previous next


TRIERA´RCHIA (τριηραρχία). One of the two extraordinary public services to which wealthy Athenian citizens were liable (the other was the προεισφορά): it was classed among the liturgies (λειτουργίαι), but the requirement of it was as circumstances necessitated, and therefore it was not an ordinary or periodically recurrent (ἐγκύκλιος) liturgy. The object of it was to provide for the maintenance (and in some degree for the original equipment) of the ships of war belonging to the state. The person on whom this duty fell was called a Trierarch (τριήραρχος); and it would appear that in early times he was captain of the ship which he maintained.

The office of the trierarchy passed through four distinct forms or stages; and though in the remarks which follow it will be impossible to treat of them separately in all respects, the historical sequence will on the whole be preserved. The first stage was from the era of Themistocles to the Sicilian Expedition: during this period each ship was provided for by a single trierarch; the state was wealthy, and no difficulties seem to have been felt in the satisfactory discharge of the office. The second stage was from the Sicilian Expedition to [p. 2.889]B.C. 358; two trierarchs to a ship were now the rule; a diminution in the wealth both of the state and of individuals was clearly the reason of this; the trierarchs found that practically more was thrown on them (though we have no reason to suppose an alteration in the nominal duties). From B.C. 358 to B.C. 340, the system of symmories was introduced into the trierarchy, whereby the number of trierarchs to a single ship was still further increased; and lastly, from B.C. 340 to the close of Athenian independence, the double trierarchy again became the rule, through a law carried by Demosthenes, though with what modifications from the old form we do not exactly know; the symmories, probably, were not altogether abolished.

I. Initial Form of Trierarchy

The beginning of the trierarchy in the full and proper sense of the word dates from that large increase of the Athenian fleet which Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to make with the produce of the Laurian silver mines, very shortly before the invasion of Xerxes (Hdt. 7.144). Before that time the naucraries [NAUCRARIA] had furnished a ship apiece to the commonwealth (i. e. 48 altogether in Solon's time, 50 after the reform of Cleisthenes); the naucrarus, or head of the naucrary, would no doubt have a certain responsibility for the ship's maintenance, and would thus be in a position partly analogous to that of the trierarch afterwards; but the measure of Themistocles, through its enlargement of the fleet, gave an occasion for a large development of the individual services of rich men, in which services the Trierarchy proper consisted. So great indeed was the public enthusiasm at that era, that we find Cleinias, at the battle of Artemisium, providing not only the entire equipment of the ship, and the payment of the sailors, but even the ship itself of which he was the captain (Hdt. 8.17). But this was no part of the ordinary duty of a trierarch; though individual donations of triremes to the state are mentioned afterwards (Dem. c. Meid. p. 566.161; c. Steph. p. 1127.85); and the passage in the Meidias implies that such donations were sometimes expected from the rich. (It has, however, been doubted whether the donation of a ship, even in these cases, may not mean the donation of the equipment merely.) Generally speaking, the state provided the ship itself; the Council of Five Hundred (Βουλὴ had the general duty of building ships (Dem. c. Androt. p. 599.18); but Aeschines (c. Ctesiph. § 19) speaks of the tribes being ordered to build them.

In Herodotus (l.c.; also 8.46, 93) the name trierarch first occurs; in Thucydides (6.31) there is the first statement of their duties, as far as these are indicated by what was done in the Sicilian Expedition. Unfortunately, there are in this passage two considerable ambiguities. Thucydides says that the state furnished the “empty vessel” (ναῦν κενήν): are we then to understand that the state did not furnish sail, ropes, and oars, but that these are included among the apparatus (κατασκευαὶ) which the trierarchs provided? It must appear very strange if this was so; considering that in the Knights of Aristophanes, written only nine years before, it is spoken of as customary for the state to give the sail (ἱστίον, 5.918): and in the speech of Demosthenes de Cor. Trierarch., delivered fifty-four years afterwards, it is said to be incumbent on the state to provide the apparatus (τὰ σκεύη) of a ship (p. 1229), i. e. the “sailcloth, tow, and ropes” (ὀθόνια καὶ στυππεῖα καὶ σχοινία, Dem. c. Euerg. et Mnesib. p. 1145.20). Can the state possibly have omitted to provide these things in the most splendidly-furnished expedition that ever issued from the Piraeus? Or, if all these were left to the trierarch, would Thucydides have thought it worth while to intimate specially that the trierarchs provided so small a matter as the figure-heads (σημεῖα)? Hardly; and we must therefore conclude that the “empty ship” includes the largest points of the equipment, while the trierarchs introduced such ornaments and improvements as were not of absolute necessity. (In Thuc. 6.8 also, the παρασκευὴ seems to be mentioned as something furnished by the state.)

