Thursday, 3 December 2009

No mast, no rigging, no grappling

Grappling has been used since the earliest sea battles. It is one of several methods used to establish a stable platform or limit the enemy's movement so that a good old bout of fisticuffs can follow instead of the combatants poncing about all over the sea. At different times and places opponets have roped their own ships together, roped the opponent so he can be pulled closer, bound alongside or be capsized.

In piratical actions in the 18 and 19th centuries and when naval ships in the same era went after prizes it was a tactic to avoid grappling the rigging of an enemy ship. Damage to the rigging rendered the prize damaged and perhaps unsailable. Boarding often took place between the sterns of ships where the poop offered space to fight.

We have direct evidence for grappling being used to capsize ships by the Pharonic Egyptian naval forces at Medinet Habu by Rameses III's fleet.

In the Classical Greek period it was usual for the sails and rigging to be left behind when ships went out to fight. A sail onboard meant extra weight and extra obstacles to be avoided as one tried to flee a sinking ship. It was also a psychological factor if the crews knew escape was dependent on rowing faster than the enemy. They should use their skill to win. Cleopatra may have had a different fate if she had had no sails aboard at Actium ?

The absence of a mast and rigging, though' would mean that all those nice places where a grapnel or 'iron hand' could be lodged were not available. When ramming tactics became less dominant and many ships were broader and more stable, as well as more massive, a mast and rigging may not have been such a problem to have up in battle - unless one should reduce the lodgement possibilities for enemy grapnels?
Getting grappled in the mast rigging could spell doom to the ship as it did to the Sea Peoples against the Egyptians. The movement of a single man across the beam on a trireme could be felt by the rowers. The deck troops sat down for most of the time to avoid stability problems. How lethal would dragging such a ship over by the mast be ?


To knock the rules around again I have made a cocktail from as many sources as possible. The game process should be SIMPLE, LOGICAL,HISTORICAL.

There seem to be distinct phases in the process

1) Exchange of missiles at distance. At this point the harpax gets its surprise in because it can start the next phases early.
2)Close manoeuvre to come near to the target.
3)Grappling if this is desired. Hooks are thrown onto the enemy ship. The harpax would now be winding the target closer on windlasses.
4) Once the ships are close enough a close 'firefight' occurs and the side which dominates can either clear grapples or make an attempt to get troops onto the other ship. Use of a 'Raven' is not dependant on the fighting at this point, if a chance is there the thing can just be dumped onto the enemy deck.
5) Sometimes boarding may be attempted haphazardly with men jumping or stepping over to the other ship. Otherwise boarding bridges are set in place and the attackers cross. Defenders may come forward to fight so there is fighting on the bridges.
6) Attackers gain the upper hand, kill or capture all the enemy deck-soldiers. OR the defenders tip the bridges off and sever all grapples.
7)The target gets free OR the cleared ship crew surrender. The sailors and oarsmen are largely at the mercy of the winners and kept to move the prize. Some instances show ship crew fighting - but badly - some show them being massacred, but on the whole they seem to have been somwhat apart from the combat. They were defenceless trapped in their seats and not trained to fight marines/legionaries. If a ship started to sink the lowermost oarsmen would be lucky to escape alive.

This gives me a model for a game process which is iterative and can be broken-out of by either side if they get a sufficient advantage.

IF close enough THEN SHOOT-OUT
FAILS - carry on no change
FAILS - bridges lost, grapples cut - both free to manoeuvre
..........OR Target can board Attacker ....
SUCCEEDS - THEN Deck Fight on target
SUCEEDS - THEN WIN or continue next round.

'Close enough' should be the point at which a ship is in a positíon to set grapples and get men across, NOT when it is at maximum grappling distance. This avoids any ideas on contesting grappling - a tug-of-war contest is difficult to make rules for. The harpax may need a rule like this but best to leave that as a special case.

