Thursday, 19 November 2009


Boarding the enemy seems to have been a potential tactic at all times. With the development of the ram came another option but it seems even when the ships were not usually heavily manned as at Salamis or in the Peleponnesian War or Athen's Sicilian adventure boarding was attempted.
The question I ask myself is how did they get onto the other ship? At Salamis a Persian commander ends up in the drink after trying to board a Greek ship over the bow. Diodorus mentions beam-to-beam boarding - also happily commenting on failed attempts resulting in an early bath. The Roman raven was fitted at the bow so it was obviously normal for a ship to be in contact there from where the raven could be used and the raven was essentially a gangway.
When a ship was beached gangplanks were used to get on and off. These came up either side of the stern. As here in a Roman fresco. The Greek's called this an apobathra. The Greek navy crew for Olympias could get a crew onboard and with oars out in 1 minute 30 seconds !
The question is was there some simple gangway or planking carried to help in boarding attempts? The 'normal' apobathra could be used for this at the other end of the ship, perhaps ? Or was boarding always an exptemporised affair done in an ad hoc manner during battle ? I doubt there was no provision made. The raven was seemingly discontinued because it may have contributed to instability - it was a solid construction. But ravens were meant for larger ships and triremes and smaller ships tried boarding actions.
I cannot see an entire boarding party doing an Errol Flynn/Burt Lancaster and swinging across on ropes with daggers in their teeth because there was nowhere to swing the rope from !
The tower could have been an innovation which allowed a deluge of missiles to cover the precarious initial boarding attempts as enemy ship was assaulted or to prevent enemy from assaulting one's own ship? (pic below from Hotz Artworks)

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