Again, while Thucydides tells us clearly that the state paid the rowers, and that the trierarchs gave ad ditional pay merely to the rowers on the upper bench (θρανῖται), who had the hardest work; it is not quite clear whether the state or the trierarchs paid the wages of the ὑπηρεσία (i. e. the servants and petty officers on board). A difference of reading complicates the question; but as Thucydides distinctly says that the trierarchs gave ad ditional pay (ἐπιφορὰς) to the ὑπηρεσία, it seems implied that the state was the principal paymaster; and it is natural to suppose this to have been so (and it is confirmed by Thuc. 3.17). So far then the work of the trierarch was simply that of extending, for the sake of greater efficiency, the work done by the state; and this part of a trierarch's work was more or less voluntary. But to launch the ship from the harbour, to maintain it in full efficiency and restore it unimpaired, was a trierarch's absolute duty; an obligation expressed in the inscriptions quoted by Boeckh (See-Urkunden, p. 197) by the phrase, δεῖ τὴν ναῦν δόκιμον καὶ ἐντελῆ παραδοῦναι. This obligation as a rule ceased when a trierarch had held his office for a year; after which time, if his ship was still wanted for foreign service, so that he could not bring it back to the Piraeus, a successor would be sent out to him; and such an arrival was eagerly expected by the sailors, for a new trierarch brought fresh donations (Dem. c. Polycl. p. 1211.15). A trierarchy also was held to be terminated if the general furnished no pay to the sailors, or if the ship put into the Piraeus (it being then impossible to keep the sailors together); but the practice was not always consistent on these points (Dem. c. Polycl. pp. 1209, 1210, § § 11-13; Isocr. c. Callim. § 60). On the other hand, a trierarch who through any accident was obliged to serve more than his year could charge the extra expense (ἐπιτριηράρχημα) on his successor, and bring an action to recover it if necessary (Dem. c. Polycl. l.c.).

The maximum number of ships of war was reached during the first form of the trierarchy, and the trierarchs (each bound to maintain an entire ship) numbered then 400, according to the treatise on the Athenian Republic ascribed to Xenophon (which probably was written in the first part of the Peloponnesian war). The [p. 2.890]Anabasis (7.1, 27) confirms this number; and the calculation in Thucydides bears this out pretty nearly (comparing 2.24 with 3.17). Strabo (ix. p.395) also says that there were originally 400 places for triremes in the Piraeus.

II. The second form of trierarchy.

The second form of the trierarchy, in which two persons, called Syntrierarchs (συντριήραρχοι), shared the office, probably began after the failure of the Sicilian Expedition; but the first actual mention of it (Isocr. l.c.) is directly after the battle of Aegospotami. The syntrierarchy mentioned in Lysias, c. Diogeit. § 24, took place some time during the eight years which began B.C. 409. but at what exact date is uncertain. From this period onwards we have frequent mention of the trierarchy in the Attic orators; whose testimony, though valuable, is always liable to deduction on personal grounds. Thus, when the speaker in Isocrates (l.c.) boasts that he and his brother paid the wages of the rowers in the ship of which they were joint trierarchs, the statement, though perfectly probable, has not the same certainty as if given to us by an impartial historian. Much more definitely can the statement in Dem. c. Meid. p. 564.154, be challenged; where it is alleged that in the times of the syntrierarchy, “we, the trierarchs, had ourselves to provide crews for our vessels” (τὰς ναῦς ἐπληρούμεθ᾽ αὐτοί). No doubt this sometimes happened; but the whole course of the speech against Polycles by the same orator (pp. 1208 sqq.) shows that, according to law, the state provided and paid the crews; and the same is implied in the passage of Isocrates just referred to. A careful examination will also show that in the second, as in the first, form of the trierarchy, the state was supposed to pay the ὑπηρεσία (servants and petty officers). It is true that Apollodorus (Dem. de Cor. Trierarch. p. 1229.6) says that he paid money to these himself; but whether as their full wages or as extra pay is not stated: whereas of his rivals he says, “They have not hired any ὑπηρεσία, though they claim to have had more than I;” from which the inference is plain that the state gave the hire. In affirming, however, the legal obligation of the state at this period (as in the first period) to pay the wages of crew and servants, it must be remembered that this obligation was by no means always properly discharged. (Cf. the orations of Demosthenes against Polycles, de Coronâ Trierarchiae, and against Euergus and Mnesibulus--the last of which was delivered at the beginning of the third trierarchical period.)

