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going naked: undecked triremes!

Something has been annoying me for a looong time: I had no idea how to sculpt an undecked trireme. That is, a triere built without a full deck, only having a central gangway running between the two small prow and stern "castles". Why is it important? Of course, because the Athenian contingent at Salamis was made of this kind of triereis, built under the impulse of the great Themistocles.

This very good paper (unfortunately only in Italian, abstract in English) convincingly explains how Themistocles' decision to build ships without a bridge was not due to lack of economic/material resources or crews, but to a very specific strategic and tactical requirement, to have a technical advantage in manouvering compared to the Eginetans, which in the early V century were the main enemy of Athens at sea. According to Matteo, the idea was to have a less heavy and more stable ship, able to outmanouver the traditional decked and fully crewed triereis of the evil Eginetans. More stable because having just a gangway instead of a full deck would severely limit movements of people, thus providing stability in the trajectory of the ship. Indeed, Morrison reported that even a single person moving around on the Olympias' deck would disturb the rowers by influencing the ship's stability and messing up their rowing. Imagine having a dozen hoplites! Later on, Themistocles strategic procurement decision was reversed by Cimon, who promoted a different conception of naval warfare and thus re-started to build fully decked triremes for Athens.

Anyhow. I had tried several unsuccessful methods to sculpt undecked ships, and had by now accepted my failure, until I casually found this old Navwar Bizantine large dromon while looking for other stuff.

Eureka! This was it! you can clearly see the poor rowers working the propulsion of this monster. The unnamed master who sculpted this for Navwar gave me the solution: just add some greenstuff and use a very sharp tool to make holes in it, and it will look like a tiny mob! So presto, I took some surplus moulded triremes I kept just for this kind of eureka moments, sanded down their decks and added some greenstuff. I then used a syringe needle to do some little holes and I drew a central straight line, for the gangway.

While not as sharp as the Navwar master's (I admit it looks a little ugly...), I am confident it will look its part when moulded and painted!

I actually am not sure which other seapower used this kind of ship beyond Themistoclean Athens, but I am sure there would have been others. I think it would be a good solution maybe for selected, elite squadrons of smaller poleis with a rich naval tradition, such as Samos or Corcyra? Anyway, I am confident no one would be able to prove me wrong!



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