Thursday, 23 March 2017


The excellent programme series 'In Our Time' has a programme on Salamis this week.
The learned articipants are Paul Cartledge, Lindsay Allen and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, as well as our Melvyn, of course.
Click to go to programme site - downloadable after 10 a.m. UK time 23/3/2017
If you look on previous programmes list you will also find many other interesting titles.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Rules Testing Again

Version n tested. Shorter and more deadly.
Themistocleian Athens versus Xerxean Persian.
Twenty ships seems to be a good size for a battle without needing a lot of space.

Athenian open Threes advance.

Persian/Phoenician Threes come up to the fight.

Units of 5 seem to be manageable and do not take up too much space. This tallies nicely with calculated practical length of a file as 5 before a ship cannot get up to form line from file in time to stop a breakthrough of oncoming enemy vessels.

Fighting  continues...

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

UMBUM Galleys sail again !

Great post of upcoming conference game from blog 'Oh my Ruritania'.

Using the Russian UMBUM card galleys.

Click picture to see !

Friday, 10 March 2017

Games going on out there

Some nice games with galleys going on in the blogosphere.

First, Francesco at ' Into the Maelstrom' HERE. Has some scaled-down Hotz ships! Great ot see someone using card ships.

He has a variety of types and a game report.

Then some lead slugging it out.
Nice game report at Sun of York's blog.
Using 'Song of Blades and Heroes' based rules.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sneak Preview

A little peek at illustration for something in the pipeline.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Tit for Tat

Rafaelle D'Amato has been kind enoug to write with some rebuttals to my criticisms of the last two Osprey ancient warship books. I am ignorant of many things, apparently, and am no Harvard scholar.

I will not flood the blog with the twelve pages or so of wordery in one go  but I'll put them up with any further comment over the next month or so and find some graphical stuff to illustrate them.

Meanwhile the new Roman Imperial Warship title should be out soon, so that will also be interesting to see. 

A nice galley picture to finish....

 Here we can see Caesar's ship - apparently a Four ? getting swamped,  as he and his men flee from the Alexandrian counter-attack on the Heptastadion in 48-7BC.

This is a nice illustration from the Dorling Kindersley book on Julius Caesar. The illustrator is also the author, Richard Platt (see HERE). He is a fantastic artist, producing highly detailed and complex panoramic scenes with hundreds of figures. He also does books with cross-sections of ships, buildings etc.

At the moment you can get his book (used) for 1 penny !!!  on Amazon UK -plus postage. Maybe not the last word in academic judgement on J.C. but interesting and lively to read anyway. The best thing is just spending time to scan the complex pictures - it would be great to do with a child or grandchild and spark their interest in  the ancient world. Or just keep it for yourself....

Saturday, 25 February 2017

More Nike

Stumbled on this excellent vido lecture from the Met, New York......
I wanna go to Samothrace !!!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Conan, Ball-room Naval Wargaming, Rubber Dinosaurs, and Galleys ....... If you like the ancient world and its technology, you'll love this !

Conan the Barbarian (not the comics, peasant!) was a staple of my teenage years alongside Sven Hazel and Pan Horror books.

The Conan books are so vivid partly because they are inspired by real historical material repurposed for sword and scorcery. A world with a map and all its population of different tribes, religions and fabulous cities. If you grow up, eventually, you realise the true history of the world is far wierder and more wonderful than any fantasy - just read Herodotos - and eventually you will come to realise the most exotic themes come together around ancient galleys !

When I began wargaming one aspect was modern naval wargaming with 1/3000 scale models. It was easy to make a battlefield and you did not need many pieces. The downside was the game was boring, usually. At that time it was mostly a lot of dice throwing and using many charts to work out your boiler had a small leak. In recent years I found out about a craze that swept the U.S. during the war years for multiplayer naval wargaming which included both men and women playing in ball-rooms !

