Talk:Trireme

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Comment[edit]

VERY nice, Josh! --MichaelTinkler

Thanks! I don't remember the construction details, rower arrangements, speeds, or precisely which countries maintained fleets (there were only a few), so anyone who knows about these is very encouraged to add to the article. Also, I'm not quite sure how exactly the Carthaginian quinqueremes were employed, and would be anxious to find out, though that would go on quinquereme rather than here.


My encyclopedia states that triremes were first constructed in Corinth (8th century B.C.) and their design was evolving constantly. Their use was generalised during the Peloponnesian War (end of 5th century B.C.). Before them there were only big ships with 50 or 100 lines of rows that were too big and slow to serve effectivelly in battles where velocity and agility were crusial (see Salamis). After the appearance of the trirems it was attempted the introduction of another in between type of ship, one with 2 lines of rows that was not proved to be equally effective. After the Peloponnesian War other ships with 5, 7 or 10 lines of rows were constructed but none of those could mach the trireme. Is there any contradiction with your text?

Both the idea that triremes were invented in Corinth and the idea that they preceded the bireme are contradicted, but that's because the first is very doubtful and the second isn't true. The constant evolution isn't gone into at the moment, though additions would as always be wonderful, and the larger boats are not considered inferior to the trireme because they were used for different things.


I was under the impression that in the Battle of Salamis it was only the Athenians that had trirems and that was the whole point of their manouvering!?

No. The Persians simply had heavier triremes - so slower and less maneuverable - because they needed space on board to hold marines.


The sources about the first triremes in Corinth seem to be an error. In these times all Greek warships were called triremes and the Greek refered often to their predeccessor, the pentekonters and hexakonters as triremes. The oldest depictions of triremes can be found on assyrian reliefs and show phonician triremes. The battle of salamis was a prepared naval battle by the Greeks and Persians (Phoenicians). It is unlikely that the Perian fleet was not fit for combat, when they seeked to have the battle. Their intelligence fooled them, that the other Greeks would betray Athen and desert. So it seemed favorable to intercept them surprisingly. This led to the state that the Persian rowers were tired after a night of rowing to ambush the Greek and not fit for a major naval engagement. Persians and the Pelopenesian Greeks used heavier triremes than the Athenians. The advantage of a heavier trireme is, that it they cant be rammed succesfully under such acute angles as a light trireme. But a light Athenian trireme has a superior manoeuvreability and acceleration to ramming speed. This advantage could not be employed if the enemy fleet used its supreme numbers succesfully. In the naval tactics of this time, minor fleets formed a circle of defence. In this formation an Athenian ships are the weakest points. They are naval supremacy fighters and their best is attack, where tactics of movement could be used.

I will write more about quinquiremes soon. Wandalstouring 10:52, 18 June 2006 (UTC)

209.130.174.16, did you mean to take that sentence out? Yes

Oarsmen[edit]

The trireme's staggered seating permitted three row of oarsmen, and an outrigger above the gunwale, projecting laterally beyond it, kept the third row of oars out of the way of the first two. I am afraid I don't understand this. There are a lot more than three rows of oarsmen on the trireme. This sentence doesn't do a very good job of describing to me how the oarsmen were situated. --timc | Talk 14:49, 17 Dec 2004 (UTC)

It needs a good picture. But the sentence seems perfectly clear. The second row sat above the first row and the third row sat above the second row. What makes you think there were more than three rows? Gdr 15:17, 2004 Dec 17 (UTC)
I'd add c400 BC the number of rowers/oar was increased. Trekphiler 19:10, 14 December 2005 (UTC)

Ships with more oars [or rowers per oar — Gdr] weren't triremes, they were quinqueremes and the like. I'm not sure they became popular as early as 400 BC. Josh

that is not quite right. A different classification system was used, not based upon lines of rowers above each other, but numbers in vertical sections. Anything from three oars above each other with one man per oar to three man per oar in a single line of oars, was a trireme in this classification. Some historians agree that all such arrangements existed for the heavy quinquiremes, possibly also for triremes at the same time. Wandalstouring 23:12, 2 July 2006 (UTC)

Infobox[edit]

User:Pmoshs added an infobox for the reconstructed trireme Olympias. This isn't appropriate here: this is an article about triremes in general. So I made a new page Olympias (trireme) for the reconstruction and moved the infobox there. Gdr 20:40, 8 January 2006 (UTC)

QA for the experts[edit]

To man the oars at the Battle_of_Arginusae, Athens offered freedom to slaves who volunteered. (Note this solves the military problem of slaves slowing down on purpose, hoping the opposition will free them.)

