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Athenian triere of the 5th century BC by luponero

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Realization of a model of triremes, or rather "triere" (to say it in the Greek) Athenian of the fifth century. to. C., I do not hide that trying to create a model of triere is very stimulating and uncertain, apologizing for the "mistakes" that I will be able to make, despite myself. The retrieval of the material immediately proved to be "complex" the monograph "ATHENIAN TRIREME ANATOMY SHIP by Douglas McElvogue" that I had fixed in a German bookshop, is not available for the moment (perhaps it has never been published ,,, who knows)
certainly the bottom of the sea has never returned to us the remains of this extraordinary and mythical boat, mentioned in classical writings, protagonist in recent and past cinematography, which as often happens in the cinematographic transposition of historical situations, has not been correctly reported both in the its complex and futuristic, (for the times) structure, propulsive technique and historical phase, consequently the beginning was not easy, but this was a stimulus and it will be later to deepen autonomously the knowledge on the history and evolution of this model.

It seems that already in the eighth century. to. C. a model of triere already existed, which over time will be transformed several times both for the experience acquired and for the different needs of use, the evolution from the "light triere" to the "heavy triere", which has characterized the evolution of the Athenian fleet between Themistocles and Cimon, which allowed me to understand the characteristics and evolution of this ship,

The scale of realization is 1/50, the measurements of the model will be of a width of 12 cm and a length of 76 cm, the actual measurement was an overall width of 5.5 m and 35/36 m in length, a rower on each oar ("sensile" type of rowing), a total of 170 rowers on three rows per side, each row on a different level, 31 rowers in the upper rows and 27 each in the middle and lower rows, the longitudinal distance between rowers is 2 "cubits" (0.888 m), I will try to deepen, during the construction, the characteristics of the ship, and of the "rowing", which for years has been a "mystery" at the center of analysis and discussions of experts and scholars , of this very fast ship.
The essences that I will use for the realization will be, fir, walnut, cherry and maple, then, who knows it depends a little on the moment, so we will see ..., for now we are at the beginning of this adventure.

As I said I do not have much technical material, the construction plans are composed of construction details of Olympias and construction plans of a trireme downloaded from a site, I have varied the scale from 1/72 to 1/50, integrating, redesigning them in the plans of construction downloaded the features the structural features of Olympias, the triere made by Morrison and Coates,
the first part I made was the "keel" divided into three parts, made with a 6 mm thick planed spruce board,



the three pieces were joined with a simple mortise and tenon joint




the length of the keel is about 65 cm, to keep the keel straight I glued the pieces holding them under a perfectly straight steel profile




in the background the Medici galleon "SGB" is visible I will alternate the construction of these two models working alternately two weeks for each one (it will be hard!)

after the keel I made the ordinate, these with walnut




after the keel I made the frame, these with walnut, ( which has very beautiful veins and shades )



by cutting them out, these are the "initials", later there will be changes made, making the ribs with the system used in the Etruscan ship




see you next time

black Wolf


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I thank friends for their appreciation,
finished the frames that will be inserted into the openings on the keel, I started to create the external details of the keel, also in walnut



I end with the bas-relief of Lenormant, found by the archaeologist, numismatist and Assyrologist in 1852, the transalpine, François Lenormant,
on the Acropolis of Athens a bas-relief destined to go down in history for those involved in the classic maritime sector. It is a fragmentary slab, now kept in the Acropolis Museum, dating back to around 410 BC, which reproduces the central part of a ship with three rows of oars.
The Lenormant bas-relief has been for over a century at the center of a vast literature and discussions on the rowing system of ancient polyremes, in which archaeologists, naval engineers and admirals have intervened.




