Wednesday, 9 June 2021


 Latest Poopcast now up on YT.

Part 2 of an examination of the periplous. 

Channel link at top left.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021


 A recommendation for a war-galley blog. ALKEDO is an Italian (Valerio , I believe) and models 1/2400 war-galleys and wargames with them.

Valerio blogs about his games, modelling his own figures and ships and buildings.

Anndd... being so lucky as to live near Ostia in Italy he has some nice photos of original monuments for you to be jealous over.

Take a bird's eye view of war-galley gaming HERE

See the original 'Alkedo' in my Poopcast 2  about 'little ships'on YT -link top left.

Friday, 4 June 2021

Phantom Lemb Syndrome

Liburnians and Illyrian Lembs Iron Age Ships of the Eastern Adriatic.
Boršić, Luka & Dzino, Danijel & Rossi, Irena. (2021).
Archaeopress, Oxford

Most people who lose a limb suffer residual pain and feel like the appendage is still there some of the time. We all have the feeling now and then that we still own some possession we lost or gave away long since.

This is a book which one hopes will consolidate the vague ideas and references that lurk in the back of one's mind concerning the elusive lemb. That war-galley one has heard of but lost a clear picture of what it was, Like a jabberwock or the Schleswig-Holstein Question. Brilliant, this tome should plug the gap!  But the phantom feeling remains even after reading it. 

Many books make reference to the lembus / lembos which was a small galley used to support larger types or as a raiding or pirate vessel. But, as with the liburnian(sic) which this book also covers, one is left with that feeling there is not much really there.

Lembus? on an Illyrian coin 200BC

Liburnians and Illyrian Lembs tries to flesh -out the small-galley experience and consolidate what we know about these ships. This book is a specialised offering devoted to the lembus and the liburnian.  The lembus is a diminutive type of war-galley that crops up  in the 3rd century BC and has a career down to Later Roman times. The liburnian was adopted by the Romans in some form as their standard light war-galley in Imperial times.

200-odd pages gets you about 80 pages of collated archaeology and discussion and an exhaustive catalogue of literary extracts featuring said ships. There are 4 maps and 30 figures, some in colour. 

The difficulties of writing about ancient vessels with no modern noun to hand always gives problems when writing about war-galleys.

The approach adopted here is to suggest we call the lembus (Latin) or lembos(Greek) a 'lemb'.
They think the latin and Greek plurals are clumsy. The problem here is that lemb has no related name or connotation in English. Best to stick with Latin and Greek because these ships only exist in the world of ancient war-galleys, I think.

Similarly with the liburnian. They opt for liburnica. OR liburnian. Or liburna

This smacks of making montaines of molehills. There is a pre-existing format -lembus-lembi and lembos-lemboi. And liburnian. Kein problem. 

(Neither am I encouraged to support 'lemb' because it sounds like the Danish euphemism for a male member!)


The inclusion of recent finds in marine archaeology is a big plus. Especially from countries we don't hear so much from in the anglophone world viz. war-galleys. There have been some finds of sewn boats that add up to North Adriatic boat 'tradition' from the late centuries BC. 

The catalogue of 'testamenta' or extracts concerning said vessels is the main reason to buy the book. Lots of obscure - though often slight -  references to these ships are interesting and revealing to browse through. 


Neither liburnians nor lembi were sewn ships. The liburnian and the lembus are not the same ship type. The liburnian was probably larger than the lembus. The original lembus was probably enlarged for use in war. Message ends. Of course there many more details but as for addressing the identity of these ships this is, for me  at least, disappointingly minimalist.


The authors never try to recreate an image of the ships. No line-drawings. No artists impressions.( One brief refernce - a paragraph, a photo and a line-drawing draws an analogy with a Burmese dug-out canoe but this goes nowhere.).This can be sensible to avoid the slings and arrows of outraged armchair experts disappointed that their pet fancies are not included but not to even attempt to reconstruct the ships the book is about, not one ship type but two ship types! Looks like carelessness. 

Coin of the Illyrian Daorsi tribe. 200BC

The archaeological remains of sewn hulls are from vessels of 8 metres or so. These cannot be the vessles that transport 50 troops at a time or contest the seas with triereis and pentereis.... So we are left with our imaginations dangling.

Something which is not dangling is a stone relief recently found in Croatia which is from 'Liburnia' where the liburnians come from. The authors do not attempt reconstruction of the ship illustrated. BUT, and I kid you not....they actually state..'no ram or other extension is shown on the bow which is shown with an unusually(sic) looking circular shape,' (Who is going  to tell them..never seen a pine-cone on Roman sculpture?)

roundish thing approaches .. what could it be?

The Novilara ships are included with some caveats but the doubts on the stela's authenticity need to be addressed more deeply or the stela should be ruled out.

