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ναῦς). A ship. It is doubtless owing to the fact that the Mediterranean suffers from frequent calms lasting for days at a time, that the characteristic implements of navigation in that sea were oars, and that the chief problems of ancient shipbuilding were problems relating to the use of oars. The art of rowing is historically first discernible upon the river Nile. The earliest representation of rowing found on the Egyptian monuments dates from at least B.C. 2500, and there is evidence that paddling was the older practice. Among the Greeks, the generic term for the oars of a ship was τάρσος, a word applicable to the wing of a bird; so that the name sufficiently indicates the earliest “wings” of a ship to have been its oars. In the Iliad, ships of twenty rowers and fifty rowers are often mentioned, and in the Odyssey as well. In the so-called Homeric “Catalogue of Ships” there is mention of vessels with as many as 118 oarsmen. In the course of time, since the ships could not be indefinitely lengthened as the number of oarsmen increased, the oars began to be arranged in two and then in three banks, one above the other. Two-banked ships-of-war were used by the Phœnicians as early as B.C. 700, for they are represented in the Assyrian sculptures of that date, and Herodotus states that three-banked war-ships were built in Egypt about B.C. 600. Among the Greeks the first vessels of this type were not generally employed until about B.C. 500, chiefly in Sicily and Corfu. Ships with four banks of oars were built by the Athenians a little earlier than B.C. 330, and ships of five banks in B.C. 325.

Egyptian Ship (Mariette).

Pliny the Elder speaks of ships having six banks as built at Syracuse; Quintus Curtius says that seven-banked ships were built by Alexander, and Pliny also speaks of ships having ten banks of oars. Plutarch tells of a thirteen-banked ship built by Demetrius in B.C. 301, and of fifteen, and sixteen-banked ships in B.C. 288. Polybius and Plutarch mention a sixteen-banked ship belonging to the Macedonians as arriving in the Tiber in B.C. 167, and as giving a name to one of the docks at Rome. Under the Ptolemies in Egypt, ships of twenty, thirty, and forty banks of oars are spoken of by Pliny and Plutarch, and these statements are apparently confirmed by an inscription discovered in Cyprus some years ago.

While, however, the art of rowing was developed before the art of sailing, in later times the use of oars was in general restricted to ships-ofwar, which were thus made independent of the wind. In merchant vessels, on the other hand, sails were generally used, thus requiring a much smaller crew and thereby securing an economy of men. Ships-of-war, however, were also rigged with sails, though in a somewhat peculiar manner. The mast was low and carried a square sail attached to a yard. This mast was unshipped during a battle and in its stead a small foremast with a similar sail was used in place of it. Only merchant vessels appear to have carried three sails, and were very much more seaworthy than ships-of-war, being built heavier and of greater depth. The helm was usually strengthened by a stay made of two strong beams stretched between the two ends of the vessel; the bow and stern were built after the same form, and were usually the only parts of the ship to be covered with half-decks, the middle of the vessel being left open except in later times, though merchant vessels occasionally had the regular full deck.

Part of the Hull of an Homeric Ship. [a, μεσόδμη, mast-box; b, beams parallel to c, the gunwale; d, κληι_δες, rowlocks; e, bed of the oar; f, ζύγα, thwarts (should cross the hold); g, θρη_νυς, braces for the feet; h, ἴκρια, ribs; i, τρόπις, keel; k, ἁρμονιαί, slabs sustaining the floor; l, ἔδαφος, floor; m, keelson.]

