William M. Murray

in The Age of Titans

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195388640
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932405 | DOI:

Series: Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture


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The physical properties of the Athlit ram plus the ram sockets at Nikopolis reveal the considerable power generated by the ram blows of mid-sized polyremes. When we pair what we learn from Philo’s text on siege warfare with historical accounts for the Hellenistic period, the conclusion is unavoidable: big ships were built to excel in frontal ramming and, thus, played a critical role in naval siege warfare. Big ship navies required large fleets of smaller warships to protect them which, in turn, required considerable logistical support and cost large sums of money. For this, and other reasons, Rome never developed a desire to build such fleets, preferring other methods of projecting power on her enemies. After Antony’s Actian defeat, his big ship navy was proclaimed a symbol of his oriental excess, Augustus decommissioned warships larger than “sixes” and his subsequent lengthy reign insured the dominance of his version of events. By the time of his death, a distorted perception remained that colored how subsequent ages viewed the great fleets of the Hellenistic Age, and this has hindered a proper understanding of the big ship phenomenon to the present day.

Keywords: Actium; Augustus; Athlit; ram; naval; victory; polyreme; Hellenistic

Chapter.  2336 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Greek and Roman Archaeology

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