Rowing the Trireme: A Practical Experiment in Seamanship

By A. F. Tilley, published November 1976


The traditional view of a trireme has been that it had triple-banked oars on each side, with six oarsmen in cross section, three on each side. This article challenges that assumption as a misinterpretation of the available evidence and contends that a trireme had three oarsmen in cross-section. The suggested arrangement is a central, lower, oarsman rowing with two oars, one each side, and two upper oarsmen, one on each side, rowing a single oar. Thus a trireme was named after the number of oarsmen in cross section and was a double-banked, rather than triple-banked, rowing galley. Practical exercises in rowing in this form are discussed to support the theory, with illustrations. The article also considers the evidence for the total number of crew in a trireme, and suggests that the larger numbers that can be found indicate a body of personnel that includes the crew of a separate tender, and other skilled men attached to the galley but not forming part of the rowing crew.

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Filed under: Antiquity | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Archaeology

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