Monday, July 13, 2009

Warships of the Greek Navy

The primary warship of the Greek navy during the classical period was the Trireme – its name derived from the three rows of oars used for propulsion. The first documented use of this craft was 525 B.C. in a battle between Persia and Egypt. The trireme proved to be superior to its predecessor, the penteconter, which had fifty oarsmen.

The drawing below shows how the trireme rowers were positioned.

As you can imagine, practice was essential to produce a coordinated movement and avoid oar strikes.

The Trireme was about 110 feet long and made out of softwoods (pine and fir) to minimize weight so that it could be carried by 140 men. The softwoods absorbed water causing the ships to lose speed, so they had to be brought ashore for maintenance periodically. The ship’s crew was about 200 Greek citizens (no slaves), made up of one hundred and seventy rowers, twenty or so hoplites, and ten officers. The ships had a main sail and foresail so improve speed during windy conditions. The ship could make four knots with half the crew resting or eight knots at maximum speed.

The triremes had a pointed prow which was designed to ram other ships and disable them. Battle tactics included ramming from behind or passing close to break the enemy’s oars. Boarding was an option but not often used until later because the marine contingent was too small. Usually the masts were taken down before battle to avoid a target for grappling hooks.

Cross section drawing coutesy of Eric Gaba.

1 comment:

Geoff Carter said...

Another great post; Many people may be sprised by the lack of 'slaves' to man the oars.