Homeric Ship.—The Homeric ship or galley had a sharp black hull, but was not as yet provided with a ram. The keel (τρόπις) was probably first laid upon short upright banks (δρύοχοι) of timber, laid level at suitable intervals. From the keel sprang the stem-post (στεῖρα), carried upward to a good height, as was also the stern-post. The sides (τοῖχοι) were held together by the thwarts (ζύγα), which formed the seats for the oarsmen. At the bow was a raised platform or deck (ἴκρια πρώρης), on which stood the fighting men of the ship; and there was a similar deck at the stern, on which the arms were kept, and under which there was room for stowage. The length of the fifty-oared galley is calculated to have been about 90 to 100 feet from stem to stern, with a breadth amidships of 10 to 12 feet. The galley was propelled by oars and sails together, the mast (ἱστός) being raised or lowered as stated above. When raised it was held in a sort of box (μεσόδμη), and kept in its place by forestays (πρότονοι). When lowered it rested on a sort of crutch (ἱστοδόκη). There was also a backstay (ἐπίτονος). The sail was hoisted on a yard (ἐπίκριον) having braces (ὑπέραι) and halyards (κάλοι). The sails were square in shape and white in colour. The ropes were of thong; but larger cables (ὅπλα) were made of byblus (Odyss. xxii. 391), occasionally of hemp or rushes (σπάρτα). The ship was steered by paddles (πηδάλια). The oars (ἐρετμά) were of fir-wood, the parts being the handle (κώπη) and blade (πηδόν). The oars were fastened to thowls (σκαλμοί) by thongs, and when not in use were drawn in, leaving the blade projecting. The master of the ship (κυβερνήτης) had his place on the forward deck. At times a long pole for pushing (κοντός) was used as an instrument of propulsion.

The Post-Homeric Ship.—As civilization and commerce grew and extended, various types of vessel were evolved. The two-banked ship (διήρης, biremis) and the three-banked ship (τριήρης, triremis) now appear to replace the earlier μονήρης, and are soon developed into the ship of many banks (πολυήρεις) mentioned above. In the bireme the second row of oarsmen sat a little lower than the first row, nearer the water-line, and with shorter oars. (From their being more in the hold (θάλαμος) of the vessel, they get the name of θαλαμῖται.) This was a great step in advance, as it doubled the motive power without adding appreciably to the length or bulk of the vessel. In the trireme we have merely an extension of the principle. The arrangement of the oarsmen in this type of ship and in those in which the number of banks of oars was still larger is not definitely known, and the question involves great difficulties. It is really impossible to conceive how the thirty or forty banked ships could have been worked, since the longest oars would have had a length of 38 cubits, or say 57 English feet. Mr. Ridgeway ingeniously suggests (Class. Review, June, 1895) that the word στοῖχος, rendered “bank” or “tier,” really refers to the rows of men viewed from stem to stern, five or six oarsmen pulling each oar, and not to banks of oars at all. He calls attention to the significant fact that no representation of a manybanked ship has come down to us on coins, medals, etc. All that we do know is that the rowers in the three-banks were not separated by decks; that the whole rowing strength of the trireme was 170 men; and that the crew was densely packed, so that Cicero says that not a single additional person could enter. Each man had a cushion (ὑπηρέσιον), and the rowing port-holes were protected by leather bags (ἀσκώματα), intended to prevent the wash in a rough sea from entering the hold.

The oarsmen having the longest oars were called θρανῖται, and were 62 in number; those with the next longest were called ζύγιοι or ζυγῖται, 54 in number; and those with the shortest oars, θαλαμῖται, 54 in number. They all entered in regular order, and took their places with the strictest regard to discipline, and thus also they disembarked. The whole complement of an Athenian trireme was about 210 persons—170 oarsmen, 15 to 20 sailors, and 10 to 12 marines (ἐπιβάται), besides the officers.

The normal dimensions of the Attic trireme are differently estimated by different archaeologists. Cartault regards the length over all as 113 feet,

Supposed Arrangement of Oarsmen in a Trireme. (Cartault.)

with a maximum breadth of about 15 1/2 feet, height of deck above water 10 feet, and draught 6 feet. Graser puts the length at 149 feet, the maximum breadth at 18 feet, a deck height of 11 feet, a draught of 8 1/2 feet, and a capacity of 232 1/2 tons.

Supposed Plan of a Trireme. (Graser.)

There were developed, roughly speaking, in the post-Homeric times, three types of ship:

  • 1. the trading-vessel, propelled principally by sail-power, roomy, wide, and safe;
  • 2. the pirate-vessel, using both sails and oars, swift, sharp, yet with sufficient room for storing the plunder; and
  • 3. the man-ofwar (ναῦς μακρά, navis longa), intended first of all for fighting.
This last was high out of water, less steady than the trader, having bulwarks of great strength running the whole length of the ship, propelled principally by oars. This type finds its highest expression in the Athenian trireme.

