Phoenicia, Greece and Rome 1000 B.C.-A.D. 400
With the fall of the Egyptians and Cretans their place at sea was taken by the Phoenicians, for at the moment the Greeks were too new to the sea to be very important. Though we know a great deal about the doi ngs of the Phoenicians at sea, both as traders and as fighters, we know next to nothing of their ships. Apart from a few coins, they have left us no representations of their own ships, and the little we know is based simply on the work of Egyptian and Assyrian artists. Now, when we are dealing with a time when communication from one country to another was still something of an event, it is dangerous to take an artist of one country as a reliable guide to the appearnce of the ships of another. He might possibly have happened to be there when the strangers arrived, but he was far more likely to have to work from his knowedge of the ships of his own people, with perhaps a few hints from his friends in the seaport towns.
For this reason it will not do to lay too much stress on the resemblance between the Phoenician ships shown on an Egyptian carving of about 1500 B.C. and Egyptian ships of the same date. Certainly the Phoenicians show no oars and have a sort of openork fence along their decks to protect their cargo, but otherwise, both in hull and rig, they are purely Egyptian. Of course, it is quite possible that Phoenician ships of this date may have been copied from Egyptian patterns, but this can hardly be proved from one solitary example.
The next representation of a Phoenician ship (Fig. 9) comes from an Assyr ian sculpture of about 700 B.C. It shows ships employed in the timber trade, and suggests
that besides the timber that was actually loaded in the ship some was towed in the form of rafts. This is exactly what we should expect from the account in the Bible of the arrangements for the supply of timber for Solomon's temple some two hundred and fifty years earlier. Hiram, King of Tyre, the chief of the Phoeniian cities, wrote to Solomon, saying: "I will do all thy desire concerning timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir. My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I will convey them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shalt appoint me, and will cause them to be discharged there." Timber in rafts or floats could hardly be taken from place to place by sea unless it was towed by ships, and the ships would certainly be loaded as well.
Apart from their cargo, there is nothing very noticeble about these ships except the figureheads in the shape of horses. These do seem to have been a feature of one kind of Phoenician ship, not only those from the home ports, but even ships from the cities founded by the Phoenicians at Carthage on the north coast of Africa and at Cadiz in Spain. There is a story that about 112 B.C. such a figurehead was found washed up in East Africa and was considered by seafaring men to belong to a ship from Cadiz. This has been taken as a proof that the Phoenician colonists at Cadiz had gone far enough to round the Cape and sail the waters of the Indian Ocean. It may be so, but after all we know that Solomon had a fleet in the Red Sea manned in part by Phoenicians and no doubt built on Phoenician designs, and it is possible that Phoenician influence lingered long in those waters.
Solomon and Hiram in partnership traded with Ophir, somewhere in the south of Arabia, and with Tarshish, in the south-west of Spain. The Phoenicians alone went much farther; they certainly went to Brittany and Cornwall and may conceivably have reached the Baltic. This has been suggested as an explanation of the simiarity in appearance between the ships of the Vikings and those of the Phoenicians, as far as we know anyhing of them, but it can hardly be said to be more than a remote possibility.
In the other direction the Carthaginians explored the African coast as far as Cape Verde or thereabouts in 460 B.C. and had a trading-station near Cape Blanco, some fifteen hundred miles beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. There is also a story told by Herodotus that in about 600 B.C. Necho, King of Egypt, sent out a fleet of ships with Phoenician crews from one of his Red Sea ports, and that after a voyage of more than two years they returned to Egypt by way of the Medierranean , thus anticipating Vasco da Gama by more than two thousand years. Many people disbelieve this,
but there seems no good reason why it should not be true.
Another Assyrian sculpture of about 700 B.C. (Figs. 10 and 11) gives us an idea of the appearance of Phoenician warships. In this case it seems that the artist was really acquainted with his subject, for coins of Sidon, another of the Phoenician cities, show exactly the same type of ship (Fig. 12). These coins are some two hundred and fifty or three hundred years later, but there is no reason why ships should have changed very much, and in any case it is easy enough to find instances where ships on coins were quite as much out of date.