River Ships

The ships on Trajan's column are finely depicted and give us a good impression of riverine craf. At Mainz Antiquities and Maritime Museum they have several replicas and the 'patrol boat' reconstruction of wreck 3 has a nice polybolon mounted on it.
The 'boat' is mostly decked over but has benches for seven rowers a side which are not closed in. On the prow where the deck is continuous and only slightly hindered by the small stem-post on this riverine craft is a good place to locate the bolt thrower where it gets a good shooting-arc.
Visit the museum website HERE for a good look round.

Monday, 30 November 2009


Just a nice illustration which gives a hint of the incredible appearance of the Hellenistic super-ships. This is a coloured version of the cover of Scientific American from 1906. It depicts one of the Nemi ships of Caligula which, although meant for use on a small lake equate with the large polyremes in size. So, the warships did not have the temple, bath house and tivoli on the main deck but they would have had some structures and its the sheer scale which impresses here. Bearing in mind the ancient authors reckon up to 7,000 people could be aboard the largest ancient ships.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


The ancient Greeks did say the thalamites suffered the sweat and piss of their 'superiors'. This was used in a business management context. Incentive ? The result apears to be chaos.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


At last I found illustration of machines onboard a ship.....

Mounting engines on a galley gives some problems in relation to balance on the ship - the centre of gravity must not rise too high - and stability - the weight must be distibuted evenly. In addition, the stem and stern provide obstacles to any arc of fire - both were built up to provide cover and in case of ramming to help repel boarders.

Towers were light constructions which could be put up and down. Even on the Syracusia, a giant, they only contained half a dozen marines and 4 archers. Machines could not be set up in them except perhaps for the lightest bolt-throwers but these were only developed in the early years A.D.
Where should the engines go, then ? The obvious answer is somewhere amidships. Amisdships also gives a good arc of fire to present a broadside to enemy ships, especially any attempting a ramming run at the beam. The illustration above is from a now damaged section of Trajan's Column. It shows ballistae mounted amidships in what is possibly a river-going liburnian.

The ship is, however, different from the liburnians depicted elsewhere on the column. It has no rails or parados amidships, with the machines sitting low-down, perhaps to lower the centre of gravity and maintain stability with these heavy items onbaord.

On other parts of the column light manubalistae are clearly depicted and these weapons are different and, I suggest much larger. In the circumstances of Trajan's Dacian campaign these machines could give support to troops on shore from the Danube.


The innovative harpax or siezer as devised by Agrippa had three novel elements (according to Appian).
1)uncuttable fastening between grapnel and rope
2)catapult projection into the enemy ship
3)a mechanical traction to draw the ships together

The attachment of several ropes to the same grapnel may have been novel or not.
The business end was quite heavy, an iron grapnel, a main stem bound with iron and having rings at each end for fastening and the several ropes behind it. Appian says, however, that it was light enough to be projected a considerable distance into the enemy ship.

A 13Kg stone took a machine weighing up to 3 tonnes to throw it.
The Syracusia, Hieron of Syracuse's colossal 55m ship was equipped with exceptional bolt throwers which took projectiles of 18feet length.

The harpax projectile was 5 cubits long, (x45cm = 225cm or nearly 7feet. The common Scorpio or manhandleable oxybeles threw a bolt of 27"/67cm. The harpax projectile was bound in iron, fitted with iron rings and had a grapnel linked onto the front, in addition it trailed several strong ropes: whatever Appian says, it was not light.

This shows us that the engine part of the harpax system was of considerable size.

At Naulochus Appian describes both sides ships as being of similar size and appearance with towers on the deck. The smallest ships with towers I can find reference to are 4's.

Casson reckons a 4 could ship a handful of light bolt shooters and a pair of 3kg ball-throwers. 3kg is not enough to throw a harpax projectile. This limits the use of harpax to ships of 5 or larger, I would suggest, which could safely mount a large thrower and the winching gear on a superstructure strong enough to take the stresses of its use.

