Thursday 20 October 2016


The saga continues. It is mainly because the Osprey NewVanguard225 has been screaming from my bookshelf for a year or so. It seems to take up more space than an encyclopedia. Partly becaue when I first saw the book I was simply glad the subject had been addressed. This I somewhat regret. I hope to lay the ghost by writing these blogposts.
 Last time plate D got it. The Quinquereme also illustrated in plate D is not error-free but for now I will jump to plate E- 'The Siege of Syracuse 212B.C.'.

What a dog's dinner. Apart from the dress of the sailors at the stern (see previous blogpost).
..warning for the faint-hearted

The most salient problem is the theme of the picture, which is the deployment of a sambuca against the walls of Syracuse.

If you are in doubt as to what a sambuca is look here.

The sambuca of the siege of Syracuse was an arrangement of ships and a ramp for mounting the walls and was so-named because it looked like the musical instrument. Note the soundbox - the ships - and the neck - the ramp - linked by ropes, the strings.

The caption to the plate is largely an excerpt from a translation of Polybius (Historia VIII,4).
By this means the caption author(s?) are hoist by their own petard. The contraption in the plate bears little resemblance to Polybius' description. The ship the thing is mounted-on is also odd.

OK let's go through Polybius' recipe and see how one should make a sambuca.
Nice try but no drinking while blogging!
 1) Take ONE quinquereme.
2) A ladder four feet wide (1.2 metres ) with a side-railing.
3) The next bits need two ships. Here we have only one !? Skip over..
4) The affair is raised by men in the stern pulling lines which run through a block at the masthead. In the plate there are precisely four sailors in the stern. One is musing on the massive cable in front of him. The others are making themselves look busy to avoid having to pull on it. The end of the cable is indistinctly terminated in the deck. If you follow the cables to the masthead it is apparent that the sambuca itself is not connected to the stern. The cables illustrated are th emast-stays. The forward mast-stays terminate in thin air or off the ship on land? The sambuca hangs in the block suspended from the foremast and a single cable runs down therefrom to the deck. Unmanned. The size of the sambuca makes it unlikely it could have been the foremast that supported it. Polybius must mean the mainmast.In any casehe clearly says the sailors hauling it up are in the stern of the ships.
5) The platform at the end of the ladder was protected by wicker screens on three sides which were thrown off when the escalading troops rushed up to get onto the wall. The wicker screens are still in place in the plate.
 1) On a pair of quinqueremes lashed together,
2)Mount over the junction a ladder 1.2metres wide and very long to project before the ships.The ladder is roofed-over and has side-railings.
3)Arrange functional tackle running from the ladder over the mainmasts to enable sailors in the sterns of the ships to raise the ladder with the aid of sailors in the bows who will use poles.
4)The ladder is equipped with a platform at the end occupied by four men protected by wicker screens on three sides.
5) When the platform is in place above the wall then the screens are thrown down and the main escalading party rushes up the ladder and onto the wall.

How long was the sambuca ?
To get maximum lift the ladder must have had a line fitted as near to its extremity as possible. Maybe 2metres behind the tip or immediately behind the platform. When elevated this point cannot have been raised higher than the top of the mast which was the fulcrum.

The mast top block of a quinquereme would be at about 12 metres over the waterline.
Solving the triangle for a hypothetical slope in action for the ramp of 45 degrees...
The sambuca was in the order of 17 metres long. Polybius says it projects a long way forward of the ships and so it does.

Putting all this together we get an arrangement somewhat like this...

Check this with Polybius
The sambuca in red projects forward as it lies ready to be raised.
The lines to raise it run from behind the landing platform over the mainmasts and to parties of seamen (B) in the sterns ready to haul it up.
In the bows (A) of each ship are parties of seamen with poles to help raise and position the ladder.
Troops wait on deck ready to swarm up the ladder when the landing platform is in place on the walls of Syracuse.

While plate E is down let us kick it some more.
The scale of the ship - a quinquereme - is gross. The timbers on the tower at the ship's stern are approximately 20cm or more thick which maybe they have to be because it is armoured with metal shingles and occupied by Chinamen and a bolt-thrower. The height of the deck above the waterline is well over 3 metres judging by the height of the men on the deck.

