Tessarakonteres, “Super-carrier” of Antiquity

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A tessarakonteres (40reme) according to L. Casson’s theory, that is two eikoseres (20remes) stably bound by a common deck.  


By Periklis Deligiannis


The Early Successors of Alexander gave a boost in the use and the development of the polyeres-type warships (multimeremes), using them widely in their wars (321 BC – early 3rd century BC). The Successors have built fleets comprised of numerous large warships, reaching the building of colossal vessels such as the ‘eikoseres’ (20reme, with twenty oarsmen on each vertical group of oars) and the enormous ‘tessarakonteres’ (40reme, with forty oarsmen on each vertical group of oars). These warships resembled to floating fortresses, very similar in size to the modern large battleships and aircraft carriers. The tessarakonteres had a crew of 6.000 men (officers, oarsmen, sailors, marines and others), as many as a modern aircraft carrier.





By  Periklis    Deligiannis


The prow and ram of the modern trireme Olympias.


After  the  Etruscan  defeat  in  the  land  battle  of  Cumae  (524  BC),  the  Cumaeans  and  the  Etruscans  (or  Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians) did  not  come  into  heavy  fighting  until  505  BC.  That  year,  the  Latins  of  the  small  city-state  Aricia  called  for  help  the  Cumaeans  against  the  Etruscans.  In  505  BC  the  Aricians,  the  Romans  and  the  other  Latins  revolted  against  the  Etruscan  rule,  gaining  their  independence,  but  the  Tyrrhenians  had  returned  under  the  leadership  of Larth  Porsena, the powerful  warlord  of  the  city-state  Clusium  (Etruscan  Clevsin).  Porsena  was  sent  by  the  Etruscan  Confederacy  (‘Dodekapolis’)  and  managed to recapture  rebellious  Rome.  Then  he  returned  to  Clusium  to  deal  with  other  enemies  of  the  Tyrrhenians,  leaving  Larth  Aruns, his  son,  to  reconquer  the  other  cities  of  Latium.

The  Aricians  called  the  Cumaeans  for  help,  who  acceded  to  their  request  in  order  to  accomplish  a  preventative  blow  to  their  Tyrrhenian  enemies.  The  aristocratic  rulers  of  Cumae  dispatched    a  military  expedition  to  Aricia under  Aristodemos,  a veteran  hero  of  the  battle  of  Cumae.  The  Cumaeans  knew  that  sooner  or  later  the  Etruscans  would  again  march  against  them.  The  Greek  ships  sailed  to  the  Latin  coast  and landed in  the  territory  of  the  Laurentes,  the  people  of  the  city-state  Lavinium.  The  Greek  military  force  disembarked and  marched  to  Aricia.  The  city  was  under  siege  by  the  Etruscans  under  Aruns.  The  Cumaeans  joined  forces  with  the  Aricians  and  other  Latins  and  confronted  the  Tyrrhenians  in  a  hoplite  battle  (the  main  battle  troops  of  the  Etruscans,  Greeks  and  Latins  of  this  period  were  their  Greek-style  hoplite  phalanxes). Continue reading

DIONYSIUS OF PHOCAEA: Ancient Greek admiral and corsair

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Map above: The location of Phocaea οn the Aegean coast of Asia Minor between the Aeolian Kyme and the Ionic Smyrna.
Below: The Hellenistic theater of Phocaea.
By Periklis Deligiannis
In 494/493 BC a small but formidable Anatolian Greek naval force appeared in the sea around Sicily, causing serious problems to the Carthaginians and the Etruscans. A few months earlier, the Ionic Revolt of the Greeks of Asia Minor against the Persian rule was reaching its end. This revolt was called Ionic because the Ionians were the most numerous among the Greek revolutionary forces but they were supported as well by many Aeolians and some non-Greek Lydians and Carians. The outcome of the war was decided in the naval battle of Lade Islet.
Dionysius of Phocaea was the commander-in-chief of the Greek fleet, being the ablest Ionian admiral. Phocaea was a Greek city-state on the linguistic-dialectic border between the Ionian and the Aeolian Greeks of Asia Minor, on the Aegean coast between the Aeolian Kyme and the Ionic Smyrna. The city was Ionic (with an Aeolian minority) and small comparing to the mentioned neighbouring large cities, but it was a great naval power with many colonies around the Mediterranean, especially in the western part of it. Marseille (anc. Massalia), Monaco (anc. Monoecos Herakles’ Limen), Sain Tropez (anc.  Athenopolis), Avignon (Auenion), Arles (Theline), Nice (Nikaia), Alicante (Akra Leuke), probably Barcelona (Greek Kallipolis, later conquered by the Barcid Carthaginians and renamed to Barcinon) and finally Velia (Elea or Hyele, home of the Eleatic philosophers) are some renowned  modern French, Spanish and Italian cities founded by Phocaean colonists.



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Marseille Ancient Harbor
The  ancient  harbor  of  Marseille  (Lacydon).

