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"The Athenian Trireme" by J. Morrison et al., a review

The history and reconstruction of an ancient Greek warship: the subtitle of the book by Morrison, Coates and Rankow really says it all. And if you want a short review, here it is: go buy this book! Second edition is better, as it is a revised text and also adds a chapter describing the sea trials.



The authors are the guys who built the Olympias trireme, and this book is basically everything they thought before building it: what their assumptions about triereis were, what were the reasonings and theories behind all the construction choices they made, what they thought Olympias should have looked like and how they felt it should perform. Since Morrison was THE trireme expert at the time, this is a summa of the best knowledge on the trireme, but from a very practical point of view (they needed to actually build the thing!).

And in fact, from a wargaming perspective, it provides some particularly interesting chapters on the ships' performance and operational and tactical use in the Salamis, gulf of Corinth and Bosphoros campaigns, and at the battle of Arginusae.

Here the authors attempt to describe how a triere fleet could manouver both before, during and after a battle: choosing and reaching the site, making camps, deploying, fighting, communicating, etc. on the basis of a critical reading of historical sources and on their engineering knowledge (Coates was a naval engineer). This is of particular interest from the point of view of the operational considerations that the admirals of the time had to take into account - presence of friendly shores, of usable beaches, of a clear path for an hasty retreat just in case, of metereological conditions, distances, ecc. - very useful especially if you are planning a campaign! Moreover, it is nicely complemented by a chapter on naval movements, which analysises the operational range of fleets on the basis of contemporary accounts and technical considerations.

One of the maps used to discuss naval movements: Mindarus rush to the Hellespont in 411

While I am not always fully convinced by the authors' conclusions - a couple times they seem maybe too optimistic about the squadrons' ability to manouver during battle! - this is the most detailed attempt at describing ancient naval warfare I read so far, and is extensively researched and full of carefully thought and crafted arguments which are overall very convincing.

Then follows a couple cool chapters on the ships themselves, discussing the manning, design, building, tecniques, materials, ecc, and the reconstruction, and the sea trial, which is not strictly necessarily of interest for wargamers but surely is interesting for a more complete understanding of ancient naval warfare.

So in conclusion, just stay concealed like Theramenes and Thrasybulus at Cyzicus until you find a reasonably priced copy of the book and just buy it.

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