Would the generals have admitted slaves who were blind, or had weak eyesight? Note that rowing requires hearing and muscles, not eyesight...

Enquiring minds want to know!

There are no known sources about that to me. After the much earlier battle of Marathon the freed Greek slaves had brought great social unrest to Athen, but were also the basis for manning the triremes.
Athenians were suspicious of lefthanders at that time (not allowing them to be part of their armed forces) and Pericles reform of Athenian citizenship (both parents had to be Athenian for being Athenian) would be regarded highly nationalistic today. Not being Athenian excluded from the right to vote and take up arms in the phalanx. Military manpower was limited this way.
So necessity led to using all ressources reasonably (political circumstances) avaiable. Before the invention of glasses and without much long range weapons there also existed a different concept of what was necessary eyesight for military purposes. For Athenian hoplites it was sufficient to recognize their opposing enemy at spearlength.
Sources about bad eyesight appear with the Muslims and their reliance on bows. There it was an argument for obvious disability, a hindrace to become calif.

Wandalstouring 23:34, 2 July 2006 (UTC)

Maneuverability[edit]

A previous version of the article asserted

Those writers also claim triremes were capable of turning at top speed within their own length,

I (jsd) pointed out that basic physics makes this very implausible. Any object turning in a semicircle with diameter 35 m (the length of a trireme) at 21 km/h (the top speed of a trireme) will be subject to a lateral acceleration of nearly 2 gees. It is implausible that a trireme could tolerate that without tipping, because of its top-heaviness and marginal roll-wise stability.[citation needed] Such a high-gee turn would exceed by more than an order of magnitude the performance of the modern trireme Olympias as described below. For maneuvering in very tight quarters, physics suggests that a better scheme would be to decelerate, turn, and then re-accelerate in the new direction.

Deleting these unsourced and implausible assertions is fine with me Jsd 16:39, 25 October 2006 (UTC)

Does the trireme turn in a semicircle?
Do the writers claim that it can turn at top speed and that it can turn within its own length at the same time?
Is your suggested scheme possible to be executed with an oar propelled ramming vessel in very tight quarters?
Who are the writers putting forward these claims. Name the sources. Wandalstouring 07:40, 25 October 2006 (UTC)

More of the same. basic source for the discussed hypothesis are missing - OR.

Those writers also claim triremes were capable of turning at top speed within their own length, but basic physics[1] makes this very implausible.[1] Any object turning in a semicircle with diameter 35 m (the length of a trireme) at 21 km/h (the top speed of a trireme) will be subject to a lateral acceleration of nearly 2 gees.[1] It is implausible that a trireme could tolerate that without tipping, because of its top-heaviness and marginal roll-wise stability, as discussed above. Such a high-gee turn would exceed by more than an order of magnitude the performance of the modern trireme Olympias as described below. For maneuvering in very tight quarters, physics suggests that a better scheme would be to decelerate, turn, and then re-accelerate in the new direction.[2][citation needed]

Who are the ancient writers? That's my point. I have no idea what is the source for these implausible claims about maneuverability. Jsd 16:39, 25 October 2006 (UTC)

Then delete them all. I read about triremes and trieres in several languages and I found such claims sourced nowhere. (the French article is very well sourced) Wandalstouring 16:48, 25 October 2006 (UTC)

There's not much doubt, however, that a trireme (or any oar-propelled vessel) can turn at low speed much more sharply than any sail- or motor-propelled vessel, since forward rowing on one side of the ship and reverse on the other will "spin" the ship around its center.

Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to add a note on the marine physics that explains the extremely long and narrow design (by modern standards) of the trireme: as the speed of the vessel rises above the square root of the waterline length (speed in knots, length in feet), the power required to move it through the water begins to increase rapidly. Likewise as a vessel's underwater section becomes wider, the resistance to forward movement increases as the area of the section. So if we must routinely reach a speed of ten knots for ramming, even when our oarsmen have been battling all day, we need a waterline length of at least 100 feet (30m) to keep the required effort to a minimum, combined with the narrowest beam that provides sufficient buoyancy and stability. Based on the modern sea trials, it appears that with several hundred years' experience behind them, the Greek naval architects got it all exactly right... -- Craig Goodrich, Las Vegas NV 68.229.51.161 15:46, 13 October 2007 (UTC)

French featured article[edit]

fr:Trière(featured article on this problem: Les limitations dues à l'exiguïté [modifier]

Outre le fait qu'il faille faire sécher la trière, ses dimensions et son inconfort ne permettent pas à l'équipage d'y passer la nuit ni d'emporter d'importantes provisions de nourriture et d'eau, ce qui met un autre frein aux grandes expéditions sans s'être assuré au préalable des possibilités de relâche dans un port ami chaque soir. La traversée de l'importante flotte athénienne lors de l'expédition de Sicile en 415 av. J.-C. illustre les mesures prises afin de garantir la sécurité et la sûreté durant ces entreprises :

« Ils en firent trois divisions qu'ils répartirent entre eux au sort. Ils voulaient par là qu'au cours de la traversée, on ne manquât pas d'eau, de rades, de tout le nécessaire dans les escales. […] Après cela, ils dépêchèrent devant eux jusqu'en Italie et en Sicile trois navires, qui devaient s'informer des cités disposées à les accueillir : ordre avait été donné à ces navires de revenir les joindre pour que l'on n'abordât qu'à bon escient. » (Thucydide, Histoire de la guerre du Péloponnèse, VI, 42, 1-2)

funding incorrect[edit]

In JS Morrison's book on the trireme the building of the ship was funded by the Greek Navy. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by 24.77.23.45 (talk) 16:25, 11 May 2007 (UTC).

Remains extant or not?[edit]

The first statement in the Construction section states:

Because the triremes had positive buoyancy, no remains of the ship have been found.

I don't understand this - what ships, besides submarines, do not have positive buoyancy?

Later in the article, in the Reconstruction section, it says:

informed by evidence from underwater archaeology,

Since many ships made of wood have been found underwater and this suggests the same, are there remains of triremes or not? --Michael Daly 05:46, 1 November 2007 (UTC)

This might simply be a mistake since the only solution would be a massive wooden construction that never sinks. Wandalstouring 11:41, 1 November 2007 (UTC)
These statements are indeed a bit confusing... What I understand from them, based on what I've read about triremes, is that, because of their great buoyancy, the triremes did not actually sink, even when the hull was breached by ramming. They merely became flooded to an extent, and hence crippled but otherwise afloat, and could be salvaged. Also, AFAIK, it is true that no actual remains of a trireme have been discovered, and that the only evidence comes from literary and artistic representations or indirect sources (e.g. through the ship sheds). What is meant by "evidence from underwater archaeology" I don't know, but this could apply to discoveries of remains of merchant vessels, providing some secondary or corroborating evidence as to how the ships were built... Cplakidas 11:53, 1 November 2007 (UTC)
(OR) I recall some of the documents claimed upper limits of trireme dimensions were derived from measuring the stone-built ship sheds where triremes were built and stored, and another document (which I did not make a note of, but found while googling "zea Piraeus shipshed" - ah, this was related) described the detailed shipshed building instructions. So the stone shipsheds being found underwater/under sediment would explain the underwater archeology.-Wikianon 12:13, 1 November 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps you try to research the subject. I have little time, but if you can name me specific books I can help you retrieve them. Wandalstouring 11:55, 2 November 2007 (UTC)
I found the reference to underwater archaeology I was looking for: "From the 'shell' method of construction revealed by underwater archaeology to have been used in contemporary merchant ships and in the bow timbers, preserved in the Athlit ram, [...] it is reasonable to infer the method employed in building a fifth/fourth century trireme." Morrison, AGE OF THE GALLEY, p. 65 Cplakidas 13:38, 2 November 2007 (UTC)
I was confused by that too, and I think the citation could be a lot better.. but it actually makes sense. If the triremes were built as pure war machines which had to be constantly manned at the oars they may well have broken up rather than sinking; The wood used will have been as light as possible and floated naturally, leaving only fittings to sink to the bottom.
Most importantly they will not have had any ballast, most wooden seafaring ships need ballast to maintain stability. A long mound of unexpected rocks is often the best evidence of a wreck found by archaeologists.
However... with a boat fully manned by a bank of oars you can omit the ballast (lightening the boat and greatly increasing it's agility) by relying on the oarsmen to actively keep the boat level.
I can't be bothered to find any references to back it up, but I race in a dragonboat team and this is exactly how we do things, our boats are pretty unstable (especially when fully crewed up, which raises their centre of gravity), but the crew are able to use their paddles (dragonboats do not have oars) to maintain stability, both in motion, manoeuvring and when stationary/embarking. I'd assume that much the same thing took place on fast galleys, though maybe they would take on ballast between actions to prevent accidental capsizes.
Another advantage of an unballasted boat is that it is much easier to haul onto the shore between uses, something that also reduce the chances of finding wrecks. EasyTarget (talk) 17:14, 10 March 2009 (UTC)
Punic shipwrecks have been found of the Sicilian coast. They were light warships (triremes or even biremes at that time) possibly lost in the Battle of the Aegates Islands. They did carry rocks from Lipara that seem ballast, had removeable rams, a feature the Greeks didn't have. It gives an advantage when disengaging from a rammed ship. And they had a pot with cannabis. No Greek shipwrecks have been found of warships leading to a theory that the Greek construction didn't have ballast. This theory seems supported by Polybius who mentioned that the few Punic triremes in the Third Punic War were more stable in the water, unlike the Roman and Greek fleet fighting them. Wandalstouring (talk) 16:44, 11 November 2009 (UTC)

