Trireme

Trireme

Overview
A trireme was a type of galley, a Hellenistic-era warship that was used by the ancient maritime civilizations of the Mediterranean, especially the Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

ns, ancient Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

.

The trireme derives its name from its three rows of oar
Oar
An oar is an implement used for water-borne propulsion. Oars have a flat blade at one end. Oarsmen grasp the oar at the other end. The difference between oars and paddles are that paddles are held by the paddler, and are not connected with the vessel. Oars generally are connected to the vessel by...

s on each side, manned with one man per oar. The early trireme was a development of the penteconter
Penteconter (ship)
The penteconter, alt. spelling pentekonter, also transliterated as pentecontor or pentekontor was an ancient Greek galley in use since the archaic period....

, an ancient warship with a single row of 25 oars on each side, and of the bireme
Bireme
A bireme is an ancient Hellenistic-era warship with two decks of oars, probably invented by the Phoenicians. It typically was about long with a maximum beam width of around . It was modified from the penteconter, a ship that had only one set of oars on each side, the bireme having two sets of oars...

 , a warship with two banks of oars, probably of Phoenician origin.
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Encyclopedia
A trireme was a type of galley, a Hellenistic-era warship that was used by the ancient maritime civilizations of the Mediterranean, especially the Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

ns, ancient Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

.

The trireme derives its name from its three rows of oar
Oar
An oar is an implement used for water-borne propulsion. Oars have a flat blade at one end. Oarsmen grasp the oar at the other end. The difference between oars and paddles are that paddles are held by the paddler, and are not connected with the vessel. Oars generally are connected to the vessel by...

s on each side, manned with one man per oar. The early trireme was a development of the penteconter
Penteconter (ship)
The penteconter, alt. spelling pentekonter, also transliterated as pentecontor or pentekontor was an ancient Greek galley in use since the archaic period....

, an ancient warship with a single row of 25 oars on each side, and of the bireme
Bireme
A bireme is an ancient Hellenistic-era warship with two decks of oars, probably invented by the Phoenicians. It typically was about long with a maximum beam width of around . It was modified from the penteconter, a ship that had only one set of oars on each side, the bireme having two sets of oars...

 , a warship with two banks of oars, probably of Phoenician origin. As a ship it was fast and agile, and became the dominant warship
Warship
A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. Warships are usually built in a completely different way from merchant ships. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuvrable than merchant ships...

 in the Mediterranean from the 7th to the 4th centuries BC, when they were largely superseded by the larger quadriremes and quinqueremes. Triremes played a vital role in the Persian Wars, the creation of the Athenian maritime empire, and its downfall in the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

.

In English, no differentiation is made between the Greek triērēs and the Latin triremis. This is sometimes a source of confusion, as in other languages these terms refer to different styles of ships. Though the term today is used almost exclusively for ancient warships, modern historians also refer to medieval and early modern galleys with three banks of oars per side as triremes. The rowing arrangement of these differed considerably, though, since knowledge of the multi-level structure of the original triremes was lost some time during Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

.

Origin



The exact origin of the trireme is uncertain and debated, as our evidence comes from literary sources, depictions in reliefs and pottery fragments, which are open to misinterpretations. Depictions of two-tiered ships (bireme
Bireme
A bireme is an ancient Hellenistic-era warship with two decks of oars, probably invented by the Phoenicians. It typically was about long with a maximum beam width of around . It was modified from the penteconter, a ship that had only one set of oars on each side, the bireme having two sets of oars...

s), with or without the parexeiresia (the outriggers, see below), are common in 8th century BC vases and pottery fragments, and it is at the end of that century that the first references to three-tiered ships are found. According to Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

, the trireme was introduced to Greece by the Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

ians in the late 8th century BC, and the Corinthian Ameinocles built four such ships for the Samians
Samos Island
Samos is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of Asia Minor, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a separate regional unit of the North Aegean region, and the only municipality of the regional...

. Although this was interpreted by later writers, Pliny
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 and Diodorus, to mean that triremes were invented in Corinth, it is likely that the earliest three-tiered warships originated in Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

. Fragments from an 8th century relief at the Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n capital of Nineveh
Nineveh
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq....

 depicting the fleets of Tyre and Sidon
Sidon
Sidon or Saïda is the third-largest city in Lebanon. It is located in the South Governorate of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 km north of Tyre and 40 km south of the capital Beirut. In Genesis, Sidon is the son of Canaan the grandson of Noah...

 have been interpreted as depicting two- and three-level warships, fitted with rams
Ramming
In warfare, ramming is a technique that was used in air, sea and land combat. The term originated from battering ram, a siege weapon used to bring down fortifications by hitting it with the force of the ram's momentum...

. The 2nd century Christian scholar Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

, drawing on earlier works, explicitly attributes the invention of the trireme (trikrotos naus, "three-tiered ship") to the Sidonians.

Early use and development




Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 mentions that the Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 pharaoh Necho II
Necho II
Necho II was a king of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt .Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible . The Book of Kings states that Necho met King Josiah of the Kingdom of Judah at Megiddo and killed him...

 (610–595 BC) built triremes on the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

, for service in the Mediterranean, and in the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

, but this reference is disputed by modern historians, and attributed to a confusion, since "triērēs" was by the 5th century used in the generic sense of "warship", regardless its type. The first definite reference to the use of triremes in naval combat dates to ca. 525 BC, when, according to Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

, the tyrant
Tyrant
A tyrant was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments.Plato and...

