The Trireme – A Naval Powerhouse

Greece has a long and proud maritime history that spans thousands of years, and it largely began with the mighty trireme. The name itself literally translates to meaning ‘three banks of oars’ named so due to the fact there would typically be three rows of oarsmen on each side of the vessel. The design of the trireme was highly advanced for the ancient world and while some believe it has origins in 8th century Phoenicia, others argue that they were first made in Corinth – we’ll leave that debate to the scholars!

Triremes had subtly varying designs, depending on their purpose. However for the most part they were built for war. Their speed, agility and durability made them quite the force to be reckoned with. Each vessel had about 200 crew, with 180 oarsmen, a small deck crew and 10 to 20 marines who were used for boarding actions during battles. The main tactic employed during combat was ramming, with the goal of sinking enemy ships. When this didn’t work then boarding would be used. This was generally a last option as due to the triremes design it held only a small number of fighting soldiers, whose primary purpose was the defence of the oarsmen.

Today there’s a stunning replica of a trireme in Athens. Named Olympias, it was built in the late 1980’s, under the watchful eye of expert shipbuilders and historians. Subsequent on-water testing proved the ships ability to not only achieve high speeds, but posses incredible manoeuvrability. Seeing this beautiful boat firsthand is quite a site to behold. The workmanship is incredibly precise and akin to a work of art.