Tuesday, 29 October 2019


After a a break which has been too long I am back to crank the blog into life again.

The book project has been slower than hoped and sucks the life out of everything else, but the light is visible a long way down the tunnel...on the plus side I have some new ideas on tactics, running the ships and there is so much to say - maybe another book ?

I aim now to post two pieces each week. One dealing with history/archaeology and the other with gaming/visits/books/etc.

Histarch pieces to come....

Tuna and triereis- The fabulous eternal links between the Mediterranean diet and galley warfare.

Shed Wars - The sawdust and soil flies when archaeologists are in dispute.

Shooting at sea in the pre-gunpowder era - Could a ballistics computer help with catapult accuracy?

The Fire weapon- Some ideas go up in smoke, and I nearly do too.


Figures for deck fighters and rowers - which ones ?What scale ? Where from ?

Large scale models of galleys for gaming - how I make mine

Book reviews to come...

Une nave Punica

Zea Harbour II - The latest volume on the naval docks of ancient Athens.

If you have a topic you would like me to address I would be happy to put something together,
Just put a comment in.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Egadi Montefortino Helmets : A smidgin more on a new sub-type

Haaretz has an article with a little more on the dozen or so Montefortino  helmets and a nice summarising article on Egadi finds and the history.

Article from Nov 2017 ! How up-to-date I am .....

Click on picture (from Haaretz) to go there.


Another picture and summary at Realm of History blog HERE

Monday, 29 July 2019


Two more rams have been lifted from the seabed at Egadi where th ebattle which decided the First Punic War took place.

From La Silicia local newspaper
See Italian report HERE.

Sicilian Regional News film  HERE

RPMN are rsponsible for the site excavation and their 2019 report is HERE.

Two Montefortino helmets not previously seen have also been exhibited.

Also a block of encrustation which includes a 70cm sword blade.,, will it be Spanish type?

As is the usual custom, the publication of the relics proceeds with infinite slowness. Some work on the ram inscriptions has already been done by Jonathan Prag but ......  NOTES here    Paper HERE

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Best Use Yet for a Trieres

courtesy The Economist 12/7/2019
Trierarch Salvini rubbles the EU
Salamis was not won for free states to fall to a resurrection of the USSR.

Monday, 1 April 2019


The obstreperous Sidetans are to be put in their place by a Seleukid flotilla.
The Nine'Poseidon' leads two Fours, Apollo and Arrow and two 'friends' the lembi 'Speed' and 'Quick. Poseidon is stuffed with troops and 4 catapults (3-span). Each Four has a 3-span in the bows.
The Sidetans have no big ships but they have fast ones. Threes are 'Alacrity', 'Dolphin' and 'Medea'. Also two sharks, 'Biter' and 'Dangerous'. No catapults and less deck fighters.

The Sidetans scatter while the Seleukids stay in a block.
 The Seleukids have to decide which group to go after, or all?

Arrow makes a charge at Alacrity but misses. Alacrity swoops behind Arrow to get into a dangerous position.

 Arrow is now directly behind Poseidon. Best possible position.
Following turn was tense to see who got to move first. The lembus could block the Three if it got in first or Poseidon might be just able to get out of the way....

Arrow gets to go first ! Good crew and speed. It lines up on Poseidon's stern and the oars dig deep for a charge!

Arrow whacks into the steering oar and stern of Poseidon...
Some missiles fly over to Arrow from the Seleukid flagship but the damage is done.
Arrow gets maxiumum damage on Poseidon and just has to pull away successfully....

All ships scratchbuilt 10mm scale. Figures Magister Militum.

Sunday, 31 March 2019


Replacing planks in shell-built hulls is tricky. Of course it can be done and was a common necessity.

Nidhug is a Gokstad-type Viking Period ship now more than 20 years old. It is not a narrow warship but a general purpose hull which is a bit deeper and rounder than one would like for fast rowing.

On the stocks - note shallow draught. (unladen)
Several planks need replacing having begun to weaken.

An upper plank needs replacing. The hole was easily knocked through after the plank was taken off.

 Planks removed reveal the lightness of construction. It is the edge-fastened planks which give th ehull most of its strength, not the internal fittings.

From the inside..th eupper strake nice and light coloured is the one shown rotten above. The clamps allow th eplank to be set fast in place before nailing. The floors and knees defining each sess or rowing place (interscalmium on an ancient galley). The cross-timber is a tofte, equivalent of a zuga.

The planks are fastened with a nail/spike that is driven in from the outside and rivetted over a rove or washer on the inside, so joining two planks together through their overlapping edges. This is clinker construction.

Copper spike and rove. These woul db eiron in the Viking Period. We use copper for security and because hand-smithed boatspikes cost a lot of money and are not always available.
Over-lapped joint with nail heads visible. They ar ein the old holes in the existing plank.
From the inside you can see the overlap joint of th enew and old planks. The spike end is rivetted over the rove.