The syntrierarchy, during the period in which it prevailed, did not entirely supersede the older and single form. Numerous instances of single trierarchies occur between 411 and 358 B.C.; and in two passages of Isaeus (Dicaeog. § 54; Apollod. § 67) referring to this period, the single and double trierarchy are mentioned as contemporaneous. Apollodorus was sole trierarch (Dem. c. Polycl.) so late as B.C. 361. In the case of a syntrierarchy, the two trierarchs commanded their vessel in turn, six months each (Id. p. 1219), according as they agreed between themselves. Sometimes, however, a trierarch, or pair of syntrierarchs, would let out the whole duties of the office to a contractor. This (μισθῶσαι τὴν τριηρατχίαν) was a manifest and great abuse; the work was done inefficiently, and (what was worse) the contractors at times made use of their position, and reimbursed themselves against losses, by privateering on their own account, which led to reprisals on the part of the injured against Athens herself (SYLAE; Dem. de Cor. Trierarch. p. 1231.13). Such misdoings seem to have been imperfectly reported at Athens, and popular indignation was but little aroused by them; but when a defeat of the Athenian navy took place on one occasion, the trierarchs who had let their office out in this way were tried for their lives, as having deserted their post (Dem. ib. p. 1230). The capital sentence, however, was not inflicted, and it is even doubtful if they were punished at all. (See also notices of the practice of letting out the trierarchy in Dem. c. Meid. pp. 540, 564; the latter case falling under the system of symmories.)

III. Third form of trierarchy.

In B.C. 358, the third form of the trierarchy began. The attempt of the Thebans upon Euboea in that year occasioned a great need of ships, which were at first supplied by voluntary effort under the urgent persuasion of Timotheus (Dem. de Chersones. p. 108.30); but as a consequence of this, Periander (Dem. c. Euerg. et Mnesib. p. 1145.20) introduced in the same year a law, whereby the symmories, already in use for the war-tax, were adapted under altered form to the trierarchy. These trierarchical symmories were the famous 1200, arranged in twenty symmories of 60 persons each (for further information as to whom, and as to their exact connexion with the war-tax symmories, see SYMMORIA). We find them already working in the archonship of Agathocles, 357 B.C. (Dem. c. Euerg. et Mnesib. p. 1152.44); though the syntrierarchy (as appears from this very speech) had not then been wholly disused, and may have continued some time longer.

The intention of the law of Periander was doubtless to increase the efficiency of the navy, by increasing the amount of property applicable to the purposes of the trierarchy (for it has been said above that there were only 400 trierarchs in the first form of the office, and doubtless there were not many more during the syntrierarchy). But the system was not properly managed; and the rich men soon found means to use it, not for the regulation of public burdens, but as a means of escaping from them. What was clearly necessary for its satisfactory working was that, when any number of joint trierarchs had the management of a ship, there should be a due admixture of rich and poor among them; and that the poor should not be too frequently and too largely called upon. But both these evils happened; and Demosthenes in his speech de Symmoriis (delivered, or perhaps only written, B.C. 354) in vain tried to introduce a better principle. He would have allowed, on occasions, a body of twelve to join in the office; but only under proper restrictions (de Symm. pp. 182, 183, § § 16-21). Hyperides (ap. Harpocrat. συμμορία) complained that five or six wealthy men used to join in a trierarchy (the inscriptions quoted by Boeckh in the See-Urkunden mention three, five, six, and seven joint trierarchs); and lastly a law was passed allowing sixteen persons to join together for the purpose (Dem. de Cor. pp. 260, 261, § § 102-105). [p. 2.891]It has indeed been supposed, and is possible, that this was the very law of Periander; yet we can hardly think that the Athenians deliberately contemplated sixteen trierarchs to a ship as an ordinary arrangement; and the number sixteen does not specially fit in with symmories of sixty persons each, and was probably introduced on some subsequent occasion. Besides, the evidence is rather that the evil was an increasing one. Demosthenes (de Cor. l.c.) describes the final result in these terms: “I saw your navy going to ruin, and the rich earning immunity from other liturgies on the score of trifling expenditure in this, and persons of moderate income losing their property, and the city missing the opportunities of action,” &c.