By  Periklis    Deligiannis

In  the  7th  century  BC,  the  Greek  navigators  and  colonists  appeared  in  almost  all  the  Mediterranean  coasts,  managing  to  settle  in  the  greater  part  of  them.  In  the  coast  of  Western  Liguria  (modern  SE  France)  the  Greeks  encountered  the  Celts  for  the  first  time  after  the  Mycenaean  era.  But  when  they  arrived  in  the  region  as  traders  (8th  century  BC),  the  indigenous  inhabitants  were  the  Ligurians  (Ligures),  a  people  of  Neolithic  origins  who  had  adopted  centuries  ago  a  variety  of  the  proto-Celtic  Urnfield  culture. The  first  Greek  settlers  –  Rhodians  and  Phocaeans  from  Asia  Minor  –  founded  a  trading  post  at  the  modern  site  of  Saint  Blaise  which  soon  became  a  real  city,  possibly  with  the  name  “Heraclea”  or  “Mastrabala.”  But  soon  afterwards,  Heraclea-Mastrabala  declined  due  to  the  depositionn Heraclea-Mastravtablerios (age   of  silt  in  the  estuary  of  the  Rhone  River  that  disabled  the  city’s  harbor.  Heraclea  was  overshadowed  by  Massalia,  a  new  Greek  colony  founded  around  600  BC  in  a  better  site.
The  foundation  of  Massalia  (modern  Marseille)  was  a  major  event  in  the  history  of  the  Gauls  and  generally  the  Celts,  strongly  affecting  their  ethnogenesis,  culture  and  evolution.  The  Massaliot  cultural  influence  in  the  Celtic  Halstatt  and  La  Tene  cultures  (through  trade  and  other  relations)  was  especially  important.  The  commercial  network  of  Massalia  used  the  major  rivers  of  Gaul  (Rhone,  Loire,  Garone,  Seine  et. al.)  reaching  the  North  Sea  and  the  British  Isles.  The  Laconian  crater  excavated  in  modern  Vix  of  Northern  France  is  a  famous  artwork  which  was  brought  there  by  Massaliot  merchants  on  behalf  of  the  local  royal  family.  Numerous  Greek  elements  were  adopted  in  the  Gallic  culture,  ranging  from  everyday  life  to  artistic  expression.  Marseille  ‘exported’  to  the  Gauls  its  own  Ionic  culture  (the  Massaliots  were  Ionic  Greeks)  and  simultaneously  functioned  as  an  “intermediary”,  spreading  in  the  same  people  the  technology  and  the  culture  of  mainland  Greece  and  the  Greek  colonies  in  Italy (Magna  Grecia).  The  city  grew  rapidly  becoming  the  commercial  harbor  of  most  of  the  Gallic  world,  whose  products  were  channeled  to  Massalia  and  then  they  were  distributed  to  markets  in  the  entire  Mediterranean.  The  Mediterranean  products  followed  accordingly  the  reverse  path,  reaching  finally  the  Galatian  customers.  Massalia  was  the  commercial  and  cultural  “gate”  of  the  Celts  to  the  South.  One  of  its  most  important  contributions  to  the  Celtic  world  was  the  Greek  alphabet,  which  was  spread  to  Gaul  and  a  great  part  of  Britain.


QUADRIREME, QUINQUEREME, DECEMEREME &other multumeremes – PART II , The origins of the colossal warships of the Hellenistic Era

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  By  Periklis    DeligiannisPolyeres

A Roman polyeres-type warship with turrets on deck.
From the maritime conflicts between the early Hellenistic states, we can distinguish the naval battle of Salamis in Cyprus (306 BC) and the subsequent seaborne siege of Rhodes by Demetrios the Besieger. The evolution of the polyeres warships came largely from Demetrios’ resourcefulness. Demetrios as a political and military figure had very limited abilities (thereby he failed miserably for this reason), but his ingenuity on engineering was unlimited.
After 280 BC the political situation was stabilized and the new large Hellenistic navies were formed. The State of the Lagides (Ptolemaic Kingdom) had at its disposal 336 quinqueremes/penteres and 2,000 ships of smaller displacement, and it was the greatest naval power not only among the Greeks but also compared with Rome and Carthage, despite the overexertion of these western Mediterranean states during the naval war between them (First and Second Punic Wars). The manning of the Ptolemaic fleet stood in need of 150,000 men without the marines. Most of them came from the most skilful mariners of the known world of those days: the Greeks and the Phoenicians. The Ptolemaic Kingdom, according to all evidence (displacement of its ships, number and capacity of its crews etc.) was the greatest naval power of Antiquity, of course superior even to the Athenian naval power of the 5th cent. BC. Some researchers have questioned the figure of the 336 penteres warships as well as the figures of smaller vessels and of the total crews needed to man them (on the contrary W.W. Tarn defended these numbers).


