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Thread: 1509: The naval Battle of Diu

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    1509: The naval Battle of Diu

    The naval Battle of Diu was a critical sea battle that took place on 3 February 1509 near Diu, India, between Portugal and a joint fleet of Mamlűk Burji Sultanate of Egypt, Ottoman Empire, Calicut and the Sultan of Gujarat, with technical maritime assistance from the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik).

    This battle is critical from a strategic perspective since it marks the beginning of the dominance of the Europeans in the Asian naval theatre, and a defeat for the then dominant power - the Ottoman Empire. It also marks the spillover of the Christian-Islamic power struggle in Europe and the Middle East, into the Indian Ocean which was a dominant arena of international trade at that time.

    The battle parallels Lepanto (1571), Abu Qir (1798), Trafalgar (1805) and Tsushima (1905) in terms of its impact, though not in scale. Had the Turks won India would've become a Muslim dominion, and by extension an arm of the expanding Ottoman Empire in the East.

    The Egyptian fleet, manned mostly by Turks, was sent by the Mamlűk Burji Sultan of Cairo, Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghauri, in 1507 to support, at his invitation, the then Muslim Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada who had his capital at Champaner, a town about 48km from the major city of Vadodara.

    The Sultan, sensing a political vacumn in Western India, had persuaded the Turks and the Egyptians that the opportunity was right for a Muslim-dominated dominion in that part of India. Mir Hussein Pasha,was the Turkish Commander of the Egyptian-Gujarat squadron. The spoils of the battle also included three royal flags of the Mamlűk Sultan of Cairo, that were sent to Portugal and are even today displayed in the Convento de Cristo, in the town of Tomar, spiritual home of the Knights Templar.

    Excerpted from Mavi Boncuk blog.
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    I had never heard of this battle. The Turks and the Egyptians? The Turks and the Venicians? Unlikely allies.

    I wonder if the part about the battle deciding the fate of India isn't a bit of an exaggeration. Would Portugal have been unable to mount another challenge for the Indian Ocean had they been defeated? There were only 18 Portuguese ships present.

    P.S. Apparently, Magellen took part in the battle as well.

  3. #3
    It was critical, 18 ships is a lot, after all at Trafalgar there were only about 50 ships altogether, at Abukir/ Nile about 25-30.

    IIRC, the fort garrison commander of Diu changed sides and so the Turks lost. Had the Portuguese lost, they would have almost certainly lost their basaes in India and possibly Africa and the Turks would have likely supplied the Indonesian sultanates wiht better cannons - when they went up agains thte Portuguese apparently they had many brass cannons!!!
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    Premature anti-fascist Abdul Goatherd's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thistletooth
    I had never heard of this battle. The Turks and the Egyptians? The Turks and the Venicians? Unlikely allies.
    Why unlikely? This was a struggle for the spice trade, which had hitherto been shipped from southern India to Gujurat, to Oman through Egypt to Alexandria and then to Venice.

    The only seeming oddity is the Turk. But while they were not exactly pals of the Egyptians, the diversion of trade away from the Indian ocean wasn't thrilling. Besides, they had a nascent Persia to contain. A friendly Gujurat would have been very useful.

    I wonder if the part about the battle deciding the fate of India isn't a bit of an exaggeration. Would Portugal have been unable to mount another challenge for the Indian Ocean had they been defeated? There were only 18 Portuguese ships present.
    It was very "decisive" for the fate of India.

    It is doubtful the Portuguese could have defeated them again. The 1509 Egyptian-Gujurat fleet was hurriedly put together. It was actually not state-of-the-art; the cannon, in particular, was well behind the curve. Given a couple more years, the Turks would have brought their best cannon in the Indian Ocean and that slim Portuguese advantage nullified. Portuguese wouldn't have likely have had another chance.

