The Trireme Trust - Newsletter 18

Newsletter mailed out to Trireme Trust members during November 1999.


The Athenian Trireme - A Second Edition

Boris will talking about the Trireme project at the Henley River and Rowing Museum on Saturday, 15th January, 2000 at 2.00 p.m. Anyone interested in attending should phone the Museum to confirm details and timing on 01491-415610.

Trust Chairman Boris Rankov writes:

Olympias has the distinction of being the best documented ship reconstruction ever to be built and operated. Numerous articles and three volumes of reports of her sea trials have been published to date. A fourth volume, which will include not just reports of the 1992 and 1994 trials but also some 20 papers written for the 1998 conference on the Lessons from Olympias, is in active preparation. Perhaps uniquely, the reconstruction was fully recorded even before the ship was launched. John Morrison's and John Coates' classic work, The Athenian Trireme. The history and reconstruction of an ancient Greek warship, was published by Cambridge University Press in 1986 while Olympias was still on the stocks and has now been through no fewer than six reprints.

In The Athenian Trireme, John Morrison drew on nearly half a century of his ownresearch on ancient oared warships. He explained the history of the trireme question and the controversy over whether these ships were rowed by a single level of oars or by three levels. He discussed the history of the ship type and the naval battles and campaigns of the fifth and fourth centuries BC, in which it played the central role. He also surveyed the surviving literary, iconographic and archaeological evidence for what these ships were like. In the final part of the book John Coates applied his skill as a naval architect to John Morrison's, to produce a reconstruction even though no trireme wrecks have survived from antiquity. What made this reconstruction unique and unlike all previous reconstructions was that it obeyed the laws of physics. It would actually work as a ship which could float without capsizing and could be rowed and fought. Moreover, the evidence supplied by John Morrison combined with the laws of physics applied by John Coates pointed to only one possible reconstruction, within quite narrow parameters. It is this which made it worthwhile to build Olympias.

Now, fourteen years later, after five sets of major sea trials in Olympias, Cambridge University Press has agreed to issue a revised second edition of the book. This has allowed the text to be recast to take account of Olympias' existence and to incorporate a number of revisions by John Morrison, taking account of historical reinterpretations and some new archaeological evidence (in particular for the use of a slightly longer cubit in the reconstruction). John Coates has also been able to make some corrections and reinterpretations which arose out of practical experience on Olympias. Finally, it has been possible for Boris Rankov to add an entirely new chapter of about 17,000 words in length, in which he summarises the sea trials, their results and the lessons learned from them. He explains Olympias' shortfall in power and performance compared with what is suggested by our ancient evidence, and how the reconstruction could be modified to make up the shortfall without going beyond what the evidence allows. A number of the line drawings of the first edition have been replaced and supplemented with photographs of Olympias in action. The chapter also incorporates the results of the 1998 conference and lays out the changes which the Trireme Trust believes should be made if a second trireme reconstruction were to be built.

The book will have a full-colour cover photograph of Olympias at sea and will be available in both hardback and paperback. Cambridge promise a publication in June, 2000.

Cambridge University Press has supplied further details:

The Athenian Trireme: The History and Reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Warship - 2nd edition
J.S. Morrison, J.F. Coates and N.B. Rankov
210 x 148 mm 332pp 40 line diagrams 55 half-tones
0521564190 Hardback c. 40.00
0521564565 Paperback c. 14.95
Publication June 2000

Reviews of the first edition:

"...pulls together all the known theories and evidence concerning the trireme, copiously illustrated and a highly readable account."
The Guardian
"If the ship is as good as the book, it will be doing well."
Times Literary Supplement

Plans, Projects, Contacts and Developments

John Coates writes:

The Trireme website (at has been visited by approximately 1,000 people a month lately, and we have been receiving a steady flow of enquiries from its visitors world-wide for more information about the project, as well as for copies of plans of Olympias from modelmakers and for photographs from publishers of books and magazines. The website is proving to be a useful means of spreading knowledge of the trireme and the Trust, and we are most grateful to Anu Dudhia for running it.

