Roman Warships

Roman Warships

Michael Pitassi
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81h42
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  • Book Info
    Roman Warships
    Book Description:

    The Roman Imperial Navy was the most powerful maritime force ever to have existed, prior to the European naval development of relatively recent centuries. It was able to deploy huge fleets and dominate the seas around Western Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, as well as the great rivers that formed a large part of the eastern boundary of the Roman world. It secured the trade routes and maintained the communications that allowed the Roman Empire to exist. It brought previously untouchable and unreachable enemies to battle and enabled the expansion of Imperial power into areas thought hitherto inaccessible. At the height of its power the Roman Navy employed tens of thousands of sailors, marines and craftsmen, who manned and maintained a fleet of warships far larger than anything in existence today. And yet these warships, the very tools that allowed the Roman Navy to dominate the seas, have remained largely unstudied. Drawing upon archaeological evidence, documentary accounts and visual representations, this book seeks to chart the development and evolution of the Roman warship over eight centuries of naval activity, showing how ships were evolved to meet the circumstances of the different areas in which they had to operate, the different functions they needed to fulfil, and the changing nature of their enemies.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-942-8
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xii)

    Often perceived as the poor relation of the army, the Roman Navy, in all of its various guises, whether Republican or Imperial, over the many centuries of its existence and in its disparate fleets, was in fact an extremely impressive and important force in its own right. At its height, it ruled the seas and the major river systems in and around Europe, Western Asia and North Africa; its squadrons ranged from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, from the north of Scotland to the western Sahara coastline. Not only that, but it exercised a power over those waters...

  5. PART I INTERPRETATION
    • 1 SOURCES
      (pp. 3-16)

      At the risk of stating the obvious, any examination of a subject should preferably start with examples of the subject in question. In the case of ships and especially of wooden ships of such antiquity where, with the exceptions later mentioned, there are none extant, it is to the contemporary sources, written and physical, that one must turn to discover particulars of such vessels. Commencing with the surviving ancient literature, if soon becomes obvious that there is little in the way of detailed descriptions of warships. There are only a few exceptions, and one that comes to mind is Caesar,...

    • 2 INTERPRETING THE SOURCES
      (pp. 17-36)

      There are many references in ancient literature to ships and shipping and all manner of matters nautical, regrettably, however, many of them are unclear, inconsistent or ambiguous. It must also be borne in mind that after some two thousand years, original copies have long gone and what survives is the result of successive copies made over the centuries since (all copied by hand until the advent of the printing press in the fifteen century ad ), with all the consequent possibilities for errors and mistranslations to have corrupted the original text. Further ancient terms and usages will have become changed,...

    • 3 SHIP FITTINGS
      (pp. 37-66)

      The ram was an extension of the forefoot of the hull intended to be driven into an enemy vessel to cause sufficient damage to disable it or at least to seriously compromise its ability to continue in action. Hitherto, naval warfare was simply a continuation of land battles, the only purpose of ships and boats being to bring opposing soldiery into contact with each other. The ram changed all that by making the ship itself the weapon and the enemy ship, rather than its crew, the target. Without the ship to fight from, the crew, no matter how skilful or...

    • Colour Plates
      (pp. None)
  6. PART II THE SHIPS
    • 4 THE EARLIEST TYPES: EIGHTH TO FOURTH CENTURIES BC
      (pp. 69-88)

      It was to be approximately 350 years from the date of the founding of Rome (by tradition and probably not so far from fact) in 753 BC, before a Roman warship was mentioned in the surviving accounts, sailing the seas in 394 BC.¹ In the interim, Romans had embarked upon seafaring endeavours and had ships with which to do so;² after all, Rome’s location as a trading centre was due to the River Tiber which flows through it and which was navigable then by seagoing ships of the time, up to the city itself. The first treaty between Carthage and...

    • 5 NAVAL ASCENDANCY: THIRD AND SECOND CENTURIES BC
      (pp. 89-114)

      For Rome, the third century BC was dominated by the two great wars against Carthage (264– 241 and 218– 202 BC ). The First Punic War was a struggle for possession of Sicily between Rome, which until then had been primarily a land power, and Carthage, primarily a naval power with a huge fleet that had dominated the western Mediterranean. Rome had, of course, operated naval forces for a long time, but in a limited way attuned principally to coastal defence, and in order to be able to compete, her navy had to grow from a few dozen to the...

    • 6 CIVIL WARS AND IMPERIAL FLEETS: FIRST CENTURIES BC AND AD
      (pp. 115-133)

      Throughout the second century BC, the Roman fleets were in almost constant action, operating in areas as diverse as the coasts of Portugal, the northern Adriatic and the eastern Mediterranean. All of this activity took its inevitable toll on the ships and crews, which, lacking a dedicated programme of replenishment, by the early first century BC had become neglected and run down. Some successful operations were undertaken but there was no attempt to maintain their previous domination of the seas, leaving a vacuum which was fully exploited by an explosion of piracy throughout the Mediterranean basin. The period of neglect...

    • 7 HEIGHT OF EMPIRE: SECOND AND THIRD CENTURIES AD
      (pp. 134-151)

      Throughout the second and for most of the third centuries AD, Roman domination of the seas was totally unchallenged, and the policing of the Empire’s sea and river ways, while requiring considerable numbers, was a routine for which existing types of warship were perfectly adequate. With no enemies to confront, the duties of the fleets of the Mediterranean and Black Seas were limited to patrols to ensure that piracy did not occur, for the fast transport of important personnel and dispatches and to intervene and transport troops to deal with any revolt or threat that might arise. On the river...

    • 8 THE LATE EMPIRE: FOURTH AND FIFTH CENTURIES AD
      (pp. 152-173)

      After the upheavals of the late third century AD, the old Imperial fleets of the early empire had been reduced to a shadow of their former splendour. Diocletian (ad 285– 305) reorganised the remainder into ten squadrons dispersed along the Rhine and Danube frontiers, together with an Italian fleet, a fleet for the eastern areas (the Black Sea and Aegean) and the ‘British’ fleet, the only one to have retained any semblance of its former identity and integrity. There is an almost total lack of iconography for this period and little in the way of literary sources.

      The traditional designs...

    • 9 TERMINUS
      (pp. 174-176)

      Over the course of the many centuries of Roman maritime endeavour, the several fleets that contributed to Rome’s naval power had to grow, adapt and diversify. Starting with the operation of a few ships, either by acquiring them or copying them from the Etruscans and Greeks with whom they shared the peninsula, the Romans were propelled by the onset of the Punic Wars to themselves become a naval power and develop a major shipbuilding industry and to build first-rate major warships in large numbers.

      The First Punic War (264– 241 BC) was essentially a naval war in the waters around...

  7. APPENDIX I SERVICE LIVES OF SHIP TYPES
    (pp. 177-177)
  8. Appendix II Types of Roman Warship
    (pp. 178-180)
  9. Appendix III Gazetteer: Where to see Roman Boats and Ships
    (pp. 181-181)
  10. Appendix IV Glossary of Nautical Terms Used
    (pp. 182-186)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 187-188)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 189-192)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-193)