    I would only say it was "not decisive" in the sense that if the Ottomans really wanted, they certainly could have mounted a second attack and taken it all back. But their own adventures in Egypt, Hungary & Persia put that on hold. By the time they finally got around to it (1538), the Portuguese were well-ensconced. But then they aborted that campaign for some reason.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Abdul Goatherd

    It is doubtful the Portuguese could have defeated them again. The 1509 Egyptian-Gujurat fleet was hurriedly put together. It was actually not state-of-the-art; the cannon, in particular, was well behind the curve. Given a couple more years, the Turks would have brought their best cannon in the Indian Ocean and that slim Portuguese advantage nullified. Portuguese wouldn't have likely have had another chance.
    A second fleet of 27 vessels was in fact launched in 1515 under Selman Reis. It had been in preparation since before the battle at Diu with an original planned strength of 30 light galleys and 20 galleons, but various internal issues kept the Mamluks from launching. Indeed the concentration of artillery and arquebusiers on the fleet, as well as manning the static defences of Alexandria and Jidda, significantly weakened the resources of the Mamluks on their northern front when Selim I invaded.

    In any event the 1515 expedition was a failure - an unnecessary punitive side expedition to Aden, where the local potentate was thumbing his nose at the Mamluk sultan, ended in a bloody repulse and they retreated. If it hadn't they would have faced a Portuguese fleet of 37 that had been sent to intercept. But the troops sent to the region were instrumental in foiling a Portuguese assault on Jidda in 1517.

    with technical maritime assistance from the Republic of Venice
    Venice was a diplomatic ally, but never actually contributed much material aid to the anti-Portuguese alliance. Largely because they prevaricated among the different parties.

    The Ottomans were a direct threat on their territorial periphery in the Aegean, but were clearly the dominant power, very important partners in the Levantine grain trade that Venice depended on and an ally against piratical states like the knights of St. John on Rhodes ( a much more regular state supporter of piracy than the Ottoman in the eastern Mediterranean at that time ).

    The Mamluks were the essential players in the Red Sea luxury trade, the threat to which by Portugal far outweighed the loss of a few Greek islands. But the Mamluks were increasingly unstable and enfeebled, making them a dubious ally to wholeheartedly back.

    Meanwhile the great hope was Shah Isma'il. The Safavid sufi order and Ithna'ashari Shi'ism were little known or understood in the west. But their status as "heretics" vis-a-vis the orthodox Mamluks and Ottomans, their position controlling the Persian textile centers, the glamour clinging to Isma'il's steady rise to power ( unbroken until 1514 ), Isma'il's own clever propagandizing and a great deal of wishful thinking led to him being regarded as a latter day Prester John. Admiring western writers spoke of him glowingly ( and wholely erroneously ) as being "more Christian than otherwise."

    At any rate for those interested in this topic, I would heartily recommend perusing Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery by Palmira Brummett ( 1994, State University of New York ). It covers exactly this period - basically the latter part of Bayezid II's reign, Selim I's, with a passing nod to Suleiman I.

    - Sanjar
    Last edited by Sanjar; 08-07-2006 at 08:50.

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    Premature anti-fascist Abdul Goatherd's Avatar

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    Thanks for the info & the reference.

    I was not aware of the intention of the 1515 expedition.

    Can you shed any more light on the Ottomans' interest in the 1509 adventure? I hazarded only a guess, but I am dissatisfied with it. I mean, 1509 seems a little early for the Porte to be worried about the Red Sea trade.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Abdul Goatherd

    Can you shed any more light on the Ottomans' interest in the 1509 adventure? I hazarded only a guess, but I am dissatisfied with it. I mean, 1509 seems a little early for the Porte to be worried about the Red Sea trade.
    Au contraire. That is exactly the point Brummett tries to make. Traditionally the Ottomans were thought of as a nation whose prime economic interests were in land revenues, hence the relentless drive towards territorial expansion. But Brummett argues that the Ottoman state was also keenly interested in trade and much of their foreign policy was driven by such concerns. Both in the western salient ( the Levantine grain trade ) where the Ottomans at times acted to protect Venetian shipping from piracy and the eastern where Anatolian copper in particular had long been hugely in demand in India. The Portuguese threat threatened to choke off one avenue of the eastern trade, while the rise of the Safavids potentially threatened the overland route.