 It has a strange gangway built onto the side of the bow. There appear to be men marching up the bow ornament. The pedalion disappears through the oarbox which has two holes in it for some reason. In this situation the pedalion cannot be lifted out of the water by angling it back or outward to any great degree. There is no ventilation course of louvres or apertures for the oarsmen who would soon expire.
Plate E : Too-close-up

One should not look landward because the Syracusans are using one of those fairground crane toys to attack the Romans are are shining searchlights on them to set them on fire. The Romans fight back with geometrically impossible combinations of sambucæ.

On the back of this book - Osprey new Vanguard 225 is written ' With dazzling, meticulously researched artwork, it examines Republican Rome's warships...'
Maybe not.
Messrs Connolly and McBride must be gently rotating in their respective Eternities.


'Don't cry. It's only an Osprey.'
A few things to straighten out about ancient ships. Yes, still banging on about the Osprey New Vanguard 225 'Republican Roman Warship'. On the principle that bad medicine is better in small doses, here is another teaspoonful.

How Big is a Ship ?  OR  Is that an Almost-Trieres?
Palazzo Barberini ship (No relation. Ed.)
Plate D of the book has an illustration of a 'hemiolia-trihemiolia'.
'It has been reconstructed with oars at two levels.'

Said to be based upon a mosaic at the Palazzo Barberini mosaic and the Palazzo Spada stern along with the Lindos stern and the Samothrace prow.

The thing that hit me between the eyes was the statement that the ship is 'about 60ft long.'Sixty feet is about 18 metres! Olympias - a trieres- is 37 metres or so. hmmm.

Next the statement that the ship has' 52 oars a side'. He takes a calculation from Morrison ?(which I have never come across) that there were three tiers of oars 26+26+13. ? What ?  26 plus 26 plus 13 is 65. Last time I checked. I think it still is. And..'A quarter double manned '. What ?

Next one looks at the illustration and counts laboriously that there are shown..
26 oars in the upper row.
27 in the second row.
13 in the lower half row.
Giving 66.
Plate D from New Vanguard 225 - This is 60ft long.
This is a train wreck of a caption. On wonders if it is the author or the illustrator or both who can take credit. It also shows the woeful standard or absence of any technical editing or proof-reading at Osprey.

A hemiolia is a ship with one-and a half men per half-oar-room. The extra half gave extra speed but also allowed 1/3 of the crew to down oars and be ready to fight while the ship could still make way. It probably descended from pirate vessels. It had almost the speed and agility of a dikrotic vessel but required fewer crewmen (about 50 rowers) and was lighter. The hemiolia had all oarsmen on about the same level, the half-file being inboard in the widest part of the hull. It is possible the mid-half was double-manned instead of them having their own oars.
The trihemiolia is a ship with two and a half men per half oar-room. The extra half gave extra speed and allowed 1/5 of the crew to down oars and be ready to fight while the ship could still make way. It probably descended from pirate vessels and was favoured by the Rhodians. It had almost the speed and agility of a trieres but required fewer crewmen (120 rowers or so as opposed to 170 for a trieres).
The trihemiolia  had oarsmen on three levels as per a trieres but the upper two would be closer vertically than in a trieres.
And you cannot get 3 rows right ? - don't think about justifying this thing...

There was no 'hemiolia-trihemiolia'. Just as there was no 'trieres-'tetreres'. The point of the name is that a hemiolia is 'a ship with a half(extra) file of oarsmen. Halfway between a monokrotic and dikrotic pentekonter. A trihemiolia is ' a trieres with a half-file of oarsmen'. Halfway between a dikrotic ship and a trieres.

Reconstructing this hybrid ship with oars at two levels is meaningless. If it is a hemiolia it has oarports at two levels - one a half-row- or one, and oarsmen at the same level. If it is a trihemiolia it has oarports at three levels and oarsmen at three levels.

Lastly, the number of oars and the length of the ship.

Morrison and Coates estimate the oars on a hemiolia at 50 and on a trihemiolia at 120.

Rava-D'Amato state there were 130 on their hybrid. And draw it with 132. This gives 132 men in a crew which was trying to save on personnel whereas the trihemiolia had just 120. But wait ! We must add the 'quarter double-manned'. This raises the total of rowers to 162 or 163. A saving of just 7 or 8 men over a trieres, hardly worth it.

