The invention of war-ships larger
than the trireme, viz. quadrireme and quinquereme, belongs to the epoch
which follows that of the Peloponnesian War. In the first half of the 4th
cent. B.C. the Athenians possessed a few quadriremes; but the quinquereme,
which was destined to be the line-of-battle ship of the succeeding century,
had not yet become common. At the siege of Tyre (Curt.
) Alexander had only one quinquereme as his admiral's ship.
Later on we find the Carthaginian fleet consisting mainly of vessels of five
banks of oars; and from one of these which fell into their hands, and was
used as a model, the Romans constructed those fleets which were engaged at
Mylae and Ecnomus and the Aegates Insulae. According to Pliny (7.56
), it was Alexander who conceived the
idea of constructing still larger vessels, and gave orders for building
ships of seven or even ten banks. It remained, however, for his successors
to carry out these plans, of whom Demetrius Poliorcetes was the most
energetic and successful in matters of naval construction. Demetrius himself
superintended the building of vessels of fifteen and sixteen banks (Plut.
43), and this passion for huge ships
seems to have continued among the Macedonians (cf. Liv.
, “Regiam unam inhabilis prope magnitudinis quam
sedecim versus remorum agebant” ). Ptolemy Philadelphus had
fourteen ships of eleven, two of twelve, four of thirteen, one of twenty,
and two of thirty banks of oars. To surpass these latter, Ptolemy Philopater
constructed the Great Eastern of ancient days, the famous Tesseraconteres, a
triumph of naval architecture in point of construction, but useless for
practical purposes, and in reality only the splendid toy of a despotic king.
Her dimensions, as given in Athen. 5.203
, are as
follows:--Length, 420 ft. breadth (within parodi), 57 ft.; height, forward
72 ft., aft 79 ft. She had four rudders, each 45 ft. long, and her upper
tier of oars (θρανιτικαὶ
) were 57 ft.,
weighted with lead inboard. She was δίπρωρος
seven beaks, of which one was longer than the rest; also beaks projecting
from the catheads (κατὰ τὰς ἐπωτίδας
She had twelve ὑποζώματα,
each 900 ft.
long; that is, sufficient to gird her from stem to stern. Her proportions
were graceful, and her ornamentation elaborate. Figures of animals, 18 ft.
in length, adorned both stem and stern, and every available surface was
covered with painting, the whole of the rowing space from the keel upwards
being decorated with ivy wreaths and thyrsi. The rowing complement was over
4,000; the marines numbered 2,850; there were 400 seamen (?) for the service
of the ship; and below decks a vast multitude of people.
Such, in brief, are the details preserved concerning this remarkable vessel,
which however, probably after her trial trip, was left for show in the dock
specially constructed for her by a Phoenician engineer.
As regards dimensions, she was about the same as H.M.S. Warrior (420 ft.
[multi] 58 ft.), an ironclad of a type now becoming obsolete. It is not
possible to be certain as regards the meaning of δίπρωρος
Graser's view seems plausible, that she was, in construction, anticipatory
of the class of twin vessels (such as the Castalia and Calais-Douvres),
which have been tried of late with varying success. It would seem however,
from the mention of the seven beaks, that the double prow was prolonged into
one, at all events above the water-line, and, in all probability, the double
stern likewise, so that the Acrostolia and Aphlasta would be as in other
vessels. The four rudder paddles would thus probably have been carried two
on each side, as often seen in Egyptian vessels, though Graser seems to
suppose one on each side of the two sterns. The disposition of the rowers in
the Tesseraconteres has been a matter of much controversy. It is interesting
to find that Graser in his detailed description of the Tesseraconteres has
adopted for her as for all the larger rates above quinquereme a reduced
scale, allowing only 7 instead of 8 square ft. per man for rowing space, and
the vertical distance of the banks from 2 ft. to 1 foot. Probably this is
also nearer the true measurement in the smaller rates from quinquereme
Allowing 20 ft. for draught, the Tesseraconteres gave a height of 44 ft. on
either side for the insertion of 40 banks of oars. The curvature of the
vessel fore and aft, and the consequent contraction of the rowing space,
would necessarily diminish the number of men in each tier from the highest
to the lowest. Graser, by an ingenious calculation, brings the total number
of oarsmen to 4054 (Athen.: ὀλίγῳ πλείους τῶν
). For the disposition of these (allowing 7 ft.
interscalmium) there was for the topmost bank on each side a longitudinal
space of 367 ft., in which were seated on either side the 53 thranites (the
topmost men of 53 complexus, diagonal lines, of oarsmen), and for the
lowest, or thalamite bank, a longitudinal space of 345 ft. Of the 53
complexus, 40 were complete, giving a sum of 1600 on each side. In the
remaining 13, incomplete complexus, 427 men found their places on either
side (3200 + 854 = 4054). The principle of the ζύγωσις
must have been similar to that of the trireme [see
], benches (ζυγὰ
) being fitted between the vessel's side and
though in the case of the
Tesseraconteres these were probably divided by decks at certain intervals.
The upper tiers of oars, when fastened to the σκαλμὸς
or thowl pin, were almost at equilibrium between the
outboard and inboard portions, so that the movement of the whole would not
be difficult. The oar-ports of the thalamites must have been dangerously
close to the water. Graser places them at 2 1/4 ft. above the water-line
less than those of the trireme, which were not under 3 ft. And perhaps this
is the reason of the terms in which Plutarch speaks of her (Dem.
43): ἀλλὰ θέαν μόνην
ἐκείνη παρέσχε, καὶ μικρὸν ὅσον διαφέρουσα τῶν μονίμων
οἰκοδομημάτων φανῆναι πρὸς ἐπίδειξιν, οὐ χρείαν, ἐπισφαλῶς
καὶ δυσεργως ἐκινήθη.