The siezer, like the other Roman innovation for sea combat, the raven, did not retain its tactical surprise advantage for long. Appian implies that by his time it was normal for ships to be equipped with scythes on long poles so that even the siezer's long projectile could be cut free of the trailing ropes. A simple solution to neutralise such a complex weapon system: but a weapon which functioned long enough to give Octavian an edge in sea fighting and help him gain supremacy.

Another Asian Analogue

The repeating bolt-shooter, the polybolos invented by Dionysius of Alexandria in the 3rd century bc. It could shoot from a hopper which held about 20 bolts.

The Chinese had a repeating crossbow in the 4th century bc and although we have no other evidence before 1600 it turns up in a larger form used in a naval context in the Imjin War between Japan and Korea.
This example underlines the efficacy of the idea and the practicality of the concept in a naval engagement.

Raven or Cloud Ladder Cart ?

The concept behind the raven has come up in another context in history. The ancient Chines of the Warring Kingdoms period which was about the same time 300b.c.

says Tai Bai Yin Jing";
"...construct a chassis out of large timbers and place 6 wheels underneath. On top set a couple of Ya "Teeth" and Gua "Clamps". The ladders are 3.6m long with 4 Zhuo "Rungs" placed 90cm apart, and in shape they are slightly curved so that they pass over one another and clamp into each other. The ladder flies into the clouds and can be used to peer into the city. At the top are a couple of Lu Lu "Pulley Wheels" which rest on the walls as the ladder is extended."
This Cloud Ladder is depicted from a medieval scroll.

An analogous solution to the boarding/escalading problem: an extendable stable platform with a stable access gangway/ladder which is locked onto the target.

from "Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity"First Edition (Limited Print)Vol/Issue no.: 160pISBN 981-05-5380-3

See also John Needhams books on ancient asian technology but they cost a bomb.


This extract from an attempt to storm a fort could be translated to a sea battle.

A boarding action could have closely resembled the storming of a wall as described here.

From The Civil Wars by Appian Book 5 36-37

He took an abundance of iron tools, for wall fighting, and ladders of every form. He carried machines for filling the ditches, and folding towers from which planks could be let down to the walls; also all kinds of missiles and stones, and wickerwork to be thrown upon the palisades. They made a violent assault, filled up the ditch, scaled the palisades, and advanced to the walls, which some of them undermined, while others applied the ladders, and others simultaneously moved up the towers and defended themselves with stones, arrows, and leaden balls, with absolute contempt of death. This was done at many different places, and the enemy being drawn in many different directions made a more feeble resistance.
37 The planks having been thrown upon the walls at some places, the struggle became very hazardous, for the forces of Lucius fighting on the bridges were exposed to missiles and javelins on every side. They forced their way, nevertheless, and a few leaped over the wall.

The precarious nature of the enterprise is very obvious here. The Roman raven can be seen as a device which sought to make boarding a more deliberate procedure which could become a straight fight. Time and again the contrast is made between fighting a sea battle and 'fighting a land battle at sea'. When the 'land battle at sea' develops it is usually because some circumstance limits the other side's mobility. The fight takes place in restricted sea space against a shore or in a strait or one side is surrounded.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


There are some instances of ships setting a boarding plank at the bow instead of the stern in connection with combat. Although not ship-to-ship I think they add weight to the idea of using the 'brow' plank to cross to another ship if they were not stem-to-stem.

In the Peloponnesian War 4.11 the Spartan commander, Brasidas, orders his ship to beach bow-first and attempts to land via the apobathra but is wounded in doing so and falls off it.

In Herodotus 9.98 an assault landing is made at Mycale when the Greeks land troops on beach after ensuring they have gangplanks with them. Herodotus says gangplanks are part of the normal equipment for an engagement at sea.

This is a nutty problem for rules formulation. Does one consider a combat around a single 'point of entry' to the enemy ship or can one imagine every marine a potential boarder simultaneously ? At Salamis Herodotus gives the impression of a messy scramble of ramming but little boarding action which emphasises the association of ramming tactics with the 3 and boarding actions with the later, broader and more stable 4s, 5,s etc. The Athenians limited their deck troops to 15 or so, 4 of them detailed to guard the helmsman just to maintain the agility of the ship as the weapon system rather than the troops it carried. Roman wall paintings often show decks teeming with armed men but we do not know if this is deliberately anachronistic or imaginative depiction of legends rather than a realistic view.

I tend towards the idea that some local 'fire superiority' must be achieved so a plank can be laid across and give the first men a fighting chance to get onto the enemy ship alive. Thereafter their comrades follow and the fight spreads. Perhaps the situation is analogous to mounting the rampart of a besieged city for which the Romans gave the 'corona muralis' a special award for bravery to the first man up. The corona navalis was the equivalent given to the first to board an enemy ship so the honour and danger was well recognized.
The nature of the gangplank must be something between the simplest plank imaginable, the ladder type as shown on the Talos painter's depiction of Jason boarding the Argo and the specific robust construction of the raven as given by Polybius. Polybius gives us the figure of 1.2metres width and 11 metres long. This length is no coincidence - it is approximately double that of the projecting length of an oar - this menas the raven could be lowered across the gap between two vessels with their oars out and required no special circumstance for its use so long as the captain steered the bow of the ship close to the target. He is specific about the side railings too - perhaps because they were not usually present on any kind of boarding plank.

So the boarding device should be half to one metre or so wide - 1.2metres was enough for two men to cross says Polybius - and either flat planks or runged like a ladder.

Next step...check on accounts of sieges for how men crossed from towers to the walls.....

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Just a thought about ramming. The proembolon is often cited as a device to grip an opposing ship once the boarding tactic has become prevalent. It is odd that most illustrated do not seem to have any obvious gripping characteristics. A ram is specially formed to cut and shear, should ancient technicians have not set their minds to this gripping problem too ?

I think the upper fitting is not a ram at all but a defence for the rammer against damaging his stem-post. As a ship is rammed it does not just jump away from the rammer, it must also rotate towards him because the centre of gravity of the target is above the point of impact. Water behind the target cannot jump out of the way instantly, also.

In addition, as ships become more built-out , with parados and heavier outriggers the attacker must reach -in under this construction to impact the target hull. The likelihood of being hit by the rotating target becomes greater.

Probably wrong, but anyone got a reference to sort this out ?

(p.s. trad jazz fans may recognize the heading's inspiration)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Some more of the paper crewmen I use. An assortment with Roman marines on the deck of the 6 (I will write something about the sails soon). The tower is occupied with a fighting group.

There are Spartans, Athenians, Scythian bowmen and Punic Wars Romans lined up in front of the ship. The nice groups with long spears ready are Carthaginians. Then there are some light troops, bows and slings.

There are two matchstick palintonoi and a paper oxybeles shown.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


A test of a new edition of my rules. Simple scenario based on an incident in the Peleponnesian War but I counted the sides as Syracusan and Athenian.

An Athenian squadron is beached in a bay thinking they are safe. A Syracusan squadron comes up hoping to surprise them.

The Athenians comprise three '2's, two '3's and a hemiolia. TheSyracusans have a pair of hemiolia accompanying one each of Dionysius' new '4's and '5's. All crews were rated as 'able' which equates to competent but nothing special. The 4 and 5 were relatively well manned with marines.
As the Syracusans approached the Athenians were dicing for when they could see them and get away off the shore. This was not so good to begin with but a trireme got off on the 2nd move.

The Syracusans had a setback on turn 3 when their FATE card caused the captain of a hemiolia to remember a sudden pressing appointment and leave for home.

More Athenians pushed-off as the Syracusans sent their hemiolia off to the right to flank the enemy. The leading Athenian 3 now took a gamble. Speeding-up he tried to turn away from the oncoming heavies. The gamble failed and the Syracusan 5 slammed into his starboard beam even as he accelerated to escape. The 3 was immediately holed badly and the 5 pulled off as it was not necessary to board the stricken Athenian. The Syracusans had more luck when the hemiolia which dashed out to the flank managed to ram an Athenian 2 which was beached and still making ready for sea.
But that was it for the Syracusans now more Athenians were at sea. The 2s darted in and out at the larger ships and meanwhile the remaining Athenian 3 manouvered to ram. The holed 3 continued to sink, moving sluggishly.

The Syracusan 4 was hit twice abeam by Athenian 2s and started to take on water. Not knowing which way to turn for the best it ended-up doing nothing after having rammed and holed the wallowing Athenian 3. The 5 had asome luck in outmanouvering one of the 2s. In one amusing episode a 2 swooped in to rake the oars off the 5's starboard side but the 2's crew failed to ship oars in time while the Syracusans did and the helmsman was forced to simply make a close pass of the 5. There were so many Syracusan marines and archers lining the rails of the 5 that by the time the 2 was passed its supposed prey the entire deck crew was dead. With half its oars shipped to avoid the raking attempt the Syracusan 5 was rammed amidships by the Athenian trireme at full speed. Even allowing for its greater size the 5 was severely damaged and settled in the water. The Athenian pulled-off and was at a safe distance before the massed troops on the Syracusan could do much damage.

Over near the beach the erstwhile flank attacker was rounded on by 2 Athenians and badly holed. The last Syracusan hemiolia drifte towards the rocks.....
The end result was one Syracusan hemiolia safe on the horizon (but the captain probably due for execution) while his 3 comrades sank watched by relatively unscathed Athenian squadron, their main casualty being a trireme. A holed 2 made it to shore where it beached and the crew started work on repairs.

Everything worked well. The Antikytheran Battle Computer worked and the FATE cards added colour and had some effect. I saw some need to simplify the deck crew rules for when larger numbers are present so that is something to work on.


Boarding the enemy seems to have been a potential tactic at all times. With the development of the ram came another option but it seems even when the ships were not usually heavily manned as at Salamis or in the Peleponnesian War or Athen's Sicilian adventure boarding was attempted.
The question I ask myself is how did they get onto the other ship? At Salamis a Persian commander ends up in the drink after trying to board a Greek ship over the bow. Diodorus mentions beam-to-beam boarding - also happily commenting on failed attempts resulting in an early bath. The Roman raven was fitted at the bow so it was obviously normal for a ship to be in contact there from where the raven could be used and the raven was essentially a gangway.
When a ship was beached gangplanks were used to get on and off. These came up either side of the stern. As here in a Roman fresco. The Greek's called this an apobathra. The Greek navy crew for Olympias could get a crew onboard and with oars out in 1 minute 30 seconds !
The question is was there some simple gangway or planking carried to help in boarding attempts? The 'normal' apobathra could be used for this at the other end of the ship, perhaps ? Or was boarding always an exptemporised affair done in an ad hoc manner during battle ? I doubt there was no provision made. The raven was seemingly discontinued because it may have contributed to instability - it was a solid construction. But ravens were meant for larger ships and triremes and smaller ships tried boarding actions.
I cannot see an entire boarding party doing an Errol Flynn/Burt Lancaster and swinging across on ropes with daggers in their teeth because there was nowhere to swing the rope from !
The tower could have been an innovation which allowed a deluge of missiles to cover the precarious initial boarding attempts as enemy ship was assaulted or to prevent enemy from assaulting one's own ship? (pic below from Hotz Artworks)

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


My ancient galleys battlescape is now just about done. I made a headland, a bay and some rocks.

All from flamingo painted with emulsion that has sand mixed-in. Basecloth made as outlined below.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


We often associate this phrase with Napoleonic naval warfare. It refers to shooting cannon down the length of an enemy ship and thereby sending an iron ball plowing through a ship and its crew with the greatest chance of doing damage.
In the case of the Napoleonic ship under canon fire the results were truly horrendous but if one considers the density of men on an oared galley if it were subject to a similar missile attack the carnage could be on the same scale. In the cross-section of a Napoleonic ship are timbers of great thickness and only a limited chance of coming into contact with flesh for any missile traversing the length of the ship. When one looks at a trireme, for example, the chance of hitting a body is much greater and the chance of hitting heavy timber is less.
The development of torsion artillery is a Greek invention and was accelerated greatly by Demetrius 'City-Taker'. He had palintonoi which could shoot 80kilo balls 200m. To send bolts or stone balls flying from such engines into a wooden warship with only rawhide screen for protection must have caused chaos. If the oars are manned by single men each hit will disable several oars withthe knock -on effect of the loose oar on those around it. If the oars are manned by several rowers the chaos could perhaps be less but still considerable.

Once palintonoi are mounted on ships they would be able to outshoot any ship without them. Bolts could be sent 400 yards maximum and certainly 200 with an accuracy and speed which would out-perform archers. Quick-firers - the polybolos -with a magazine were soon developed.
Imagine you are on the deck crew of a trireme. There is not much cover because you are not meant to be in close contact with the enemy for long and marines were to prevent enemy coming aboard from the ship you just rammed. As your ship turns to ram a target which is 300 metres away the target trains a quick firing oxybeles on you. It takes a trireme 5-10 seconds to cover 30m. For up to two minutes bolts start flying the length of your deck every few seconds. You cannot reply. If you are an oarsman towards the prow you will be gritting your teeth as you start a ramming run because you expect a bolt or stone ball to crash into you any second. This kind of scenario changes the picture considerably from one where triremes circle and then dash in to sink their prey.
Steam cannon would have been more deadly, with ranges up to 1km but there is no evidence they were ever mounted on ships.

Larger palintonoi weighed in at 3 tonnes or so and threw 80kg balls. See one being built and shot here .They could not have been carried on any but the largest ship such as barges Demetrius City-taker used against Rhodes. However machines which could throw a 20kg stone 300 metres were much lighter and a bolt shooter could come down to 45kg in weight. Just accounting for one man's weight on a ship.
It should be remarked that these machines are not the single-armed type like the later Roman onager but two-armed horizontal-motion machines.

The embolon or 'spur' which we now call a ram became less significant in naval warfare. The use of an above-water spur -the proembolion - was adopted and this was meant to hold a target rather than sink it so a boarding action could be fought.
If the days of the ramming action were over was it a result of the effectiveness of deck-mounted artillery ? At least in part. Heavier ships that were anyway less susceptible to ram attacks could mount artillery and make any opponents without heavy protection suffer badly when in range. The safest areas to attack from would be from directly ahead or from astern where only a single machine or none could be brought to bear.

I am in the process of compiling figures for the power of the palintonoi and the strength of ship timbers.

It seems apparent that engines could have changed the nature of sea battles dramatically or at least that advances in ship design which allowed their use did.

The Third Day

Now its time for some land.

With 1/300 scale there are some important considerations. At this scale 3mm is one metre and any representation of a coastline should be to scale. It is too easy to create a bay or beach which looks ok on the table but is out of proportion.

The bays at Arapis and Palouka where the Greek fleet was harboured before the battle of Salamis are each about a kilometre wide. The third bay, Ambelaki is the narrowest but is still more than 500m wide. 380 ships were divided between these bays. Earlier in the campaign a portion of Xerxes fleet 80 strong beached at Platania which has a beach c.1km long.

The point here is that a bay or beach on the table must be of a realistic natural size. A kilometre is 3 metres on our ground scale ! If you look on a map of any coast and try to find a bay or beach less than 1km long you will probably also find one with dangerous rocks and currents around it and poor land access. Add to this the consideration of an ancient commander that he should not break his force into penny packets and we can see that it is not worth representing a small feature on the tabletop. If a beach is to be available for landing it would be a whole table side rather than anything 30cm or 50cm in size.