And length. Here, size is not everything but it is a lot. My initial bugbear is that it is quoted in feet. In a European publication in the 21st century.... It is really easy ,online even,to find the length of a hemiolia at 21metres and a trihemiolia at about 32metres. 60ft is 18 metres. 'Go figure' as they say in their American accents.
John Coates' trihemiolia

 And the deck is wrong. Oops..

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Fancy Dress for Roman Marines ? : The answer is dangling in the wind

Halloween approaches. Dressing up is de rigeur. But no ! What is this ? Cultural appropriation by Republican Roman naval soldiery ?
Whatever next ?
Osprey books are a mine of small-scale errors. The format predisposes them to fail on details. It is impossible to cram 'all about X' into a booklet.

Republican Roman Warship is a subject I would like to be as positively disposed toward as I could be. It does grate a little when reading it though.. One asks is it the translation?, or are these really  the words of the author ?

One little sub-theme in the book is the costume of Roman marines. There are not so many depictions of Roman marines and when they do turn up they often look rather like contemporary legionary soldiers. It might be nice, then, to discover some overlooked evidence. But trying too hard sometimes gets the wrong result.

In Roman Republican Warships (Osprey New Vanguard 225) RaffaeleD'Amato suggests that marines in the Republican period - or even all sailors? - wore a distinctive garb. This garb is derived from sculpted Etruscan alabaster cinerary urns of which hundreds have been found in the Volterra area.

Shout! They cannot hear you !
This is illustrated by Giuseppe Rava in several contexts.

The first is an assault on Syracuse where sailors struggle with a monstrous pedalion as their monstrous quinquereme deploys a version of the sambuca against the city walls.

The second is a sea battle where a bow-armed marine dressed as a Spanish sword-and-buckler man supports legionaries advancing over a corvus.

Aie caramba!

Although he does not state it  directly (unless I missed it) D'Amato considers the Volterra urns to show a specific Etruscan costume which somehow relates to republican Roman sailors/marines. Two jumps too many in my opinion.

Firstly, the question of whether the costume on the Volterro urns is a( Etruscan or b) a sailor's/marine's costume.

There are many urns at Volterro. Many examples show stock scenes from mythology and two are recurrent.

The first one is the Rape of Helen.

The men have clothes which are full enough to fall in pleats. Cloaks and cute caps. Paris(?) in the centre and his sidekick to the right have no shoes.

The second is Odysseus and the Sirens.

You may see that there is a common style of dress amongst the crew of the ships in both cases.
Maybe an example of Odysseus' crew with heads on will help also..
'A jock-strap, a jock-strap, my kingdom for a jockstrap...'
The crew have rather gauzey clothing which falls in pleats, cloaks round their shoulders and cute hats with a good firm chin tie. Odysseus, meanwhile, is starkers save for a cloak and cap and no chin-tie necessary for a hero!

What is going on here ? Are these really the clothes of Republican sailors/marines and are they anything of the sort from Etruscan contexts?

First let the Vatican Museum tell us about what these objects are

The rite of cremation, with the resulting funerary custom of placing the ashes of the deceased in urns in sculpted stone or modelled in terra-cotta, is particularly documented in the interior of northern Etruria from the 4th century BC. A great quantity of cinerary urns, with particular artistic and typological characteristics was produced in the main Etruscan cities of this vast area (Volterra, Chiusi and Perugia). The reliefs that decorate the front of the casks are the result of an independent development of the Hellenistic figurative repertoire. Greek myths and, more typically, Etruscan myths co-exist, united by the adoption of the same figurative language, in one of the most characteristic manifestations of Etruscan artistic craftwork. The urns were sculpted from the natural stone of the area which was alabaster for Volterra and Chiusi, and travertine for Perugia, but there were also some less valuable stones. LINK

The art here is not representations of naval themes for a naval audience it is representations of well-known stock themes from mythology and history for a civilian audience.
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show WAS 'The Wild West'  Discuss.

The two stories here are of exotic characters from the east acting out specific scenes.

