Military Contracting: The Mediterranean Galley Squadrons

Andrea Doria

Genoese condottiere, admiral, and statesman. Born 30 November 1466, at Oneglia, Milan, into a lesser aristocratic family, Andrea Doria was orphaned at age 18 and he followed his older cousins into the papal guards in 1484.

Andrea Doria worked toward the position of condottiere-or mercenary military leader-in the employ of various rulers, among them Pope Alexander VI, Kings Ferdinand I and Alfonso II of Naples, and Giovanni Della Rovere. He joined Nicolo Doria in putting down a French-backed insurrection against Genoa in Corsica during 1503-1506, and from 1507 he weathered the tug-of-war between France and Spain for control of his ancestral city. By 1513 he was a naval commander under the patronage of the republic’s new Spanish-backed doge, charged with defending the city against the Turks and corsairs.

A pragmatist, who aligned his military services with shifts in leadership, Doria soon also excelled in naval warfare, striking at a pirate stronghold in Bizerte and defeating a Turkish force under Gad Ali (whom he captured) off Pianosa Island in 1519. Ultimately recognized as the foremost naval commander of his time, he also built his fortune, which helped procure galleys and crews of slave rowers.

From 1522 Doria offered his services, in turn, to King Francis I, Pope Clement VII, and finally to Holy Roman Emperor and Spanish King Charles V. Doria’s continuing exploits at sea included breaking the Spanish blockade of Marseilles in 1525 and the subsequent seizure of Savona and Varazze. During a brief contract with the Vatican (1526-1527), Doria joined Pope Clement VII’s eight-ship fleet with nine French galleys to rout a larger Spanish naval force at San Lorenzo Bay in 1526. Again in French service, in 1527 he drove the Spanish from Genoa, garnering the title of knight of the Order of St. Michael from Francis I.

Within two years the stringency of French rule in Genoa, as well as Doria’s failure to receive pay due him, moved him once again to support Charles V, who in September 1528 assisted him in driving the French from Genoa and establishing the city as an independent aristocratic republic, which endured until 1798. Although accepting titles and honors from Charles V as grand admiral of the Imperial Fleet, the Order of the Golden Fleece, Protonotary of Naples, and Prince of Melfi, Doria refused an offer to become doge, while at the same time exercising influence as de facto first lord and patron.

Doria continued his naval career, leading several forays against the Turks. He captured both Patras (Patrai) and Coron (Koroni) in 1532 and defeated Ottoman admiral Barbarossa (Khair-ed-din) during the capture of Tunis in 1535. The tables seemed turned at Preveza in 1538 when Doria and Barbarossa met again. The tardiness of Doria’s fleet in a planned union with the combined naval forces of Venice and the Papal States brought defeat by the Turks. This has also been seen as the work of a crafty rather than irresolute Doria, who ultimately may have chosen a trade agreement with the Turks over naval solidarity with arch rival Venice.

Andrea Doria’s military and governing careers continued into his 80s. He waged renewed campaigns against corsairs and the French at sea, and he secured the defeat of conspirators plotting against him in Genoa. Acknowledged as one of the last great condottieri, he embodied the typical traits of that military caste-greed, arrogance, ambition, and thirst for power-which were balanced against uncanny tactical and strategic capabilities. In Doria, these attributes were combined with his fierce loyalty to Genoa, which guaranteed that city further longevity as a naval and maritime power. After retiring from service in 1555 and passing his naval command to his nephew Giovanni Andrea (Gian Andrea) Doria, he died in Genoa on 25 November 1560.

The building, running and maintenance of the Mediterranean galley squadrons offer an excellent example of early military enterprise. Galleys and their crews could not easily be assembled, disbanded and reassembled on a short-term basis. This was both for military reasons – the persistent threat posed by the Barbary corsairs to trade, communications and the security of the Mediterranean coasts – and for practical organizational reasons: a navy that is demobilized and laid up will rapidly lose its operational capacity; sailors will seek other employment and abandoned vessels rot away. Training and maintaining effective oarsmen, whether slaves or volunteers, required regular practice, and it took around two years of experience for a crew of oarsmen to reach an optimum level of effectiveness in which their physical strength could combine with properly disciplined rowing. Disbanding the galley fleet even over a single winter threatened this process. For the Republic of Venice, the direct involvement of the patrician governing class in Levantine trade and the naval defence of the Empire had led to the creation of a state-run and state-financed galley fleet, so that in 1500 Venice was the only European state with a large permanent navy.