Clearly these Phoenician warships, if they owed anyhing to foreign designs, were indebted to Crete rather than Egypt. Their hulls have just the characteristics that are most marked in the very unsatisfactory drawings of Cretan galleys—low bows, high sterns, a comparatively straight appearance, and a ram. The sail is that of the battle of 1200 B.C., with no boom and a 'standing' yard. The most important thing about them is undoubtedly the arrangement of their oars at two different levels. For the moment we must leave
the question of how the actual rowers Were disposed and simply note the fact that this is a very early instance of what would have been called later a ' bireme.' Turning now to Greek ships, we find ourselves inolved almost at once in one of the most difficult and at the same time the most interesting of all the problems connected with the ships of past ages. Put in a very few words it is this: How were the oars and the rowers of Greek and Roman galleys arranged? At one time the ideas on this subject might have been summed up in the words " One man one theory." Recent discoveries have produced a little more agreement, but there are still many doubtful points. What follows must be taken as no more than an attempt to state one set of views with an occasional effort to explain why those views should be thought more likely to be right than others.
We are concerned now simply with the long ship, or galley, meant for fighting as a rowing vessel, and carryng sail only for use in making long passages with a fair wind. This type of ship had been developed by the Cretans and their kinsmen on the Greek mainland long before the real Greeks arrived. Some idea of what these early galleys looked like may be got from the
upper drawing in Fig. 34 from a vase of about 1300 B.C. When the Greeks began to take to the sea they used galleys of very much the same kind—that is to say, long, open boats with a ram bow and a high stern, and with a sort of ' flying deck ' running from fend to end over the heads of the rowers. The top drawing in Fig. 33 shows the general appearance of such a galley, and Fig. 13 shows how the rowers were arranged. These are ships of about 800-700 B.C. Quite often there appear to be rowers on the upper deck as well, and in one case there are two flying decks, each with rowers on it, but this is probably simply the artist's attempt to get in the rowers of both sides.
Such galleys as these were rowed by fifty men at most, twenty-five on each side. It was not possible to go much beyond this, because too great length in a boat of such light construction simply meant that she would break in half in any sea. To get more power it was necessary to arrange more rowers in the same length. This could be done in several ways. What seems to us the obvious method—making the oars longer, and putting two or more men on each—seems never to have been the fashion in Greece. Another way would be to have a second lot of rowers right above the first; this is what is shown on some of the early vases, but it meant a rather unstable craft and very long oars for the upper rowers, and it seems also to have been discarded. A third method, having a pair of oars at the same level and almost touching one another, but making the oar nearer the stern longer than the other, and putting the two rowers side by side on the same bench, is what was done in Mediterranean galleys in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries A.D. It was probably done now and then in ancient Greek galleys, and some people still say that it was the general rule, but this idea is almost certainly wrong. The fourth way, the way shown in the Phoenician warship of 700 B.C., and in a Greek galley of about 500 B.C. (Fig. 14), was to put the two rows of oars at different levels, and to have the holes for the lower row about half-way between those for the upper row. In this case the difference of level need only be enough to let the oars of the upper row clear the heads of the men on the lower row. The upper lot of rowers would naturally have the longer oars, and this would let them sit far enough from the side of the ship to leave room for the hands of the lower men between their legs and the ship's side.
So far so good. Unfortunately, we have to allow not only for biremes, or double-oared ships, but also for 'triremes' 'quadriremes, ' 'quinqueremes,' and (if we are to believe accounts that have come down to us)
for classes up to 'forty-remes.' It is hard to say how far it would be possible to extend the principle of one row of oar-ports above another and one man to an oar, but it is quite obvious that it would be bound to break down fairly early in the series.
We have seen that biremes were in use in Phoenicia in 700 B.C., and it is probable that they were introduced in Greece about that date. Thucydides tells us that the Corinthians invented some new kind of ship in about 700, and also that they were the first people to build triremes, or triple-oared craft, but it seems that he is speaking of two separate inventions. It is said that triremes were used in Egypt about 600, and in any case they were in general use in the Eastern Mediterranean before 500 B.C. They were the vessels with which the great battles of the Persian and the Peloponnesian wars were fought.
Very many people have tried to reconstruct a Greek trireme on paper, or even in a full-sized model. Some of the attempts have been absurd, some possible but unlikely, and some quite like what the original must have been. All recent attempts agree in one very imortant point: the uppermost row of oars worked against the outer edge of a long, straight, overhanging structure projecting from the ship's side. They agree also that the second row worked against the upper edge of the real side of the ship, and that the third row came through holes in the side quite low down. The men on the middle row of oars sat a little farther from the side of the ship than those on the lowest row. These two rows were in fact arranged exactly as already described in the fourth possible method of contructing a bireme. The men belonging to the top row sat exactly over those of the lowest row, and the 'outrigger' allowed their oars to be long enough to reach well clear of the others. This outrigger, called in the Middle Ages the 'apostis,' was a feature of the Medierranean galley for more than two thousand years, from classical times to the coming of steam, or, in other words, from Xerxes to Napoleon.