    Even beyond that, the Ottomans gained a lot of prestige and the diplomatic upper hand by aiding the Mamluks. The Mamluks claimed primacy in the Muslim world by virtue of their pet Caliph and control over Mecca. As much as they were deadly serious rivals, the tottering Mamluk state lacked the timber and copper necessary to defend against Portuguese incursions that were capable of shutting down the Hajj, not to mention the Red Sea trade that was the life blood of Egyptian power. So the Mamluks were forced to humble themselves to beg for Ottoman supplies and expertise to defend their own borders. As a propaganda move, Ottoman troops and commanders on ostensibly Mamluk vessels spread the aura of Ottoman power and dominance to western Arabia - a real diplomatic coup.

    - Sanjar
    Last edited by Sanjar; 09-07-2006 at 23:18.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sanjar
    Even beyond that, the Ottomans gained a lot of prestige and the diplomatic upper hand by aiding the Mamluks. The Mamluks claimed primacy in the Muslim world by virtue of their pet Caliph and control over Mecca. As much as they were deadly serious rivals, the tottering Mamluk state lacked the timber and copper necessary to defend against Portuguese incursions that were capable of shutting down the Hajj, not to mention the Red Sea trade that was the life blood of Egyptian power. So the Mamluks were forced to humble themselves to beg for Ottoman supplies and expertise to defend their own borders. As a propaganda move, Ottoman troops and commanders on ostensibly Mamluk vessels spread the aura of Ottoman power and dominance to western Arabia - a real diplomatic coup.
    This part makes a lot of sense, more so than that the Ottomans were concerned to protect the Mameluk's trade interests.

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  9. #9
    Here's a deremilitari article with the mamluk naval background:

    http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/pdfs/fuess.pdf

    I like the little story on page 58 about al-Ghawri bluffing that he'd destroy christian pilgrimage sites if the pesky portuguese didn't stop sailing the Indian ocean, and the portuguese calling his bluff.
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  10. #10
    The battle of Diu as narrated by Saturnino Monteiro in his book about the battles of the Portuguese navy:
    http://www.ancruzeiros.pt/anchistoria-comb-1509.html
    It's in Portuguese, sorry. You might try an automatic translator. If you see mentions of candles, he's probably speaking of sails.
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    Married Man idontlikeforms's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tunch Khan
    The naval Battle of Diu was a critical sea battle that took place on 3 February 1509 near Diu, India, between Portugal and a joint fleet of Mamlűk Burji Sultanate of Egypt, Ottoman Empire, Calicut and the Sultan of Gujarat, with technical maritime assistance from the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik).
    I'm pretty sure the Ottomans did not participate in this battle. I think the misunderstanding may stem from the fact that Portuguese sources called both Mamlukes and Jannisaries "Rumes."
    Quote Originally Posted by Tunch Khan
    This battle is critical from a strategic perspective since it marks the beginning of the dominance of the Europeans in the Asian naval theatre, and a defeat for the then dominant power - the Ottoman Empire. It also marks the spillover of the Christian-Islamic power struggle in Europe and the Middle East, into the Indian Ocean which was a dominant arena of international trade at that time.
    The Ottomans hadn't conquered Egypt yet by the time of the battle of Diu. It was the Egyptians that sent a fleet to stop the Portuguese. The Portuguese were already stomping muslim trade on the Malabar coast prior to the battle of Diu, in the Persian Gulf too for that matter. The point of the battle was that Egypt joined with Gujurat and Calicut(the two main rivals to the Portuguese on the western coast of India) to put a stop to all the havoc the Portuguese were wreaking on their trade revenues and of course their attempt failed.
    Quote Originally Posted by Tunch Khan
    The Egyptian fleet, manned mostly by Turks, was sent by the Mamlűk Burji Sultan of Cairo, Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghauri, in 1507 to support, at his invitation, the then Muslim Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada who had his capital at Champaner, a town about 48km from the major city of Vadodara.
    It should have been manned by Mamlukes and incidentally many of them stayed in India and continued to fight the Portuguese after the battle of Diu with Gujurat and Bijapur. In fact many of these exact same Mamlukes, who fought the Portuguese at Diu, also fought them in the battles Albuquerque fought with Bijapur over Goa.

