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The Warships of the Delian League

The warship of the time was a narrow vessel built for speed called a trireme1(“triple-banks-of-oars ship”), a name derived from its having three tiers of oarsmen on each side for propulsion in battle. One hundred and eighty rowers were needed to propel a trireme, which fought mainly by ramming enemy ships with a metal-clad ram attached to the bow and thus sinking them bypuncturing their hulls below the water line. Triremes also carried a complement of about twenty officers and marines; the marines, armed as infantry, could board enemy ships. Effective battle tactics in triremes required extensive training and physical conditioning of the crews. Most member states of the Delian League preferred to pay their annual dues in cash instead of furnishing triremes2 because it was beyond their capacities to build ships as specialized as triremes and to train crews in the intricate teamwork required to work triple banks of oars in battle maneuvers. Athens was far richer and more populous than most of its allies in the Delian League, and it not only had the shipyards and craftsmen to build triremes in numbers but also a large pool of poorer men eager to earn pay as rowers. Therefore, Athens built and manned most of the alliance's triremes, using the dues of allies to supplement its own contribution.

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