Considering what a great amount of Greek art has been preserved, it is extraordinary how badly off we are for representations of triremes. There are, in fact, only two about which we can feel at all certain. One is a fragment of sculpture from the Acropolis in Athens (Fig. 15). All it shows is some twenty-five feet of the middle part of the galley, but for this part it is really firstlass evidence. The top row of oars is very clearly shown.
The only doubtful point is whether they are meant to pass over or under the uppermost of the four thick horizontal bands. In any case the two top bands are
certainly meant to represent the outrigger, or apostis. Directly below the points where these uppermost oars cross the upper band of the apostis the third row of oars can be seen coming out, just above the lowest of the four horizontal bands. Between these oars and those
of the first row the middle oars are shown coming out from under the apstis. The other diagonal lines which do not reach the water must be meant for supports for the apostis, and the two lowest horizontal bands must be 'wales,' or strips of extra-thick planking to strengthen the hull.
A drawing from an unknown original (Fig. 16) shows something so very much the same that it seems possible that it may have been made from another fragment of the same sculpture. In this case the top row of oars clearly comes between the two horizontal timbers of the apostis. The bottom row is meant to be shown in the
same way as in the other example, but the middle row has gone astray somehow. Perhaps the carving was worn, and the artist could not make out its details quite as clearly as he would like us to believe.
The heavy ram bow is shown well in this drawing, and is confirmed by other representations on coins and elsewhere. For the stern we can turn to another carving (Fig. 17), which also shows the apostis and the steeringar very well. Some of the buildings on deck seem rather unlikely, and it is possible that they are not meant to be part of the ship at all. This particular galley does not seem to be a trireme, but a bireme with her oars in pairs at the same level, on the third of the possible methods already mentioned. Another case of a bireme of this sort can be seen in the pedestal of the statue of Victory from Samothrace, now in the Louvre in Paris (Fig. 18). This is a piece of evidence of the greatest importance, because it shows in the solid things which we know otherwise only in the flat. The fore ends of the two outriggers are clearly shown, and on each side we can see the ports for the first pair of oars. They are not exactly at the same level—the fore end of the after port just overlaps the after end of the fore port—but they are so close together that it seems likely that the two oarsmen sat side by side on the same bench. In each
port we can see the 'thole pin' against which the oars worked. Mr C. Torr in his Ancient Ships says that what we have called the outriggers are really 'catheads ' for carrying the anchors. He refers to the idea that they are the ends of the outriggers, and says that " there is not any evidence of that." The evidence is simple enough: they look like outriggers, and they have the oar-ports that would be found in the outiggers . Mr Torr has to explain these ports as some arrangement for securing the anchor, and it would be far more reasonable to say that there is no evidence of that.
The Victory of Samothrace belongs to about 300 B.C., and by then the Greeks were no longer the most importnt seafaring nation of the Mediterranean. This place had been taken by the Phoenician colony of Carthage in North Africa, and was soon to be taken in turn by Rome. Two great wars called the Punic Wars were necessary to decide whether Rome or Carthage should be mistress of the sea, and it is the galleys of the third century B.C., in which these wars were fought, that have now to be considered.
By 300 B.C. the trireme had been superseded by vessels of more powerful types. Some quadriremes and quinqueremes had been built by the Greeks of Syracuse in Sicily soon after 400, and the Athenians had taken them up about 330 B.C. Very soon there were galleys of all classes up to about ' fifteen-remes.' Now it is necessary to consider what these classes meant, and how their rowers were arranged. For the trireme the matter was fairly simple, since every one agrees that she had one man to one oar, and it is only a matter of arranging these men and their oars in a way that seems reasonably possible and that agrees with such evidence as there is. With the coming of these 'many-banked ' galleys the subject becomes far more difficult. It is admitted by every one who has studied the subject that they cannot have been produced simply by adding row after row of oars above one another. Such a thing might be possible up to about five rows, but beyond that it is simply incredible. One idea is that a ten-banked ship had ten men on an oar, and so on. Another is that after the stage of five rows of oars had been reached the method of classification changed altogether, and it was the number of sets of five oars each that was counted.