    Here's an excellent article about it in English.->http://www.dancingwithdolphins.com.au/discovery/ Gwalcmai gives the Portuguese version of it in his post.
    Quote Originally Posted by D. Marlborough
    IIRC, the fort garrison commander of Diu changed sides and so the Turks lost.
    That would be Meliqueaz. He held back some of his forces because he saw his side was doomed. He didn't want to piss the Portuguese off as he realized he would later have to deal with them. But he didn't actually switch sides.

    The battle was pretty much a rout. I don't think the Egypt/Gujurat side had much of a chance. Maybe if the Portuguese fleet was more poorly commanded it would have been a draw or something like that. I doubt Egypt would have been able to drive the Portuguese out of India had the Portuguese lost. Keep in mind they didn't last much longer themselves as they were soon conquered by the Ottomans. No doubt it would have badly hampered the setting up of a Portuguese sea-borne empire there though. Keep in mind also that the Portuguese naval tech was quite a bit superior to what they were fighting against at Diu. The real issue was that the Gujuratis had some very large ships and just the sheer masses that they were fighting against.

    One of the more interesting things about the Portugueses' wars in the East Indies is that they consistently faced off against Mamlukes and then later Janissaries or rather ex-Janissaries turned mercenary. Most of the more powerful Muslim states in the Indies employed them. They were their crack troops and often one of them was the general commanding the opposing side too.

    Another way of looking at the conflict was that smaller numbers of Europeans on both sides faced off against each other accompanied by Asiatics and Mestizos in battle after battle for about 150 years in the Indies.

    Another interesting thing about this conflict is that the Portuguese literally did face off against Jannisaries in numerous battles. In fact usually larger numbers of Jannisaries with a larger number of Asiatic auxillaries than they had too and they beat them many more times than they lost to them. So one could quite accurately say the Portuguese soldiers were better soldiers than even the Jannisaries were, even at their peak.
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    Quote Originally Posted by idontlikeforms
    I'm pretty sure the Ottomans did not participate in this battle. I think the misunderstanding may stem from the fact that Portuguese sources called both Mamlukes and Jannisaries "Rumes."
    The Ottomans hadn't conquered Egypt yet by the time of the battle of Diu. It was the Egyptians that sent a fleet to stop the Portuguese. The Portuguese were already stomping muslim trade on the Malabar coast prior to the battle of Diu, in the Persian Gulf too for that matter. The point of the battle was that Egypt joined with Gujurat and Calicut(the two main rivals to the Portuguese on the western coast of India) to put a stop to all the havoc the Portuguese were wreaking on their trade revenues and of course their attempt failed.
    It should have been manned by Mamlukes and incidentally many of them stayed in India and continued to fight the Portuguese after the battle of Diu with Gujurat and Bijapur. In fact many of these exact same Mamlukes, who fought the Portuguese at Diu, also fought them in the battles Albuquerque fought with Bijapur over Goa.

    Here's an excellent article about it in English.->http://www.dancingwithdolphins.com.au/discovery/ Gwalcmai gives the Portuguese version of it in his post.
    That would be Meliqueaz. He held back some of his forces because he saw his side was doomed. He didn't want to piss the Portuguese off as he realized he would later have to deal with them. But he didn't actually switch sides.

