Olympias (trireme)

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Name: Olympias in its shed in the Naval Tradition Park, Palaio Faliro
Owner: Hellenic Navy
Ordered: 1985
Laid down: July 27, 1987
Launched: August 1987
Commissioned: August 26, 1987
Homeport: Palaio Faliro Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Status: serves as exhibit in dry dock
General characteristics
Type: Trireme
Displacement: 70 tonnes
Length: 36.9 m (121 ft 1 in)
Beam: 5.5 m (18 ft 1 in)
Draught: 1.25 m (4 ft 1 in)
  • Two large square sails
  • 170 oarsmen
  • Maximum (with oars) over 9 knots (17 km/h)
  • Continuous (crew rowing in turns) 4.0 kilometres per hour (2.5 mph) 2.15 knots (estimated).
Troops: 14 (10 Hoplites + 4 Archers)
Complement: 200 including 5 officers (in antiquity)
Armament: Bronze bow ram, ten spears, four archers

Olympias is a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme and an important example of experimental archaeology. It is also a commissioned ship in the Greek Navy, the only commissioned vessel of its kind in any of the world's navies.


It was constructed from 1985 to 1987 by a shipbuilder in Piraeus. The ship was built to drawings by the naval architect John F. Coates which he developed through long discussions with the historian J. S. Morrison following the longest correspondence on any subject in The Times of London in the early 1980s. The work was also advised by the classics teacher Charles Willink and drew on evidence gained from Greek literature, history of art and archaeology above and below water. Finance came from the Hellenic Navy and donors such as Frank Welsh (a Suffolk banker, writer and trireme enthusiast). Morrison, Coates and Willink founded the Trireme Trust with Welsh. The Trireme Trust is now chaired by Professor Boris Rankov, Professor of Classics at Royal Holloway University of London.

The bronze bow ram weighed 200 kg. The ship was built from Oregon pine and Virginia oak. The keel is of iroko.

The important hypozomata (bracing ropes) had to be replaced by a steel rope because no natural fibre or synthetic fibre ropes with about the same elastic modulus as hemp could be obtained. The steel cables tension varied as the hull bent on the waves, rather than exerting constant tension like a natural fibre rope. This caused the alarming possibility of the rope breaking and endangering the crew, so protective measures had to be taken.[1]

She underwent sea trials in 1987, 1990, 1992 and 1994, but one of the most informative was a 1987 exercise crewed by 170 volunteer oarsmen and oarswomen. Olympias achieved a speed of 9 knots (17 km/h) and was able to perform 180 degree turns within one minute, in an arc no wider than two and a half (2.5) ship-lengths. These results, achieved with an inexperienced crew, suggest that the ancient writers[citation needed] were not exaggerating about the capabilities of such vessels.

Olympias was transported to Britain in 1993, to take part in events celebrating the 2,500 years since the beginning of democracy. In 2004 Olympias was used to transport the Olympic Flame ceremonially from the port of Keratsini to the main port of Piraeus, as the Olympic Torch Relay entered its final stages in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. She is now an exhibit in a dry dock in Palaio Faliro, Athens, Greece.


The trireme was a fast attack, light displacement vessel. In order to sustain the bending moments of her considerable length, a rope was mounted beneath the deck spanning from bow to stern, that was tensioned through twisting before every trip. This was an ingenious way to increase rigidity of the hull. Today in modern construction it is called pre-tensioning. After every trip the triremes were pulled ashore in special slides. It was estimated that her ramming speed should have been in excess of 16 kilo Newtons, something the present reconstruction could not achieve, possibly because it was overweight. The bronze ram is a copy of the original ram now in the Piraeus archaeological museum.


A trireme of the classical period would have had a crew of 200, including five officers. This would be made up of:

  • trierarchos (τριήραρχος "commander of trireme") — the commanding officer, responsible for supporting the ship
  • kybernetes (κυβερνήτης: κυβερνάω "steer") — executive officer, responsible for the cruising safety
  • keleustes (κελευστής: κελεύω "command") — responsible for the training and morale of the crew
  • pentekontarchos (πεντηκόνταρχος "commander of fifty") — administration officer
  • prorates (πρῳράτης: πρῷρα "prow") — bow officer, responsible for keeping a sharp lookout
  • 1 auletes (αὐλητής: αὐλός "flute") — a musician supplying the oar timing with his flute
  • 170 eretai (ἐρέται, oarsmen) in three banks
    • 62 thranitai (θρανῖται, singular θρανίτης: θρᾶνος "bench") — the upper bank
    • 54 zygitai (ζυγῖται, singular ζυγίτης: ζυγός "yoke", "rowing-bench") — the middle bank
    • 54 thalamitai (θαλαμῖται, singular θαλαμίτης: θάλαμος "inner chamber") — lower bank
  • 10 sailors for handling the sails
  • 14 epibatai (ἐπιβάται, marines, literally "passengers") - 10 spearmen and 4 archers

See also


External links

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