Naval technology and warships have been a part of warfare for centuries, with some of the first instances of ships used for combat starting in ancient Mesopotamia. Although the early warships would not be recognisable as such when compared to modern ships, there were highly effective at the time and gave any empire an advantage over their enemy if they could not defend their territorial waters.
During the Ancient Greek and Roman empires, all warships were galleys, which were long, narrow vessels powered by rows of oarsmen. The ships were typically designed to ram into other vessels in order to attempt to sink them, although bow technology was deployed on a number of them. When catapult technology was developed during the 4th century B.C., it was soon adapted for use on boats, allowing for the targetting of both other vessels as well as land-based targets. This had the knock-on effect of reducing the viability of ramming, as any vessel coming in close would make for a far easier target for enemy catapult fire.
Naval warfare began to change again in Europe during the 14th century with cannons first being added to ship’s arsenals, although due to their difficult to reload, aim, and fire, they were not as popular on ships until later centuries. The addition of cannons on a ship greatly increased the weight of the ship, although this was not a problem in terms of the ships ability to stay afloat, it did make propulsion using oarsmen impossible, leading to warships making exclusing use of sails for propulsion.
The middle of the 17th century saw the design for warships begin to stabalise across Europe, with certain standard features being expected during construction. Warships began to store increasing numbers of cannons across a ship’s broadsides, necessitating the invention of different tactics that could accommodate the limitations of a ship’s cannons.
The 19th century again saw a revolution in the design of ships as steam power began to be implemented as a method of propulsion for vessels. At first, due to the cost and difficult in constructing steam ships, they were generally only used as reserve ships that were designed to give support to a main fleet, rather than lead the fleet. As production methods advanced this soon changed, and steam-powered ships were the most common warships for decades until the invention and implementation of the internal combustion engine on boats.