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Trireme

Greek: Τριηρης
What: An ancient Greek vessel.
Speed: 6-8 knots
Crew: 200 people (170 rowers)
Length: 110 feet
Construction: 6000 man-days of labor

A drawing of a trireme.

A drawing of a trireme.

A trireme was a naval warship that was used by the ancient Greeks for naval battles and for traveling. The term trireme means “three-oarer” because there were three rows of oars on each side. It was the dominant ship from the 7th to 4th centuries BC due to it being quick and fast. The trireme played animportant role in the Persian Wars as it helped destroy the Persian navy at the battle of Salamis. It was introduced to Greece by the Corinthians in the late 8th century BC and by the early 5th century it had become the dominant warship type of the eastern Mediterranean. Athens, at this time, had themost dominant fleet of trireme ships in ancient Greece with as many as 200.

There are no surviving written sources that give information on the construction of form of the trireme, and because the triremes had such great buoyancy no remains have been found on the seabeds. Archeologists have had to rely on depictions on monuments and amphorae and the remains of ship sheds to determine their design. They were made of softwoods, primarily pine and fir from the forests of Attica, larch and plane leading to the deforestation of much of southern Greece. Triremes were then decorated with eyes, nameplates, painted figureheads, and various ornaments. Decorations were usually made to show the wealth of the ship and make them frightening to the enemy. Also, at the front of the ship a deity would be located above the bronze ram to signal the home port of that ship (for example, the Athenians would use the goddess Athena).

The design of the triremes were meant for day-long journeys, with no capacity to stay overnight at sea. There were only small storage facilities on board that were large enough to provide the crewman with only 2 gallons of fresh drinking water to keep hydrated each day. Therefore, those aboard were highly dependent upon the people on the land, where they landed each night for supplies. The ship’s captain was known was the trierarch and was usually a wealthy Athenian citizen, who was responsible for manning and maintaining the ship for 35 years, which belonged to Athens. The crews were composed of free men (not slaves, as is a popular belief), and was part of their military service that is provided by the lower class citizens.

The Olympias Trireme:

Trireme Summary by the History Channel:


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