The Trireme Trust - Newsletter 20

Newsletter mailed out to Trireme Trust members during November 2001


Chairman's Report

(from Boris Rankov, Chairman, Trireme Trust)

It is little over a year since the death of the Trust's founder and Life President, John Morrison on 25th October, 2000. At the January meeting of the Council, it was resolved that the money which had been donated in John's memory, at the request of his family, to the Trust should be devoted to a conference to be held in his honour (probably during 2003). The theme would be the polyremes which he studied in his last book, Greek and Roman Oared Warships (Oxbow, 1996). At the same meeting, Olympias was reported as being in poor condition and there seemed to be little hope that she would ever put to sea again.

The Council also resolved, as had been proposed at the AGM in September, that if Olympias had not been restored or there was no realistic prospect for a second ship by 2004, it would then consider winding up the work of the Trust.

There has nevertheless been considerable activity to avert such a possibility. Douglas Lindsay has approached a number of potential sponsors with a proposition for the construction of a Mark II trireme. At the same time Ian Thorpe, who assisted in John Morrison's care in the last year of his life, has held meetings in Cambridge aimed at enthusing a new generation of undergraduates to raise money either for the refurbishment of Olympias or for the construction of a Mark II, prompting over 1300 expressions of interest. He also visited Greece in June and met representatives of the Hellenic Navy, Greek Ministry of Culture, the Cultural Olympiad, the British Council, and the British School at Athens.

Meanwhile, the Olympias project itself is far from forgotten. With the closure of the Millennium Dome, the Ford Motor Company, who sponsored the construction of the full-scale section of Mark II which featured prominently in the Transport Zone, generously offered the section for further display. The Trust was able to put Ford and their agents, Imagination, in touch with the University of Manchester Museum, which already owns a third-scale model of the Kyrenia merchant ship (the full-size Kyrenia replica built by Harry Tzalas currently resides next to Olympias in Neon Faliron). Plans are now in hand to move the section to Manchester and put it on display in the near future. The second edition of The Athenian Trireme (CUP, 2000) has already sold about 5000 copies.

Given this continued level of interest, the Chairman was not surprised to receive an e-mail in August from Professor Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, the Director of the Landesmuseum Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany. The e-mail tentatively enquired whether there might be any possibility of Olympias visiting Germany for a few months in 2003 to be put on display at the Museum. The Landesmuseum possesses the famous Nydam ship, the type thought to have been used by the Saxons to settle in England.

Nydam was dug up more or less intact in Denmark between 1859 and 1863, but the territory - and the ship - was annexed by Prussia in 1864 and has remained German ever since. Professor von Carnap-Bornheim now proposed to lend Nydam ŌbackÕ to the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen for the summer of 2003 and wanted Olympias to fill the gap in his Museum.

The Chairman e-mailed back that Olympias was not in good condition. "No problem - we'll fix her," came the reply. Rosie Randolph and her soon-to-be-husband, Rear-Admiral Aristotelis Dimitsas, who is in charge of the Hellenic Navy Museum which includes Olympias, arranged for a meeting with the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Hellenic Navy in Athens. This took place on September the 11th - fortunately in the morning - and Professor von Carnap-Bornheim explained his scheme for repairs to the ship in Germany, to be funded jointly by the Navy, by his Museum, by corporate sponsorship which he would raise, and by a grant bid to the EU. The Hellenic Navy approved and we will know around March, 2002 whether the scheme will go ahead, but present indications are that this is very likely.

If so, Olympias will be taken to Hamburg in the autumn of 2002 and repaired at a local wooden boat-building yard. With the approval of John Coates, the repair will preserve precisely the form, displacement, performance characteristics and appearance of Olympias and make her fully seaworthy, although for ease of repair the hull below the waterline will no longer be of mortice-and-tenon construction. The ship will then go on display in May, 2003 on the lawn outside the Museum in Schleswig, which is situated in an eighteenth- century castle on the banks of an inlet of the Baltic Sea.

A professionally designed website is planned to accompany the display, and it is intended that the ship should both be rowed in the vicinity of the Museum and sailed at the Kiel Sailing Week before returning to Greece in September, 2003, in time, we hope, for another appearance at sea during the Athens Olympics in 2004.

A year which began with sadness and a certain amount of despondency has ended with a real hope of a rejuvenation of the project and further sea trials of Olympias. John Morrison would have been thrilled.


(from John Coates)

The second edition of The Athenian Trireme is selling well and has been widely reviewed. Reviewers have ranged from those showing little understanding of rowing or oarsystems to an outstandingly penetrating review in the latest transactions of the Newcomen Society for the study of the history of engineering and technology. That society has been concerned with the philosophy and purposes of replicating past artefacts (in its case mainly of early steam locomotives), so this well - informed review is particularly welcome. This Trust Newsletter includes some of the salient points made in this review.


