sabato 1 novembre 2008


The ships belonging to the Roman Navy are divided in two categories: naves longae and naves ceterae. The former were used for war in itself; the latter for transport of people or objects.
Essentially, the Roman ships were improved versions of the Greek ones: biremes and triremes (but also bigger ones), with the addition of Roman inventions, such as the corvus and the rostrum.

Known since V century b.C., the bireme endured few changes with the passing of time. It was (depending on the epochs) about 24 metres long, with a maximum beam length of around 3 metres, and had a double line of oarsmen, sat on the same bench two by two, on each side. Its sail was square-shaped, and let the ship reach a good speed, thanks to little weight and small dimensions. Fairly diffused in the ancient age, yet it was soon superseded by the trireme, more useful and complete.

The triremes were the real spine of the Roman navy. Fast and agile, very easy to control, the trireme was the most diffused battleship in the Mediterranean until the Middle Ages.
More than 40 metres long, its width was about 6 metres: these dimensions provided the room necessary to place infantry weapons, simply fixed on the deck, and a century of navy infantrymen (80 soldiers). Under the deck rowed the oarsmen (up to 170) placed on three overlying levels. Their conditions were extremely precarious, even if far better than the ones of the slaves assigned to the cleansing of the cloacas or to the furnaces under the baths.

Quadriremes and quinqueremes
The quadrireme and quinquereme were similar in dimensions (48 metres long, 8 metres large, and a draught of one meter for the former, little more for the latter) were the ironclads of the epoch. Each of them had two corvii (one to the stem and one to the stern), several siege-arms on the deck (ballistae and little onagers) and one or two wooden towers to let the archers shoot from a high (and therefore favourable) position.
The quadrireme had 240 oarsmen, 15 sailors and 120 navy infantrymen in armour.
The quinquereme kept 300 oarsmen, 50 sailors and 120 infantrymen below deck.

There were ships assigned to the transport of the general staff of the army, i.e. the admiral and high-ranked officials; however they took part in the battles very rarely. Their function was, above all, that of intimidating the enemy. Despite this “demonstrative” role, the hexareme was anyhow completely equipped, and very massive in its dimensions.
It has been conjectured the existence of the decireme, but the sources haven’t been verified yet by archaeological discoveries.

The name liburna comes from the Liburnians (the pirates of Dalmatia). It was a middle-sized ship, but had the advantage of being slim, fast and very handy; suitable for pursuits, for logistic support and quick transport of troops. In fact, the liburna was often employed in fluvial flotillas on the limes of the Rhine and the Danube, and for the hunting of the pirates in the Adriatic sea.