The group of citizens who joined in maintaining a single trireme was called συντέλεια, and the individual contributors συντελεῖς (Συντέλεια and συμμορία are perfectly distinct terms, but the members of a συντέλεια were always members of the same συμμορία. If the arrangement proposed in Dem. de Symm. p. 183.20, had been carried out, which it never was, a συντέλεια would have been a fraction of a συμμορία, and the words of Demosthenes imply that it might then have been called a small συμμορία.

Though the law of Periander practically diminished the burdens of the wealthy, reasons have been given above for thinking that it did not introduce that particular alleviation which is indicated in Dem. c. Meid. p. 564.154; namely, by taking away the duty of paying the crews from the trierarchs and putting it on the state. In all times the theory was probably the same on this point,--namely, state payment; but in practice the state was often behindhand; so that an orator, by pressing the practice on one side, and the theory on the other, might represent the matter pretty much as he chose.

IV. Fourth Form.

At last, in B.C. 340, Demosthenes was appointed superintendent of the navy (ἐπιστάτης τοῦ ναυτικοῦ) and carried a trenchant reform, which may be called the fourth form of the trierarchy. What however this was, we do not exactly know; for the law which is given in Dem. de Cor. p. 262.106 (under the heading κατάλογος), is no longer regarded as genuine, and the references to it in the orators are not quite easy to reconcile with each other. We must, however, conclude from Dem. de Cor. p. 261.104, that it did to a certain extent restore the syntrierarchy. Hyperides (ap. Harpocrat. συμμορία) describes it simply in this way: “When Demosthenes saw this, he proposed laws that the 300 should be trierarchs, and the trierarchies have become burdensome” (νόμους ἔθηκε τοὺς τριακοσίους τριηραρχεῖν, καὶ βαρεῖαι γεγόνασιν αἱ τριηραρχίαι). Aeschines (c. Ctesiph. § 222) tells us that the effect of the law was to reduce the number of ships in the Athenian navy by 65 (apparently from 365 to 300): this, of course, is the representation of an enemy. If 300 ships were needed for service, and two trierarchs were appointed for each, there would be 600 altogether, which is not consistent with what Hyperides says. But we must conclude that as a general rule (in spite of Thuc. 2.24) ships not actually employed in service had no trierarchs; and we have no mention at this period of Athenian history of any fleet numbering so many as 150 ships: thus the statement of Hyperides may be practically true, or very nearly so. Whatever the nature of the law, we have reason to believe that its effect was successful; not perhaps so much from the praises which Demosthenes bestows on it, as from the failure of his enemies (Aeschines, l.c.) and Deinarchus (c. Dem. § 7) to say any real harm of it. The words of Demosthenes (de Cor. p. 262) are, however, worth referring to: he tells us that during the whole war carried on after the law was in force, no trierarch implored the aid of the people (ἱκετηρίαν ἔθηκε), or took refuge in the temple of Artemis at Munychia, or was put into prison by the persons whose duty it was to despatch the fleet (οἱ ἀποστολεῖς), nor was any trireme lost at sea, or lying idle in the docks for want of stores and tackle, as under the old system, when the service (τὸ λειτουργεῖν) fell to the poor. It should be observed that Demosthenes (de Cor. p. 329.311) says that Aeschines was bribed by the leaders of the symmories to nullify the law; but these accusations of the orators against each other must not be taken too seriously.

V. General observations.

The inconveniences to which a trierarch was liable in case of inefficient performance of his duties will be seen from the last paragraph; but a reward also (i. e. a crown) was sometimes given to the most efficient, as appears from the speech on the Crown of the Trierarchy. The trierarchs were ὑπεύθυνοι (Dem. c. Polycl. p. 1222.52), or liable to give an account of the public property entrusted to them, and the public money which on occasions they had to disburse (Dem. de Cor. Trier. p. 1231): though Aeschines, forgetful of these facts, represents them as rendering account of their own private funds (c. Ctesiph. § 9).

Triremes were assigned by lot to the different trierarchs, as we learn from the epithet ἀνεπικλήρωτοι attached to some of the ships in the Athenian navy list (see Boeckh, See-Urkunden). The sacred triremes, the Paralus and the Salamis, had special treasurers (Tamias) appointed to them (Pollux, 8.116); and on the authority of Ulpian (ad Dem. c. Meid. p. 686) it has been believed that the state acted as trierarch for each of them; but in the inscriptions quoted by Boeckh no difference is made between the trierarchs of the Paralus and of other vessels (See-Urkunden, p. 169). Some special expenses might no doubt be paid by the state in these cases.