 Polycrates
Polycrates
Polycrates , son of Aeaces, was the tyrant of Samos from c. 538 BC to 522 BC.He took power during a festival of Hera with his brothers Pantagnotus and Syloson, but soon had Pantagnotus killed and exiled Syloson to take full control for himself. He then allied with Amasis II, pharaoh of Egypt, as...

 of Samos
Samos Island
Samos is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of Asia Minor, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a separate regional unit of the North Aegean region, and the only municipality of the regional...

 was able to contribute 40 triremes to a Persian
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 invasion of Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. Thucydides meanwhile clearly states that in the time of the Persian invasions, the majority of the Greek navies consisted of (probably two-tiered) penteconters and ploia makrá ("long ships").

In any case, by the early 5th century, the trireme was becoming the dominant warship type of the eastern Mediterranean, with minor differences between the "Greek" and "Phoenician" types, as literary references and depictions of the ships on coins make clear. The first large-scale naval battle where triremes participated was the Battle of Lade
Battle of Lade
The Battle of Lade was a naval battle which occurred during the Ionian Revolt, in 494 BC. It was fought between an alliance of the Ionian cities and the Persian Empire of Darius the Great, and resulted in a decisive victory for the Persians which all but ended the revolt.The Ionian Revolt was...

 during the Ionian Revolt
Ionian Revolt
The Ionian Revolt, and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria, were military rebellions by several regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from 499 BC to 493 BC...

, where the combined fleets of the Greek Ionia
Ionia
Ionia is an ancient region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey, the region nearest İzmir, which was historically Smyrna. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements...

n cities were defeated by the Persian fleet, composed of squadrons from their Phoenician, Caria
Caria
Caria was a region of western Anatolia extending along the coast from mid-Ionia south to Lycia and east to Phrygia. The Ionian and Dorian Greeks colonized the west of it and joined the Carian population in forming Greek-dominated states there...

n, Cypriot
Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

 and Egyptian subjects.

The Persian Wars


Partly as a result of Athenian support to the Ionian Greeks, the Persian Great King Darius
Darius I of Persia
Darius I , also known as Darius the Great, was the third king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire...

 started moving against metropolitan Greece. The Persian fleet roamed the Aegean Sea unopposed, but the first invasion force was defeated at the Battle of Marathon
Battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. It was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate...

 in 490 BC. The second invasion, under Xerxes
Xerxes I of Persia
Xerxes I of Persia , Ḫšayāršā, ), also known as Xerxes the Great, was the fifth king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire.-Youth and rise to power:...

, included a massive land army and a large navy, which were to cooperate closely.

Athens was at that time embroiled in a conflict with the neighbouring island of Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

, which possessed a formidable navy. In order to counter this, and possibly with an eye already at the mounting Persian preparations, in 482 BC the Athenian statesman Themistocles
Themistocles
Themistocles ; c. 524–459 BC, was an Athenian politician and a general. He was one of a new breed of politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy, along with his great rival Aristides...

 used his political skills and influence to persuade the Athenian assembly
Ecclesia (ancient Athens)
The ecclesia or ekklesia was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens during its "Golden Age" . It was the popular assembly, opened to all male citizens over the age of 30 with 2 years of military service by Solon in 594 BC meaning that all classes of citizens in Athens were able...

 to start the construction of 200 triremes, using the income of the newly discovered silver mines at Laurion. The first clash with the Persian navy was at the Battle of Artemisium
Battle of Artemisium
The Battle of Artemisium was a series of naval engagements over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The battle took place simultaneously with the more famous land battle at Thermopylae, in August or September 480 BC, off the coast of Euboea and was fought between an alliance of...

, where both sides suffered great casualties. However, the decisive naval clash occurred at Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

, where Xerxes' invasion fleet was decisively defeated.
"Tereus: Where are you from?
Euelpides: From where the good triremes come (i.e. Athens)"
Aristophanes, The Birds
The Birds (play)
The Birds is a comedy by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BCE at the City Dionysia where it won second prize. It has been acclaimed by modern critics as a perfectly realized fantasy remarkable for its mimicry of birds and for the gaiety of its songs...


After Salamis and another Greek victory over the Persian fleet at Mycale
Battle of Mycale
The Battle of Mycale was one of the two major battles that ended the second Persian invasion of Greece during the Greco-Persian Wars. It took place on or about August 27, 479 BC on the slopes of Mount Mycale, on the coast of Ionia, opposite the island of Samos...

, the Ionian cities were freed, and the Delian League
Delian League
The Delian League, founded in circa 477 BC, was an association of Greek city-states, members numbering between 150 to 173, under the leadership of Athens, whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persian Empire after the Greek victory in the Battle of Plataea at the end of the Greco–Persian Wars...

 was formed under the aegis of Athens. Gradually, the predominance of Athens turned the League effectively into an Athenian Empire. The source and foundation of Athens' power was her strong fleet, composed of over 200 triremes. It not only secured control of the Aegean Sea and the loyalty of her allies, but also safeguarded the trade routes and the grain shipments from the Black Sea, which fed the city's burgeoning population. In addition, as it provided permanent employment for the city's poorer citizens, the fleet played an important role in both maintaining and promoting the radical Athenian form of democracy
Athenian democracy
Athenian democracy developed in the Greek city-state of Athens, comprising the central city-state of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, around 508 BC. Athens is one of the first known democracies. Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model,...

