Trireme

Bronze Age Aegean Ships

Early Cutwaters

Project at Stevens Institute of Technology, Davidson Laboratory

The Athenian Trireme

Historical Context

Sometime in 481, as the Persian king Xerxes gathered a vast invasion force in western Anatolia, the assembly in Athens debated the proper military response. Themistocles alone argued for the need to use sea power. The Oracle's pronouncement that "a wall of wood alone shall be uncaptured, a boon to you and your children" was a clear reference to their ships' hulls, he argued, and not to some ancient fence around the acropolis. He won the argument that day and Athens bet everything on her fleet, eventually securing a great victory at nearby Salamis (in October 480 BCE). Without control of the sea, Xerxes cut the size of his land force, charged a subordinate with continuing the war, and personally returned to Asia. Although the fighting continued for another year, the lesson was not lost on the first historian of western literature, Herodotus of Halicarnassus. For him, Athens and her new fleet of warships--called triremes--saved Greece. The technological key to victory, then, lay in the trireme, a fearful weapon, which Athens was able to use to great effect, not only against Xerxes, but also in the decades to follow. With it, the Athenians forged an Empire and a flowering of culture that still amaze us.

Trireme Engineering

( Looking for contributors)

Class Project at Stevens

Legacy of Trireme in the Mediterranean

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Additional Material

"An Engineering History of the Ram Bow from Ancient Times to the 21st Century", Given by Dr. Larrie Ferreiro. at the one-day conference held at the Stevens Institute of Technology and sponsored by the Onassis Foundation, The IEEE History Center at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and the Office of the Provost. Dr. Larrie Ferriero teaches naval and systems engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, and is an historian of science, technology and engineering. He is the author of "Ships and Science" which explores the birth of scientific ship design during the Scientific Revolution.

"Why 'Threes'? - The Influence of Triremes in Mediterranean History" Given by Dr. William Murray. at the one-day conference held at the Stevens Institute of Technology and sponsored by the Onassis Foundation, The IEEE History Center at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and the Office of the Provost. Dr. William Murray, Mary and Gus Stathis Professor of Greek History at the University of South Florida, is author of "The Age of Titans: The Rise and Fall of the Great Hellenistic Navies". His current research centers on warship rams and what they can tell us about warship collisions and the physical reality of naval combat