Contacts through the website have led to collaboration by the Trust with two particular projects. Boris Rankov was invited in December 1998 to speak in Syracuse, Sicily, to a large gathering to launch a large project being planned there to search the sea bed in its great harbour for relics of the ancient naval battles and sieges for which Syracuse is famous, and also to build a second trireme. John Coates has helped a team in the BBC in planning a TV programme about the part played by cranes designed by Archimedes in the long siege of Syracuse by the Romans in 213 - 211 BC (from over the city's sea walls, these cranes could grapple and lift the bows of attacking ships and so upset them).

Another website contact resulted in a trireme model made a few years ago from plans of Olympias by Robert Woods in Alberquerque, New Mexico, being found a home in the National Atomic Museum in, surprisingly, that same city as part of a display about arms control through the ages. The connection being explored is the restriction in numbers of warships imposed by Rome on Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War.

The two excellent models made by the late Hermann Pietrusky have found a home in Amsterdam, in the Allard Pierson Museum in the Oude Turfmarkt. They are on loan from the River and Rowing Museum at Henley-on-Thames, where there is a most popular trireme exhibit. A visit to this, and indeed to the whole museum (opened in August last year) can be thoroughly recommended.

John Coates has been investigating by experiment launching and slipping triremes in the ship sheds of the Piraeus. He used the model made in 1985 by Norman Gundry to find at what point of the ship's travel up or down the slipway it became unstable and needed lateral support. In also confirming with the model the results of launching calculations made in 1987 by William Penney, of Newcastle, he was able to write a paper on this essential aspect of operating triremes. This may prove helpful if the plan to reconstruct the Piraeus ship sheds in building a new Hellenic Maritime Museum comes to be carried at Old Faliron, near Piraeus. The paper was kindly presented by David Blackman during the Seventh Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity held in August at Pylos in the Peloponnese.

Victory again for Trireme Rowing Club

The Trireme Rowing Club competed, once again, in the Great River Race, a 22-mile pursuit marathon rowed on the Thames Tideway from Richmond to the Isle of Dogs. Over 240 boats and more than 1500 rowers took part in this year's event.

Y Crac, a Pembroke longboat, crewed by : Mike Strawson, bow; Llewelyn Roose, 2; Alistair Ball, 3; Cameron Stokes, stroke; Cathy Roose, cox; plus the traditional passenger, Claire Donnelly, started off in position 155, along with the other Pembroke longboats. Using longer, lighter oars and a higher stroke rate than in previous years, Y Crac pulled away from the rest of the class immediately.

The greatest threat came from Dim Jibbing, crewed by the Aberystwyth Veterans, a very strong crew with a rowing cox - they swapped around several times during the race.

Three times, Dim Jibbing overtook Y Crac, but the Triremers regained the lead every time "flickering" the boat along with fast, firm strokes delivered with a crisp technique. Also, a strict discipline of drinking water through tubes from canteens under the seats every 15 minutes (without stopping rowing) kept the power constant.

Then, after Tower Bridge, 4 miles from the Finish, the stroke rate was increased for the final push against a surprisingly strong headwind and desperate attacks from Dim Jibbing. After another 2 miles Dim Jibbing was finally left behind, out of sight around the curve of Limehouse Reach. Y Crac powered to the Finish to take the Pembroke Thames Challenge Cup for the second time running.

Trireme RC's second boat Ynys Aur, brilliantly stroked by Dewi Strawson, 15, came 3rd in the class. Two more Triremers, Enrico from San Francisco and Cath from London, competed in the GRR for the first time, with a scratch crew in a borrowed longboat and finished well- notwithstanding the leaking hull and foot-stretchers repaired with barbecue spits and string ! Cameron Stokes

Andrew Ruddle adds a postscript:

As many of you will recall, TRC was set up to encourage both traditional and the other sort of rowing - do I call it "modern" ? "Olympic" ?. Anyway , Trireme Rowing Club made what I think was its formal debut at an ARA event during the summer, to wit in Novice Mixed Double Sculls at Staines Amateur Regatta . I am now some years past competitive rowing , but I am occasionally drafted in to coach new scullers for NatWest RC. My 1999 recruit showed both ability and energy , and persuaded me to find us an event, in which we (a NatWest/Trireme composite) lost by about 1/3 length to Weybridge RC, on a day as hot as any I've experienced in Greece.