These games used a set of rules devised by one Murray Fletcher-Pratt. The game was mathematical but also fun enough to get people playing it on unused ball-room floors. Fletcher Pratt was keen on all things naval and produced the following impresive list of publications !!!
  • The Compact History of the United States Navy (1957) OCLC 367782
  • Empire and the Sea (1946) with Inga Stephens
  • Fighting Ships of the U.S. Navy (1941) illustrated by Jack Coggins
  • Fleet Against Japan (1946)
  • The Navy has Wings; the United States Naval Aviation (1943)
  • The Navy, a History; the Story of a Service in Action (1938)
  • The Navy's War (1944)
  • Night Work: the Story of Task force 39 (1946) OCLC 1492544
  • Preble's Boys; Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power (1950) LCCN 50-10765
  • Sea Power and Today's War (1939) OCLC 1450484
  • Ships, Men - and Bases (1941) with Frank Knox
  • A Short History of the Army and Navy (1944)
Unfortunately, Fletcher Pratt did not turn his attention to ancient naval matters, but he did start a writers guild, the 'Trapdoor Spiders' in 1944, who produced all kinds of fiction, originally as a way of escaping their wives for a short time! The members of the Trapdoor Spiders were an erudite bunch indeed,  Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon to name but two.
Sturgeon, Asimov, Carter AND !!!!!! Lionel Casson !!!
Amazingly enough the late, great Lionel Casson was also a member. If you are a galley fan you will know who he is.

Lin Carter produced some Conan stories as a 'posthumous' collaboration with Howard Carter by finishing some Hyperboria stories. He did this in collaboration with another Trapdoor Spider, L.Sprague de Camp. This name I knew originally from the covers of paperbacks about Conan.
Carter and Sprague de Camp were greatly interested in historical themes as well as writing. They collaborated well in completing and extending Robert Howard's oeuvre.

When I started writing this piece I was soon reminded of the Six Degrees of Bacon type game. It is so wierd that so much of what I have been interested in through life is linked together in wierd and wonderful ways. But, again, human brains are machines for pattern recognition and just like the same favourite thing you own turns up in your new girlfriend's apartment does not mean you were meant to be together! Educated middle class writer guys in 40's New York had to meet somewhere....
Anyhow, it is great to feel Conan set me up for sailing on wooden ships and being a galley fan in later life.  Onward...

Sprague de Camp was just as polymath and interesting as the other Trapdoor Spiders. He was a scientist, working in aeronautical engineering, but also interested in history. Galleys are ancient technology and so it was inevitable that he should eventually focus his attention on our favourite topic. He wrote popular science books such as explanations of evolution and energy and power.

One of the most memorable titles is 'Rubber Dinosaurs and Wooden Elephants - a collection of mind boggling essays that jump over a plethora of subjects which reminds me of James Burke's 'Connections' series but more entertaining.

More directly, getting down to galleys, my first contact with Sprague de Camp's ancient history fiction was a book I did not realise was by the same bloke writing Conan stuff. This was 'The Bronze God of Rhodes' . This is a great read with a lot of ancient history and technology in a 'rip-roaring' tale. One cannot take these books too seriously but they are atmospheric and entertaining as well as including informative factual material. Indeed, the eccentric symposium members in this book are said to have been modelled on the Trapdoor Spiders ! (who is who ?).
I did not realise until recently how many of this genre Sprague de Camp produced. They are a real mine of information and ideas - some now outdated - but always entertaining.
These books are a great antidote to getting bored slogging through factual material. The can give your interest a reviving kick and if a gamer then provide nice ideas for situations and scenarios.

The Arrows of Hercules is about inventing catapults in Dionysian Sicily.
The Golden wind is the real sailing one ! About navigating to India and back !
The Elephant for Aristotle is about transporting an elephant from Alexander in India to Athens!

Along with the fiction there is also some great reading about ancient technology. Some now a little dated but Sprague de Camp was such an entertaining writer they are still worth a go.

So, maybe I was doomed from early on to end up interested in ancient galleys. The trail from Conan to pentekonter was inevitable. But following that trail backwards is also interesting when it hits on such a crazy and fertile set of collaborations.
Sprague de Camp, Heinlein and Asimov !
Even better combination...guys girls and galleys (almost never seen in reality)

Tuesday, 7 February 2017


The Samothrace Nike is one of the most famous statues in the world. It should follow that the ship - an ancient war galley ! - she stands on should also be famous. Sadly, the ship is often forgotten and does not feature in many printed photos of the monument. galley fans don't forget the ship, though, and last year an interesting paper was published concerning it.

