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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The Peiraeus and the Shipping













Page 18


[1] These were the walls whereof a considerable section was thrown down by Lysander after the surrender of Athens [404 B.C.]. The demolition was done to the "music of flute girls," and was fondly thought by the victors to mean the permanent crippling of Athens, and therefore "the first day of the liberty of Greece." In 393 B.C., by one of the ironies of history, Conon, an Athenian admiral, but in the service of the king of Persia, who was then at war with Sparta, appeared in the Peiraeus, and with Persian men and money rebuilt the walls amid the rejoicings of the Athenians.

[2] This fortress of Munychia, rather than the Acropolis in Athens was the real citadel of Attica. It dominated the all-important harbors on which the very life of the state depended.

[3] "Acharn." 54 ff.

[4] Pericles employed the famous architect Hippodamus to lay out the Peiraeus. It seems to have been arranged much like many of the newer American cities.

[5] [&]There seems to have been still another precinct, sacred to "Zeus and Athena the Preservers," where it was very proper to offer thanksgivings after a safe voyage.

[6] For example, the trip from Crete to Cyrene—which would be demanded first, before coasting along to Egypt.

[7] The Greeks reckoned their ships by their capacity in talents (= about 60 lbs.), e.g. a ship of 500 talents, of 2000, or (among the largest) 10,000.

[8] Ancient harbors were much harder to defend than modern ones, because there was no long-range artillery to prevent an enemy from thrusting into an open haven among defenseless shipping.

[9] Zea had accommodation for 196 triremes, Munychia, 82, and the Cantharus, 94.

[10] This arsenal was replaced a little later than the hypothetical time of this narrative by one designed by the famous architect, Philo. It was extremely elegant as well as commodious, with handsome columns, tiled roofs, etc. In 360 B.C., however, the arsenal seems to have been a strictly utilitarian structure.

[11] Just how much of the rigging and what fraction of the pay of the crew the government provided is by no means clear from our evidence. It is certain that a public-spirited and lavish trierarch could almost ruin himself (unless very wealthy) during the year he was responsible for the vessel.

[12] According to various passages in Demosthenes, the cost of a trierachy for a year varied between 40 minæ (say $540 [1914 or $9,304.20 in 2000]) and a talent (about $1000 [1914 or $17,230 in 2000]), very large sums for Athenians. The question of the amount of time spent in active service in foreign waters would of course do much to determine the outlay.

[13] By the end of the fourth century B.C., vessels with four and five banks of oars (quadriremes and quinqueremes) had become the regular fighting ships, but they differed probably only in size, not in principle, from the trireme.

[14] There is some reason for believing that an Athenian trireme was kept in service for many years, with only incidental repairs, and then could still be counted as fit to take her place in the line of battle.

[15] The exact system by which these oar benches were arranged, the crew taught to swing together (despite the inequalities in the length of their oars), and several other like problems connected with the trireme, have received no satisfactory solution by modern investigators. [Note from Brett: Between 1985 and 1987 John Morrison and John Coates oversaw a reproduction of a trireme which has an excellent study of bench arrangements and several other problems connected with the trireme were likely solved.]

[16] Probably at Salamis and in the earlier Athenian army the ram had been composed of a single long, tapering beak.

[17] The Greek ships seem to have been named either for mythological characters, or for desirable qualities and virtues.

[18] At her best a trireme seems to have been capable of making 8 to 9 knots per hour.

[19] A more detailed picture of an ancient naval battle and its tactics can be found in the author's historical novel, "A Victor of Salamis" (Chap. XXIX).

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