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Tess Myers

Mr. Cian

Latin I

12/11/17

Ancient Roman Ships

During the Ancient Roman times, land wars and battles were frequently being fought. It

was when Roman ships were introduced, that naval battles also begun, and resulted in hardship

and death. In modern times like today, our shipbuilding is based off science. As well, we can

use computers and advanced tools to make the design and building processes easier. Back then,

these ships were considered an art. Rather than engineering science, those building these ancient

ships, relied on rules of thumb. They also inherited techniques and personal experience from

others.

Overall, as stated before, the Romans were traditionally land-based, not sailors. They

learned to build ships from the people they frequently conquered. For example, the

Carthaginians, Greeks, and Egyptians.

There are few artifacts, consisting of documents, which give us insight of descriptions

and representations concerning the masts, sails, and rigging of the ships. Specifically, after

examining excavated vessels, experts learned that the Ancient Romans build the outer hull first.

They then continued with the frame and putting together the rest of the ship. Using the locked

mortise and tenon method, we know that planks were also used and joined together.

There different types of ships, one being warships. This type of ship was built to be

lightweight, fast, and very maneuverable. It was very vital that they were durable, so that during

a battle they would not sink, even after being damaged. Most often, warships sailed near the

coast, therefore their build was very long, and not deep. A ram made of bronze was attached,
with the intention of piercing enemies’ hulls, or breaking their oars. With the factors of human

power from the oarsmen, the wind, and the long, skinny build, these ships were very fast! The

most dominant type of warship was called the Trireme. They consisted of three rows, top,

middle, and lower rows. There were about 50 rowers in each row. It is important to note, rowers

were not slaves. Mostly, they were either normal Roman civilians, or those enrolled in the

Military. It wasn’t until after the First Punic War, that the Romans really began building

warships, and developing their Navy. In 311 BCE a committee was established, which evolved

the Roman Navy, leading it to become the largest and most powerful navy force in the

Mediterranean.

It was in 241 B.C. that the Roman Republic and the North African city-state of Carthage

began a naval war. Harsh feelings had been established for more than 20 years after the First

Punic War, and it was time to confront the issue. Very wealthy Romans donated large sums of

money which allowed Rome to build only one fresh fleet of 200, since Carthage was unable to

properly train sailors. The Romans put their new armada to sea, which they used to besiege land

forces near Sicily. It was then when the Carthaginians sent forces to try and relieve this pressure,

that the two came head to head. This ship to ship battle occurred near the Egadi Islands. It just

so happens, that right before this battle, the Roman commander decided to cut its’ ships weight.

They did this by stripping the ship of everything, except the bare necessities for combat. It was

this decision that proved to be the key factor in the Romans winning this battle. The Romans

were able to completely outmaneuver the heavier ships of the Carthaginians. The Romans also

used their bronze rams, which was stated before, to collide and ultimately destroy the opposing

ships. It was after most of the Carthaginians’ fleet was killed or captured, that they surrendered

to end the war. This was known as The Battle of the Aegates Islands.
Merchant ships were also built, and used to transport cargo. These journeys were

traveled over long distances. Therefore, speed was not a priority. These ships were very large,

and their hull was quite deep underwater. This meaning that they could not sail too close to the

coast, or they could structurally be damaged. The smallest merchant ships could carry a capacity

of 70 tons, and the largest could carry at most 600 tons. Overall though, the average merchant

ship carried 100 to 150 tons. Usually, loads consisted of agriculture, such as grain, wine, oil, etc.

As well as, raw materials of iron bars, copper, marble, and granite. This increased their

economic standings in the world as well.

Leading the navigation was at times difficult. Captains of the ships relied on previous

experience and knowledge, as well as observation. They also sailed using their position in

regard to specific landmarks and countries. The weather was not always good, and land was not

always visible. They inherited astronomical skills from the Phoenicians which were very

helpful.

Overall, the introduction of shipbuilding to the Romans, has added more of a legacy to

the Romans. Through their determination to dominate in naval battles, their empire was able to

reach new heights. This also led to other new discoveries, such as more advanced navigation and

engineering ways.
Works Cited

Andrews, Evan. “6 Ancient Naval Battles.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 3 Mar.

2015, www.history.com/news/history-lists/6-ancient-naval-battles.

“Roman Shipbuilding & Navigation.” Ancient History Encyclopedia,

www.ancient.eu/article/1028/roman-shipbuilding--navigation/.