Paris and his cronies are Trojans abducting Helen. They are dressed as exotic asiatics. Their full clothes are a contrast to the usual clothes of Latium and Etruria. We can see the same stereotypical representations used to depict mithras at later dates. Mithras was an eastern god often adopted by soldiers. He is always shown in characteristic eastern dress of the magi.
Mithras from Diocletian's baths
 A dead giveaway are the Phrygian caps. They are constant signifiers of eastern characters in Classical art.
Vatican Æneid manuscript : how to tell the Trojans are from the East?
Also, the extra folds around their midriffs are from long over-tunics bound-up to shorten them for easy movement rather than some padded armour.

The Parisians also have cloaks. No cloaks aboard Amato/Rava's ships.

Any padding or jack-like garment as worn by the Osprey characters would appear to be misinterpretation of the pleated clothes from the cinerary urns.

On to Odysseus.

Odysseus' crew have the same exotic(?) garb. The folded/pleated clothes which are figure -hugging and folded-up as per the Parisians. Cloaks figure again. The ones absent in Osprey.

The hat situation is amusing. Now the story of Odysseus and the Sirens includes a key detail which can involve headwear. The cunning skipper blocked his sailor's ears with wax etc so they could no thear the siren song of the Sirens. Contra the Parisians' headgear, Odysseus' crew have hats and ear bandages to emphasise their auditorily-challenged state. This is also exactly what John William Waterhouse did to depict the situation in his 1891 canvas.
Surely not?
So where do we stand now in relation to Republican Roman marines/sailors in action on the pages of Osprey New Vanguard 225 ? Unless these men are pretending to be asiatics - a hideous cultural appropriation and racial sterotyping we should all abjure - then they are dressed in medieval jacks. An anachronism too far, surely.

No. They are actually cultural stereotypes. As devoid of reality and sense  as those who complain about  cultural appropriation and sterotypes.

And were the officers naked ?

This is overlooking the problem of how an Etruscan style should find its way into the Republican Roman navy.....let's leave that question dangling to the four winds, like Odysseus' manhood.

Take that you Roman (Osprey) navy !

Monday 17 October 2016

Wierd Wave-Riders : Etruscan (?) Ships

The odd ship on the' Aristonothos krater' is worth following-up. Let us dig a bit deeper into what is going on with this peculier vessel.
 In the previous post I suggested that, for my money, the hooked beak prow of the right-hand ship drawn by Aristonothos was a misinterpretation or, rather, a failed interpretation of what a real ship may have looked like. I have dragged a few additional pieces of evidence to gether to see if more light can be shed on the matter.

The Aristonothos depiction dates from the first quarters of the seventh century B.C..

Tanum, Bohuslan 1500bc?
We have rock art from Bronze-Age Scandinavia which resemble the Hjørtspring boat from 300b.c. that have structures which are really cut-waters.

A reconstruction of the Hjortsrping boat : prow not ram

The very first ram-like structures depicted in Mediterranean art are from ceramic fragments from the proto-Greek  or 'Helladic' culture circa 1600B.C. We have no evidence as to their intended function.
Iolkos fragments 1600b.c.

The shape of the prow is, however, very reminiscent of a later ram.

Later depictions of what may be a ram we have are from the mid-to-late eightth century B.C. These are fragments of greek 'Geometric style pattery which are not precisely dateable.
Late eighth century rams?
The pointed prow of the ships may be a cutwater to aid navigability or may already have become a weapon but we do not know. Homeric texts speak of ships but do not mention a ram.

The shape of the prow does differ from the Iolkos fragments.

The very first dateable depiction we have of a ship armed with a ram is on the relief slabs from Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh which date to after 701B.C. because they show the flight from Tyre in 701B.C..

Pointed ram
It is interesting to note that the ram is not what we come to know and love as a bronze hull-opener in the Classical Age. These rams are pointed cut-waters with a (metal?) sheath.

Fastening collar seen to left.

The next depictions are contemporary with  or later than  the Aristonothos picture and show ship's prows modelled as boar's heads. No remains have revealed a structure anything like this. Maybe it is a symbolic representation of the mode of attack ? A charging boar.
Nicosthenes vase c.525b.c.
The  first written description of ramming in naval warfare is  the Battle of the 'Sardinian Sea' in c.540b.c from Herodotos where a Phocaean fleet defeated a combined Carthaginian-Etruscan fleet which outnumbered them two-to-one.

The point of this short survey is to show that there was not a single structure we can identify as a typical ram before the Second Persian War or even the Second. We can identify several structures which resemble the later rams we have definite knowlege of.

