Monday, 26 July 2021

NEW DOWN THE SLIPWAY : Monokrotic Pentekontereis

The pentekonter was the precursor to the trieres. It was the F4, a great fighter from a generation previous to, and totally outclassed by, the F15 - the trieres - which ushered in a new concept of ancient galley warfare. The pentekonter could cruise at 4.5knots or make a burst of speed possibly up to 6 knots. It could accelerate faster than a triakonter but nothing like the trieres. It could not turn as sharply as the smaller ship but probably as well as a trieres.

The pentekonter had 50 oars - the name means a '50' . The ship was probably 30 metres or so long and the vase paintings which show them depict elegant vessels with fine lines. They were fast and agile. With a beam at the waterline of only 2.3 metres or so and a draught of 0.6 metres.

6th Century BC Athenian vase

Pentekonters did not necessarily have rams. They probably had a fore-foot because this was the standard hull form for the Greek Archaic and Classical eras. The first ram-armed war-galley battle, fought in the Sardinian Sea between Phokaians and the combined forces of Carthaginians and Tyrrhenians, took place c.540BC. The pentekonter was the first true war-galley.

Reconstruction of early pentekonter : Late Minoan date

Greek Ship models .com version of a pentekonter

I based my model on a ship with a partial deck /catwalk to allow an element of deck fighters to be perched on the model if desired. It is ram-armed but I could trim the forefoot and paint it as wood if I just want a transport or courier ship.

The oarsmen are modelled, as usual, with individual features taken from surviving statues and vase paintings.

The key characteristic of this model is that it has a single tier of oarsmen. This is a monokrotic oar system. Later developments led to a two-tier pentekonter with a dikrotic oar system. This is the next model down the slipway!

As far as we know, no monokrotic pentekonters were ever built as cataphracts, with a full deck and enclosed oarsmen. Although Demetrius son of Antigonos may have used these ships as the basis for his 'gunboats' at the siege of Rhodes.

Size comparison with a trieres at rear.

Now enjoy the sight of a flotilla of monokrotic pentekonters taking it easy during peacetime manoeuvres 'somewhere in the Aegean'.

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