Earlier in September, members of Council met Professor John Pryor, of the University of Sydney, to discuss details of the likely oarsystems of Byzantine dromons, of which he is the leading historian. John Pryor has been keen to apply the Trust's unique experience of ancient Mediterranean oared warships to his studies of the dromon which broadly bridged the centuries from the decline of the ships of the classical age to the adoption of the medieval type of galley. It was an interesting meeting, which preceded a seminar on the Aegean held at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The trireme slipways in the Zea harbour in Piraeus are, for the first time since Dragatzes' rescue dig in 1885, being investigated below water by Bjorn Loven, of Aarhus, Denmark. Bjorn is keen to collaborate with the Trust and possible arrangements for funding his studies in UK are being explored. His work so far has indicated a length of slipway which accords with the proposed length for the Mark II reconstruction of a trireme. Nearly contemporary slipways at Naxos on the east coast of Sicily are also being excavated and David Blackman has been consulting with John Coates about the implications on ship dimensions of what is being found there.

The Vaka Taumako Project

Regular Newsletter readers will know the general background to this project in Polynesia, a leading light on which has been a great friend of the Trust, Meph Wyeth. To even attempt to summarise their many current activities is now impossible, and we have no hesitation in directing you to their excellent website:

The Great River Race

Trireme Rowing Club and the Great River Race - Four Times in a Row ? Cameron Stokes writes:

The last year was a busy one for Trireme Rowing Club. We entered - and acquitted ourselves well at - several coastal events around North Wales. Although the Celtic Challenge, a race across the Irish Sea from Arklow to Aberystwyth was cancelled due to the foot and mouth crisis, we did organise an "adventure" row from Anglesey to Man, when two club members sculled a Teifi Skiff the 45 miles between the islands in 10 hours 55 minutes. We also did a sponsored row around Anglesey (120 miles) on ergoÕs to help the RNLI.

The high point of the year was once again the Great River Race, the 22-mile pursuit race down the Thames Tideway from Richmond to Greenwich. We entered two boats, both coxed four-man Pembroke longboats. Our boat "Y Crac", three times winner of its class in the race, is now decidedly creakier and more "floppy" than ever - a bit like her crew! We had a good start, keeping ahead of the others amongst which we could see the main challengers "Jemima Fawr" attacking our second boat "Y Gogs eto". As we raced down- river shooting bridge after bridge and overtaking boat after boat, from the stroke seat I watched a remarkable battle between "Jemima" and "Y Gogs". First one, then the other would pull ahead; "Jemima" had a rowing cox and changed around regularly, eventually telling on our second boat. They were rowed down - would we be next? Not a chance! With our cox cannily keeping to the fastest water, and the crew taking a drink every 15 minutes (it was a very warm day), we pulled away from the now-blown "Jemima" crew.

In the Pool of London the river became very rough and we took on water over the bows, but pumping out as we went we charged on with our ŌSat NavÕ reading 9.8 mph here and there. On the Limehouse Reach we were overtaken by a beautiful long, narrow "Channel Island Granta Skiff", thankfully not in our classification, rowed superbly by a Deutsche Bank crew. By now we had left our competition far behind out of sight, and we were genuinely surprised when the finish cannon pounded in our ears. It had all seemed so quick this time, and for the fourth time in succession we had won the Thames Pembroke Longboat Challenge Trophy.

Plans for next year include the re-scheduled Celtic Challenge; another (faster ?) row to the Isle of Man and a row right the way along the North Wales coast, up the River Mersey, then the Manchester Ship Canal to a brewery. Sponsorship, honest! WhatÕs on my Christmas list ? One of those Channel Island Granta Skiffs, please.

Next year's Great River Race is on 7 September, starting at 15.30.

Letter from Greece

(from Rosie Randolph)

We have been very spoilt with travel opportunities this year. In May we went to Rhodes for Ambassador BurnsÕ farewell party on the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, which has a crew of 5,300. We wish him well. It is a pretty island, but avoid high season. We were amused to find our local barrel- organ player had decamped there for the summer! From there we went to Kefallonia for the Pelagic conference on the Role of NATO after the Cold War.

June was busy. we went to the Hydra Maritime Museum, which is always a delight, for the opening of the Averoff exhibition. Aristoteli then had the opportunity to visit Georgia for a Black Sea NATO exercise, and had a ten-hour stop-over in Constantinople. Unfortunately, it clashed with exam week at the Leica, so the dog and I were left behind! At the end of June we went to Chios and Psarra, as Aristoteli was asked to stand in at the commemoration of the massacre, as Admiral Thodorolakis was away. We added two extra days to enjoy Chios. It is definitely somewhere to return to, probably in the Spring for the wild tulips. The commemoration of Psarra involved a flight in a Chinook with Archbishop Christodoulos and his entourage, a service, wreath-laying with a Navy band, a display of Greek dancing, and lunch. Along with the island of Spetses and Hydra, Psarra was famous for its ships and its courage in the War of Independence. It is a rocky island, with a small population of very nice people, served by only three boats a week.

