means of the fleets which were prepared in the Suez and Basra navy yard, the Ottoman Empire fought and reached India and Far East, and had some successes in the Indian Ocean. After this period, the Ottoman Empire took control and tried to secure in Yemen, the province of Ethiopia, Basra and Lahsa province in the Red Sea. They started to govern the southern realms from these provincial centers.

Oared ships

The ships which constitute the Ottoman Navy can be divided two groups: Çektiri or Çekdirme (the galley-type, oared ships) and galleon-type sailing ships. Çektiris were powered by oars and sails, and the large galleon type ships used sails alone. Somewhere between the oared galleys and the galleons fall the baştarda, kadırga, mavna, kalyata, firkete and pergandi. Even smaller sailing ships, include the karamürsel, palaşlermeler and slimmer, navy ships.

Sailing ships

At the end of the fifteenth century, in parallel with the development of Ottoman maritime affairs in the Mediterranean, the Ottomans started to build not only oared ships but also sailing ships. In the sixteenth century, the Ottomans preferred oared ships; sailing ships were not developed until the middle of seventeenth century. In this period, the Ottomans started to build many types of galleons with different features; göke (Kogge, Coge: a çektiri-type of warship with oars and sails), barça (barge: a two or three-masted sailing warship with a falt bottom), ağribar (a small, single-masted sailing warship, rather used for trading transportations), kalyon (galleon: a three-masted sailing warship). New type of sailing ships with different features developed during the eighteenth century;  burtun, karavele (caravelle: sailing warship), firkateyn (frigate: a single-deck, single-masted sailing warship smaller than a galleon), kapak (two-deck, galleon-type warship), korvet (corvette: a three-masted sailing warship), brik (brig: a single-deck, two-masted, full and square rigged, fast sailing warship), şalope / çalope (sloop: small sailing battleship without hold), şeftiye /şitye (a two-masted sailing ship), uskuna (schooner: a two-masted sailing warship), kotra / kotr or koter (a single-masted, slimmer, lighter and shorter sloop-type sailing ship), pink (one of the smaller sailing ships), gulet (galeotta /galliot: a two-masted, light frigate sailing ship smaller than brik (brig), ateş gemisi / bomba gemisi (a ship full of explosive materials).

Reference:
GÜLERYÜZ, Ahmet, Kadırgadan Kalyona Osmanlıda Yelken, Mikyas-ı Sefain. Istanbul 2004.
BOSTAN, Idris, Kürekli ve Yelkenli Osmanlı Gemileri. Istanbul 2005.

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