Polycrates of Samos and the First Greek Trireme Fleet

By Anthony Papalas, published February 1999


An important element in the development of pre-Christian naval warfare in the Eastern Mediterranean was the development of the trireme as successor to the pentecontor in the mid and late- sixth century BC.  Herodotus relates that Polycrates of Samos possessed a formidable fleet that included 40 triremes, the earliest reference to the trireme in contemporary historical texts.   There are differing scholarly opinions as to the significance of these triremes in Polycrates’ fleet.  The author here asserts that at the time of the naval engagement referenced by Herodotus the trireme was not yet sufficiently developed in design or tactics to be a significant factor in the engagement, only becoming decisively superior later in the century.

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Filed under: Antiquity | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Navies | Ship Handling & Seamanship | Shipbuilding & Design | Strategy & Diplomacy | Weapons

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