Saturday, 27 August 2016


If all the sea were paper, and all the ships of card..
I realised a little while ago I have a metre or so of books dealing with this obsession.
Maybe I should share with others some of the titles I have found useful and tell something of what particular books are good for.

I will make a few posts with reading tips.

You can find these titles second hand for little money. Personally, I never buy new books when I can get a good second hand copy cheap.

In my opinion stay away from ebooks. They are awkward, require technology to read and do not smell of anything nor bear the evidence of others sharing your passion.OK if you collect Playboy this could be a plus...

Actually, my main bugbear with them is that they do not do figures or photos well and different books require different readers, etc. Bah, humbug !

 My list helps you avoid buying  a pig in a poke..or a glossy cover but in any case find the books online, read reviews and only then buy.

Maybe you do not want to launch a trieres yet but you saw Ben Hur (Heston version) or heaven forbid, 300:Rise of an Empire, or a nice model and are thinking about what the topic involves and may offer in return for more study ?

One problem is that you may not know much of ancient writing which forms our historical basis for what we imagine galley warfare to have been like. I guarantee you will be infected with a virus that impels you to read every ancient author you can once you have been exposed to it.

The following books will provide a good introduction to the theme. Non are over-long and non are expensive.
..ancient sources....
The first two books  are easy to read, move along at a good pace and condense a lot of material into a paperback. If you read either of these you will have a good idea what trieres warfare was all about and want to go further.

SALAMIS by Barry Strauss, Arrow Books 2005
Lords of the Sea by John Hale, Viking 2009

It is possible to nit-pick on these titles but their accessibility and general dedication to promotion of the beautiful technology of ancient ships outweighs any detectable glitches. They also allow you to painlessly precis the ancient sources on auto-pilot. Maybe with enough detail so that you do not feel the need to buy any other books.

Love at first sight ?
In my opinion, if you read about Olympias you will get hooked. Be warned!

Building the Trireme by Frank Welsh, Constable 1988
The project from the viewpoint of its backer.

The Athenian Trireme by J.Morrison , J. Coates, N. Rankov, Cambridge 1988
The historical and technical background, progress of the project and conclusions.
If you buy one book about ancient ships, this is the one.
Another Morrison epic..for later..

John Morrison also authored a great introductory book on ancient ships. It is deceptively slim but this one volume can get you far.

J. Morrison, National Maritime Museum, HMSO 1980

Two titles by an author who takes his own photos and makes ship models! Very detailed and comprehensive material on the Roman side of things. Either of these two will set you up,,for a Bellum Civile.
Roman Warships by Michael Pitassi, Boydell Press 2011
The Roman Navy  by Michael Pitassi , Seaforth Publishing 2012


Osprey has a handful of titles which also allow a rapid coverage of the topic. Some are better than others but the principal to remember is that they are starting points, often with a personal viewpoint,  with nice piccies rather than the last or comprehensive word on each subject.

Pylos and Sphakteria 425bc :      Campaign 261     by William Shepherd
Salamis 480bc :                           Campaign 222     by William Shepherd
Syracuse 415-413bc :                  Campaign  195    by Nic Fields


Just joking. None are truly bad.  I just have a problem that some titles have better draughtsmanship and understanding of how a ship works than others when it comes to illustration of wooden ships.

Previous blogs on this subject are tagged as OSPREY

Actium 31BC Campaign 211  by Si Sheppard
ANCIENT GREEK WARSHIP                                              
Go to Osprey to find them HERE

The BIG and Beautiful
Coffee table books on ancient warfare are less common these days but a handful exist that are now old but still good which you MUST get hold of. They are things of beauty and will entertain you for years. Actually my copies do not get onto any coffee table,  they are safely on the shelf or being perused regularly...

Warfare in the Classical World  John Warry, Salamander Books 1980
This book is unique in having fantastic drawings of several types of galley by Jeff Burns who has illustrated many military books for Osprey , too.
Also discussion of ships and naval tactics. And much, much more!

Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly, Macdonald 1981
Only a few appearances of warships. But surely you have this already !? Can be got for a son gin paperback edition. Short references and illustrations re. Salamis and the corvus.

Warfare in the Ancient World, Ed. Hackett, Illustrated by Connolly, Sidgwick and Jackson 1989
Short references and illustrations re. Salamis and the corvus.

Lionel Casson

Along with  from Morrison and Coates,  Lionel Casson has produced fantastic writing on ancient ships and seafaring. He began the conjoining of technical archaeological research and ancient sources to flesh-out our understanding of ancient maritime activities

Aside from many more academic works he wrote two very accessible books which are great for the beginner and can easily lead to permanent infection with the galley disease. Warships are covered in both books but also civil craft, development, navigation etc...
Ships and Seafaring in Ancient Times by Lionel Casson, British Museum Press 1994
The Ancient Mariners by Lionel Casson, Princeston University Press 1991

I make no secret that I think this subject offers a rich variety of material ranging from ancient history and archaeology to military and commercial history, social history and development, ancient technology and the evolution of wooden ships. The smell of tar and salt water, the splash of oars and the rustle of pages, the thud of a book-sized parcel landing in the postbox and the discovery that you suddenly understand some otherwise enigmatic passages someone wrote more than two thousand years ago. All this and card model ships too!