|ATHENS vs. SPARTA|
Naval dominance was a trademark of the Athenian military. The Athenian army was no match for the size and effectiveness of the Spartan army, but what they lacked on land, they made up for at sea, with an innovation that completely changed the face of naval warfare and would make Athens the dominant naval power for a century or more. (1)
The Athenian Trireme
The Athenian trireme was a superfast galley that was different from anything else at that time. At the time, naval warfare had primarily consisted of attempting to either board an enemy's ship, or set it on fire. With the introduction of the trireme, however, a new tactic was added to naval combat-ramming opposing ships.
The trireme's special shape and construction allowed ot to do things that other ships at the time could not do. It's keel ran the length of the ship, as in most ships, but it also stuck out three meters in front, and was armored with bronze plates. This projection was the battering ram that became the ship's primary weapon. (4)
Until the trireme, ramming opposing ships was not done because of the extraordinary speed it required. But the trireme was long and narrow, which aided its speed and maneuverability. What aided it even more were the three rows of oars on each side, manned by a total of 170 oarsmen.
Using the oars, the trireme could reach a maximum speed of ten knots, or about 12 mph. This was more than fast enough to cause serious damage to any opposing ship. The trireme was also fitted with a huge square sail that it used in combat conditions to give the rowers a break. Essentially, the trireme served as a waterborne spear, deadly to opposing boats.(4)
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