Trireme - dreadnaught of the ancient Mediterranean
Dominating naval warfare for seven hundred years
The trireme was utilized as a warship in the Mediterranean Sea from the 7th century BC until the fall of the Roman Republic at about the commencement of the Christian era. No other warship design has survived in service for a comparable period. It was truly the dominant battleship of its day. The trireme was developed by the Phoenicians from the penteconter (a warship with a single row of 25 oars on each side) and the bireme (a warship with two rows of oars on each side), but reached its epitome under the Greeks. As its name implies, the trireme had three rows of oars on each side. Typically, it was about 120 feet in length, with a beam of 18 feet and a draft of three feet. The complement of a trireme was about 200 men (women need not apply). The deck and command crew was limited to about ten. There were generally 170 rowers. The ones in the top level stood while rowing. The ones in the two lower levels sat on low benches. The ship carried up to 20 marines. One or two masts supported square sails for use when the wind was favorable. The trireme was not intended for extended single voyages. It was hauled onto a beach each evening. This was for two purposes: (1) so that the crew could eat and rest, as there were no berths on the trireme and it carried no rations; and (2) so that the porous hull could dry out and not become waterlogged. Classic warfare consisted of either ramming an enemy vessel or maneuvering alongside so that the marines could board. Sometimes, one trireme would sweep close aboard, breaking the oars on the opposing vessel and rendering it immobile. Later, artillery in the form of ballista and catapults were added. Eventually, heavier warships were developed which eclipsed the trireme for dominance, but they continued to be used in large numbers until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, CE.