In contrast, both the Habsburg monarchia of Charles V and the French crown proved much more prepared to meet their naval requirements through the negotiation of lump-sum, long-term contracts for the upkeep of galley squadrons. And from the outset, private entrepreneurs were prepared to meet the initial costs of building, crewing and maintaining not just individual galleys, but entire galley squadrons under contract in state service. They could make this capital investment in the knowledge that their services would be required over the long term, and would be rewarded by contracts which took into account their initial investment in fitting out the squadron and ensuring that it was ready for service. Political success and failure in controlling the Italian peninsula during the struggles of the 1520s in fact hinged on one such contract, that with the private galley squadron of the Genoese patrician and entrepreneur, Andrea Doria, who in 1528 transferred his private squadron of twelve galleys from France to Charles V in return for a contract worth rather more than 80,000 ducats per annum: an increase to 6,700 ducats from 4,750 ducats per galley on his French contract. By 1530 the number of Doria’s galleys contracted out to Charles V had risen to fifteen, for an annual payment of 90,000 ducats. By 1533 there were twenty-seven Genoese galleys in the service of Spain. By 1538 and the battle of Prevesa, twenty-eight privately-contracted Genoese galleys were involved, twenty-two from Andrea Doria and six belonging to his kinsman Antonio Doria. By the 1550s Andrea held an established contract for twenty galleys, and his annual remuneration for maintaining the fleet in the service of Spain had climbed to 126,000 ducats. Besides the Doria, a significant number of other Genoese families were also involved in hiring galleys to the Spanish and to other powers; Marco Centurión, for example, let out five galleys to the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Increases in the size and sophistication of the galleys themselves and the impact of the price revolution had more than doubled the annual cost of hiring a galley from around 6,500 ducats in the 1550s to more than 13,200 by the 1620s. This steadily rising cost of galley contracts briefly tempted the government of Philip II to experiment in the 1570s with running the galleys under direct administration by royal agents, so that around 100 of the 146 galleys in the Spanish fleet came to be owned and directly administered by the crown. But this direct administration proved a disaster, costing almost twice as much per galley as the Genoese contracts, and reducing the military effectiveness of the squadrons as a result of failures to find enough experienced oarsmen and the bad management of provisioning and equipment. By the mid-1580s the policy had been reversed and the role of the Genoese, and in particular, Andrea Doria’s nephew, Gian Andrea, was once again established at the centre of Spanish Mediterranean naval policy.

For the Genoese contractors there were various attractive supplementary financial advantages over and above the fixed payment for the management of the galley (see below pp. 207–8). Moreover much of the time, whether directly under Spanish orders or carrying out a corso on their own initiative, the galleys were engaged in privateering which itself offered the possibility of additional financial rewards over and above the smaller but predictable returns to be made from good management of the contract. Given the high capital investment, not in the galley itself, but in building up both an effective crew and team of oarsmen, and the costs of regular replacements, the additional, unpredictable financial benefits may well have ensured that the contracts remained attractive. The profits from successful privateering certainly provided a large incentive to the captains and financial backers to ensure that they were maintained at a level of military effectiveness and kept at sea.

Hiring naval capacity

Mediterranean galley warfare provided an early example of the military enterpriser benefiting from a particular set of circumstances, principally the calculation of the squadron owner that the warlord hiring the galleys would need to maintain them for a continuous period. It might prove possible to fund the galleys for brief periods outside the contracts: much discussion in the Genoese Senate about establishing a fleet of ‘state’ galleys for direct military protection was based on the assumption that the galleys could be self-financing by doubling as merchant vessels carrying high-value cargoes, especially raw silk brought from Messina to Genoa. This seems in practice to have been a dubious prospect for the owners of high-cost, low-capacity galleys, but it was certainly the case that sailing ships could alternate between mercantile and naval purposes. It was unsurprising to see, both in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the development of contracts in which owners of individual ships or entire fleets would be willing to hire these out, usually fully crewed and equipped, to the service of a major power wishing to create or expand a naval fleet, whether for a single campaign or a longer period. The expansion of oceanic trading networks was of considerable importance here; since the early sixteenth century ships were being built of a size and capacity to withstand heavy seas, to remain at sea for months, and carry enough cargo to make lengthy trans-oceanic voyages financially viable. This generally meant the abandonment of ships of more than a thousand tonnes, which could carry huge quantities of cargo but were unwieldy in handling, required large crews and concentrated the potential loss from storm or piracy. Development based on the evolution of the galleon, with its relatively high ratio of length to breadth, its weight of around 300–600 tonnes and its excellent handling qualities, came to dominate the oceanic mercantile and naval fleets of the European powers. Constructed for specifically mercantile purposes, these ships would be equipped with highly sophisticated systems of rigging, allowing a small crew to control three masts and their several thousand square metres of sail. Such ships could carry artillery, and indeed some armament would be considered essential for defence against pirates or the ships of hostile powers. They could also be built as warships, with at least one gundeck down towards the waterline, heavy guns mounted fore and aft, and some lighter pieces on the main decks. A full complement of artillery on a late sixteenth-century, 500–600-tonne galleon would amount to forty to fifty guns. A merchant ship would carry considerably fewer guns, but it could easily be adapted to carry more if intended to serve, permanently or for a single campaign, as a warship.


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