. Athenian maritime power is the first example of thalassocracy
Thalassocracy
The term thalassocracy refers to a state with primarily maritime realms—an empire at sea, such as Athens or the Phoenician network of merchant cities...

 in world history. Aside from Athens, other major naval powers of the era included Syracuse, Corfu
Corfu
Corfu is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the edge of the northwestern frontier of Greece. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered as a single municipality. The...

 and Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

.

In the subsequent Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, naval battles fought by triremes were crucial in the power balance between Athens and Sparta. Despite numerous land engagements, Athens was finally defeated through the destruction of her fleet during the Sicilian Expedition
Sicilian Expedition
The Sicilian Expedition was an Athenian expedition to Sicily from 415 BC to 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. The expedition was hampered from the outset by uncertainty in its purpose and command structure—political maneuvering in Athens swelled a lightweight force of twenty ships into a...

 and finally, at the Battle of Aegospotami
Battle of Aegospotami
The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely destroyed the Athenian navy...

, at the hands of Sparta
Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

 and her allies.

Design




No surviving written source gives complete information on the construction or form of the trireme. Already in the 4th century, the writer Zosimus
Zosimus
Zosimus was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I . According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.- Historia Nova :...

 lamented the loss of the information concerning the trireme's construction. It is worth noting that with the 1987 construction of Olympias
Olympias (trireme)
Olympias is a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme and an important example of experimental archaeology.She was constructed from 1985 to 1987 by a shipbuilder in Piraeus. Finance came from the Hellenic Navy and donors such as Frank Welsh . The building was advised by the historians J. S....

, historians and researchers became aware of how dreadful the conditions aboard triremes truly were. For example, Olympias had to be cleaned every five days due to the stench of 170 rowers' sweat. Keep in mind that these modern rowers used toilet facilities, presumably unlike the rowers in antiquity.

Because the triremes had positive buoyancy
Buoyancy
In physics, buoyancy is a force exerted by a fluid that opposes an object's weight. In a column of fluid, pressure increases with depth as a result of the weight of the overlying fluid. Thus a column of fluid, or an object submerged in the fluid, experiences greater pressure at the bottom of the...

, no remains of the ship have been found on the seabed, and scholars have had to rely on indirect evidence in texts, depictions on monuments and amphorae, as well as indirect archaeological evidence, most prominently the ship sheds of Piraeus. Most of it concerns the "classical" type of the 5th century, especially as used by Athens. Valuable further information as to the validity of past assumptions was provided by the trireme reconstruction project (see below).

Triremes required a great deal of upkeep in order to stay afloat, as references to the replacement of ropes, sails, rudders, oars and masts in the middle of campaigns suggest. They also would become waterlogged if left in the sea for too long. In order to prevent this from happening, ships would have to be pulled from the water during the night. The use of lightwoods meant that the ship could be carried ashore by as few as 140 men. Beaching the ships at night however, would leave the troops vulnerable to surprise attacks. While well-maintained triremes would last up to 25 years, during the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, Athens had to build nearly 20 triremes a year to maintain their fleet of 300.

The Athenian trireme had two great cables of about 47 mm in diameter and twice the ship's length called hypozomata (undergirding), and carried two spares. They were possibly rigged fore and aft from end to end along the middle line of the hull just under the main beams and tensioned to 13.5 tonnes force. The hypozomata were considered important and secret: their export from Athens was a capital offence. This cable would act as a stretched tendon straight down the middle of the hull, and would have prevented hogging. Additionally, hull plank butts would remain in compression in all but the most severe sea conditions, reducing working of joints and consequent leakage. The hypozomata would also have significantly braced the structure of the trireme against the stresses of ramming, giving it an important advantage in combat.

Dimensions


Excavations of the ship sheds (neōsoikoi) at the harbour of Zea in Piraeus
Piraeus
Piraeus is a city in the region of Attica, Greece. Piraeus is located within the Athens Urban Area, 12 km southwest from its city center , and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf....

, which was the main war harbour of ancient Athens, were first carried out by Dragatsis and Wilhelm Dörpfeld
Wilhelm Dörpfeld
Wilhelm Dörpfeld was a German architect and archaeologist, the pioneer of stratigraphic excavation and precise graphical documentation of archaeological projects...

 in the 1880s. These have provided us with a general outline of the Athenian trireme. The sheds were ca. 40 m long and just 6 m wide. These dimensions are corroborated by the evidence of Vitruvius
Vitruvius
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman writer, architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC. He is best known as the author of the multi-volume work De Architectura ....

, whereby the individual space allotted to each rower was 2 cubits. With the Doric cubit of 0.49 m, this results in an overall ship length of just under 37 m. The height of the sheds' interior was established as 4.026 metres, leading to estimates that the height of the hull above the water surface was ca. 2.15 metres. Its draught
Draft (hull)
The draft of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull , with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained...

 was relatively shallow, about 1 metre, which, in addition to the relatively flat keel and low weight, allowed it to be beached easily.