Scholars claim that the ship depicted in the fragment is an Athenian triere from the end of the fifth century, it shows a section of the ship that includes 9 thranites on the "parexeiresia" (equivalent to the "posticcio * o buttafuori " of the galleys.), 8 zygiti and 8 thalamites

* posticcio,  scaffolding which, in galleys, protruded from the edge of the hull and ran from stern to bow; it served as a support for the oarlocks;


I report the design of the rowing system on the triere, which will be deepened by Morrison, the position on the three levels of the rowers will be the central and fundamental element of a discussion that lasted years, and which ended with the practical demonstration of the correct interpretation made by Morrison, but for now it is too early to "deepen" the subject




see you next time

black Wolf



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A small update on the parts that make up the keel that will be partially visible, while the part next to the stern will be "flush" with the planking, I thought of making the part of the "beams" in walnut alternating, according to the exposure, the darker and fewer areas





In the necessary and partly "poor" search for information, drawings and images of finds, I also saw the film "300 - The dawn of an empire" by director Noam Murro, in which the battle of Salamis of 480 BC is reported, where the astute Themistocles is the commander of the fleet of Athenian trieres, who will challenge the imposing fleet of Xerxes, certainly the film is very "spectacular" and action but the historical / technological part on the triremes is very superficial and not real both with historical facts and with the models of Athenian triremes used in the epic battle, in practice one of Themistocles's "cunning" in the "true story" will be that of "lightening" the triremes by modifying the integral bridge by reducing it a lot by lightening the triere, thus acquiring a greater speed, however, reducing the number of soldiers on the boat, transforming the triere into a "light" triere, while the film shows the "heavy" ones with many hoplites, in practice what I will try to achieve is a "heavy" one, (no  present in the battle of Salamis),
instead of the drawings showing the two boats,
the "light", built by Themistocles with a very small bridge, whose purpose was only the "ramming"


the light trire



the heavy trire




like the Olympias triere made by Morrison and Coates,
the "heavy" trires were built later for the Peloponnesian war and never abandoned as a "profile" with the advantage of being able to embark many more soldiers. This characteristic, that is the sharing of the usual hull, but with a different use in form and use, is called "the discriminant of the katastroma", as well highlighted in an article reported in "Academia" by an Italian teacher expert in literature and ancient Greek history, from which I have drawn useful information to frame the characteristics of this model that I will try to highlight during the realization of the model, as often happens, the search for technical and historical information of a naval model determines changes compared to what we believed or had as initial material, over time I have seen that the technical details and drawings made for the construction of Olympias are the most conform to what should have been a boat of this type, for this reason they will be the ones I will most use for the construction of the triere



see you next time

black Wolf

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The next step was the laying of the frames on the keel,







the upper part of the frames, which looks like a "beam", will later be removed, serves only for the beginning of the laying of the planking

which was made with the tenon and mortise technique, similar to the technique used by the Etruscans,



the technique is called "eggshell" giving the planking a strong resistance and beauty, compared to the laying technique with framing

another thing that is evident, the structural characteristic of the hull, is a long ship, as often "military" ships were, ie the ratio between the maximum beam and the overall length is 6.36
(the value that is obtained by dividing 35m by 5.5m, the length divided by the measurement of the length of the beam m.) when the ratio is above 4 we are in the presence of a long ship





you begin to "see" the outline even if we are still very far from what it should become.
For many years and still today the triere has been and is, object of very thorough study, not only the triere as a boat, but all the elements that are helpful for a more precise analysis possible on the basis of evidence acquired in Athens. and in Piraeus for the reconstruction, as evidenced by both ing. Coates and Morrison, such as archeology, literature, iconography and epigraphy from which the elements that served for the information necessary for the realization of Olympias were taken; an example regarding archeology, the measurements of the triere are estimated to be 35m / 36m with a max width of 6m, and even if no identifiable remains of a ship of this type have been reported from the sea, there is direct evidence of its dimensions because some "shelters" for the triere have been found built in Piraeus in the 5th century.
The boats were winged every evening, moored in the sheds in the ancient Athenian ports of Zea and Mounichia, the naval installations have left a great archaeological imprint both on land and above all under the sea, the excavations carried out by the archaeologist Bjørn Lovén are famous. for hauling they have a maximum length of 37 m., while in the sense of the width there are approximately 6 m between the columns, I report some drawings and images of how they must have been drawn from the material I have found in these days of study .

The following images and drawings represent the ancient "shelters" of Zea and Mounichia, the first image are the ports seen by google maps,



the next ones are drawings of hauling and mooring in the shelters where every evening the triere were repaired,



as were the haulage shelters



the 3D reconstruction of the moored triere





these are longitudinal plans of the area where the warehouses were,
discovered by Dragatzes in 1886







to end with the isometric projection of the hauling in the Zea shelters




see you next time




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10 hours ago, mtaylor said:

That is some impressive research and findings.   For some reason, those shelters remind me of WWII submarine pens by providing shelter all around.