The Monument
The Samothrace Nike stood in a fantastic location before it was probably destroyed in an earthquake and plundered for building stone.  The remnants were identified as something interesting and taken to the Louvre by three expeditions in 1863 , 79  and 81.
Nike being protected from war in 1939
The viewer saw the ships standing in a pool of springwater.

The blocks were put back together to reveal the remains of a beautiful statue standing on the prow of a ship. The monument was constructed between 220 and 185BC and is thought to be a memorial for one of the sea battles that Rhodes participated in against Philip V or Antiochous III.
 The Statue
The Nike - goddess of victory - is standing on a victorious warship and proferring a victory garland. The sculpting is second only to the Parthenon frieze and the artist may have gone on to work on the Pergamum Altar frieze now in Berlin. The wings were additions, fitted into slots and cantilevered out over the shoulders, secured with pins. The figure was originally painted.
Traces of colour...
 Beautiful short film on Nike's discovery and recovery and restoration.

The Nike was not just a pretty face, though. She was located at a crucial point to provide stability to the monument. The ram and stem actually stood proud of the base and gave an even more realistic appearance with the water running in beneath the ship! In order for the sculpted blocks to stand in this way the statue is positioned exactly and her mass counters the ship's prow perfectly.
Blue blocks are secured by Nike. No Nike - no monument....

The Ship
17 blocks form the ship and it stands on a base of 6 flat blocks. The ship and figure are of white Parian marble and the base of grey Rhodian marble. The scale of the sculpture is about  66% of the original size. This is calculated from the length of a rowing 'room' or interscalmium from the spacing of the oarports. The most remarkable thing about the ship is how fine-lined it is. A slim profile of an efficient bow for mounting a ram and cutting through the water. Originally visitors would have experienced the ship as gliding towards them over the water of the fountain pool.
Bronze reconstruction 1890's

Identifying the Ship
The type of ship depicted has been a bone of contention. It has variously been described as a Three, a Four, a 'lembus biremis' or a Trihemiolia.

Last year a paper was published (HERE - 12dollar download) identifying the ship as a Four.
 The recent conservation and reinstallation of the Nike of Samothrace, the restudy of its archaeological context and petrology, the collapse of the consensus that it celebrated the Rhodian naval victories at Side and Myonessos in 190 B.C.E., and the growing accord among naval historians that its ship is not a trihēmiolia together prompt a reexamination of its date and purpose. Fortunately, the monument offers three significant clues, all previously overlooked or underappreciated. First, why was it dedicated on the remote island of Samothrace, and not, for example, on independent Delos? Second, although ancient galleys could not fight in gales and never did, why is it battling one? And third, why is its ship made of imported Rhodian marble and probably a quadrireme, a vessel superseded elsewhere by the quinquereme but still favored by the Rhodians? The Great Gods’ rescue of pious initiates from storms at sea and second-century B.C.E. naval history point to one occasion in particular: Prousias II of Bithynia’s abortive invasion of Pergamon in 155, his impious assaults on the sanctuaries en route, his fleet’s sudden destruction by a storm, and the Rhodian contribution of five quadriremes to Attalos II’s successful naval counteroffensive in 154.
  The grounds for this were based upon the fact that a Four is a cataphract ship. This means its hull was closed-in so it could fight at close quarters with the rowers protected from missiles. The author''s sole peg for his identification was the 'fact' that the Nike was standing on the deck of the ship. He reasons that because the other types  were  aphract ships with no deck then the Nike could not be standing on a deck that was not there.

A cataphract ship : sides closed and fully decked-over (where troops stand)

Unfortunately, when one looks at how the Nike has been standing for 80 years or so, and how she stands today, one can see she is standing on a deck which is not there. The blocks of the blocks of the monument were carefully made to include a gangway - or not. The Nike was until recently standing on a block over a gangway and now stands on one set in the gangway. There is also the clue that she has wings and does not even need a deck to stand on !

