Athenian Trireme vs Persian Trireme – The Graeco-Persian Wars 499-449 BC, Nic Fields

Athenian Trireme vs Persian Trireme – The Graeco-Persian Wars 499-449 BC, Nic Fields

The famous wars between the Persian Empire and some of the Greek city states were decided by a series of famous Greek victories on land and at sea. On land the two sides fought rather differently, but at sea they both relied on the same main weapon – the Trireme – manned by well trained sailors. This book looks at the design and construction of these ships, the men who manned them, and how they were used in four of the main battles of the period. 

We start with a map showing the movements of the main armies and fleets from the Ionian Revolt, the Marathon campaign and Xerxes’s invasion of Greece. On my copy the key is wrong, with the colour codes reversed for the Greeks and Persians, but it’s pretty obvious what it should be.

The main focus of the book is on the actual triremes. We get sections on how they were built, their probable design, the experience of their crew, the role of the rowers etc. This is largely from the Greek (and mainly Athenian) side, reflecting the nature of our sources. This makes you realise just how hi-tech these warships were for their period, bringing together a great deal of expertise in carpentry, ship building and design and seamanship. 

This background knowledge pays off in the accounts of the battles of Lade, Artemisia, Salamis and the Eurymedon, where the author is able to fill some gaps in our sources – very little information has survived on the detailed tactics used in these battles, but it is possible to work some details out by looking at the capabilities of the triremes of each period. At one battle the number of Greek marines per ship tells us they were at least planning to fight boarding actions. In contrast at Artemisia and Salamis the recently built Athenian ships were too lightly constructed to carry that many extra men, so ramming was their only real option.

An excellent look at one of the most advanced weapons of the ancient world, that gives us a clear idea of their advanced design, as well as their limits.

Design and Development
Technical Specifications
The Combatants
Statistics and Analysis

Author: Nic Fields
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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