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Model of a trireme in the Deutsches Museum , Munich
Replica of a trireme in the Trokadero Marina Ship Museum , Paleo Faliro , Athens

The Triere ( Greek  τριήρης trieres ) or Trireme (Latin trieris , triremis , both to German: Three rowers ) was an oar-driven warship of antiquity with three staggered rows arranged by rowers ( remiges ) each with a belt . It was from the 6th to the 3rd century BC. The most important warship of the sea powers in the Mediterranean.


The trireme was developed from the diere (with two rows of oars) with the intention of making the ship even faster by having a larger number of rowers. The most effective tactic in ship-to-ship combat at the time was ramming the enemy, the effect of which increased with speed. Herodotus mentions Trieren in fleets of the 6th century BC. He also reports on fleets from older periods, whose ships he also calls "Triere", but it is unclear whether the word Triere was not also used generally for " warship " in his time .

Trier - graphic reconstruction

537 BC The Etruscans and the Carthaginians defeated a Greek fleet off Corsica in the battle of Alalia . At this point, the trireme was already established as the primary warship. The great naval battles of the Persian Wars were also fought with trireme. In the First Punic War , Rome emerged as a new sea power and copied the Trireme of the Carthaginians. The Romans introduced the boarding bridge (Corvus) and armed the ships with throwing machines , with which the trireme was once again increased in its combat value. The Roman trireme became a bit larger and more cumbersome, but it was able to convince in the Battle of Mylae .

By shifting the focus of tactics from ramming to boarding combat , the mobility of the ships became less and less relevant. For this purpose, attempts were made to enlarge the trireme further in order to be able to take even more throwing machines and soldiers with them and thus win the mêlée . Since it was not possible to further increase the number of rows of oars for structural and coordination reasons, the oars themselves had to be made larger. Eventually these became too big to be operated by one man alone. So either the top, or the top two, or all three rows of oars were served by two rowers each. This resulted in type designations such as Quadrireme , Quinquereme and Hexere, all of which refer to the number of rowers.

With the rise of Rome to become the only sea power in the Mediterranean , the new main task of the Roman fleet became the hunt for pirates. The tryres were too heavy and too slow for that. Small, fast warships like the Liburnian became the new main weapon of the fleet. Trieres, however, were the only larger type of ship to be found alongside individual flagships in the imperial Roman fleet. They are last mentioned for the year 323. The late antique historian Zosimos then reported around 500 that the art of building triremes had meanwhile been forgotten. When the Eastern Romans built up a strong fleet again under Justinian I , dromons took the place of the old three-oars.


Athenian trireme of the late 5th century (approx. 410 BC) - fragment of the so-called Lenormant Trireme Relief in the Athens Acropolis Museum (Inv.No. 1339), an important source of reconstruction

The length of the trireme was a maximum of 37 m, the usual width 4.5 m plus 1 m for the outriggers ( parexeiresiai ) of the straps. These were all of the same length (4.2 m), but different leaf shape in each row on each side (similar to the dieres with two rows). Each oar was operated by a rower. The trireme was controlled by two lateral balancing rudders or, when maneuvering slowly, by asymmetrical belt controls. The ship had a mast and square sails for moving over longer distances , which were dismantled before the battle so as not to impair the mobility of the ship. The displacement of the ship was approx. 45 tons and through tests with replicas a maximum speed of approx. 7 knots or 13 km / h could be determined on short distances  . For ramming in battle, it was accelerated to a speed of more than 10 knots.

Rudderwork of a trireme - reconstruction

The size of the trireme is well known from archaeological finds of the foundations of ship houses, which were used to protect ships in winter. However, there are no ship finds, so that all the detailed information is based on modern reconstructions based on the evaluation of written records and pictorial representations, e.g. B. the "Attic sea documents" (Böckh and Graser).

The trireme was not suitable for the high seas for various reasons:

  • The light construction and the low freeboard made them very vulnerable to storms.
  • The crew, which is very large in relation to the size and weight of the ship, would have required a lot of water and food on longer journeys, for which there was no storage space.
  • The focus is very high above the water level.

The light construction of the trireme is illustrated by the fact that in one case it was possible for a trireme to overcome a harbor barrier by part of the crew going to the stern and lifting the bow out of the water with their weight .

Board organization and use

The crew of a Attic Triere 170 rowers belonged (62 on the upper level, 54 on the average and 54 at the lower level), 10 to 20 sailors (including the officers) and about 10 soldiers Hopliten (. So-called Epibaten) for the boarding combat and archers to fight the enemy with javelins and arrows. In other fleets, such as the Roman one, boarding had a higher priority, so that the crew consisted of more soldiers. The shape of the trireme also varied according to the preferred tactics. There were also slower and wider trieres for transporting troops and horses.

The peculiarities of the trireme, the 170 rowers at their own respective belts were sitting, demanded a high degree of skill and concentration on the part of the Boating Party: A single inexperienced rowers could bring the entire team missing a beat. The trireme crews had to train hard and long. The rowers were not galley slaves , but members of the poorest class of free citizens (in Athens: Theten ) of a polis and were well paid. Slaves to be used in emergencies were released before or after the deployment. In the event of a crisis, the performance of the crew of a trireme had an impact on the survival of their city, which increased the demands on the reliability of such a crew both during training and in combat. In the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) the typical garrison of an Athenian trireme consisted of 80 citizens, 60 metoks and 60 foreigners.

A trireme was commanded by a trierarch . In Athens it was often a rich citizen who had to equip and maintain the ship in question at his own expense, to recruit and pay the crew, and also to take over the command of the ship in battle. The actual nautical duties lay with the helmsman, who was subject to an observer of the wind and water conditions, a purser, a ship's carpenter and the sailors. The rowers were paid citizens of Athens and, thanks to this military service in democratic Athens, were on an equal footing with the other armed men. In particular, since Athens based its great power status on its fleet of around 200 trireme, the rowers were very respected and politically influential.

The usual combat tactic was to destroy the rows of oars while driving past in order to then board the enemy ship or sink it with a ramming blow. Instead, a trireme carried a bronze-coated ram on the bow. It weighed around 200 kg, swam and, if possible, was recovered and reused after a fight. In the Battle of Syracuse (approx. 415 to 413 BC, see Sicily Expedition ), a ram impact with a reinforced bow on an opposing bow was shown for the first time. Another important tactic was the naval blockade and the coordinated action of land and naval forces. So was z. For example, a nocturnal attack on the crew camping on the bank at night was a very promising ruse, or one pushed the enemy to the bank or only within reach of the bank, where one could set the ships on fire or fight the crew.

See also

A trireme on a Greek 1 cent coin


  • John S. Morrison, John E. Coates: The Athenian Trireme. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein 1990, ISBN 3-8053-1125-7 .
    2nd edition: JS Morrison, JF Coates, NB Rankov: The Athenian trireme. The history and reconstruction of an ancient Greek warship. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge 2000, ISBN 0-521-56419-0 .
  • Alec Tilley: Seafaring on the ancient Mediterranean. New thoughts on triremes and other ancient ships. Hedges, Oxford 2004 (BAR international series. 1268), ISBN 1-84171-374-0 .
  • Hans DL Viereck: The Roman fleet . Koehler, Herford 1975, ISBN 3-7822-0106-X .
  • John Warry: Warfare in the Classical World. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1995, ISBN 0-8061-2794-5 .

Web links

Commons : Triremes  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Brockhaus, 14th edition, vol. 15, keyword: "Trieren".
  2. Eberhard Ruschenbusch: On the occupation of Athenian triremes . In: Historia . Vol. 28, 1979, pp. 106-110 (110).