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By William Oliver Stevens; Allan F Westcott

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It is not sufficient to blame either social or bureaucratic inertia for this. In landlocked sea and in coastal waters the galley was an effective tool which performed well and which created a model of Mediterranean warfare characterized by the close integration of naval operations, amphibious warfare and sieges, with few large-scale battles. 12 These battles were spectacular. Lepanto was the greatest battle of the century, either at sea or on land, involving 150,000 men. Nevertheless, these battles were not really decisive; a galley fleet can be built in a few months and the logistical limitations of galleys prohibit the strategic exploitation of victory.

The Holy League launched a campaign in the Morea in 1572, but met with little success. Venice effectively ended the Holy League in 1573 by making a separate peace with the Ottomans, to preserve what remained of its Levantine commerce in the face of pirate raids and skyrocketing insurance rates. None the less, Don Juan reconquered and refortified Tunis in 1573 to defend the furthest frontiers of Spain’s North African colonies. The Ottoman response was immediate and overwhelming. With an extraordinary military and diplomatic effort, they retook Tunis in 1574, again signaling their resolve to drive all challengers from the eastern Mediterranean.

In addition, the client states of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli were subject to the sultans but had their own rulers, called beys. They lived largely from corsairing or piracy on Christian shipping, acting as a proxy force for the Ottomans. The Spanish Habsburgs had a small permanent navy, but relied on their ability to embargo and rent private vessels when needed. In addition to galleys for use in the Mediterranean, Spanish mariners adapted and developed ships for use in the Atlantic and the Pacific, especially the galleon, the caravel and merchant ships of various sizes and designs.

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