Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wine-Dark Sea Battles

 Today I read about the discovery of what experts believe is a Carthaginian warship ram discovered off of Sicily that is thought to date to a sea battle of 241 B.C. between the rising Roman Republic and Punic Carthage. This was the First Punic War which ended with a treaty in 241 B.C. Here is a photo of the bronze ram that was found and which is a remnant of the last great naval battle of that war:

For a writer, sea battles can provide a very different setting for engaging enemies. The sights, smells, sounds and weapons are not always those that will paint a picture of battle on land. A good example of a small scale, ancient sea battle can be found in Gillian Bradshaw’s historical novel set in ancient Greece entitled The Sun’s Bride. This book has some great sequences and while they are not the large scale battles that no doubt marked the First Punic War, they will give a good idea of what was involved.

A good resource for research on ancient war ships if you are interested is the Trireme Trust ( In 1987 this group built a full scale, working trireme and carried out numerous experiments to prove or disprove various theories related to the most common and deadliest of ancient war ships, the trireme. The ship itself, known as the Olympias, has been in movies and events in both Britain and Greece. In the summer of 2012, the trireme will be in New York City harbour as part of the tall ships exhibition and will be accompanied by an exhibition on Athenian maritime history at the South Street Seaport Museum (

So, if you want to add a little salt-sea flair to your writing, a battle scene with a twist, get your sea legs on and get your men on board ship. If your legionaries are not comfortable at sea, remember the Roman invention of the corvus, the spiked boarding plank that the Romans invented during the First Punic War that allowed infantry to fight as though they were on land when at sea. Things were likely just as bloody. If you like movies, check out The Odyssey with Armand Assante and Greta Scacchi or Jason and the Argonauts with Jason London, Natasha Henstridge and Derek Jacobi. Both of these are great fun to watch. Just remember to offer up something to Poseidon or you could find yourself adrift.

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Ancient Greek Trireme

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