A ship with a single bank of oars (μονήρης) was also named according to the number of oarsmen employed—thus, πεντηκόντορος, with fifty rowers; ἑξηκόντορος, with sixty rowers, etc.

Trading-ship. (From a Vase in the British Museum.)

Decks.—The earliest Greek ships were decked over at the stem and at the stern, as described above; but towards B.C. 500 the ships appear without poop. Occasionally about this time the forecastle is represented as supporting the forepart of a hurricane-deck and enclosing a cabin below. The stern now held a tier of seats for the steerer and for officers. There was also usually a deck-house at the stern for the commander, oftenest lightly constructed of wicker-work, and sometimes merely of canvas. Later ships have deck-houses all along the upper deck, and these were sometimes fitted up very luxuriously, like the cabines de luxe on a modern transatlantic liner, having paintings, statuary, marble-baths, and even libraries in the saloons. Alongside ran covered promenades, lined with rows of vines, and even trees planted in tubs (Athen. v. 41; Calig. 37). But these vessels partook probably more of the nature of barges than of actual ships. A decked ship was called κατάφρακτος; an open ship, ἄφρακτος.

War-vessels carried turrets on their upper decks, whence missiles might be showered upon an enemy; and these are also found on merchant-vessels that traversed waters infested by pirates. These turrets were movable. Some ships carried as many as eight; and they were often of several stories. The colours in which they were painted identified the squadron to which they belonged. Lest the ships should be made top-heavy by these turrets, large quantities of ballast were carried at the bottom of the hold, usually gravel or sand or

Pirate-ship. (From a Vase in the British Museum.)

stone. Vessels were baled by a machine worked by a sort of tread-mill (Athen. v. 43), but in early times by buckets (ἀντλητήρια, sentinacula). Drinking-water was carried in cisterns.

Rams.—The forepart of war-ships was constructed largely with regard to the use of the ram (ἔμβολος, rostrum), being built very strongly, with massive cat-heads projecting far enough to tear away the upper works of a hostile ship. There were auxiliary rams besides the principal one. Rams were

Ram. (Monttaucon.)

usually of bronze, but sometimes of iron. The principal ram of a trireme weighed some 170 pounds. It usually had three prongs, and often sloped downward, as the one shown above. Before the use of rams, heads of animals had usually been carved

Ram. (From a medal.)

upon the prows as figure-heads, the subject corresponding to the name of the ship. Thus, a crocodile would go with a ship named Nilus; a mountain with one named Ida, etc. There were regular national emblems so used, as the statue of Pallas Athené by Athenian ships and a head of Ammon by the Carthaginians. In Roman ships of about A.D. 50 a gilded swan or goose was common. The stern was often ornamented by a painting or relief, and by a carving resembling originally the Egyptian lotus, but developed, in time, into a sort of plume or fan. On the bow of the ship there was also generally a huge eye, or sometimes a pair of eyes.

Rudders.—See Gubernaculum.

Anchors.—In early times the anchors (ἀγκύρα, ancora) were stones (εὐναί). The metal anchor with arms was said to be the invention of Ana

Anchor. (Column of Trajan.)

charsis (B.C. 600). They were first of iron and later of lead with a wooden shank. The remains of one lately found near Cyrené afford evidence that for a ship of some 200 tons the anchor weighed some 1400 pounds. The anchor was often slung over the stern, and when in use had its position marked by cork buoys (σημεῖα ἀγκύρας). The cables (τὰ σχοῖνα, ancoralia) were sometimes of chain, but usually of rope.

Sails.—The sail (ἱστίον) was often made of pieces of canvas stitched together, whence the plural ἱστία often means only a single sail. They were sometimes strengthened by strips of leather sewn over the stitching. At the lower extremities of

Brailing the Sails of a Ship. (Mazois, Pomp. i. 22.

the sail were the sheets (πόδες) and tacks (πρόποδες). Instead of reefing the sails the ancients appear rather to have brailed them up (στέλλειν, παραιρεῖν) to reduce the area exposed to the wind. In battle the war-ships depended wholly upon their oars.

