Reconstructing the Past: the Operation of the Trireme Reconstruction Olympias in the Light of the Historical Sources

By Boris Rankov, published May 1994



This paper is a summary of lessons drawn from practical experience of crewing Olympias, a reconstructed 4th century BCE Greek trireme. Over a series of summers volunteer rowers participated in a project to understand the workings of such a vessel and which also permitted analysis of the practical difficulties that arose. Highlighted in this paper were the ship’s performance under oar and the vastly different conditions under which rowers on the three levels operated. Practical difficulties discussed and the measures adopted to resolve identified problems were the design of oar and the means by which entry and exist of oars into the water was coordinated. Whilst it cannot be conclusively stated that the Greeks of the 4th century BCE resolved those particular problems in the same way, some evidence is put forward to suggest that this may have been so.  Underpinning the author’s knowledge of the subject was that he served as a volunteer ‘pulling master’ on the Olympias while formerly rowing in six Boat Races for Oxford.

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Filed under: Antiquity | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Historic Vessels, Museums & Restoration | Manpower & Life at Sea

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