Deadly darting man-of-war of the ancient world!
Deadliest Blogger continues our series on famous warships or types of ships in history.
In the 5th century the democratic city-state of Athens established a naval empire (thalassocracy) based upon their powerful fleet of swift triremes (Greek: trieres), history’s first great warship.
While earlier naval vessels had been used to transport forces or engage in boarding-actions against other ships, the trireme was the first warship designed specifically to sink other ships. Armed with a bronze-sheathed ram, the trireme specialized in penetrating the hull of other ships below the waterline; or crippling enemy galleys by rowing swiftly past, and shearing-off their oars in the process. A trireme was capable of not only driving a hole in the hull of an enemy ship: its ram could, in cases, cause an enemy to capsize or even break in half. As well as their ram the trireme was armed with a brace of archers and a small contingent of hoplites (armored spearmen) who acted as marines.
Two views of a trireme’s main armament, its bronze-sheathed ram. These are images of the “Olympia”, a modern reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme; registered as an official ship of the Greek navy. Trials have shown it to be both swift and agile.
These were swift, nimble warships were capable of turning nearly on a dime, in fact within their own length. They could also dart forward from a standing start to full speed (8 knots) very rapidly. Though equipped with sails for long journeys, these were taken down and stored before battle, during which oars were the sole source of locomotion.
The trireme was propelled by three-banks of oarsmen. Contrary to popular myth (promulgated by countless Hollyweird movies) these rowers were not slaves, but instead a well-trained rowing team of citizens. In Athens, service in the fleet created a bonding experience that helped unite the citizenry in a commonly shared civic duty (much as universal service in the IDF bonds all young Israelis together). Well-drilled and conditioned, Athenian crews became an elite among the ancient world’s naval forces. Their skill and strength in pulling their oars allowed Athenian admirals to create sophisticated ramming tactics, which made the Athenian navy supreme in the Eastern Mediterranean for half-a-century.
A fascinating and informative video taken during the sea trials of the reconstructed trireme, Olympia.