Material for Ships.—The hull was usually of pine or fir; cedar and cypress are also mentioned. The keels were of pine and the false keels of oak or beech. Barbarian ships of leather (B. C. i. 54) are mentioned. The masts and yards were made of fir or pine, and so also the oars. The seams of the ship were calked by packing them with tow fastened by wax or tar; and the whole outer planking was protected by a coating of similar materials, coloured. Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxv. 31 and 41) mentions seven colours as used; but in later times a colour resembling that of the sea-water was employed, probably to enable the vessel to escape observation from enemies, a device employed in modern navies. The timbers were held together by wooden pegs and metal nails.

The Roman Ship.—The Romans, though not a seafaring people, appear from the treaty with Carthage to have been familiar with the sea, and to have had maritime interests as early as the time of the kings. The existence of duumviri navales, officers charged with repairing the fleet, the right of electing whom was transferred to the people in B.C. 311, proves that the State had, at that time and previously, some naval force; and coins of a date as early as B.C. 350 bear the representation of the bows of a ship of a type more rude than the Greek, but still very possibly borrowed from the Greek cities in Magna Graecia. In the instances exhibited by the coins, which belong to the halfcentury preceding the First Punic War, there are apparently two varieties of construction. In one the depression of the beak is remarkable, and the timbers which support it appear to be compacted with cross-pieces. These vessels were probably triremes. In the year B.C. 303 a treaty was made with the Tarentines, by which the Lacinian Promontory was made the boundary beyond which the Roman war-ships were not to pass. L. Cornelius in B.C. 282 violated that treaty, and was defeated by the Tarentines with the loss of half his fleet. The Samnite Wars seem to have diverted the attention of the Romans entirely from maritime affairs, and at the beginning of the Punic Wars they were practically without a fleet. They then first seem to have realized the fact that in the conflict which was before them the mastery of the Mediterranean was an absolute necessity, not only for the protection of their own coasts, which already had suffered from the descents of the Carthaginian fleets, but also as the first step towards empire (Polyb. i. 20, 21). Hence, in the year B.C. 260, when a Carthaginian quinquereme which had been driven on shore fell into their hands, they determined to construct a fleet of similar vessels. No less than 100 were built in six weeks, while their future crews were practised rowing in frame-work set up on land. Cn. Cornelius with seventeen of these vessels sailed in advance to attack the Carthaginians, but was himself attacked and taken with all his vessels. Duilius, who then took the command of the fleet, by the invention of the corvus (Polyb. i. 22, 23)—a swinging bridge with a heavy iron spike, which, when let fall on the enemy's deck, not only grappled his vessel, but gave the boarders access to it—was enabled to neutralize the ramming tactics of the Carthaginians and their superior naval skill. The battles of Mylae and of Ecnomus, in which the Carthaginians were defeated with great loss, were the prelude of maritime dominion to Rome. The importance of the ram was thus much diminished, and in the coins of the century following we see the ram much less projecting and apparently less strongly supported. On the other hand, the δελφίς, great beams and great grappling hooks, iron hands, and falces with curved steel heads, such as those with which the sailing vessels of the Veneti were crippled by Caesar off the coast of Gaul (B. G. iii. 14), came into favour. Huge towers (turres) were placed in the bows—whence our term “forecastle”—from which missiles could be showered on the enemy's deck. The main object of Roman tactics seemed to be to leave as little as possible to seamanship and skill, and to come to close quarters and a hand-to-hand fight as soon as possible. In a word, boarding tactics superseded ramming tactics. See Polyb. i. 61; Livy, xxxvi. 44, 45; Livy xxxvii. 24, 30.

As early as B.C. 413 the use of fire (Thuc.vii. 53) in a naval action is mentioned. Later, catapults, the precursors of artillery, launched Greek fire rocket-fashion against the enemy.

The Liburnian galleys were biremes (Lucan, iii. 534). The name seems to have been taken from

Naval Battle. (Pompeian Painting.)

the vessels of the Liburnians, an Illyrian race, inhabiting the islands of that coast and much given to piracy. The name Liburnian, in the same way as the name trireme, came afterwards to be used for any ship of war.