A more reasonable theory is that galleys were classed by the number of men on each set of oars. For instance, a trireme's oars were arranged in sets of three, with one man to each oar. Suppose two men were put to each of the oars in the top row, then there would be four men in each set, and the vessel would be a quadrireme. Add another man on each of the middle oars, and the result is a quinquereme, with five men to a set of oars. On some such system as this it is possible to go about as far as six-banked ships with only three rows of oars, tenr eleven-banked ships with four rows, and fifteen- or sixteen-banked ships with five rows. Beyond this it is not likely that practical seagoing ships ever went; in fact, Livy calls a Macedonian ship of sixteen banks in 197 B.C. " useless on account of her size."
The Carthaginians were by nature a seafaring people whose whole existence depended on the sea. The Romans on the other hand were a military power— a power that was growing and that found Carthage in its way. They had little or no sea-knowledge and very few ships; in fact, it was not until the first war had been going on for four years that they made any attempt to meet the enemy at sea. Both sides used quinqueremes as their principal fighting-ships, and the Romans, anxious to give their soldiers a chance to make up for the lack of skill of their sailors, invented the 'corvus,' a kind of boarding-bridge, which in the end proved most successful.
A French historian tells a good story, which may or may not be true. Hannibal, grandfather of the great Hannibal, met the Roman fleet, saw that they carried a new appliance of some kind, but held them in such contempt that he attacked carelessly, lost several ships, and had to fly with the rest of his fleet. Getting back to Carthage before anyone knew of his defeat, he sent an officer to say that the Romans had a fleet at sea. He pointed out that it was their first appearance and that they were quite unused to the sea, but mentioned that their ships carried certain machines of unknown use. Finally he asked whether he should attack them or not. Naturally he was told to attack, and therepon he explained that he had already done so and had been defeated. Many times the Romans lost their fleets through pure lack of seamanship, and each time they were replaced. In the end their perseverance was rewarded, and the Carthaginian supremacy was destroyed.
Probably it was during this war that a change in the design of galleys was introduced. Such is the opinion of a recent German writer on the subject, and his account seems quite reasonable. The change was that the lowest row of oars was done away with altogether and the other two rows were given two or three men each. This allowed a quinquereme on the new system to be much lighter and handier than the old type. Probably the new style of building was what was called the Liburnian method. The two kinds seem to have gone on side by side for a long time, till the battle of Actium in 31 B.C.
finally settled the superiority of the more handy type. A carving from the temple of Fortuna at Praeneste, built by Augustus after his victory at Actium, shows a large galley (Fig. 19) built on the Liburnian principle. She has been described as a bireme, but she is almost certainly of a much higher class than that. There can be very little doubt that what some writers have beieved to be merely decoration along the upper part of the outrigger is really the blades of the uppermost row or rows of oars. Whether there were one or two rows here is impossible to say; one seems most likely, but in that case the artist has put in just twice too many oar-blades. The two lowest rows are arranged just as one would expect: the lowest coming out above the true side of the ship, and the row above working
through ports in the lower side of the outrigger. Probbly there would be two men on each of the oars of the two lowest rows, and perhaps three on the uppermost oars. Thus, if there is really only one row working on the upper part of the outrigger the vessel would be a septereme, or sevenfold galley.
The Greeks and Romans did what the Cretans had done before them, but what the Egyptians had never done: they drew a hard and fast line between the fighting-ship which was moved by oars, and the merhantman which depended on sails. Galleys no doubt had sails, a square sail amidships and perhaps another, very much smaller, right forward, and merchantmen may have used oars occasionally; still, speaking generally, the distinction was quite definite. In hull too there had been a great difference from very early days. The galley, built for speed and for fighting, was long and thin; the merchantman was short and fat.
Greek artists have left us very little evidence of the appearance of their merchantmen. Evidently the
galley's more graceful shape and more picturesque emloyment made a greater appeal to them. One example of a merchantman of about 500 B.C. (Fig. 20) comes from the same vase as Fig. 14 and illustrates the difference between the long ship and the round ship very well indeed. It shows a vessel higher and deeper for her length than the galley, with a single big square sail and no sign of oars. Like all ancient ships, she is steered by a pair of rudders on either side of the stern, but her bow has a thoroughly modern look and would not be out of place on a steam yacht. The pattern above the side amidships is probably intended for some sort of temporary protection to the cargo, such as was menioned in discussing the Egyptian picture of Phoenician merchantmen. The purpose of the long ladder-like arrangement is not so clear; perhaps it represents something in the nature of an awning. The shorter ladder in the stern is no doubt the gangway for use when in harbour.