    The battle was pretty much a rout. I don't think the Egypt/Gujurat side had much of a chance. Maybe if the Portuguese fleet was more poorly commanded it would have been a draw or something like that. I doubt Egypt would have been able to drive the Portuguese out of India had the Portuguese lost. Keep in mind they didn't last much longer themselves as they were soon conquered by the Ottomans. No doubt it would have badly hampered the setting up of a Portuguese sea-borne empire there though. Keep in mind also that the Portuguese naval tech was quite a bit superior to what they were fighting against at Diu. The real issue was that the Gujuratis had some very large ships and just the sheer masses that they were fighting against.

    One of the more interesting things about the Portugueses' wars in the East Indies is that they consistently faced off against Mamlukes and then later Janissaries or rather ex-Janissaries turned mercenary. Most of the more powerful Muslim states in the Indies employed them. They were their crack troops and often one of them was the general commanding the opposing side too.

    Another way of looking at the conflict was that smaller numbers of Europeans on both sides faced off against each other accompanied by Asiatics and Mestizos in battle after battle for about 150 years in the Indies.

    Another interesting thing about this conflict is that the Portuguese literally did face off against Jannisaries in numerous battles. In fact usually larger numbers of Jannisaries with a larger number of Asiatic auxillaries than they had too and they beat them many more times than they lost to them. So one could quite accurately say the Portuguese soldiers were better soldiers than even the Jannisaries were, even at their peak.
    Technology is the key issue here. Mind you that the Mamluks had boats better used in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea than the deep Indian Ocean. I agree that the Portuguese army was at its peak by then, because it had competent commanders and quality. But then, it is even more surprising to know how such a small country with so little manpower, resources and population could deploy so many superior resources against powerful empires in the East. One can say that the Portuguese represent the first sign that the Muslim world was falling backwards both in technology and strenght to face the Europeans even in their heartlands.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rsobota
    Technology is the key issue here. Mind you that the Mamluks had boats better used in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea than the deep Indian Ocean.
    Actually galleys were the ship of choice for both sides in the Portuguese wars on the western caost of India. The tech difference is the cannons. Also the Portuguese had much much better gunners and sailers in general.
    Quote Originally Posted by rsobota
    I agree that the Portuguese army was at its peak by then, because it had competent commanders and quality. But then, it is even more surprising to know how such a small country with so little manpower, resources and population could deploy so many superior resources against powerful empires in the East. One can say that the Portuguese represent the first sign that the Muslim world was falling backwards both in technology and strenght to face the Europeans even in their heartlands.
    I think their main edge over the Janissaries was their unwillingness to retreat and their ferocious charges. They had excellent musketry for much of this time period too. I don't think their melee strength had much to do with training though. It was more of a cultural mindset and just the fact that the bulk of Portuguese troops in almost any given battle in the Indies during this time period were battle hardened veterans.
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    It's not a matter of whether if you are pretty sure or not, it's a historic fact that the Ottomans did participate in the naval campaign and fought against the Portugese.
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    Quote Originally Posted by idontlikeforms
    Actually galleys were the ship of choice for both sides in the Portuguese wars on the western caost of India. The tech difference is the cannons. Also the Portuguese had much much better gunners and sailers in general.
    I find that doubtfull. Sailing a galley from Potrugal to India would have been murder on the rowers. If it had arrived at all. Galleys just are not as seaworthy as, say, a Caraque. Because of their large crew and small loading capacity they are also limited to short distances. They do not make very good gunplatforms either.

    But then, it is even more surprising to know how such a small country with so little manpower, resources and population could deploy so many superior resources against powerful empires in the East.
    It's actually remarkable how few ships the Portugese were working with. At Diu they had a mere 19 ships (1200 crew), almost their entire Asian fleet.

