The Salient Features of Ancient Greek Ships

Greece is a country that lies on the Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionian Seas. Since the country is scattered around the sea, marine transport has been the primary source of transportation for the Greeks since ancient times.

In contemporary times, marine transport has developed to a great extent but the allure and the attraction of the Greek ships of ancient times still exists.

Ancient Greek Ship
Representation image

The salient features and the importance of the ancient ships of the country can be explained and elaborated as follows:

  • The Greek ships primarily used oars to ensure faster movement of the vessel in the water. However, there was a basic distinction that only warships used oars while the ships used as merchant navy vessels had sails. The Greek ships used for the purpose of war were referred to as Pentekonters
  • Two of the most famous warships used by the Greeks are the Trireme – which won them the war against the Persians (Battle of Salamin) in 480 BC and the Brireme – which was used during their war against Troy in 1250 BC. Brireme and Trireme are so named for the set of oars used to propel the ships forward. In the case of the first warship, there were two sets of oars on both sides of the ship. In the second type, the oars were positioned on three sides of the ship
  • Another feature of the Brireme ancient ships was that one side of the ship was partially raised i.e. the concept of out-rigging was used. This was primarily done to ensure that at no point in time a collision between any of the two sets of oars was caused. The number of men employed to oar the ship forward in the Brireme is said to be around 120 – 60 on each side
  • The oarsmen on the trireme were numbered to be around 90 on each side of the ship. The speed of the trireme was around 14 knots, which is quite a good acceleration for ships of that era. Additionally, the trireme was equipped with an arsenal to fight the enemy as opposed to carrying infantry to do the fighting against the enemy
  • The bow of the Brireme had a protrusion so that if the need arose, then the enemy’s ship could be rammed by the Brireme bow to puncture and destroy the enemy war-ship
  • The amount of time gap between the usage of the Brireme and Trireme is around 800 years. This effectively proves the aspect of the development of the Greek ships of the ancient times
  • Another variety of the ancient ships of Greece is the Quinquiremes. These Ancient Greek ships had a set of five oars and were built on the bulkier side so as to ensure their complete protection against gales and stormy winds. As compared to the previous two varieties, the Quinquiremes have not used that popularly even though their emergence was around the same time – during 400 BC
  • The most important and notable feature of the Quinquireme was that it was coated with lead to protect it from getting punctured and destroyed by enemy ships

Ships have been in operation in Greek history for about 100 centuries now. There have been numerous instances of several Greek ships of ancient times being raised and restored.

The ancient ships of Greece depict the success that the country enjoyed against its rival countries and the subsequent formation of the world’s super-power of that era.

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Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

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