The authors also make a valiant attempt to decry any hint that the inhabitants of the eastern Adriatic coast were piratical by nature.They were, apparently, forced into it by their elites: who were forced into it by the need to participate in a modern world of expensive internationally-traded luxury goods: because they had to maintain their elite status. Any resulting piracy was part of the same system of exchange as trading, the only difference being the negative perception. Let that sink in. Rape, burning, looting, murder,  theft, ransoming, slavery and protection rackets add up to simple trading. Just the pirates were forced into it by socio-economic pressures. Now where have I heard that before recently?

Language : this book is a multi-lingual collaboration so it must have been a chore to keep the translation issues under control. I am not one to carp, dealing with a second language in my everyday world I know the problems but there are quite a few errors, none hinder reading or understanding. (but what is a swamping ship?)

The BIG bonus with this book is the compilation of extracts that deal with ancient war-galleys and use of light galleys. Being able to look at all these in one volume is justification for the book alone. But it would be a good one to get from the library to peruse.

Last but not least, (Archaeopress!) this cost me an arm and a leg. And I still get twinges from their loss.

My earlier entry on the liburnian HERE.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021


The Mariner's Museum at Newport News, Virginia continues to put out YT videos.

A recent one deals with ancient coinage by using examples from the museum's collection. Some of the coins in the collection are exceptionally fine.

Many of the coins include details of ancient galleys .

The ancient war-galley required a large and well-motivated crew and finding the money to pay them was always a problem. One could argue the Peloponnesian War was settled by the Spartans being able to offer a higher rate of pay to oarsmen. 

When offered personal riches by Cyrus the Younger, Lysander famously replied he would rather receive enough coin to pay his rowers an extra obol on their wage. He was given the money and proceeded to 'empty the ships of his enemies' by this simple means.

A Persian 'Daric' - key to the Peloponnesian War stalemate

A Mysian silver obol of c.400BC - 4 of these was the monthly pay of a war-galley oarsman

This video is well worth a view to get a quick overview of the minting, use and iconography of ancient coins.

Watch the vid HERE.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021


 I successfully(?)  fought the nine-headed beast of video-editing again and Poopcast 5 was created.

Suddenly, it was not a good day to be a Leucadian.

A first part discussing what the periplous was and setting up Part the Second which tries to get a firm hold of this slippery eel.


Premiere is on 30/4/2021 17.00 Euro Time

Friday, 16 April 2021


 My latest models have been sent down the slipways.

1/1000 scale 

They are triereis of the Salamis period. The type which would have been constructed under Themistocles' scheme to use the Laurion silver strike for a war-galley fleet instead of frittering it away on a cash share-out.

These triereis are not closed-in. The deck joins the forecastle and the poop but does not cover the oarsmen.

Such ships had canvas sun-shades which could be rigged to protect the working oarsmen and hide screens which could be erected to protect them from missiles in battle.

Fully decked triereis had more space for deck fighters and the oarsmen could be fully protected by erecting hide side-screens down the length of the ship.

Side-screens below a light deck(left) or along the gunwale(right)

After Salamis - maybe because of experience in close fighting with the Persian fleet that was heavily manned with 30 or 40 deck fighters per ship as opposed to the dozen or so on Athenian ships - the Athenian fleet was retro-fitted with full decks. These ships were employed by Kimon to hammer the Persian fleet in Ionia and smash them at the sea-land battle at the mouth of the River Eurymedon c. 469BC.

'Excuse me, is this the Battle of The Eurymedon?'
 'Actually we are in a generic Edwardian print but if it helps your focus let's call it that name you said'

As usual in a simple democracy the populace tired of Kimon and he was banished to exile. Though he did return later and fought again at sea. Amazingly, an ostrakon with his name (Kimon son of Miltiades - yes THE Miltiades) has been found at Athens, a real link with historical events. (can we have a decked trireres next please? Ed.)

A fully-decked trieres was slower than an undecked one but the advantages must have been clear. As far as we know all subsequent triereis had a continuous deck. 

See the red-head in rowing position 'port thranite number 7' ?)

However, a solid deck for fighting on is not the same as a light deck which protects against the sun and weather. It was the tetreres which introduced this as a major structural feature. But we actually have no evidence for the exact nature of a fully decked trieres in the Classical or Hellenistic periods.

Hordes of tiny heads, each one individually sculpted with the portrait of an ancient Athenian

But a decked ship is NOT the same as a cataphract ship. Cataphracts have a permanently-mounted system of wooden screening to protect the interior and the oarsmen. Kimon's triereis were not cataphracts, neither were the Persian-Phoenician vessels. This came later...
'We're riding along on the crest of a polyester velveteen-nervøs velour wave and the sun ..etc.' 

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Maybe someone thinks blogs are passe and will be gradually phased out. Who knows?