The gangway with Nike set over it.

If only one could always see round the sides or back of museum exhibits ! If there was a perfectly made block missing then there is no gangway.  There is no detail engraved on the top of the blocks, maybe because the viewer could never see downward onto it.
Filling the gap - fragments left behind on Samothrake maybe.

If the Nike is not standing on a Four then the rest of the arguments become weaker. The campaign against Bithynia was not a particularly high point in Rhodian history. Be that as it may Stewart's theory has one less place to stand on if there was a gangway or if the gangway was never represented.
Even if there is no gangway, the Nike is standing on the foredeck which would be present regardless whether the rest of the ship was decked-over or not. The foredeck does not allow one to identify if the ship was cataphract or not.

The ram is also a factor to consider. The Athlit ram is a proabbale surviving ram from a Four. It is much heavier and larger than the rams found at the Ægetes Islands which are from ships approximating to Threes or Trihemioliai. The reconstructed appropriate size for a ram on the Samothrace ship is that of a Three/Trihemiolia.

The issue falls back to a basic argument about how far stone monuments copy a real prototype. The unfortunate answer is that they do..but.. If a lot of work is required for a part never to be seen was that work done ? Again, the answer is ..sometimes.... In addition, we have the  practice of painting detail onto statues. Morrison and Coates reckon there was painted detail along the sides of the hull above the oarbox to represent ventilation louvres for the oarsmen's benefit. This would argue for a cataphract ship. The renovation found no traces if the paint ever was there. In any case, the Trihemiolia was usually a closed-cataphract ship.
The Samothrace Ship as a Trihemiolia
The identification of the ship as a Trihemiolia is made on several grounds.

1)The monument is probably Rhodian and the Trihemiolia was closely identified with that state.
2)The ship shown has extremely fine lines. Larger ships were broader.
3)There are two sets of offset oarports in the oarbox. A Trihemiolia had a partial third, lower,    thalamian row of ports but these would not be visible at the prow.
Trihemiolia after John Coates..................................................................Samothrace  prow

The Trihemiolia was an economical ship which was very fast and handy and used by the Rhodians to patrol and police the sea lanes they earned their living from. Thier ships were out-stationed to smaller islands who could not defend themselves against pirate flotillas in a practice known as phylake which was an acknowledgement of responsibility to defend the common good (and your own trade).

HERE YOU CAN SEE THE WHOLE THING (with a godawful backing track)

Nice long documentary mais malheureusement seulement en Francais HERE
If you have not seen enough Nike then look HERE for a lot of video material
Nike at the Louvre HERE

Monday, 6 February 2017

Dale has left a new comment on your post "The Desolation of Smog":

This is interesting, but for a different reason. I reviewed a set of rules by a Dutch author that were published by Partizan Press. There were all kinds of typos, errors, and sentences that just did not make sense. I then reviewed a different set of rules, also by Partizan Press, but by a German author. Those rules had a reputation for 'bad translations'. As I emailed the author, it turns out that publishers do little more than get a book printed – often outsourcing the project to other printers – and then send it into the distribution stream. Both authors indicated through email that largely *they* were responsible for the translation and editing. What used to be the traditional tasks performed by the publishers. The world of books – at least in our niche – has changed. This is not limited to small self-publishers like Ganesha Games. I would not be surprised if Osprey Publishing were not doing the same and these authors simply do not realize that they are responsible for the quality of their book, not Osprey.

Hi Dale
Yes these are good points you make. I 

After seeing DAmatos written replies I can see he is no way to blame for Osprey's product. I think any criticism of the presentatiom is the publishers fault anf they have let him down. It is a bit shocking but I suspect the time it takes for proof reading and correction is now saved..and time is money. These are not academic publishers after all. I was initially very surprised when I looked closely at the texts but now am of the same opinion as you. Authors beware ! Especially if writing in a second language.
Thanks for good comment.