Why have rowers on three levels?[edit]

Interesting article but perhaps it could be improved by a short section which explained the reasons why the three tier rowing system developed in antiquity and apparently remained popular for several centuries. Some of that is touched on, indirectly, in the section covering change and reconstruction but, given the many disadvantages of the trireme layout - ( expensive construction, unweatherly hulls, poor transverse stability, awkward oar angles for top-tier rowers, requirement for highly trained oarsmen, etc.) - what were considered to be the advantages of the trireme in comparison to, say, a single tier galley with longer oars and several rowers at each oar? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Norloch (talkcontribs) 22:49, 22 June 2010 (UTC)

Lead image[edit]

The current lead image (File:Romtrireme.jpg) is supposed to represent a trireme but it clearly shows only one row of rowers.Ekem (talk) 13:06, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

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Proposal To Make Changes[edit]

I am in the process of completing a proposal document to create an addition to the Wikipedia article, the Trireme. The specific sections I would like to work with will be the design and construction sections. These two sections are closely related and the revisions I would like to add will be shared between these two sections. The Wikipedia article on the Trireme is a well written and informative article; however it lacks important details to the construction and design of the Trireme that makes it one of the greatest marvels of ancient civilizations. My opinion is that other very important details were left out simply because there is so much to write about concerning the Trireme. The current article briefly discusses the materials used without much detail. My additions to the article will include an in depth discussion about the materials used to create the ship and reasons why these materials were used. I will also include a detailed layout of the oarsmen and the positioning of the oars. I have done a good amount of research using the databases made available to me by the library of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The additions proposed will be supported by reliable sources that include respected historians and authors with doctorates in the fields of history, technology, and research.

The three major sources I intend on using include the following:

Morrison, J S., J F. Coates, and N B. Rankov. The Athenian Trireme. Second ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 127-230.

Wallinga, H T. Ships and Sea-Power Before the Great Persian War. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1993. 33-43.

Welsh, Frank. Building the Trireme. London: Constable and Company Limited, 1988.


Thank you,

Sam Koutsouris Sdk5959-NJITWILL (talk) 02:38, 4 April 2012 (UTC)

Tarn on rowing arrangements[edit]

I'm not particularly happy with this series of edits. Trireme research has come a long way since 1905, so I doubt that a source that old can be usefully employed. Also, in my understanding a penteconter has 50 oars, while the 30-oar Greek galley is usually called a triaconter. I don't know if this is Tarn's error, or our editors' mistake. --Stephan Schulz (talk) 16:29, 7 August 2013 (UTC)

You are quite right on your remarks. Furthermore, the interpolated text did not IMO fit in with the rest of the article. I have removed it, I hope to find time to dust off my copy of The Athenian Trireme some time soon, this article could use some work. Constantine 17:20, 7 August 2013 (UTC)


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