In the time of Trajan some attempt was made to build larger rates than biremes, and Valentinian had quinqueremes constructed. But in the Byzantine period no vessels with more banks than two appear; and the tendency is to return to single banks, which, according to the emperor Leo (Tactica), are called γαλαῖαι, “galleys.”

Under the emperors two great naval stations were established for the fleets that were intended to keep the peace of the Mediterranean—


at Ravenna, for the east; and


at Misenum, on the Campanian coast, for the west. There were also guard-ships regularly stationed on the coast of Gaul at Forum Iulii (Fréjus) and Portus Herculis Monoeci (Monaco). But after Actium there is little to interest us in naval affairs, with the exception perhaps of Germanicus's operations in the North Sea, and at a later date the war with the Vandals, for which Procopius is our authority, until the time of the Byzantine emperor Leo (A.D. 960). In the following centuries came the invention of the apostis (a projecting framework, upon the edge of which were set the thowlpins, thus enabling oars of greater length to be used) and the birth of the mediæval galley, which, with its long sweeps worked by several men, was a vessel distinct from the ancient men-of-war.

Sailors and Marines.—The Athenian fleet was manned in its best days by freemen. Xenophon tells us that the seafaring habits of the Athenians were such that every one knew how to handle an oar, and that the crew of a trireme could be got together at once. At the time of the Peloponnesian War the pay of an ordinary oarsman was three obols a day, increased towards the end of the war to four obols. The pay of the thranitae was higher, their services being valued at a drachma. Raising the pay of seamen during hostilities was a favourite expedient with a view to induce the enemy's crews to desert. There were, however, many causes that led to the employment of forced labour, and with it to the deterioration and unpopularity of sea-service. The unavoidable discomfort in a decked ship must have been extreme. In a hot climate, with little ventilation, the participation with 200 or 300 human beings, all stark naked and packed closely in a laborious mechanical toil, could only have been voluntarily endured under the pressure of some great necessity or sense of duty. The heat, the smell, the drudgery, must have been terrible. Besides the discomfort, the actual danger was very great. The crews might at any time be drowned or burned, or, as at Sybota (Thuc.i. 50), butchered perhaps in cold blood. We have only to think of the moment of conflict—the crash of the beak through the timbers, and the mangled mass of humanity hurled into the bilge, while the water swiftly followed the blow, the thranitae, perhaps, escaping, but the lower ranks almost certainly drowned—and it is easy to understand how the service was avoided by the free and left to slaves. The marines (ἐπιβάται) varied in number, the Athenian ship carrying few, and the Chians, at the battle of Ladé, for instance, as many as forty to each vessel.

The Romans manned their fleet by levies from the lowest orders and forced service of the allies. The greater proportion of the crews were slaves contributed as substitutes, and it is this fact, perhaps, which explains the equanimity with which such wholesale loss of life at sea as is recorded by Polybius was endured. Among the Romans themselves service on board ship was most unpopular; and it is not surprising to find discontented classiarii wishing to be transferred to the legions. The Roman term for marines is classiarii milites. They were held in less esteem than regular soldiers.

Roman Marines. (Scheffer.)

Bibliography.—See Scheffer, De Militia Navali Veterum (Upsala, 1654); Graser, De Re Navali Veterum (Berlin, 1864); id. Die Gemmen des königlichen Museums zu Berlin (1867); id. Die ältesten Schiffsdarstellungen auf antiken Münzen (Berlin, 1870); id. Das Modell eines alt-griechischen Kriegsschiffes (Berlin, 1873); De la Gravière, La Marine des Anciens, 2d ed. (Paris, 1887); Sestier, De la Piraterie de l'Antiquité (Paris, 1880); Cartault, La Trière Athénienne (Paris, 1882); Breusing, Die Nautik der Alten (Bremen, 1886); Vars, L'Art Nautique dans l'Antiquité (Paris, 1887); Serre, Études sur l'Histoire Militaire et Maritime (Paris, 1888); and Torr, Ancient Ships (Cambridge, 1894). For special types of ships and boats, see the following articles: Acatus; Aphractus; Baris; Cataphracti; Catascopium; Celox; Cymba; Hemiolia; Lembus; Linter; Ratis; Scapha; Thalamegus.

hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.50
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.53
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 37, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 44
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