Construction



Construction of the trireme differed from modern practice. The construction of a trireme was expensive and required around 6000 man-days of labor to complete. The ancient Mediterranean practice was to build the outer hull
Hull (watercraft)
A hull is the watertight body of a ship or boat. Above the hull is the superstructure and/or deckhouse, where present. The line where the hull meets the water surface is called the waterline.The structure of the hull varies depending on the vessel type...

 first, and the ribs afterwards. To secure and strengthen the hull, cables (hypozōmata) were employed, fitted in the keel and stretched by means of windlasses. Hence the triremes were often called "girded" when in commission.

The triremes were made of softwoods, primarily pine
Pine
Pines are trees in the genus Pinus ,in the family Pinaceae. They make up the monotypic subfamily Pinoideae. There are about 115 species of pine, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species.-Etymology:...

 and fir
Fir
Firs are a genus of 48–55 species of evergreen conifers in the family Pinaceae. They are found through much of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, occurring in mountains over most of the range...

, with the latter preferred, according to Theophrastos, for its lightness. Larch
Larch
Larches are conifers in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. Growing from 15 to 50m tall, they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains further south...

 and plane
Platanus
Platanus is a small genus of trees native to the Northern Hemisphere. They are the sole living members of the family Platanaceae....

 were used for the ship's interior parts. The large requirements of timber for ship construction led not only to the deforestation of much of southern Greece, but also to imports of timber from Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

 and Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

, or even from as far as Lebanon
Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

.

The use of lightwoods meant that the ship could be carried ashore by as few as 140 men, but also that the hull soaked up water, which adversely affected its speed and maneuverability.

Once the triremes were seaworthy, it is argued that they were highly decorated with, "eyes, nameplates, painted figureheads, and various ornaments". These decorations were used both to show the wealth of the patrician and to make the ship frightening to the enemy. The home port of each trireme was signaled by the wooden statue of a deity located above the bronze ram on the front of the ship. In the case of Athens, since most of the fleet's triremes were paid for by wealthy citizens, there was a natural sense of competition among the patricians to create the "most impressive" trireme, both to intimidate the enemy and to attract the best oarsmen. Of all military expenditure, triremes were the most labor- and (in terms of men and money) investment-intensive.

Propulsion and capabilities


The ship's primary propulsion came from the 170 oars (kōpai), arranged in three rows, with one man per oar. Evidence for this is provided by Thucydides, who records that the Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

ian oarsmen carried "each his oar, cushion (hypersion) and oarloop". The ship also had two masts, a main (istos megas) and a small foremast (istos akateios), with square sails, while steering was provided by two steering oars at the stern (one at the port side, one to starboard).

Classical sources indicate that the trireme was capable of sustained speeds of ca. 6 knots at a relatively leisurely pace. There is also a reference by Xenophon of a single day's voyage from Byzantium
Byzantium
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

 to Heraclea Pontica
Heraclea Pontica
Heraclea Pontica , an ancient city on the coast of Bithynia in Asia Minor, at the mouth of the river Lycus. It was founded by the Greek city-state of Megara c.560-558 and was named after Heracles who the Greeks believed entered the underworld at a cave on the adjoining Archerusian promontory .The...

, which translates as an average speed of 7.37 knots. These figures seem to be corroborated by the tests conducted with the reconstructed Olympias: a maximum speed of 8 knots and a steady speed of 4 knots could be maintained, with half the crew resting at a time.

The distance a trireme could cover in a given day depended much on the weather. On a good day, the oarsmen, rowing for 6–8 hours, could propel the ship between fifty and sixty miles. There were rare instances however when experienced crews and new ships were able to cover nearly twice that distance (Thucydides mentions a trireme traveling 184 miles in one day). The commanders of the triremes also had to stay aware of the condition of their men. They had to keep their crews comfortably paced so as not to exhaust them before battle.

Crew


The total complement (plērōma) of the ship was about 200. These were divided into the 170 rowers (eretai), who provided the ship's motive power, the deck crew headed by the trierarch, and a marine detachment. Perhaps the most interesting aspect pertaining to the men who composed the crew of the Athenian triremes was the fact that the ships were an extension of their democratic beliefs. The rich and poor rowed alongside each other and, as Victor Davis Hanson points out, "Served the larger civic interest of acculturating thousands as they worked together in cramped conditions and under dire circumstances."

In the Athenian fleet, during the Peloponnesian War, there are a few variations to the typical crew layout of a trireme. One variation used a drastically reduced number of oarsmen so as to use the ship as a troop transport. The thranites would row from the top benches, while the rest of the space below would be filled up with hoplites. Another variation, which the Athenians used for transporting horses (the Athenian fleet had about 10 or so of these ships), had 60 oarsmen, leaving the rest of the ship open for horses.

By design the trireme was meant for day-long journeys, with no capacity to stay at sea over night or carry the necessary provisions to sustain the men it carried. There were however storage facilities on board large enough to provide each crewman with the 2 gallons of fresh drinking water he would need to stay hydrated each day. This meant that all those aboard were dependent upon the land and peoples of where they landed each night for supplies. Sometimes this would entail traveling up to fifty miles in order to procure the necessary provisions. In the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, the beached Athenian fleet was caught unawares on more than one occasion, while out looking for food (Battle of Syracuse
Battle of Syracuse
Battles of Syracuse may refer to:* first and second Battles of Syracuse in 415 and 414 BC, where Athens fought the Syracusans and Spartans* Battle of Syracuse in 387 BC, during one of the Carthaginian campaigns in Sicily....

and Battle of Aegospotami
Battle of Aegospotami
The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely destroyed the Athenian navy...