Roman merchantmen look heavier, but this may only be because our knowledge of them comes from sculpture instead of from painting. Two of the best
examples are shown in Figs. 21 and 22, from a tomb of about A.D. 50 at Pompeii and from a carving of about A.D. 200 found at Ostia, the Roman port at the mouth of the Tiber. In a general way they agree very well. Both show ships with high sterns and comparatively low bows, with a mast amidships carrying a big square sail, and a smaller mast sloping over the bows. This mast, we know from other sources, could set a small square sail called the 'artemon.' The later ship is specially valuable for the details of its rigging. It shows the setting-up of the stay and the shrouds, and the highly developed system of 'brails ' for gathering up the sail, each passing through a number of rings sewn to the sail. It also shows a new feature in the triangular topsail that could be set above the mainsail in light winds. Another ship in the same carving has no sail set, and this lets us see the masthead with
the large square block of wood through which went the ropes for hoisting the yard. This we shall find in Mediterranean ships for another thirteen hundred years or so.
It was in such a ship as this, probably rather more than a hundred feet long, that St Paul made the voyage on which he was shipwrecked at Malta. The height of the stern explains why they anchored by the stern instead of by the bow. The 'rudder-bands ' that were loosened before running for the beach were the ropes which hauled the rudders out of the water. It can easily be understood that the rudders could not have been left down and loose while the ship was anchored by the stern in a heavy sea. The Bible, or at least the Authorized Version, says that they set the " mainsail"
to run the ship ashore. This is a mistake in translation; the word is "artemon," and that meant the foresail set on the small mast right over the bows and used to keep the ship before the wind. Usually this was quite a small sail meant to help the steering more than to drive the ship, but sometimes it seems to have had its mast farther aft and to have been almost as big as the mainail . Such is the case in the vessel in Fig. 23 from a carving of about a.d. 200 found at Utica, near Carthage. This is a real two-masted ship, and the two sails would be of practically equal importance.
For a good idea of a Mediterranean merchantman of about a.d. 50 one cannot do better than study the model that has been made by a distinguished French nautical archaeologist, Dr Jules Sottas (Plate II). With the aid not only of the three carvings that we have shown, but of many others of varying importance, and with the story of St Paul's last voyage before him, he has made a model which certainly gives a very perfect representation of a ship of the time.
Of how these ancient Mediterranean ships were actully put together we cannot say very much. For the Phoenicians we know nothing at all, and for Greece and Rome we have to depend on casual references in literature. Their ships seem to have been built with a keel and ribs, as ships are still built to-day, and had no resemblance in this respect to the ships of ancient Egypt. It is sometimes said that they had neither stem nor sternpost, and that the keel curved up at the ends as far as the deck level. In the sense that there was no sudden angle at the ends of the keel this is true, but it can hardly be claimed that the whole keel, including the curves at each end, was a single piece of wood, and it is almost certain that the curved parts would be separate from the straight keel that joined them. They would thus be really a stem and sternpost, even if they had no special names apart from the keel. The planking was put on ' carvel-fashion,' with the edge of one plank right against the edge of the next, not overlapping, as in Northern 'clinker-built ' vessels. To hold two planks together wooden tongues were let into both of them and then held with wooden pins driven through the planks. To fasten the planks to the ribs bronze nails were used.
Some of these details can still be seen in the fragent of a Roman vessel that was found in digging the foundations for the London County Council Hall on the south side of the Thames at Westminster Bridge and that is now preserved in the London Museum. We call her Roman, because she was evidently the work of Roman builders and because coins found in her show that she dates from about A.D. 270, when Britain was under Roman rule, but there is no certainty as to where she was built or as to the purpose for which she was used. Some people think she was a fighting galley, others that she was merely a Thames ferry. Whatever she was, there was some fine workmanship put into her. Whether any of the Northern peoples could have done such good work is a doubtful question. Most people would say at once that they could not, but we shall see in the next chapter that Caesar met Northern ships which filled him with admiration, and the ships to which he was accustomed were probably not so very inferior to this example that has so fortunately been preserved.