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Thread: Ancient polyremes (ship type names)

  1. #1

    Ancient polyremes (ship type names)

    Hello, can somebody help me with names of ancient galley types of greek-roman era?
    I am interested in galleys larger than "tens" (Deceres). I know just that "forty" was Tessarakonteres.
    But what was the name of "elevens", "twelves", "thirteens", "fourteens", "fifteens", "sixteens", "twenties" and "thirties"?

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Grandpa Maur DarthMaur's Avatar
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    Since tessera means forty and refers to numbers of rowers and not oars, i guess you can't simply call the other ships something like triakonteres etc...

    (as opposed to trireme which refers to the number of oars)
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by DarthMaur View Post
    Since tessera means forty and refers to numbers of rowers and not oars, i guess you can't simply call the other ships something like triakonteres etc...

    (as opposed to trireme which refers to the number of oars)
    Can't? Why not?

    (The trireme may refer to number of rowers as well, because in its case it was 3 rowers on 3 rows ^_^)

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    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DarthMaur View Post
    Since tessera means forty and refers to numbers of rowers and not oars, i guess you can't simply call the other ships something like triakonteres etc...
    You certainly can, and Callixeinus of Rhodes did exactly that in his History of Alexandria, which contains an account of the Ptolemian navy.

    The following are all attested words; I didn't check the others but I'm sure you can work them out on the same basis.

    eleven
    ἑνδεκήρης
    endekeres

    twelve
    δωδεκήρης
    dodekeres

    thirteen
    τρεισκαιδεκήρης
    treiskaidekeres

    thirty
    τριακοντήρης
    triakonteres

    forty
    τεσσαρακοντήρης
    tessarakonteres

    source

    Also, the Greek for 'trireme' was τριήρης 'trieres'.

  5. #5
    Thank you very much for the help. So finally I was able to make a list of the ships that I can use.
    Here is it whole, including also the smaller ships.

    Ancient galleys by banks of rowers:
    1-7 are anglicized latin names of the galleys
    8-10 are anglicized greek names of the galleys
    11-40 are greek names

    1 - Monoreme (30 oars = Triakonter; 50 oars = Pentekonter)
    2 - Bireme
    3 - Trireme
    4 - Quadrireme
    5 - Quinquereme
    6 - Hexareme
    7 - Septireme
    8 - Octeres
    9 - Enneres
    10 - Deceres
    11 - Endekeres (or Hendekeres)
    12 - Dodekeres
    13 - Triskaidekeres
    14 - Tessarakaidekeres
    15 - Pentekaidekeres
    16 - Hekkaidekeres
    20 - Eikoseres
    30 - Triakonteres
    40 - Tessarakonteres

    EDIT:
    It seems there wasn't a difference in names between small monoreme ships with total of 30 oars and huge ships with 30 rowers in a column. In both cases they are Triakonteres (some sources use shortened Triakonter). I placed Triakonter for monoreme and Triakonteres to polyreme ship only to be able distinguish between them.
    Same would probably apply for 50-oars ships (Pentekonter or Pentekonteres)
    Last edited by KaRei; 17-06-2012 at 13:54.

  6. #6
    Actually it seems that ships with 30 or 50 rows of oars did not actually exist, and such names were simply referring to the size of the ship, without taking in account the real number of oars. Just FYI, anyway.

  7. #7
    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    Actually, there is a difference in the original sources:

    triakontoros (τριακόντορος)- ship with 30 oars
    triakonteres (τριακοντήρης) - ship with 30 rowers per oar.

    Both names are basically the Greek for 'thirty' (triakonta) with an ending added, but it's a different ending. -ros for a ship with that number of oars, -res for one with that number of rowers per bench. (plus the preceding vowel changes.)

    The problem is that in English we tend to knock off the -os or -es ending, making the two words indistinguishable. For what it's worth I've seen the word 'pentekontor' or 'pentekonter' (both spellings are used) in English texts to describe the type of galley with a single row of oars, 25 per side, used during the Homeric era and the siege of Troy.

    We don't have detailed descriptions of how polyremes worked, but modern historians believe that the larger galleys had at most three banks of oars, with multiple oarsmen on some of them. Pentereis (quinqueremes), for example, probably had three rows of oars with one man on the top one and two on each of the lower pairs. The really huge ships like the thirties more likely had just one huge oar with thirty people pulling it. Bear in mind that the biggest ships were mostly one-off vanity projects by Alexander's successors, so it wasn't as if these were "real words" in Greek. It's more the other way around; if Ptolemy the Whateverth announced he was building a ship with 137 rowers per oar, then writers would make up the word "137-er" to describe it.

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