In July we visited Milos to welcome the Aegean Rally. The tourists are mainly French, seeking out the birthplace of the Venus de Milo. The geology is spectacular, best seen from a round-the-island boat trip. Brimstone really exists, and will burn your feet!

At the beginning of September we went to Monemvassia with friends, then had a day driving around outer Mani. You need time to explore, which we didnÕt have. Monemvassia is not well served by hydrofoils - the only one out was at 6.00 a.m. I had bought tickets the night before; I had to wait, though, as the agent was busy videoing - from the TV - a shark attack that had taken place in the States!

Other summer highlights were in Spetses, where the Armata was celebrated on 8 September - a re-enactment of a battle with the Turks, which involves blowing up a ship replica, and lots of fireworks. Spetses inaugurated its Cultural Centre this year, which has a theatre, archives and exhibition space, lavishly restored with help from the Niarchos Foundation. Aristoteli and I were married in Spetses on 23 September, which was the second anniversary of my arrival in Greece. We were lucky that the weather was so glorious, and we had a wonderful time with lots of friends, many of whom had made a long weekend of it.

In October we went to the States for the Historic Naval ships Association conference, which this year was combined with the Maritime Heritage Conference, hosted by the Battleship North Carolina at Wilmington. It included sections on ship conservation, fund-raising, history, oral recollections and how to collect them, life-saving stories of truly hair-raising dimensions, and light houses. It was a fascinating few days spent amongst friends. Afterwards we travelled on to Georgetown, Charleston and Savannah, which gave us a little bit more geographical grasp of the American Civil War.

A group of paddle-ship blockade runners, built in England, were sold to Greece after the American Civil War had ended, and formed the nucleus of the Hellenic Steamship Company in Siros. They were used as blockade runners to Crete, which was still under Ottoman rule, and we are engaged in trying to uncover the Greek end of the story. When we went to Crete for the Monastery of Arkadi commemorations, and an exhibition of Renieris, who was the President of the National Bank of Greece in the 1860Õs, we went to the University of Rethymnon, and found interesting sources.

Review and Discussion

A review of The Athenian Trireme - 2nd edition - appeared in the latest Transactions of the Newcomen Society for the study of the history of engineering and technology, and part is reprinted here by their very kind permission . The section comparing and contrasting the different "r-" terms is particularly useful, and is reprinted in full :-

"At a moment when there is a resurgence of interest in making and testing copies of historical engineering artefacts - railway locomotives for instance - it is opportune that the book about the most famous of all such enterprises, at least of recent years, should achieve a second edition.

To begin with a word about nomenclature is in order. Copies or recreations of the sort being used for historical engineering experimental analysis come at different levels of exactness and purpose, and between them it is important to distinguish, both in principle and practice. It has become fashionable to think in terms of four categories to which is applied a terminology somewhat reminiscent of art and fine art, namely replicas, reproductions, reconstructions and representations. Thus far, at least, no-one has found it necessary to resort to the term fake even though I suspect the temptation, at times, is there. In making the proper distinctions between the four categories the issues are essentially those of accuracy and authenticity, a replica being in the highest class in both respects. A true replica is, I believe, very hard to achieve even with artefacts of relatively modern origin about which one might imagine a good deal is known. In reality, there can arise serious difficulties to do with materials and fabrication techniques while modern insistences over health and safety often make genuine replication quite impossible, the case of railway locomotives being an good example. Something in the second category, a reproduction, is more likely to be attainable simply because here, provided the overall design of the copy is correct, it is permissible to allow some flexibility in both methods of fabrication and materials used.

The Athenian trireme, Olympias, falls into the third category, that of a reconstruction, because to make this rendering of a 2500-year-old ship modern materials and techniques have been used, while so far as authenticity of design is concerned, well, there lies the fundamental question at the heart of the exercise. Of what exactly did a trireme consist and is Olympias an example of one ? Representations, the fourth category, come last because here the intention is merely to give an impression in a general sense without regard to either accuracy or authenticity, and certainly not with any quantitative, or even qualitative, research in mind. If experimental engineering history is to be undertaken seriously with a view to achieving worthwhile, reliable and unambiguous results, these matters of definition are not trivial. It is reassuring, therefore, to find that in The Athenian Trireme the authors themselves do quite correctly recognise their vessel as a reconstruction, and consistently refer to it as such, never as a replica, which by definition it cannot be. It is noticeable, however, that in many descriptions and accounts of Olympias the mistake is one that is frequently made.

