Oarsmen learn the secrets of ancient Greek war machine : Almost unbeatable in battle, the triremes still had flaws. David Keys reports

A GROUP of British and American historians, naval architects and rowing enthusiasts have discovered how the ancient Greeks' greatest war machine worked.

With a 37m-long (121ft) replica of a 2,500-year-old Greek trireme - the Olympias, currently on a visit to London - the researchers have revealed just how effective, yet limited the ancient world's most famous ships were.

Sea trials by the Trireme Trust suggested that the vessels were highly manoeuvrable and could achieve top speeds of 10 knots (11.5mph). For maximum power the 170 oarsmen would have had to row at about 47 strokes a minute. Both sails and oars would have been used for speeds below seven knots.

But major limitations have also been exposed. The design stage revealed that triremes were very delicate and risked breaking in two in waves more than 1m high and 30- 35m long.

The trials showed a maximum range of about 200 miles. The main limiting factor was water: a 200- mile journey would have required at least 800 gallons weighing almost four tons. Another restriction was the immobility of the 170 oarsmen. As well as providing power, they were also the ship's ballast. If they moved they would upset the vessel's equilibrium.

The triremes would have been strictly limited in how long they could last in battle. Dog fights would have had to be over in 10 minutes because that was the period a crew could have rowed at or near maximum strength.

The design research and sea trials suggest that ancient Greek triremes would have cruised at about 51 2 knots, with a top speed of about 10 knots. Full speed would have produced only 47hp - marginally less than a Mini.

But the crew and researchers are still puzzled by how the rowing masters kept their oarsmen synchronised. The Olympias uses electronic loudspeakers, but the ancient Greeks could not.

The trials ruled out drums, singing and high-pitched reeded pipes. Communal humming was most effective - it even increased speed by more than 10 per cent.

'Humming worked extremely well,' said one of the Oympias' two rowing masters, Boris Rankov, a classical scholar and former Oxford University Boat Race oarsman. However, there is no literary record of the ancient Greeks humming.

An account of much of the sea- trial work - The Trireme Project - has just been produced by the archaeological publishers Oxbow Books, of Oxford. The Trireme Trust plans further trials and computer simulations of battles. This should enable classical historians to improve substantially their understanding of the many famous naval battles described in ancient texts.

Visitors will be able to see the Olympias moored on the Thames on Sunday 20 June, at a Greek cultural festival at Gabriels Wharf, London SE1 (by south end of Waterloo Bridge), 2pm-7pm, admission free.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable