Wednesday, 26 November 2014


 The terracotta model that is in the Danish National Museum and known as the 'Erment Model' was fuel for a debate in the long-running saga af the ancient galley.
My reconstruction of the 'Erment Model'
Lucien Brasch argued in 1969(1)  that the model supported the idea that there was more than one type of trieres. His reasoning was that the Greeks had their own interpretation of an original idea by the Phoenicians. The model was found in Egypt and must represent a trieres tradition from the eastern Mediterranean which differed from the Hellenistic variety.

Just how one could make an alternative trireme is a  bit of a puzzle but not beyond ingenuity. We have today the advantage of having seen a working trieres in the form of Olympias  (2) and must admit that this colours our vision. Notwithstanding this, there are still critics such as Alec Tilley(3) who have alternative suggestions for how a trieres could be constructed on other lines.

The '3' is here three men sitting side-by-side

Tilley would have the oarsmen on the same level - ergo Erment cannot be a trieres
 Tilley thinks the Erment model could therefore be a hexeres !(x) With two men on each oar because only with such a large number of men and oars would  tiers be necessary.

After Brasch the Erment model is seen as supporting a version of the trieres which is first seen on the Sennacherib stela from Nineveh and that show the flight of Luli from Sidon.
Nineveh stela c.701.bc.
 It is narrow and high, with no apparent outrigger - the parexereisea. Even 'The Athenian Trireme' supported the idea that there is a an unused tier of oarplaces in these reliefs. Odd. If one is fleeing why not use full speed? A rather unbelievable illustration of these ships was given in the Osprey New Vanguard 196 'Warships of the Ancient  World' book.

 In 1975 Alan Lloyd(4)  pretty much knocked the 'Phoenician trieres' theory into touch with his thorough-going rebuttal of Brasch's paper. It includes a quote from R.C. Anderson's 1962 paper(5) which is rather damning. viz.

'It may be made for a trireme, but there is nothing whatever to be learnt from it.'

Subsequently, an expert on specifically Egyptian Hellenistic terracottas  remarked (6)

'Technically Græco-Egyptian terracottas are clumsy work, made with few moulds and the minimum of effort.'

Lloyd's conclusion/broadside...

'M.Brasch may well be right in claiming that the craftsman had in mind a Phoenician trireme but it seems hazardous in the extreme to use such an object to prove that the ship did not possess a parexeiresia, was not equipped with wales - neither of which occur  on Egyptian ships and may well have fallen outside the potter's experience - and had a hull whose proportions differed fundamentally from its Greek counterpart.'
Erment/Phoenicia to the left,: Olympias/Greece to the right
The model has also been used as a possible blueprint for an eastern Mediterranean penteres (7) which is supposed to differ from the Syracusan version by, again, having no outrigger and with double-manned upper oar-tiers.

Straight.sided penteres(removing hanging oarbox
Making the model gave me a little insight into the potter's task. Forgetting any high ideas about an accurate scale model - the concept of which was probably some way ahead in history from when the clay ship was produced.

As any clay structure is built up it tends to sag under its own weight. One can avoid this by a) avoiding overhangs and b) ensuring all points are supported from beneath c) making the structure lighter in the top.

I think the Erment model has its final shape because of these factors. The original profile of a trieres is almost impossible to make in a model of this size if one is not going to take time-consuming steps to support it and let it dry progressively as one builds.

Looks Ementish but WRONG. From Napoleon III's reconstruction of 1882 by Admiral Serre. A classic failure.

Still wrong profile - perfectly round is BAD (puking imminent)

Profile of Olympias by John Coates. Too broad for a clay model.
This is no problem for some smaller, more primitive ship models. Pottery has alway sbeen a lowly trade and pot items very cheap. The idea of taking an inordinate amount of time on a cheap votive item is unlikely.

I also  think the Erment model does have an outrigger but it is misunderstood by the maker. AND transformed so that it fits with the clay's characteristics.

Instead of the oar tiers being set further outboard as in the real thing, the model has them set over each other for the sake of constructing something easily from clay.
The strips supporting the upper two tiers are there because they look like they should be there when one looks at a real trieres but they are also necessary to support the oars in the model. They cannot be set out from the hull or the thing will sag and break so they are set over each other. They show a gunwale and an outrigger but they cannot be set out from the hull or the whole lot will collapse.
The parexeiresia is beneath the upper oars but squished inboard
The epibatai (which could aequally have been the hyperesia) must be set on last. When the decks have dried a little and gained some strength the figures and shields can be glued -on with slip without fear of collapse.

The ship's profile is explained by these factors also. It is flat-bottomed because it must stand solidly as it is built. It is high and stright-sided because an open, low form will collapse unless a time-consuming process is adopted for construction.

I would say the modeller wanted to give a good impression of a trieres and he does. It is a slim, sleek ship with many oars. It has a fierce prominent ram and efficient prominent pedalia which look like they can really affect the ship's progress.

Version 2 may be painted to look a little less like Sonic the Hedgehog!
 Along with the many odd-shaped clay ships i think the Erment model has to be considered just that. In the broadest sense of the word. It is not a scaled-down copy of any ship, penteres, hexeres nor trieres but it is a representation interpreted by the non-sea-going potter and made within the limits of the chosen material. This trieres really does have feet of clay.
It's awful, but I like it.....
(Ref.list to follow)

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