Friday, 3 February 2017

FYI 1.0

At : on comment page for Imperial Roman Warships NV 230

I please You to post correct and scientific critics on the PUBLIC post in Amazon. In Your blog You are master, and You can write whatever You want. You had do a public critic, please post a scientific comment which justifies Your critic. To these I will answer with my scientific work. Please post also the list of Your articles and books on the topic.
The Dhromon You criticized is mainly based on the works of
Bonino, M., Archeologia e tradizione navale tra la Romagna ed il Po, Ravenna, 1978
Morrison, J. S. & Gardiner, R. (ed.), The Age of the Galley: Mediterranean Oared Vessels Since Pre-Classical Times. Conway Maritime, London, 1995;
Prokopios of course
Some details are from the graffito of Malaga
Anchor from the garden of Museum of Marsin
The warships from Yenicapi are related to 10th - 11th century context, but for the ship structure I have used some technical detail visible in the VI-VII century Yenicapi excavations, where I worked with Cemal Pulak for some days.
Best wishes
Raffaele D'Amato

 Dear Raffaelle,
I will not copy what I have written at my blog here. This is not a forum for discussion. When the new book comes out if there is something to be written maybe I can write it on a comment for that Amazon page. Anyone can make comment at a blog and I do not censor comments. It is quite public on a blog.
My detailed criticism of the Osprey books is on my blog Rams, Ravens and Wrecks. If you search with the 'label' 'D'Amato ' or 'Osprey' you will see all posts, keep using the 'older posts' button until there are no more

I will make a review of the book (Osprey NV 244, Imperial Roman Warships 193-567AD) when it is
published and I have a copy in hand. Dr Raffaele has been kind and open to say exactly how he built up the dromon on the cover. I still think it is odd and will explain in more detail when I review the book.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Useless Critic

It seems Dr D'Amato cannot find his way around my blog.


I wrote..

Imperial Roman Warships 27 BC-193 AD (New Vanguard)
This book is on a par with its predecessor. It is full of errors and inconsistencies. The proof-reading is better than in the previous volume but the analysis and conclusions no better. One star is for nice photos of frescoes at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The author repeatedly shows a misunderstanding of how ancient galleys functioned. The reconstructive artworks are contrived and erroneus. In several places the author contradicts a statement by presenting evidence to the contrary. I have done a longer crit on my blog 'Rams Ravens and Wrecks'.
These books may send a whole cohort of people interested in galleys off in the wrong direction. Another arrives in February............


Andrea Salimbeti 1 day ago 
Ut supra. Consider that this is a useless critic, I am waiting to see clear the problems do you find in the book
Just a little note: I was not able to find the critics on my books on Your blogs. I saw also the critic to the Dhromon which will be published in the next book. It is clear, from them, that You are not acquainted with the works of Bonino and with the recent excavations of Yenicapi.
Best wishes
Raffaele D'Amato

He refers to these ?..
 YENIKAPI(link)- Byzantine ships from 9th century onward.
Yenikapi 4_ A 10th century galley. Highest surviving timbers show oarports. Interscalmium averaged 96cm. Oarbench sat below port on ends of the two futtocks.
Re. Bonino : I do not read Italian, but I would try if I could get the books.

Marco Bonino, Un sogno ellenistico: le navi di Nemi, Ospedaletto Pisa 2003 Seems to have been a misprint in Imperial Roman Warships which has 2013...
 Dettagli prodottoNon disponible.....

Dettagli prodottoNon disponible
 Dettagli prodottoNon disponible

The Desolation of Smog

Posted at

 My review:
This review is from: Republican Roman Warships 509-27 BC (New Vanguard) (Paperback)
This book is a poorly written and presented account. The reconstructions are erroneous and at least three directly based on preexisting works. Ancient authors are directly contradicted. Modern researches are not included. I have made a lengthier critique on my blog Rams, Ravens and Wrecks. The text is so idiosycratic and has so many typos that it seems not to have been proof-read. The suggestion that an oarcrew should chant a special song is made, despite Thucydides stating a good crew was a silent one and the crew included a musician who dictated the rythm. A suggestion is made that sailors wore a specific Etruscan costume. etc.
The single star is due to the concise chronology of naval wars - material available many other places.