Now, to get the broadest area for a fight on the table it is best to approach each other from diagonally oposite corners. This gave me the idea that it is easiest to make bays in the corners of the table then there is always a wider area to fight in off the beach. A bay 1m long is good enough and if the sides taper off the table then the feature takes up as little space as possible.

This made me think about placing land areas on the game table. There is actually little justification for having land on the table. Any fighting will usually take place sufficiently far offshore to avoid shallows. A battle around a harbour is the only time to consider land as a significant part of the battle area, surely ? If land is to be available as a choice when setting a game up then it should perhaps only be on one side of the table. The channel at Salamis was an unusually tight place to fight in and it is more than a kilometre wide at its narrowest point. Not many gaming tables are 3m long ! A table-side of land is more likely to correspond to an island.
Considering islands... there are not many islands in navigable areas less than 1km long. I had to hunt for these in the Aegean.
It is rare to find small islands in an area where a battle might occur. If they are present they should be a minimum of 500m long. This equates to 1.5m or so and is closer to a table-side.

Another land feature could be a headland or promontory sticking out into the battle area. The same considerations apply and the main thing is to have it of a significant size say, 50cm minimum.

One type of terrain feature which is easier to deal with is 'rocks'. A group of rocks standing proud of the surface and marking a patch of shallow water is a nice tactical problem and should be available. Headlands represent areas resistant to erosion and rocks often stand close off headlands. Don't put rocks on the middle of a bay or randomly in the middle of the battle area.

Shallows or sandbanks are not common in the Mediterranean except on the African coast where they are a major hazard to ancient ships and for this reason navigation routes ran well offshore. They are found in relation to bays where sandbanks sit offshore or where longshore drift builds some spits or bars. Sandbanks could be around off the mouth of a larger river or beside a harbour which has a mole or quay to promote sediment build up. But again - these features often occur where ships would not go and certainly would not fight.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Why not watch some classic clips from Classical times as interpreted by Hollywood?

Great for getting in the mood for setting some paper ships on fire or sinking them in the bath (But not mine!)
Ben Hur has a fantastic battle between Romans and Illyrian pirates.
Anthony and Cleopatra has the battle of Actium. From 2'15'' in this clip.
Jason and the Argonauts has no sea battle but it's all about a ship anyway.....
Ben Hur 1925 Pt6&7(silent) epic seabattle. Watch for oar-raking, ramming and heads on swords.

More Rules

Oceanus Strategoi : Nice rules which could work well with 1/300. These have taken a lot of thought to get the game-turn sequence sorted out. This is crucial in getting an atmospheric and accurate game so I-Go-U-Go wont work. The solution here is designed to work with a multiplayer game and seems rational enough but the rules include detailed method for working out complex interactions. These rules are concise, though.

A nice aspect is the idea that a ram atack is uncertain in its success from the start and an aspect often missed is the observation of an attack by the victim before they can react.

I am less enamoured of using 'factors' for crew and many things are calculated using formulae - even though these are fine and seem realistic in themselves. These rules are wel worth a try, free, concise and cover most things one would want. There is little 'colour' in them, however.

Ramming Speed are short and sweet with less complexity than OS. They are for 15mm ships and could be said to be 'skirmish' level rules.
Most things are dealt with ina straight-forward manner but because of the 15mm scale deck fighting and shooting would require some changes for 1/300 to emphasise groups instead of individuals perhaps. The rules allow sailing in connection with a battle.

Complex moves would be a problem in 1/300 I think because each inch of 1-24 inches possible is ordered and moved individually.

Probably a fun set for 15mm or Zveda's 1/72 models.