The Millennium Dome

As most of you know, sections of the Dome at Greenwich are on different themes; the Trust is very pleased to have been approached to provide material for the Journey Zone. Three trireme-related exhibits feature about half-way through the gallery, which traces the history of travel, and they are strategically placed at the one turning-point - a copy of the Lenormant Relief, a model made especially for the Dome by Bob Crouch, and a life-size cross-section made by Coventry Boatbuilders, who not only built the Henley piece many years ago (which worked wonders in grabbing the public's attention) but later provided the section now on display in the River and Rowing Museum. More on the RRM section later.

Sporty Chick takes on the Trireme Mugs

(or: Beware of Greeks Selling Gifts?)

Well here I am, 27, female, retired rower (never say never), Psychologist and enthusiastic Trireme merchandiser.

In my real life I also run a company called The Kit Stop Limited, which sells sportswear and leisurewear to rowers and others.we specialise in lovely thick warm fleeces so I was a natural choice to take over the Trireme Catalogue. On a more serious note, if anybody is interested in Sportswear and Leisurewear then please feel free to ask me for a catalogue at the Trireme address listed below. Look out for the Trireme Fleece !

As a London born Greek Cypriot the Trireme appeals to me in many ways. My culture stems from that protected by the trireme. I look forward to promoting the Trireme and its history.

Anybody who has seen the Trireme Range will know that Rosie produced many of the mugs on the Ancient Greek theme and I would like to follow this on. I've buried myself in the mythology and legends that I grew up with once more and have thoroughly enjoyed myself - however don't be scared to put your oar in if you're struck by a great idea. If you're keen to help any more than and know of an outlet that might wish to stock Trireme Merchandise please let me know. Or if you'd like to man a stand at any forthcoming events or regattas at which the Trireme Trust would like to make an appearance - I'd be pleased to accommodate you.

So there we are, now you've seen me and heard from me - if you see me around come and say hello. And finally, the contact details that will allow you to pass on your great ideas and we will share them with the world.

Miss Andi Pavlou, P.O. Box 16, Hatfield, AL9 7ZN

Tel/Fax: 01707-650752 Mobile: 0958-673182

E-mail :

Website: [link not available 2010]

The River and Rowing Museum at Henley

News from November 2, 1999:

River & Rowing Museum is 'Museum of the Year'

Henley museum receives ultimate accolade

Henley's River & Rowing Museum has won the coveted `Museum of the Year' award for 1999. Fighting off stiff opposition from 28 other entries including the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the British Library's exhibition galleries and the Geffrye Museum in London, the museum was unanimously voted the winner by judges.

The awards, which are organised by National Heritage - the Museums Action Movement, were established in 1973 to identify and recognise innovation and achievement within museums. The distinguished panel of judges declared that the River & Rowing Museum was "state of the art" and would "set the pace for every museum in the new millennium".

James Bishop, chairman of National Heritage and one of the judges, said that it was "the imaginative and innovative way the museum has treated and linked its three themes - the River Thames, the sport of rowing and the town of Henley - that attracted the judges and persuaded them that this should be the winner."
"We're absolutely thrilled," said Paul Mainds, chief executive of the River & Rowing Museum. "It's such an honour to be named `Museum of the Year' and I'm so pleased that the vision and commitment of everyone who was instrumental in creating the museum have been so deservedly recognised. 1999 has been a fantastic year for us and this award is the icing on the cake."
"This really is a coup for Henley," said Martyn Arbib. "We couldn't hope for a better recommendation than `Museum of the Year'. Let's hope that this inspires anyone who hasn't been to the museum yet to come and see for themselves just how fantastic it is."
The museum has received a number of awards since it opened to the public in August 1998. In September 1999 the museum was presented with a Visitor Attraction of the Year award from the Southern Tourist Board; in June it was named 'Building of the Year for England' by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust; and in March it received a Civic Trust Award. Having been declared a winner of a regional Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award for Architecture in September 1998, the museum is currently waiting to hear whether it has won a national award for architecture in this year's RIBA awards.