QUADRIREME, QUINQUEREME, DECEMEREME &other multumeremes – PART I , The origins of the colossal warships of the Hellenistic Era



Front, top and side view of a hepteres (septemereme). The diagrams in the upper part (arris of ships) depict the evolution of the arrangement of the oarsmen, from the original Greek penteconter to the Roman imperial trireme (Credit: John Warry / Salamander)


By  Periklis    Deligiannis

Around 500 BC, the trireme (an invention of the Corinthians) became the basic warship of the Greek, Phoenician, Etruscan, Lycian and other Mediterranean war fleets. The trireme supported the “thalassocracies” of Athens, Carthage, Corinth, Syracuse, Tyre, Caere/Caisra (Cerveteri), Aegina and other Greek, Phoenician and Etruscan city-states.
The campaign of Alexander the Great in Asia and the overthrow of the Persian empire created a new statehood for the Greek world. The new Greek/Hellenistic states (kingdoms) which were created in Asia and Egypt were overwhelmingly more extensive than the old city-states. The new political situation had its impact on warfare, both on land and sea. The old hoplite armies numbering a few thousand hoplites gave way to armies of tens of thousands of soldiers, based on the Macedonian phalanx and the heavy cavalry (mainly Macedonian ‘Hetairoi’ and Thessalians). Similarly, the older fleets of the city-states which used the trireme as their basic warship, were replaced by the fleets of the colossal Hellenistic states in which the main warships were a number of ships larger or much larger than the trireme. This group of warships were called collectively ‘polyeres’ (‘πολυήρης’ in Greek, ‘multumeremes’ in a Latinized term) and the most typical of them were the tetreres (quadrireme in a Latinized term), the penteres (quinqueremenaiseds-type warships wereroup of oars!)), the hexeres (sexereme), the hepteres (septemereme), the hocteres (octoreme) and the deceres  (decemereme). The penteres was the most successful of them.

The tactics of naval warfare were adjusted accordingly. The triremes used mainly their speed and flexibility to prevail in naval conflicts, while the penteres and the other polyeres used their size and displacement. The main element that remained unchanged since the era of the trireme was the use of the ram, although its role in sea battle was reduced.




By  Periklis    Deligiannis

Τo  my  wife,  Nelly,  my  inspiration  and guiding  light  of  my  life .


The  modern  trireme “Olympias.”

TABLE:  The  numbers  of  warships  of   the  Athenian  fleet  during  the  5th-4th centuries  BC

Chronology Number  of    warships
Around  500  BC 50  penteconters
Sea  Battle of  Salamis 480  BC  (along with  the  Athenian  clerouchs  in Chalkis) 200  triremes
468  BC 200  triremes
After  the  failed  campaign  in  Egypt 200  triremes
outbreak  of  the  Peloponnesian  War (431 BC) 300  triremes
Nikias’  Peace  (421  BC) 300  triremes
Sicilian  disaster  (413  BC) 108  triremes
Battle  of  Arginousae  (406  BC) 180  triremes
Aegospotamoi  (405 BC) 180  triremes
After  the  final  defeat  of  Athens  (404 BC) 12  triremes
370  BC 100  triremes
Around  350 BC 300  triremes
325-3  BC 417 warships=  360  triremes,  50  quadriremes  and  7 quinqueremes.

Athens  was  not  one  of  the  traditional  naval  powers  of  Greece.  Around  500  BC,  its  fleet  was  rather  insignificant  comparing  to  the  powerful  fleets  of  triremes  and  biremes  of  Corinth,  Miletos,  Samos,  Aegina  and  other  maritime  city-states,  consisting  of  50  outdated  penteconters (small  50-oared  warship).  The  Athenian  fleet  was  relatively  newly  built,  thanks  to  the  perseverance  of  Themistocles.  In  fact  it  was  built  a  few  years  before  its  great  victory  at  Salamis  (480  BC)  against  the  fleet  of  the  Achaemenid  Persians.  During  the  greatest  part  of  the  “Golden”  5th  century  BC,  the  Athenian  fleet  consisted  of  300  triremes , of  which  usually  200  were  manned,  or  maximum  250.  A  part  of  the  crews  were  Athenians  or  ‘metoikoi’ (foreign  residents)  in  Attica,  but  a  great  number  of  mercenaries  and  allies  from  various  maritime  Aegean  cities  were  also  employed.  Apart  from  this  fleet,  Athens  had  under  its  control  the  180  triremes  and  the  crews  of  its  subject  naval  allies,  namely  the  islands  of  Chios,  Lesbos  and  Samos.  So  the  final  number  of  triremes  at  its  disposal,  was  480.  When  the  Athenians  were  eventually  defeated  in  the  Peloponnesian  War,  Sparta  have  allowed  them  to  keep  only  12  triremes  as  a  coastguard  of  Attica  against  pirates  or  other  threats  (404  BC).  Perhaps  the  Spartans  believed  that  thus  they  undermined  the  Athenian  navy,  but  if  they  did,  they  were  wrong.  The  sea  power  of  Athens  was  not  identified  with  the  amount  of  its  warships.  As  it  turned  out,  even  if  the  Athenians  have  been  losing  their  vessels  by  the  hundreds,  the  shipyards  of  Piraeus  (the  main  harbor  of  Athens)  could  replace  them.  The  naval  power  of  Athens  was  identified  with  the  shipbuilding  and  seafaring  abilities  of  its  men,  but  also  with  the  perseverance  of  its  people.

Plans  of  a  trireme  by  J.F. Coates.

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