The Oar System of the Venetian Quinquereme

By Joseph Eliav, published August 2012


Hardly a book or article on early-modern naval matters fails to address the Venetian quinquereme built by Vettore Fausto in 1526–9. Yet the design of that ship and particularly the design of her unique five-man oar system have remained an enigma, which this article aspires to resolve. After showing that a five-man system based on the then-standard design concept was not feasible, the article presents two design solutions based on different concepts. Both designs are technically viable; they work, but they are just hypotheses at this stage. It is argued that a rough sketch by a competent eyewitness validates unequivocally one of the two hypotheses. This solves the enigma of Fausto’s oar system only in general terms, however; the details remain obscure in the historical sources, so a 1:15 scale model of the galley’s mid-section, fitted with several variants of the oar assembly, served as a platform for verifying the feasibility of the design solution and for estimating its parameters by trial and error.

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Filed under: Other (Early Modern) | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Manpower & Life at Sea | Shipbuilding & Design

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