). The cities, which suddenly found themselves needing to provide for all these sailors were usually agreeable and did not mind the extra business, but those in charge of the fleet and/or mission had to be careful not to completely deplete the 'host' city of resources.

Trierarch


The ship's captain was known as the trierarch
Trierarch
Trierarch was the title of officers who commanded a trireme in the classical Greek world. In Athens and a few other states this officer was also required to pay for the outfitting and maintenance of the ship. Trierarchs thus had to be men of considerable means, since the expenses incurred could...

 (triērarchos). He was a wealthy Athenian citizen (usually from the class of the pentakosiomedimoi
Pentacosiomedimni
In the cities of 5th Century BC Ancient Greece the Pentacosiomedimni were the top class of citizens set out by the Politician Solon. The Pentacosiomedimni were those whose property or estate could produce 500 bushels of wet or dry goods , per year. They were eligible for all top positions of...

), responsible for manning and maintaining the ship for 35 years, which otherwise belonged to Athens. The triērarchia was one of the liturgies of ancient Athens, and although it afforded great prestige, it constituted a great financial burden, so that in the 4th century, it was often shared by two citizens, and after 397 BC it was assigned to special boards.

Deck crew


The deck and command crew (hypēresia) was headed by the helmsman, the kybernētēs, who was always an experienced seaman and was often the actual commander of the vessel. These experienced sailors were to be found on the upper levels of the triremes. Other officers were the bow lookout (prōreus or prōratēs), the boatswain (keleustēs), the quartermaster (pentēkontarchos), the shipwright (naupēgos), the piper (aulētēs) who gave the rowers' rhythm and two toicharchoi, in charge of the rowers on each side of the ship. What constituted these sailors' experience was a combination of superior rowing skill (physical stamina and/or consistency in hitting with a full stroke) and previous battle experience. The sailors were likely in their thirties and forties. In addition, there were ten sailors handling the masts and the sails.

Rowers



Contrary to popular perception, in the ancient navies, crews were composed not of galley slave
Galley slave
A galley slave was a slave rowing in a galley. The expression has two distinct meanings: it can refer either to a convicted criminal sentenced to work at the oar , or to a kind of human chattel, often a prisoner of war, assigned to his duty of rowing.-Antiquity:Contrary to the popular image of the...

s but of free men. In the Athenian case in particular, service in the ships was the integral part of the military service provided by the lower classes, the thētai, although metics and hired foreigners were also accepted. Although it has been argued that slaves formed part of the rowing crew in the Sicilian Expedition
Sicilian Expedition
The Sicilian Expedition was an Athenian expedition to Sicily from 415 BC to 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. The expedition was hampered from the outset by uncertainty in its purpose and command structure—political maneuvering in Athens swelled a lightweight force of twenty ships into a...

, a typical Athenian trireme crew during the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

 consisted of 80 citizens, 60 metics and 60 foreign hands. Indeed, in the few emergency cases where slaves were used to crew ships, these were deliberately set free
Freedman
A freedman is a former slave who has been released from slavery, usually by legal means. Historically, slaves became freedmen either by manumission or emancipation ....

, usually before being employed. For instance, the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse
Dionysius I of Syracuse
Dionysius I or Dionysius the Elder was a Greek tyrant of Syracuse, in what is now Sicily, southern Italy. He conquered several cities in Sicily and southern Italy, opposed Carthage's influence in Sicily and made Syracuse the most powerful of the Western Greek colonies...

 once set all slaves of Syracuse free to man his galleys, employing thus freedmen, but otherwise relied on citizens and foreigners as oarsmen.

In the Athenian navy, the crews enjoyed long practice in peacetime, becoming skilled professionals and ensuring Athens' supremacy in naval warfare. The rowers were divided according to their positions in the ship into thranitai, zygitai, and thalamitai. According to the excavated Naval Inventories, lists of ships' equipment compiled by the Athenian naval boards, there were:
  • 62 thranitai in the top row (thranos means "deck"). They rowed through the parexeiresia, an outrigger which enabled the inclusion of the third row of oars without significant increase to the height and loss of stability of the ship. Greater demands were placed upon their strength and synchronization than on those of the other two rows.
  • 54 zygitai in the middle row, named after the beams (zygoi) on which they sat.
  • 54 thalamitai or thalamioi in the lowest row, (thalamos means "hold"). Their position was certainly the most uncomfortable, being underneath their colleagues and also exposed to the water entering through the oarholes, despite the use of the askōma, a leather sleeve through which the oar emerged.


Coordinating the rowing required great skill and practice. It is not known exactly how this was done, but there are literary and visual references to the use of gestures and pipe playing to convey orders to rowers. In the sea trials of the reconstruction Olympias
Olympias (trireme)
Olympias is a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme and an important example of experimental archaeology.She was constructed from 1985 to 1987 by a shipbuilder in Piraeus. Finance came from the Hellenic Navy and donors such as Frank Welsh . The building was advised by the historians J. S....

, it was evident that this was a difficult problem to solve, given the amount of noise that a full rowing crew generated. In Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

 play The Frogs
The Frogs
The Frogs is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus, in 405 BC, and received first place.-Plot:...

 two different rowing chants can be found: "ryppapai" and "o opop", both corresponding quite well to the sound and motion of the oar going through its full cycle.

