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Greek and Roman Naval Warfare

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A high mark of both Ancient Greek, and Roman civilizations, is their organized systems of warfare. Usage of vessels was primarily for trade, travel, and exploration. That is, until c. 800 BC, upon the invention of the naval ram, the first ships were being used for warfare in the Aegean Sea. The first war vessel to take advantage of using a ram in battle was the Penteconter (meaning 50-oared). Around 100 years later, the Bireme (two oar) was created after using the idea of 3 tiers of oars. Fifty years later, the Trireme (three oar) was invented, with 3 tiers of oars, and soon became the most used warship throughout Greece.

One popular battle tactic was the "Periplus", where the attacker would charge head on to the opposing ship, swerve to the side, and then swerve back, Causing the attacker to ram into the side of the opposing ship.


Another tactic was the "Diekplus" is set up with the attacking ships in a horizontal line, and the opposing ships in a vertical line, trying to form a blockade, the flagship of the attacking line will position itself between two opposing ships, and make a swift turn to push one out of the way, allowing a passage for the rest of the attacking ships. This tactic is used to get passed a defensive wall of opposing ships blocking their target destination.


One defensive tactic for outnumbered naval armies is to form a star out of ships with other allied ships forming a circle around the central formation.

Penteconters, created in 800 BC, and mentioned in the Iliad, ranged from 28-33 meters long, and about 4 meters wide and were able to reach about an average speed of 7 knots. Fifty Oarsmen would operate the ship, on two rows of 25.

Biremes, created in 700 BC, were made 24 meters long, with a 3 meter beam length. 120 oarsman would operate a Bireme with two tiers of oars and a total of 120 oars. The Bireme traveled at an average of 8 knots.

Triremes, created in 650 BC, were the fastest and most agile ships of their time, making them an ideal war ship. Triremes had three tiers of oarsmen and 180 oars total. They were made 40 meters long and 6 meters wide. They travelled with an average top speed of 10 knots.

Battleships were often decorated with an eye at the front of the ship, right above the ram, looking like a bird.


Greeks were able to fund the development and construction of war vessels through the discovery of the Silver Mines at Laurium. After this funding, Athens became a supreme region at sea, and reliance on



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