The second edition of the book differs in quite a few details from the first and in one major sense ... The major addition to the book is a new chapter ... and is all about OlympiasÕs sea trials; it proves to be a crucial addition.

The Athenian Trireme is now a book of basically four parts and any one of the first three can be read very largely for itself. The history of the trireme problem, Chapter 1, called Questions and Answers and disappointingly short for anyone interested in the history of maritime scholarship, sets out neatly the arguments about such boats, the steps which have contributed to a gradual sorting-out of the facts and figures, and the schools of thought which have been advanced.

There then follows a sequence of ten chapters, the greater part of the book in fact, dealing with the history of ships and warfare in the Greek world, and the evidence which can be derived therefrom of how the trireme was built and used. To my mind this is the most satisfactory part of the book, and certainly the best read. It is important to emphasise the crucial role played by studying the ancient sources. The trireme was a fighting ship and a fragile one at that. The upshot of naval battles was, presumably, a few ships which had survived and a large area of floating wood from those which had not ... It is quite important, for the full trireme thesis, to appreciate how close one gets to a specification without resort to reconstruction at all. Questions of length, width, the disposition of the oars including the long-vexed question of how many banks and how many men per oar, to sail or not sail, the best hull shape for speed, seaworthiness and other matters have been very thoroughly worked out on paper alone. Would that many aspects of ancient engineering have progressed so far, without the object itself to get started with. ... The ship is probably the most impressive engineering historical reconstruction yet achieved in any field. Nor, unfortunately, has it remained unattended by themes of publicity, nationalism and enthusiasm. For many, evidently, it has all been a jolly good show. In these respects it is by no means unique; TV has a lot to answer for here.

... the boat has been, and may well continue to be, a tester of technique and performance. In order to prove the propositions being advanced as to how a trireme was arranged, then making one and trying to row it, and sail it, has obvious merit. In addition, the ancient literature makes some claims for speed, distance and endurance which, so it is argued, only controlled experiments with a real vessel can conclusively test. That does not mean, at least not necessarily, that the ancient claims are in doubt; it does mean that the reconstructionÕs validity can be assessed by putting it against its reputation. To some extent the reasoning here goes round in a circle: the ancient evidence provides an idea of performance, and the boatÕs performance is used to test the evidence. What I donÕt quite understand is how one explains a discrepancy; is the evidence at fault or the reconstruction ? The third part of the book, Chapters 11 and 12, is a very thorough description and discussion of the reconstruction itself including, inevitably I suppose, a resort to retrospective calculation and modelling along with due consideration of the materials of construction and the rowing and sailing gear.

... So we come to the new chapter and how a trireme was rowed; it needs to be read against the background of the rest of the book. It has to be said, and emphasised, that effectively deploying 170 oarsmen, and women, 85 per side at three levels, one person to an oar, proves to be exactly what the mindÕs eye envisages, a problem. At one end of the oar system, failing to get a blade to grip in the very small volume of water being churned up simultaneously by two other blades serves to reduce oar efficiency very considerably. At the other end the crewÕs incredibly cramped conditions, the immense difficulty of rowing in unison, and the problem of swinging an oar through a significant arc are the principal themes of the chapter. Curiously, the whole issue seems to have become a challenge for determined enthusiasts to overcome, rather than being seen as possibly a very poor system for rowing a boat.

Somewhere I am sure that I have read how much better Olympias moved when only half a crew were present; you can well believe it.

... The Athenian Trireme is well produced and practical to use with its good referencing, clear pictures, efficient use of cross-referencing, two glossaries, an index to classical sources and bibliography. I can find no reason for not recommending it thoroughly to engineering, maritime, naval and ancient historians alike. The book answers so many questions about classical ships; it also asks quite a few about engineering historical reconstructions. But deeply underlying the whole subject it leaves unanswered, perhaps because ultimately it is unanswerable, a subtle and tantalising question; although this impressively thorough and painstaking piece of experimental work has produced a trireme, can we be sure it is the trireme?"

Dr. N.A.F. Smith, Imperial College

Valete - Robert Rivington

We were both surprised and saddened to hear in August of the death of one of our newer recruits to the Trust, Robert Rivington. His niche in maritime history is assured by his famous work Punts and Punting (1982), which coupled with his own efforts on the water did much to re-introduce not only these craft but also dongolas to the recreational Thames.

Administration Section

The Trust is always happy to welcome new Friends, accept offers of help, answer questions, and generally keep its links open to Newsletter readers and the wider world. Our thanks again go to Anu Dudhia for his work on keeping the TrustÕs site fresh - it is still receiving over 1,000 hits per month. If your query is not answered on the site:, please feel free to contact Andrew Ruddle as a first port of call ~ 01932-220401 or One special plea - if you have changed address, or for some other reason this copy has not reached you promptly, please could you let Andrew know ?