Softwoods like as pine, fir, and cypress were used for the interiors, with oak used solely for the exterior hulls. The oars were constructed from a single young fir tree and were 4.5 meters long. Because lighter woods were used, the ship was extremely maneuverable. It was also fast, being able to reach speeds of up to 35 knots (69 km/h). A trireme's crew consisted of about 80 men.
The word "trireme" comes from Greek τρίαρός treas arkhe, meaning "three-ruled", because each side of the vessel had three rows of oarsmen sitting in hatchways carved out of the deck. The Greeks invented this type of boat around 600 B.C. They were in use until the early 19th century when they were replaced by larger ships powered by engines.
Did you know? The trireme was the main form of naval warfare for hundreds of years after it was invented? Although wooden ships were burned down or sunk with heavy losses always being suffered by the enemy, there was never any real progress in naval technology until the advent of iron boats in the 15th century.
The trireme was so successful that for a time it became the standard vessel for every country that could build them.
Archaeological relics of boathouses, most notably at Piraeus, show that the ship's greatest length was roughly 37 m, with a beam of 6 m. They were around 4 meters long from deck to keel and might have weighted up to 50 tons. A vessel this size could carry about 150 soldiers or 30 horses.
A trireme was manned by 300 oarsmen who were divided into three ranks called thranites, epibatantes, and hypobatistas. The highest rank, the thranites, sat in the front seats between the other two ranks. They were followed by the epibatantes, who sat in between, and then the hypobatistas at the back. All together, they made up an army corps in which each man had two oar handles attached to his arm pit for use as weapons during battle.
A trireme needed to be fast and maneuverable so that it could attack its enemy's weak points. Thus, it was equipped with heavy bronze cannons mounted on pivots so that they could be moved backwards and forwards to point in the direction the boat was heading. Also, it had large openings in the bottom of the hull where stones and other objects could be thrown at the enemy.
The Greeks used triremes in many wars including the Peloponnesian War against Athens.
These have given us a rough idea of the Athenian trireme. The shelters were roughly 40 meters long and 6 meters broad. These measurements are supported by information from Vitruvius, who said that the individual space provided to each rower was 2 cubits. A cubit was the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow or the shoulder blade depending on which estimate you accept; it was about 18 inches (45 cm). So together these rows of oarsmen would have been able to cover about 180 feet (55 m), which is quite a stretch.
The Roman version must have been larger as they needed more than one ship for military campaigns. According to some estimates, there were up to six legions in Rome itself. This would mean that there were around 240,000 men in Italy alone that could be called upon to defend its territory. That's almost as many people as there are today in London!
A Roman legion consisted of 5,000 infantry soldiers plus 500 cavalry troopers. An average-sized British village might have had a population of around 1,500 people. So if every man in a British village joined the army nobody would be left behind to keep the peace.
A Roman trireme was about 100 feet long and 15 feet across at its widest point. It could hold about 150 oarsmen and their helpers.
Eight miles per hour Under oars, the trireme is reported to have reached speeds of more than 7 knots (8 miles per hour, or 13 km/hr) and maybe as high as 9 knots. When the ship was not engaged, square-rigged sails were utilized for power. They could be dropped in an emergency, but it would take time to make all the sheets down below safe.
In addition to its speed, another factor that made the trireme so effective a naval weapon was its heavy armament. A typical crew of about 150 men would be provided with arms such as pikes, swords, and spears. The Greeks also used a kind of battering ram called a trysail that could be raised and lowered over the side of the ship. This allowed soldiers to attack enemy ships from above while the main body of troops remained aboard their own vessel.
During the 5th century BC, the Greeks developed a new type of warship they called a quinquereme. It was designed to carry five times as many soldiers as a trireme. These huge ships were capable of transporting hundreds of men and were used by several nations including the Carthaginians, Romans, and later the Ottoman Turks.
In conclusion, we can say that the Greek trireme was one of the most advanced warships of its time. Its design was probably inspired by experiences from pirate raids rather than by military needs.