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Before that, particularly in antiquity, there was a wide variety of terms used for different types of galleys.

In modern historical literature, "galley" is occasionally used as a general term for various types of oared vessels larger than boats, though the "true" galley is defined as the ships belonging to the Mediterranean tradition.

Archaeologist Lionel Casson has used the term "galley" to describe all North European shipping in the early and high Middle Ages, including Viking merchants and even their famous longships, though this is rare.

A galley is a type of ship that is propelled mainly by rowing.

The galley is characterized by its long, slender hull, shallow draft and low freeboard (clearance between sea and railing).

As galleys became an integral part of an advanced, early modern system of warfare and state administration, they were divided into a number of ranked grades based on the size of the vessel and the number of its crew.

The most basic types were the following: large commander "lantern galleys", half-galleys, galiots, fustas, brigantines and fregatas.

They were the most common warships in the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Ages, and later saw limited use in the Caribbean, the Philippines and the Indian Ocean in the early modern period, mostly as patrol craft to combat pirates.

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