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Page 14

The Officers and Crew of a Trireme

 

    So much for the "Invincible" herself, but obviously she is a helpless thing without an efficient crew. The life of an oarsman is far from luxurious, but the pay seems to be enough to induce a goodly number of thetes (the poorest class of the Athenian citizens) to accept service, and the rest can be supplied by hired metics or any kind of foreign nondescript who can be brought into discipline. The rowers are of course the real heart and soul of the trireme; but they are useless without proper training. Indeed it was the superior discipline of the Athenian crews which in the days of Themistocles and Pericles gave Athens the supremacy of the seas. The nominal, and sometimes actual, commander of the trireme is her trierarch; but obviously a cultivated old gentleman like Eustathius is no man to manage the ship in a sea fight. He will name some deputy, perhaps a stout young friend or a son, for the real naval work. Even he may not possess great experience. The real commander of the "Invincible" is the "governor" (kybernetes), a gnarled old seaman, who has spent all his life upon the water. Nominally his main duty is to act as pilot, but actually he is in charge of the whole ship; and in battle the trierarch (if aboard) will be very glad to obey all his "suggestions." Next to the "governor" there is the proireus, another experienced sailor who will have especial charge of the forecastle in battle. Next in turn are two "oar-masters" (toixarchoi), who are each responsible for the discipline and working of one of the long rowers' benches; and following in grade, though highly important, are the keleustës, and the triëraulës, who, by voice and by flute respectively, will give the time and if needs be encouragement to the rowers. These are all the regular officers, but naturally for handling the sails and anchors some common sailors are desirable. The "Invincible" carries 17 of these. She also has 10 marines (epibatœ), men trained to fight in hoplite's armor and to repel boarders. The Persian ships at Salamis carried 30 such warriors, and often various Greek admirals have crowded their decks with these heavy marines; but the true Athenian sea warrior disdains them. Given a good helmsman and well-trained rowers, and you can sink your opponent with your ram, while he is clumsily trying to board you. Expert opinion considers the epibatœ somewhat superfluous, and their use in most naval battles as disgracefully unscientific.

 

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