Andy Watkins Trireme rules are great. Deceptively short and sweet. He does prefer a hex grid which gets him out of some movement problems neatly but this is a nice rule set.
The game turn sequence is dealt with very nicely - almost the same solution I have devised - but is unclear on resolving problems with ships moving at the same speed. Shooting and fighting is simple so the next turn can be reached before long. These would be my preferrred rules with my old navwar 1/1200 and Andy has nice pics of his own Langton models on his webpages. There is little complexity but most things are dealt with and fleet action could be done with some excitement generated. However, they are not, without some modification, what I would use with 1/300ships.


NAUTA, FIGHTING FLEETS and CORVUS are all rules which allow for using a large number of ships and are necessarily simple. If one wants to direct 50 or so ships on a tabletop this may be the way to go but I find them sterile.

1/1200 or 1/650 scale ships are small but the appreciable size of Hotz ships in 1/300 brings them to life. Once the individual oars and planks are visible I find it a shame if one does not seek to add some detail and realism to any rules used. At 1/300 the deck crew can be represented, sails set or struck and the ships look much more colourful these are ships, not just counters. DEATH ON THE SEAS by Tom Hinshelwood are billed as 'skirmish' rules but I think they are ideal for Hotz ships. They have crew characteristics and plenty of detail without getting petty. Ancient naval rules drown in detail. It was not a ponderous activity like Napoleonic naval warfare when floating castles drifted past each other blasting away. Galley warfare was positional, highly tactical and included explosive bursts of activity even if there was no gunpowder available.


Figures for deck crew can be provided by 6mm metal figures. Everything required is currently available unless one is ludicrously fussy about invisible details.

However, I have a penchant for card/paper figures and the Hotz ships being card I think it is highly appropriate to use card/paper for my crews.

If you have not been there yet I urge you to visit Junior General where all sorts of wargaming stuff is available to print on paper. There are even sets of ancient ships and a scenario and rules for the battle of Salamis !

At Junior General I got appropriate figures and scaled them down to 6mm. I set a pale yellow background around them which makes them show up but is not intrusive. I then printed them on good quality paper so the ink did not run - photo paper is good. Then spray them with a sealant such as varnish and let them dry. Several thin coats is best so the ink does not run.
The small cards must now be made to stand up. Either fold them and let them stand as little tents or, much better, use superglue to stick them on small transparent acetate rectangles.

Dead cheap, same material as the ships and you can even edit the men to stand or have the colours you like. Machines and other stuff are available too.

All credit to JUNIOR GENERAL !


To make a convincing sea just takes some acrylic based paint and an old sheet. The Mediterranean is a beautiful colour in the summer sailing season so don't settle for a dull gray or washed-out blue. Ultramarine or turquoise when diluted give great colours.

Using a king-sized double sheet and match-pots makes for a cheap large sea.

The sheet should be fine weave cotton, not synthetic or it wont absorb the paint.

Mix half a litre of acryclic based paint of a Mediterranean blue colour and the same of water in a bucket. The sheet should be light blue or white. Yellow may work ok as long as the shade is not to dark.

Dampen the sheet without making it soaking then either scrunch it up or use clamps or clothes pegs to hold parts if it in rough pleats - not all in the same direction. Stuff the sheet into the bucket and ram it down. Immediately lift it up and let the paint drain back into the bucket.

Do this again several times. The sheet will probably soak up all the paint.

Then squash the sheet up and down in the bucket to squish the paint well into the fabric.

Let the sheet drain as a mass roughly held up over somewhere it doesnt matter that blue drips spatter all over.

Next day the sheet looks a bit congealed and partially drying out.

Use a watering can or shower head to spray on it a little, turn a few times , spray a few times - not too hard or to long. This takes some paint off and gives shading. Hang the mess up again until it look like it is nearly dry.

Take off the pegs or clamps and spread the sheet to dry. You should have a sort of tie-dyed sea.

Repeat with thicker paint if the shade is not what you want. The sheet will feel starched but not rigid.

Iron the sheet and use elastic sheet straps to keep it taught over the board. Store it on a stick, rolled around or scrunch it up but neat folding makes a lousy-looking grid of creases on it.