    By the by, i've read that at the start of the battle the Egyptian fleet was at anchor. Is this true?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Registered
    By the by, i've read that at the start of the battle the Egyptian fleet was at anchor. Is this true?
    Yep. The Portuguese had a proven predeliction for approach-and-retreat gunnery duels (and had done so on the first day of Diu) so the Egyptian coalition expecte them do that again on day two. They anchored themselves close to shore to steady themselves and lure the Portuguese close enough to shore so that the coastal cannons could join in the fun. But this time the Portuguese surprised everyone by just going straight for the grapple.
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  17. #17
    Actually galleys were the ship of choice for both sides in the Portuguese wars on the western caost of India. The tech difference is the cannons. Also the Portuguese had much much better gunners and sailers in general.
    The galleys wouldn't go past Cape Bojador, anyway. Galleys were not used by the portuguese, although, as you said, cannons did play an important role in the battle. Most of the portuguese fleet was made by caravels\naus, which were very well known to be suited to high seas and could carry several guns.


    It's actually remarkable how few ships the Portugese were working with. At Diu they had a mere 19 ships (1200 crew), almost their entire Asian fleet.
    This makes it even more surprising. A classical example of how europeans outgunned "natives" in colonial battles, maybe the first one.


    Even so, the outcome showed portuguese resources were superior. And they being able to defeat navies from powerful empires in the East, who controlled the older spice route through the Red Sea to Alexandria, is a noticeable thing, especially for a small country like Portugal.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tunch Khan
    It's not a matter of whether if you are pretty sure or not, it's a historic fact that the Ottomans did participate in the naval campaign and fought against the Portugese.
    I googled the battle and found that a whole bunch of online Encyclopedias make this claim. However, having read most of the primary sources for the battle multiple times and written a school paper on it, I've found no evidence for it. I've found online encyclopedia articles to be wrong on historical facts many times before. They also just copy each others' information too. This is not the first, nor the second, nor even the third time I've pointed this out to people on this forum in debates before. I think you'll need a primary source quotation to back this claim up. Notice that the link I provided, which is heavily based on the primary sources and is a scholarly interpretation, says nothing about the Ottomans participating in the battle.

    Another possible mix up in information is that there was more than one battle of Diu. In fact the second one is quite important too and it WAS the Ottomans against the Portuguese in 1538 in it.
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  19. #19
    Married Man idontlikeforms's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Registered
    I find that doubtfull. Sailing a galley from Potrugal to India would have been murder on the rowers. If it had arrived at all. Galleys just are not as seaworthy as, say, a Caraque. Because of their large crew and small loading capacity they are also limited to short distances. They do not make very good gunplatforms either.
    Quote Originally Posted by rsobota
    The galleys wouldn't go past Cape Bojador, anyway. Galleys were not used by the portuguese, although, as you said, cannons did play an important role in the battle. Most of the portuguese fleet was made by caravels\naus, which were very well known to be suited to high seas and could carry several guns.
    You guys misunderstand. The Portuguese made galleys in the Indies. Galleons sailed to and from Lisbon to Goa. The trips were seasonal. This allowed those galleons to be used by the Portuguese for military operations in the Indies in between trips. However, in reality the bulk of their Indies fleets in most battles past the initial period were in fact galleys. A big part of why is simply because the Indian ships were small and would hug the coast too close, making it difficult for the larger Portuguese galleons to get at them.

    You can read about the Portuguese empire in the Indies in F. C. Danver's "The Portuguese in India." It doesn't emphasize the use of galleys of course, since it's main purpose is to chronicle the whole length of the Portuguese empire there and really just summarizes the primary sources. But it does mention the galleys a staggering amount of times.
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  20. #20
    Procrastinator extraordinaire Registered's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by idontlikeforms
    You guys misunderstand. The Portuguese made galleys in the Indies.
    In 1509? Where did they do this?

    A big part of why is simply because the Indian ships were small and would hug the coast too close, making it difficult for the larger Portuguese galleons to get at them.
    There were some pretty large Indian vessels as well. Not armed ones though.
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