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Robert Scott Moore

Evolution Of The Greek Warship And Its Tactics In The Fourth Century B.C.

(Under the direction of Professor Anthony Papalas) Department of History, March 1992.

This study is an examination of the important changes that occurred in the Greek warship during the last quarter of the fourth century BC.  During this time the typical Greek naval vessel underwent changes in both its construction and its role in naval tactics.

For over two centuries the trieme was the standard Greek warship.  A trieme was an oared galley with a ram mounted on the prow.  Its triple banked rowers provided its main propulsion, with little dependence upon sails.  Trieme commanders attempted to position their vessels so that they were able to ram the side or stern of opposing ships.  In the fourth century shipwrights designed larger vessels requiring increased numbers of rowers.  Due to their restricted speed and mobility these craft developed new tactics to fight opposing ships.

The Lamian War in the late 320's BC was a turning point in naval tactics.  Before this conflict accepted naval strategy had called for navies to seek out opposing fleets and engage in battle.  Instead of attempting to destroy the enemy fleet, the Athenian fleet positioned itself so that it prevented an opposing army from crossing the Dardanelles.  Once the fleet was in position they patrolled the waterway, preventing this army from crossing and linking up with another army already in Greece.

A major watershed in naval history occurred at the battle of Salamis off Cyprus in 306 BC.  In his attempt to wrest control of the city from Ptolemy, Demetrius engaged him in a sea battle.  On board weaponry was used for the first time by both sides.  With superior tactics Demetrius carried the day and solidly defeated Ptolemy, depriving him of a strategic naval base.

In 305 BC Demetrius attacked the important island seaport of Rhodes.  To capture the city, Demetrius tried new methods of siege warfare that involved his navy.  His failure to implement properly his blockade of the city combined with the Rhodians' use of commerce raiding prevented Demetrius from reducing Rhodes.

The last quarter of the fourth century witnessed chronic naval warfare as would-be successors to Alexander's empire fought for ascendancy.  The new ships and naval tactics played an essential role in these conflicts.  The use of naval power had a major impact on the outcomes of these battles.