Marines


A varying number of marines (epibatai), usually 10–20, were carried aboard for boarding actions. At the Battle of Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

, each Athenian ship was recorded to have 14 hoplites and 4 archers (usually Scythian mercenaries) on board, but Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 narrates that the Chiots
Chios
Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, seven kilometres off the Asia Minor coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait. The island is noted for its strong merchant shipping community, its unique mastic gum and its medieval villages...

 had 40 hoplites on board at Lade
Battle of Lade
The Battle of Lade was a naval battle which occurred during the Ionian Revolt, in 494 BC. It was fought between an alliance of the Ionian cities and the Persian Empire of Darius the Great, and resulted in a decisive victory for the Persians which all but ended the revolt.The Ionian Revolt was...

 and that the Persian ships carried a similar number. This reflects the different practices between the Athenians and other, less professional navies. Whereas the Athenians relied on speed and maneuverability, where their highly trained crews had the advantage, other states favored boarding, in a situation that closely mirrored the one that developed during the First Punic War
First Punic War
The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic. For 23 years, the two powers struggled for supremacy in the western Mediterranean Sea, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters but also to a lesser extent in...

. Grappling hooks would be used both as a weapon and for towing damaged ships (ally or enemy) back to shore. When the triremes were along side each other, marines would either spear the enemy or hop across and cut the enemy down with their swords. As the presence of too many heavily armed hoplites on deck tended to destabilize the ship, the epibatai were normally seated, only rising to carry out any boarding action. The hoplites belonged to the middle social classes, so that they came immediately next to the trierarch in status aboard the ship.

Tactics


In the ancient world, naval combat relied on two methods: ramming
Ramming
In warfare, ramming is a technique that was used in air, sea and land combat. The term originated from battering ram, a siege weapon used to bring down fortifications by hitting it with the force of the ram's momentum...

 and boarding
Boarding (attack)
Boarding, in its simplest sense, refers to the insertion on to a ship's deck of individuals. However, when it is classified as an attack, in most contexts, it refers to the forcible insertion of personnel that are not members of the crew by another party without the consent of the captain or crew...

. Artillery in the form of ballista
Ballista
The ballista , plural ballistae, was an ancient missile weapon which launched a large projectile at a distant target....

s and catapults was widespread, especially in later centuries, but its inherent technical limitations meant that it could not play a decisive role in combat. Rams (embolon) were fitted to the prows of warships, and were used to rupture the hull of the enemy ship. The preferred method of attack was to come in from astern, with the aim not of creating a single hole, but of rupturing as big a length of the enemy vessel as possible. The speed necessary for a successful impact depended on the angle of attack; the greater the angle, the lesser the speed required. At 60 degrees, 4 knots was enough to penetrate the hull, while it increased to 8 knots at 30 degrees. If the target for some reason was in motion in the direction of the attacker, even less speed was required, and especially if the hit came amidships. Another method was to brush alongside the enemy ship, with oars drawn in, in order to break the enemy's oars and render the ship immobile, to be finished off with ease. In any case, prior to engagement, the masts and railings of the ship were taken down, hindering any attempt at using grappling hook
Grappling hook
A grappling hook is an anchor with multiple hooks , attached to a rope; it is thrown, dropped, sunk, projected, or fastened directly by hand to where at least one hook may catch and hold. Generally, grappling hooks are used to temporarily secure one end of a rope. They may also be used to dredge...

s. The Athenians especially became masters in the art of ramming, using light, un-decked
Deck (ship)
A deck is a permanent covering over a compartment or a hull of a ship. On a boat or ship, the primary deck is the horizontal structure which forms the 'roof' for the hull, which both strengthens the hull and serves as the primary working surface...

 (aphraktai) triremes.

On-board forces



Unlike the naval warfare of other eras, boarding an enemy ship was not the primary offensive action of triremes. Triremes' small size allowed for a limited number of marines to be carried aboard. During the 5th and 4th centuries, the trireme's strength was in its maneuverability and speed, not its armor or boarding force. That said, fleets less confident in their ability to ram were prone to load more marines onto their ships.

On the deck of a typical trireme in the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

 there were 4 or 5 archers and 10 or so marines. These few troops were peripherally effective in an offensive sense, but critical in providing defense for the oarsmen. Should the crew of another trireme board, the marines were all that stood between the enemy troops and the slaughter of the men below. It has also been recorded that if a battle were to take place in the calmer water of a harbor, oarsmen would join the offensive and throw stones (from a stockpile aboard) to aid the marines in harassing/attacking other ships.

Most of the rowers (108 of the 170 - the zygitai and thalamitai), due to the design of the ship, were unable to see the water and therefore, rowed blindly.

Naval strategy in the Peloponnesian War



Squadrons
Squadron (naval)
A squadron, or naval squadron, is a unit of 3-4 major warships, transport ships, submarines, or sometimes small craft that may be part of a larger task force or a fleet...

 of triremes employed a variety of tactics. The periplous (Gk.
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, "sailing around") involved outflanking or encircling the enemy so as to attack them in the vulnerable rear; the diekplous (Gk., "Sailing out through") involved a concentrated charge so as to break a hole in the enemy line, allowing galleys to break through and then wheel to attack the enemy line from behind; and the kyklos (Gk., "circle") and the mēnoeidēs kyklos (Gk. "half-circle"; literally, "moon-shaped (i.e. crescent-shaped) circle"), were defensive tactics to be employed against these manoeuvres. In all of these manoeuvres, the ability to accelerate faster, row faster, and turn more sharply than one's enemy was very important.