You're right Mark, and thinks they did it 2500 years ago, both for the safety of the ship, and to counteract the action of the shipworm, later I will try to illustrate other construction features of the ship that made it unique, certainly for the speed it managed to reach


9 hours ago, druxey said:

Just discovered this interesting log!


I am very pleased with Druxey, I will update the build soon, for now I am working on the galleon (lighting system)

see you soon

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cool project Lupo! Looking forward to it. Before you get too far in to your build, I have to point out the ram used on Olympias is mostly likely too big and of a different style than was probably used on triremes. There has been a lot of debate on how big rams were on the different ship types, and recent archaeological ram finds have reignited the debate. At the time that Morrison and Coates designed Olympias the only publicly known classical ram was from Athlit in Israel, which is probably from a Quinquereme or Quadrireme from the 2nd Century BCE and weighs 430kg. For Olympias, they used a scaled down, 200kg version of it:




However since then, numerous other rams have been found. At Acqualadroni, a 300kg ram of a similar style to the Athlit ram was found (PDF in italian). Near Levanzo they found the battle site of the Battle of the Egadi islands of 241 BCE and so far have recovered over a dozen rams. These are only around 100kg though, and of a different style than the Athlit and Acqualadroni rams. The current argument is that these 100kg rams are actual trireme rams, and that the Olympias is probably too big for a trireme and the ram is oversized. Here is the Egadi 1 Ram, notice how different the part of the ram that attaches to the ship is:




There has also been a ram found near the Piraeus harbor, of yet a different design. It was donated from a private collector to the museum at Piraeus in 1996, and the full description and drawings of it are in Tropis 7-2, pg. 709 (In French). This ram has been dated to the late 4th Century BCE, but is unfortunately mostly destroyed. It's much shorter and more blunt than the later Egadi, Acqualadroni, and Athlit rams, but at probably around 80kg weighs about as much as the Egadi rams and so is probably a trireme ram. The way it's attached also looks similar to the Egadi rams:





So the current big argument is how big were triremes, really? The Piraeus and Egadi rams seem to point to triremes being smaller than the Morrison and Coates hypothetical reconstructions, but it's not really settled. Personally, I side with Murray and others who think that the Piraeus and Egadi rams are from triremes, and that actual triremes were smaller than Olympias. They were probably closer to around 30m than to 37m of Olympias.


You can also see 3D scans of the Piraeus and Egadi rams on William Murray's sketchfab account, here: https://sketchfab.com/murray1


I'm also not fully convinced about the wine-glass shape they chose for the hull of Olympias. While there is evidence from cargo ships (Kyrenia shipwreck) for that hull shape at that time, the artistic evidence of warships shows a round hull like in medieval and renaissance galleys. For example, the Pompeii fresco in my profile picture, the Cyrene naval monument, the Victory of Samothrace, and the Tiber Island ship - though these are all of a later date. Also of a much later date is the best preserved Roman rowed ship, the 1st Century CE San Rossore C shipwreck, which was built in imitation of a warship and also has a round hull. Bonino, in his article reconstructing the San Rossore C ship (Italian), has this to say:



La forma carenata a “fiasco rovesciato”, con il fondo raccordato con la sporgenza della chiglia, appare in scafi di barche e navi mercantili, come la nave di Kirinia, della Madrague des Giens, di Yassi Ada (Steffy 1994, figg. 3.38,3.49, 4.2), e a suo tempo fu proposta per l’ipotesi per la trireme Olympias, prendendone il modello dalla nave grande di Marsala del III sec. a.C. (riportate ad esempio in Bonino 2005b, figg. 7.2 e 2.5), essa non pare adatta alle navi a remi,come mostra anche un confronto qualitativo con le galee mediterranee rinascimentali.


