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Page 12

The Rowers' Benches of a Trireme

 

    With her full complement of rowers the benches of the "Invincible" fairly swarm with life. There are 62 rowers to the upper tier (thranites), 58 for the middle tier (zygites), and 54 for the lower (thalamites), each man with his own individual oar. The trhanites with the longest oars (full 13 feet 6 inches) have the hardest pull and the largest pay, but not one of the 174 oarsmen holds a sinecure. In ordinary cruising, to be sure, the trireme will make use of her sails, to help out a single bank of oars which must be kept going almost all the time. Even then it is weary work to break your back for a couple of hours taking your turn on the benches. But in battle the trireme almost never uses sails. She becomes a vast, many-footed monster, flying over the foam; and the pace of the three oar banks, swinging together, becomes maddening. Behind their bulwarks the rowers can see little of what is passing. Everything is dependent upon their rowing together in absolute rhythm come what may, and giving instant obedience to orders. The trireme is in one sense like a latter-day steamer in her methods of propulsion; but the driving force is 174 straining, panting humans, not insensate water vapor and steel.

 

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