It is well known that Athens' strength in the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

 came from its navy, whereas Sparta's came from its land-based Hoplite
Hoplite
A hoplite was a citizen-soldier of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were primarily armed as spearmen and fought in a phalanx formation. The word "hoplite" derives from "hoplon" , the type of the shield used by the soldiers, although, as a word, "hopla" could also denote weapons held or even...

 army. As the war progressed however the Spartans came to realize that if they were to undermine Pericles
Pericles
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

' strategy of outlasting the Peloponnesians by remaining within the walls of Athens indefinitely (a strategy made possible by Athens' Long Walls
Long Walls
The Long Walls , in Ancient Greece, were walls built from a city to its port, providing a secure connection to the sea even during times of siege. Although long walls were built at several locations in Greece—Corinth and Megara being two of the best known examples—the phrase "long...

 and fortified port of Piraeus), they were going to have to do something about Athens superior naval force. Once Sparta gained Persia as an ally, they had the funds necessary to construct the new naval fleets necessary to combat the Athenians. Sparta was able to build fleet after fleet, eventually destroying the Athenian fleet at the Battle of Aegospotami
Battle of Aegospotami
The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely destroyed the Athenian navy...

. The Spartan General Brasidas best summed up the difference in approach to naval warfare between the Spartans and the Athenians: "Athenians relied on speed and maneuverability on the open seas to ram at will clumsier ships; in contrast, a Peloponnesian armada might win only when it fought near land in calm and confined waters, had the greater number of ships in a local theater, and if its better-trained marines on deck and hoplites on shore could turn a sea battle into a contest of infantry." In addition, compared to the high-finesse of the Athenian navy (superior oarsmen who could outflank and ram enemy triremes from the side), the Spartans (as well as their allies and other enemies of Athens) would focus mainly on ramming Athenian triremes head on. It would be these tactics, in combination with those outlined by Brasidas, that led to the defeat of the Athenian fleet at the Second Battle of Syracuse during the Sicilian Expedition
Sicilian Expedition
The Sicilian Expedition was an Athenian expedition to Sicily from 415 BC to 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. The expedition was hampered from the outset by uncertainty in its purpose and command structure—political maneuvering in Athens swelled a lightweight force of twenty ships into a...

.

Paying the price at sea



Once a naval battle was underway, for the men involved, there were numerous ways for them to meet their end. Drowning was perhaps the most common way for a crew member to perish. Once a trireme had been rammed, the ensuing panic that engulfed the men trapped below deck no doubt extended the amount of time it took the men to escape. Inclement weather would greatly decrease the crew's odds of survival, leading to a situation like that off Cape Athos in 411 (12 of 10,000 men were saved). An estimated 40,000 Persians died in the Battle of Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

. In the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, at the Battle of Arginusae
Battle of Arginusae
The naval Battle of Arginusae took place in 406 BC during the Peloponnesian War near the Arginusae islands east of the island of Lesbos. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by eight strategoi defeated a Spartan fleet under Callicratidas...

 six Athenian generals were executed for failing to rescue several hundred of their men clinging to wreckage in the water.

If the men did not meet a watery grave, they might be taken prisoner by the enemy. In the Peloponnesian War, "Sometimes captured crews were brought ashore and either cut down or maimed - often grotesquely, by cutting off the right hand or thumb to guarantee that they could never row again." The image found on an early-5th-century black-figure, depicting prisoners bound and thrown into the sea being pushed and prodded under water with poles and spears, shows that enemy treatment of captured sailors in the Peloponnesian War was often quite brutal. The idea of troops being speared amid the wreckage of destroyed ships seems the most common way of dealing with enemy sailors in the Peloponnesian War.

Naval battles were far more of a spectacle than the hoplite
Hoplite
A hoplite was a citizen-soldier of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were primarily armed as spearmen and fought in a phalanx formation. The word "hoplite" derives from "hoplon" , the type of the shield used by the soldiers, although, as a word, "hopla" could also denote weapons held or even...

 battles on land. Sometimes the battles raging at sea were watched by thousands of spectators on shore. Along with this greater spectacle, came greater consequences for the outcome of any given battle. Whereas the average percentage of fatalities from a land battle were between 10-15%, in a sea battle, the forces engaged ran the risk of losing their entire fleet. The number of ships and men in battles was sometimes very high. At the Battle of Arginusae
Battle of Arginusae
The naval Battle of Arginusae took place in 406 BC during the Peloponnesian War near the Arginusae islands east of the island of Lesbos. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by eight strategoi defeated a Spartan fleet under Callicratidas...

 for example, 263 ships were involved, making for a total of 55,000 men, and at the Battle of Aegospotami
Battle of Aegospotami
The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely destroyed the Athenian navy...

 more than 300 ships and 60,000 seamen were involved. In Battle of Aegospotami
Battle of Aegospotami
The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely destroyed the Athenian navy...