Dear Sir
I am always open to criticism but constructive ones. This one is completely useless. You say that the reconstructions are erroneous. Where? It should be important to understand it. The reconstructions are directly based on ancient sources and modern books (all the modern bibliography is quoted) but of course not all the ancient authors are speaking about the same ship model neither existed only one type of Triremes or Quadriremes.
About the text has been review by Osprey, english mother-tongue people. About the mention of Thucydides, I can remember You that we are dealing not with ships of the Thucidides Greeks, but with Roman ships, and the song I reported is from an ancient source. The images of the Roman ships in the punic wars is copied from the Etruscan urnes, where sailors are dressed exactly like I have reconstructed.
At the moment, Your critics are just smog. But I am waiting for technical details, mention of the sources, etc..
Best wishes
Dr. Raffaele D'Amato

I replied:

Take a look at my blog Rams Ravens and Wrecks for detail.
Is this written by Andrea Salimbetti or Raffaele D'Amato ?

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Fake Books at Osprey

Browsing Osprey's January sale . Populated by the usual old or odd titles, my eye fell on the poll for new titles.
Yes, that's right. They are asking if you want a book that compares and contrasts Athenian and Spartan triremes. Great!, think all the galley-fans. Yes, we want more of that !

But wait for a moment, Can anyone write this book and with a straight face and say it is a book comparing and contrasting Athenian and Spartan triremes ?

1) There are just two depictions of galleys from a Spartan context that I know of. OK I have not seen everything but I do trawl all ancient maritime sources extensively and regularly. One is a tiny incomplete drawing on a comb from the seventh centuery, before triremes, and the other is the Orthaia plaque also from the seventh century.

2) Nowhere have we accounts of the Spartan navy - if that is such we should call it, rather than the Peloponnesian navy. Thus we have nowhere an account of the form or operation of a Spartan trireme. Thucydides, the Athenian, is the primary source for the war and for information on triremes.

In short, I fail to see how one could honestly produce a book which describes somethiong called a 'Spartan trireme'. The fact that it seems that Osprey are going to do do just that signifies there is no editorial control of their material. No reality control, even. Has someone put in a book proposal for this title or is it one to be cobbled together from existing titles ? - a now standard Osprey marketing tactic.

Admittedly Osprey do publish total fantasy like Orc Warfare and game rules now, perhaps these areas are bleeding into the non-fiction areas?

 This title has a blurb in the present tense, with no trace of irony...
To defeat your enemy, you must understand him. This volume offers an indispensable analysis of the most vicious killers of all - orcs. Born and bred for war, they are an awful, brutish, violent species and, despite their constant infighting and backstabbing, their horde armies remain a dire threat to all races. To them, war is life. Beginning with an examination of the fighting methods of the individual orc warrior, the book expands to look at how they do battle in their small warbands and in vast armies. Using vivid, illuminating illustrations, it reveals the tactics, technology and disposition of all the orc troop types, from lightly armed archers and heavily armored shock troops to their wolf cavalry and siege engines, uncovering startling regional variations and highly specialized fighters such as beserkers and battle shamans. Finally, it will explore specific key battles that orcs have fought in to develop the fullest possible understanding of these loathsome, terrifying creatures and the ways in which they go to war.
To write a book about a 'Spartan Trireme' would be to write a fantasy book. It could only end as a book using principally Athenian sources to hypothesise about their opposition. 'We may suggest that the Spartan triremes painted their sterns bright red' , that kind of thing.
If you are going to vote for this book be well aware you are asking for something that does not exist. Something that cannot exist. You will get a fake product.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Disease is Spreading !

A nice blog post at 'Into the Mælstrom' on card galleys ! Keep up the good work Francesc!
Click to visit

Go know you want to... try it out. As Sir Thomas Beecham said ' All things are worth trying once except  incest and folk dancing'. You don't even need a sense of rhythm to cut out and paste card ships together!
Hmm.. Beecham's Rule has been broken