Again, like most things about classical warships, it's all still open to debate! :)

Edited by Binho
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I am very pleased with your visit, Binho, as well as those of other friends, the material and insights are very interesting and will certainly be the subject of further study, I have already "downloaded" the files that I will read later with calm and attention , I had already taken some material from Academia but honestly I hadn't noticed the one on Acqualadroni's rostrum ...
I hope to be able to count on your very welcome and fruitful collaboration,

it was not easy to find the material on the triere, so I focused more on the model made by Morrison and Coates starting from the 1985 model, and following the subsequent modifications.
Historically also Napoleon III who, studying and realizing a book on Julius Caesar, commissioned his designers to create a Roman trireme, which should have taken part in an exhibition, sailing on the Seine, at least these were the conditions, the result was a resounding fiasco, just in water the "torpedo" rotated on itself with all the resulting problems, I found a drawing of what the trireme must have been


The shape of the triere and the arrangement on three levels of over 140 rowers was and remains for a long time a mystery and a problem of understanding, the resultant of the load (rowers) is a key element, for the correct and stable buoyancy, consequently the their arrangement with respect to this is also reported the error made during the making of a film about Ben Hur, where you can see the rowers arranged on the usual vertical ...



but the central element was the length of the oars, which Morrison with the reading of a writing dating back to the Greek classics and with a careful observation of a painting reported on a vase will be able to correctly understand the correct arrangement of the rowers, demonstrating that literature and even the iconography, or rather the decorations and bas-reliefs, become a fundamental "evidential" element when, in the case of the trierie, there are no direct archaeological finds.

however, in addition to the study, I went ahead with the work on the model by fixing the frames using the aluminum "L" profiles to maintain precise alignment








on the upper deck which is supported by a support structure there is no "sheer" or curvature (perhaps barely perceptible),
then I started to fill the curved part of the stern, also very accentuated like the apluster of the Etruscan ships, but it does not end with the swan's head, but with ornaments that widen recalling a curved fan like the feathers of a bird, and in my opinion, without fills difficult to make




the upper photo shows the beginning of the work, the wood used is "Swiss pine"


I removed the braces for the alignment of the construction frames





Unlike the Etruscan ship, the triere did not have lead plates on the planking of the hull to counteract the damage caused by the "teredine" worm precisely because, as illustrated above, the ships were winged every evening.


Obviously the Etruscan ship built previously was a monére onerary and war (with a single level of rowers) which was used for the transport of goods, to fight and when the opportunity arose also to "pirate",
I had already modified the rostrum on the drawings taking as a reference, the profile of Coates' Olympias rostrum (which is very beautiful) integrating it with the plan drawings of a trireme, "much less beautiful", but the material sent to me by Binho will be an element of a further study,


The updating of the works is not in "real time" as well as the triere is building a Medici galleon for which the updating is conditioned by the alternation with the workings on two very different models, as a method I had set out to alternate two progressive weeks for each model, but reality conditions the "forecasts", however, let's go on with the story ...

for this the work continues with the setting of the rostrum with respect to the keel, on Olympias it has a very streamlined appearance, which is not on the longitudinal drawing, with photoshop I have brought back more levels to try to harmonize the "curves", the difference between the details made by Coates and the construction plans found are evident, the difference is direct, both in the graphics and in the structural part, the problem is that they are "details" so I don't know how much the harmonization carried out will actually be harmonic, unfortunately I don't know how to use cad, at least not at the level of integrating different designs to make one, I could waste some time (a few days) to try to learn, but in reality I am not very stimulated, I follow the instinct, we will see .I worked on the decks by bringing them back to 0.8m plywood, set the bow fill and prepared the rostrum on a multi-composite piece,





that of the drawing that you see on the monitor is much smaller and "atrophic" the one shown for now is much bigger, surely the material received will continue to modify the profile, even if compared to that in the monitor it is larger,

see you next time

black Wolf



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On 11/3/2020 at 3:14 PM, luponero said:

it was not easy to find the material on the triere, so I focused more on the model made by Morrison and Coates starting from the 1985 model, and following the subsequent modifications.


Yeah, there isn't much! One day we will hopefully find the remains of a triere or some other warship from this time. Morrison and Coates are the only ones who made a working model so far - Olympias is a beautiful ship, even if the details may be off as we discover more. Regardless, I think your model will come out beautifully! I love the precision so far.


If you are interested, Dr. Murray is giving a talk tonight on the archaeology of the Battle of Egadi Islands where he will talk about the rostra they found. Unfortunately it is at 6pm Eastern Time, which is midnight in Italy. It's free though, you can register here: https://www.archaeological.org/event/lecture-28-tba-east-tennessee/

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