The expenses of the trierarchy seem to have varied from about 40 minae (Dem. c. Meid. pp. 539, 540, § § 77-80) to a talent (Dem. c. Meid. p. 564.154). A syntrierarchy would cost half this sum. Undoubtedly, therefore, the assertion of Isaeus (de Dicaeog. hered. § 10). that men had been trierarchs (or syntrierarchs) whose property was not more than 80 minae, was an exaggeration. Indeed, as a property of three talents was the minimum which rendered a citizen liable to the performance of a liturgy (Dem. c. Aphob. 833.63; Isaeus, Pyrrh. sub fin.), it is absurd to suppose that the trierarchy,. the most burdensome of all, would be undertaken for a less sum. (Indeed, Boeckh says, “I am aware of no instance of liability arising from a property of less value than 500 minae.” )

VI. On the exemptions from the Trierarchy.

By an ancient law, in force B.C. 355, no person, except the nine archons, could claim exemption [p. 2.892]from the trierarchy, who was of sufficient wealth to perform it, not even the descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. [From Isaeus, de Apoll. hered. § 67, it appears that in the time of the single trierarchy no person could be compelled to serve a second time within two years after a former service (δύο ἔτη διαλιπών). The trierarchy was a ground of exemption from the other liturgies, any of which indeed gave an exemption from all the rest during the year next following that of its service: Dem. c. Leptin. pp. 459, 464, § § 8, 24.]

Yet from other passages it appears that exemptions from the duty of the trierarchy were allowed in cases of which the above law takes no cognisance. Demosthenes (de Symm p. 182.14) tells us that a person was exempt if ἀδύνατος, or incapable through sudden loss of wealth; so also were “wards, heiresses, orphans, cleruchi, and partnerships (κοινωνικά)” Of course, an heiress could only claim exemption while unmarried. Wards were free from all liturgies, during their minority, and for a year after their δοκιμασία (Lysias, c. Diogeit. 908). By κληροῦχοι are meant colonists, who, while absent by command of the state, could not perform a trierarchy. The meaning of partnerships (κοινωνικὰ) is doubtful, but probably it means the property of joint tenants, as brothers or coheirs, which had not yet been apportioned to them (Pollux, 8.184).

VII. On the legal proceedings connected with the Trierarchy.

These were either between individual trierarchs, or between trierarchs and the state, and therefore in the form of a Diadicasia. They generally arose from a trierarch not delivering up his ship and her rigging in proper order, either to his successor or to the state. If he alleged that the loss or damage of either happened from a storm, he was said σκήψασθαι κατὰ χειμῶνα ἀπολωλέναι. Vessels or furniture on which a trial of this kind had been held, were said to be διαδεδικασμένα.

The presidency of the courts which tried matters of this sort was vested in the strategi, and sometimes in the superintendents of the dockyard, in conjunction with the ἀποστολεῖς. The senate also appears to have had a judicial power in these matters: e. g. we meet in various inscriptions with the phrase οἵδε τῶν τριηράρχων, ὧν ἐδίπλωσεν βουλὴ τὴν τριήρη. Boeckh conjectures that the trierarchs of whom this is said had returned their ships in such a condition that the state might have called upon them to put them in thorough repair, or to rebuild them, at a cost for an ordinary trireme of 5,000 drachmae. Supposing that they were not released from this liability by any decree of a court of justice, and that the rebuilding was not completed, he conceives that it must have been competent (in a clear and flagrant case) for the senate to have inflicted upon them the penalty of twice 5,000 drachmae, the technical phrase for which was “doubling the trireme” (See-Urkunden, p. 228).

The phrase ὠμολόγησεν τριήρη καινὴν ἀποδώσειν, which occurs in inscriptions, does not apply to an undertaking for giving a new trireme, but merely for putting one in a complete state of repair.

The phrase φαίνειν πλοῖον (Dem. c. Lacrit. p. 941.51), to lay an information against a vessel, is used not of a public ship, but of a private vessel, engaged perhaps in smuggling or privateering. [PHASIS]

The articles LEITURGIA and SYMMORIA contain numerous references to the subject of this article.

(Cf. Boeckh's Staatshaushaltung d. Athener and See-Urkunden; Hermann's Griech. Antiq.; Gilbert's Griech. Staatsalt.; and Kennedy's translation of the orations of Demosthenes, Appendix.)

[R.W] [J.R.M]

hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.144
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.17
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.24
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.17
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.31
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: