Monday 18 March 2019


Galley fleets were held in neoria - shipsheds, when not in use. Neoria were one of the largest investments and were some of the most widespread and extensive installations in the ancient world.
Strabo tells us that the many tiled roofs of the neoria which housed the Rhodian fleet looked like ploughed fields of red earth extending around the harbour when viewed from the acropolis hill.
Fields of warships : Zea military harbour, Athens - picture by Iannis Nakis
Every galley had a roof over it through the 'off' season from October to April circa. They were dragged out of the water up slipways and propped-up on stays. Sometimes the shipshed could house two ships in file or several small ones side-by-side. The tiled roof was supported by stone columns and the slipway had transverse timber sleepers installed to allow the keel to be dragged up. Some shipsheds may have had an extension for storage of gear, in other places the removeable gear of the ships was stored safe and dry in special magazine.

Yo heave ho, yo heave ho..picture Iannis Nakis
The naval shipsheds were sensitive military areas and at least Rhodes prescribed the death penalty for unauthorised entry. At several places we know they were walled-off or located on islands.
Admiralty Island and shipsheds at Carthage
Shipsheds were necessary because war galleys have a light construction which is very sensitive to damage by marine organism infestation. Algae and encrusting organisms and boring organisms can infest the hull below the waterline and lead to rot and weakness. Ancient shipwrights had no anti-fouling paint. Freighters could sacrifice speed by adding lead sheathing but warships could not afford to do this.
Not a coral reef... extra weight and drag from marine fouling. Ship needs slipping and cleaning.
Another factor was the conditioning of the timbers. A galley has a limit to how far the timber should be saturated with water. Too little means the joins and joints are not fully closed below the waterline and the ship will take on water. Too much means the ship is heavier than need be and in a rowed war galley this can hinder combat performance. A good coating of tar, maybe resin, maybe a proprietary recipe known to ancient shipwrights, was laid onto the timber below the waterline to stop the timbers getting waterlogged but at some point the crew would recognise their vessel had lost its edge. Periodically throughtout the sailing season a galley could also be laid up in the shipsheds to dry out. Sometimes when stationed far afield the ships could be slipped on a suitable beach.

Viking ships are also galleys. Now is the time of year when ships must be readied to go into the water in April. Viking had neoria, they had shipsheds. The Nordic version is a naust. They have the same basic function as Mediterranean neoria.
Hornbore By naust, Bohuslan, Sweden

This weekend our ship league began this work. A direct analogue of what must have happened around the shipsheds of an ancient naval base.

Everything below the waterline must be cleaned and tarred. Everything above the waterline must be cleaned and tarred. Ancient naval galleys would have their ornament and decoration refurbished.
26m Ladby ship. Very similar to a triakonter in size and weight.Mast and 'rå' laying along the benches/thwarts//zyga
The bilges would be cleaned. Multi-tier galleys would have the accumulated debris from hundreds of men in the hold and bilges. Whilst it is unlikely that anyone actually crapped inboard as writers from the 19th century thought, the odd case of Trojan Revenge or seasickness would add a certain piquancy to the residue therein.
Slime, leaves, old water etc.
At the same time the thousands of draw-tongue fastenings must be inspected and repaired if found wanting.
The roves of nails holding the clinker-built ship together. Analogue of draw-tongues in a galley. Some corrosion here.
Damaged planking must be identified and changed-out. The hull should be perfect for the coming season. 
Damaged plank removed.
Rotten area of plank. New wood underneath  waiting to be cut and planed to shape.

Our ship league has had 10 or so large and small wooden Viking ships over the years. Unfortunately the local authorities did not permit the building of shipsheds of any form so they stand out in the weather. Sometimes covered, sometimes not, because moisture needs to be able to disperse from a wooden ship.

Sadly, some of the older ships, constructed as projects in cooperating with the local authroities cannot be maintained any longer. It is a big undertaking to look after a wooden ship and few people will or can take them on. Certainly, we have found, the local authorities will not do it and will not support us in doing it either.
In need of a caring hand...
The famous Marsala ship from Sicily nearly met the same fate in the 1990s. Money limitations and local politics nearly led to this ancient ship - the only remains of a galley up till then - being dumped. Its excavator, Honor Frost, even wrote an 'obituary ' for the ship in 1997.
How it can end....

Any removeable tackle must be checked and maintained. More of that later...
An additional factor which I will also discuss later is the effect of sun. It can be alarming in north european latitudes but in the Mediterranean even worse. The UV in sunlight degrades the structure of wood.

The pedalion - steering oar of a Viking galley - raised position, no tiller set on

A view of the steering oar to show how slender it is. Also the securing joint.

Homer's 'black ships'. Beneath years of tar a glimpse of the preserved wood in its original glorious gold.
A longship on stocks by the waters edge...some spring cleaning and she will be off again.