, the city-state of Athens lost what was left of its navy: the once 'invincible' thalassocracy
Thalassocracy
The term thalassocracy refers to a state with primarily maritime realms—an empire at sea, such as Athens or the Phoenician network of merchant cities...

 lost 170 ships (costing some 400 talents), and the majority of the crews were either killed, captured or lost.

Changes of engagement and construction


During the Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

, the light trireme was supplanted by larger warships in dominant navies, especially the pentere/quinquereme
Quinquereme
From the 4th century BC on, new types of oared warships appeared in the Mediterranean Sea, superseding the trireme and transforming naval warfare. Ships became increasingly bigger and heavier, including some of the largest wooden ships ever constructed...

. The maximum practical number of oar banks a ship could have was three. So the numbers did not refer to the banks of oars any more (for biremes, triremes and quinqueremes), but to the number of rowers per vertical section, with several men on each oar. The reason for this development was the increasing use of armour on the bows of warships against ramming attacks, which again required heavier ships for a successful attack. This increased the number of rowers per ship, and also made it possible to use less well-trained personnel for moving these new ships. This change was accompanied by an increased reliance on tactics like boarding
Boarding (attack)
Boarding, in its simplest sense, refers to the insertion on to a ship's deck of individuals. However, when it is classified as an attack, in most contexts, it refers to the forcible insertion of personnel that are not members of the crew by another party without the consent of the captain or crew...

, missile skirmishes and using warships as platforms for artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

.

Triremes continued to be the mainstay of all smaller navies. While the Hellenistic kingdoms did develop the quinquereme and even larger ships, most navies of the Greek homeland and the smaller colonies could only afford triremes. It was used by the Diadochi
Diadochi
The Diadochi were the rival generals, family and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for the control of Alexander's empire after his death in 323 BC...

 Empires and sea powers like Syracuse, Carthage
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 and later Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

. The difference to the classical 5th century Athenian ships was that they were armoured against ramming and carried significantly more marines. Lightened versions of the trireme and smaller vessels were often used as auxiliaries, and still performed quite effectively against the heavier ships, thanks to their greater manoeuvrability.

With the rise of Rome the biggest fleet of quinqueremes temporarily ruled the Mediterranean, but during the civil wars after Caesar's death the fleet was on the wrong side and a new warfare with light liburnians was developed. By Imperial times the fleet was relatively small and had mostly political influence, controlling the grain supply and fighting pirates, who usually employed light biremes and liburnians. But instead of the successful liburnians of the Greek Civil War, it was again centred around light triremes, but still with many marines. Out of this type of ship, the dromon
Dromon
The dromon was a type of galley and the most important warship of the Byzantine navy from the 6th to 12th centuries AD...

 developed.

Reconstruction


In 1985–1987 a shipbuilder in Piraeus
Piraeus
Piraeus is a city in the region of Attica, Greece. Piraeus is located within the Athens Urban Area, 12 km southwest from its city center , and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf....

, financed by Frank Welsh (an author, Suffolk banker, writer and trireme enthusiast), advised by historian J. S. Morrison and naval architect John F. Coates (who with Welsh founded the Trireme Trust that initiated and managed the project), and informed by evidence from underwater archaeology, built a reconstructed Athenian trireme, Olympias
Olympias (trireme)
Olympias is a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme and an important example of experimental archaeology.She was constructed from 1985 to 1987 by a shipbuilder in Piraeus. Finance came from the Hellenic Navy and donors such as Frank Welsh . The building was advised by the historians J. S....

.

Crewed by 170 volunteer oarsmen and oarswomen, Olympias in 1988 achieved 9 knots (17 km/h or 10.5 mph). These results, achieved with inexperienced crew, suggest that the ancient writers were not exaggerating about straight-line performance. In addition, Olympias was able to execute a 180 degree turn in one minute and in an arc no wider than two and one half (2.5) ship-lengths. Additional sea trials took place in 1987, 1990, 1992 and 1994. In 2004 Olympias was used ceremonially to transport the Olympic Flame
Olympic Flame
The Olympic Flame or Olympic Torch is a symbol of the Olympic Games. Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was reintroduced at the 1928...

 from the port of Keratsini to the main port of Piraeus as the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay
2004 Olympic Torch Relay
The 2004 Summer Olympics Torch Relay took the Olympic flame across every habitable continent, returning to Athens, Greece. Every city which had hosted the Summer Olympics was revisited by the torch, as well as several other cities chosen for their international importance.The relay was the first...

 entered its final stages in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Olympics opening ceremony
2004 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony
The Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games was held on August 13, 2004 at the Olympic Stadium in Maroussi, Greece, a suburb of Athens. 72,000 spectators attended the event, with approximately 15,000 athletes from 202 countries participating in the ceremony as well...

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The builders of the reconstruction project concluded that it effectively & conclusively proved what had previously been in doubt, i.e.- that Athenian triremes were arranged with the crew positioned in a staggered arrangement on three levels with one person per oar. This architecture would have made optimum use of the available internal dimensions. However since modern humans are on average approximately 6 cm (2 inches) taller than Ancient Greeks (and the same relative dimensions can be presumed for oarsmen and other athletes), the construction of a craft which followed the precise dimensions of the ancient vessel led to cramped rowing conditions and consequent restrictions on the modern crew's ability to propel the vessel with full efficiency, which perhaps explains why the ancient speed records stand unbroken.

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