Editor's Note: The section of the trireme on display was used as a backdrop for many of the press-calls when the award was announced.

Letter from Athens

Rosie Randolph reported in early November:-

I moved to Greece on 23 September, and on 27th we moved from Mavromihalis to Evmenous with the help of three cheerful Albanians and what looked like a fruit and veg. lorry, to a beautiful apartment on the sixth floor. Our new district, Vironas, is situated behind the marble stadium and the First Cemetery, ten minutes' walk from the Leica Academy, where I'm doing a photography course, and about forty minutes' walk from Syntagma. It is sunny and very steep - Nea Elvetia is above us on a plateau. Parking is tricky. Since the recent earthquakes the area has become popular, as houses built on rocky outcrops are considered to be less at risk. We carry whistles on our keyrings and keep a torch and a bottle of water handy. We still have one or two aftershocks a week, between about 3.1 and 4.4, but I've only felt one of them. Vironas is an up and coming area (literally) with workmen in action on new high- rises from early morning, and street musicians walking about in the early evening. Above the normal city noises, you can hear the canaries sing. Life in Athens is varied, and great fun. Christopher Miles, whom some of you may remember making a film of Olympias, brought his new film A Clandestine Marriage to the Athens film Festival. It is delightful and very funny - much to be recommended.

On the ship, Aristotelis organized an exhibition to commemorate the centenary of George Averoff's death, with a few speeches, a reception, and excellent Gentilini wine (available from Oddbins in the UK) from the vineyards of Keffalonia which we had visited earlier this summer. George Averoff had been born in Metsovo, and became a cotton millionaire in Alexandria. He gave generously to Athens, providing funds to restore the Marble stadium for the 1896 Olympics Games, for two major statues outside the university, and left money in his will which was enough to provide a third of the cost of a capital ship which was named after him, and which was the most up-to-date vessel in the Balkan wars of 1912-13.

Our evenings are very varied, as there is so much going on. Monday was a treat - an evening marking the publication of Patrick Leigh Fermor's George Psychoundakis: A Letter to C.A. Trypanis, in which he argued that Psychoundakis should receive an award for his translations of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad into Cretan dialect.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story of George Psychoundakis, who was a shepherd boy in Crete at the outbreak of the War, I would recommend Fermor's book The Cretan Runner, reprinted by Penguin in 1998. He became a runner for the British forces during the Cretan Resistance, living in the mountains and reciting poetry from the 17th century epic Erotocritos when they were trapped in the caves by bad weather. Ironically, in recent years he has been the caretaker for the German cemetery.

George Psychoundakis was there, small in stature with a larger than life personality and a great sense of humour, two days short of his 80th birthday.

After speeches there was some Cretan dancing to the lute and lyra, and a reception at which we asked him and Patrick Leigh Fermor to sign our beaten-up old copy of The Cretan Runner.

Another recent event was a sale by Christie's, instigated by Lydia Carras (who was on th 1993 Committee that brought Olympias to London) to raise money for a Foundation for the protection of the environment. Of special interest were the books and maps, which included a copy of Bernard Randolph's Travels in Greece in 1687. He was one of Rob's antecedents, a merchant in Constantinople, who traveled extensively - including making several voyages to Massachusetts, where his brother had settled.

Athens is cooler now. There are still some late summer butterflies - Red Admirals, Swallowtails and Peacocks fluttering amongst the traffic. We were swimming until the clocks changed, and the sea was quite warm. Some days are still T-shirt weather, on others you need more. We have bought firewood, but never seem to be in long enough to light a fire !