Another type of joint is the scarf which overlaps two thinned-out plank ends to maintain the single thickness. This is  nailed close along its length.
Scarf gaping before closing.
Line of roves showing scarf fastened along its breadth,

The other end of the lap jointed plank. Looks great. Note lovely texture from years of tar application on old planks.
The replaced planking looking nice and new and neatly fitted into the hull.
Replacing planking in a draw-tongue edge fastened shell like the ancient war galleys was also tricky. Even more tricky than this. I will do a note on that to follow.

Monday, 18 March 2019


Galley fleets were held in neoria - shipsheds, when not in use. Neoria were one of the largest investments and were some of the most widespread and extensive installations in the ancient world.
Strabo tells us that the many tiled roofs of the neoria which housed the Rhodian fleet looked like ploughed fields of red earth extending around the harbour when viewed from the acropolis hill.
Fields of warships : Zea military harbour, Athens - picture by Iannis Nakis
Every galley had a roof over it through the 'off' season from October to April circa. They were dragged out of the water up slipways and propped-up on stays. Sometimes the shipshed could house two ships in file or several small ones side-by-side. The tiled roof was supported by stone columns and the slipway had transverse timber sleepers installed to allow the keel to be dragged up. Some shipsheds may have had an extension for storage of gear, in other places the removeable gear of the ships was stored safe and dry in special magazine.

Yo heave ho, yo heave ho..picture Iannis Nakis
The naval shipsheds were sensitive military areas and at least Rhodes prescribed the death penalty for unauthorised entry. At several places we know they were walled-off or located on islands.
Admiralty Island and shipsheds at Carthage
Shipsheds were necessary because war galleys have a light construction which is very sensitive to damage by marine organism infestation. Algae and encrusting organisms and boring organisms can infest the hull below the waterline and lead to rot and weakness. Ancient shipwrights had no anti-fouling paint. Freighters could sacrifice speed by adding lead sheathing but warships could not afford to do this.
Not a coral reef... extra weight and drag from marine fouling. Ship needs slipping and cleaning.
Another factor was the conditioning of the timbers. A galley has a limit to how far the timber should be saturated with water. Too little means the joins and joints are not fully closed below the waterline and the ship will take on water. Too much means the ship is heavier than need be and in a rowed war galley this can hinder combat performance. A good coating of tar, maybe resin, maybe a proprietary recipe known to ancient shipwrights, was laid onto the timber below the waterline to stop the timbers getting waterlogged but at some point the crew would recognise their vessel had lost its edge. Periodically throughtout the sailing season a galley could also be laid up in the shipsheds to dry out. Sometimes when stationed far afield the ships could be slipped on a suitable beach.

Viking ships are also galleys. Now is the time of year when ships must be readied to go into the water in April. Viking had neoria, they had shipsheds. The Nordic version is a naust. They have the same basic function as Mediterranean neoria.
Hornbore By naust, Bohuslan, Sweden

This weekend our ship league began this work. A direct analogue of what must have happened around the shipsheds of an ancient naval base.

Everything below the waterline must be cleaned and tarred. Everything above the waterline must be cleaned and tarred. Ancient naval galleys would have their ornament and decoration refurbished.
26m Ladby ship. Very similar to a triakonter in size and weight.Mast and 'rå' laying along the benches/thwarts//zyga
The bilges would be cleaned. Multi-tier galleys would have the accumulated debris from hundreds of men in the hold and bilges. Whilst it is unlikely that anyone actually crapped inboard as writers from the 19th century thought, the odd case of Trojan Revenge or seasickness would add a certain piquancy to the residue therein.
Slime, leaves, old water etc.
At the same time the thousands of draw-tongue fastenings must be inspected and repaired if found wanting.
The roves of nails holding the clinker-built ship together. Analogue of draw-tongues in a galley. Some corrosion here.
Damaged planking must be identified and changed-out. The hull should be perfect for the coming season. 
Damaged plank removed.
Rotten area of plank. New wood underneath  waiting to be cut and planed to shape.

Our ship league has had 10 or so large and small wooden Viking ships over the years. Unfortunately the local authorities did not permit the building of shipsheds of any form so they stand out in the weather. Sometimes covered, sometimes not, because moisture needs to be able to disperse from a wooden ship.

Sadly, some of the older ships, constructed as projects in cooperating with the local authroities cannot be maintained any longer. It is a big undertaking to look after a wooden ship and few people will or can take them on. Certainly, we have found, the local authorities will not do it and will not support us in doing it either.
In need of a caring hand...
The famous Marsala ship from Sicily nearly met the same fate in the 1990s. Money limitations and local politics nearly led to this ancient ship - the only remains of a galley up till then - being dumped. Its excavator, Honor Frost, even wrote an 'obituary ' for the ship in 1997.
How it can end....

Any removeable tackle must be checked and maintained. More of that later...
An additional factor which I will also discuss later is the effect of sun. It can be alarming in north european latitudes but in the Mediterranean even worse. The UV in sunlight degrades the structure of wood.

The pedalion - steering oar of a Viking galley - raised position, no tiller set on

A view of the steering oar to show how slender it is. Also the securing joint.

Homer's 'black ships'. Beneath years of tar a glimpse of the preserved wood in its original glorious gold.
A longship on stocks by the waters edge...some spring cleaning and she will be off again.