: They are located at the foot of the bow
:They project forward to a point
:They are fitted to galley, longships, not round ships

Back to Aristonothos

There is some evidence to identify the round ship on the krater as Etruscan. This is on the basis of crab and cross motifs on the shields of the warriors on the round ship. The only problem I see with this is that why would Aristothonos have Etruscan symbols accurately depicted on his vase when he was a colonial Greek. ? Also, crab symbols turn up on coins from Sicily and Italy alike. More likely would the explanation be that the whole item is Etruscan but the potter's name agues against this.

Is there anything we can find to explain the bow structure of the round ship ?

First, the right-hand ship is probably the one the potter identifies with. The right-hand ship has a boar's-head ram and is comfortably identified as an attacking warship. This is not two ships out for a sail in consort. Few would argue that an item decorated with a scene of aggression would most likely be ´made, commissioned, owned by the aggressor's faction. People under the Blitz did not hang photos of Heinkel 111s on their living room walls.

Next, the target ship is therefore foreign. This would make more understandable any misinterpretation of the exotic ship type by the Greek potter.

Second, there are some odd ships depicted in non-Etruscan contexts.

On a Spartan cloak brooch from 8th century b.c..
This scene seems to be a direct analog of the Aristonothos krater. So the orignal composition is Spartan, not 'Tyrhennian' and the antagonists need not necessarily include Etruscans. In addition, we can see here that the right hand ship is not a 'round ship' but a galley - there are rowers under the catwalk deck. It may be a 'kourkoros' which is is a galley-freighter but it is not a sailing ship as on the krater.
Detailed drawing of scene

Note that the bow structures on both sides have a serrated appearance. Both left and right ships.

Closer examination of the krater reveals this detail there, too.

On this drawing it looks like wales are extended out in front of the stempost. As they are on later warships also.

This serrated edge, again on a manned warship - with a waterline ram - is also shown another brooch which is also Greek from the eighth century b.c..

We have now shown that BOTH details originate in a Greek, not Etruscan context.

Tunisia 3rd cen A.D.
Is there any more we can discover about the 'hook' structure? Well, there are some freighters from Roman contexts which have unusual looking bows.

But these do not mimic the Aristonothos ship completely.

Grafito, Veii 650b.c.Etruscan
There are 'round ships' with upturned hulls that have a ram/cutwater depicted. The ship at left is definitely from an Etruscan context - Veii in the early seventh century B.C.
This means thatEtruscan  artists could draw a round ship - equipped with mast and sails, upturned prow and a waterline ram. ..and this is only a graffito..This depiction is not so different in age from the Aristonothos krater but a ram has been added convincingly, at the waterline as a warship would have it.

Then we have some ship profiles which a) are Etruscan and b) have a similar form to our subject.

The convex bow which ends in a point followd by the stem post is here as on the krater. The ships have has sails, mast and rigging to identify them as round ships. Everything is here except the ram. Oh. yes, and the catwalk deck and the warriors.

Here may be the answer so long sought.

The warriors indicate a fighting ship. The deck for them to parade on indicates a fighting ship. These features together, when transposed to our Etruscan sailing ship produce a foreign/Etruscan ship to a potter. Oh, yes and there should be a ram to make them warships. Add one to taste.

The left-hand ship from the Aristonothos krater contains accurate details from seventh century b.c. warships. However, in an effort to depict a Greek ship attacking an Etruscan one, the 'Observer's Book of Etruscan Ships' not being to hand, the artist produced a mash-up. Nothing too ludicrous but one which showed the difference between 'us' - left ship and 'them' - right ship.

A nautical expert might have told him that a ram needed to be at the waterline to stave-off attacking warships. Much later, some ship's rams were mounted to attack the enemy hull just  above the waterline but here we are at a time when ram warfare was at its infancy.

An impact on the hooked ram would place crazy stresses on the freighter's bow oblique to its structural grain - the longitudinal planking of the ship and the keel. Rams were designed to essentially keep stresses in the plane and direction of the keel where the ship was strongest so a blow could be safely dealt.
Freighter bows = continental margin plus accretionary wedge : Warship's ram =  Oceanic plate

Having discussed one Etruscan topic, I have another in mind. 'Fancy Dress for Roman Marines' or 'Does your skipper go naked on watch ?' Coming next.