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Archaic Naval Warfare


An enigma in Thucydides’ description of the rise of Greek naval power in his Archaiologia is his notice on the late eighth-century origination of the trireme, which may be coupled with his further specification that large trireme navies did not emerge until the late archaic period. This paper stands strongly against the tendency to reject the implications of Thucydides’ treatment, although it also explains how Atthidography in the person of Kleidemos confronted the challenge of interpreting Thucydides. It argues that the emergence of the large trireme navy required mastering administrative problems, and not merely solving engineering challenges. Resources had to be amassed for the creation and maintenance of trireme forces in early monetizing economies. Manpower had to be mobilized in a manner conforming to prevailing socio-political structures. In this context, the evidence on the appearance of triremes in archaic navies is presented. I propose that leisteia ‘brigandage’ was pervasive in archaic Greece. This ‘small war’ was particularly suited to the use of pentekontors by commercial poleis such as Aigina, Phokaia, and Samos. Corinth, however, is the best example of an early trireme navy, and its naval administration became highly developed under the Kypselid tyrants. This force structure accommodated commerce that was more passive, intermediated, and colonial, but did not lend itself to rapid mobilization. In the late archaic period, the monetization of naval warfare becomes apparent, and slavery plays a role in addressing manpower needs. Moreover, synthetic regimes of naval organization appear on Samos under Polykrates and at Athens in the naukraric system — that balance or blend leisteia and trireme warfare. The resolution of the challenges of the trireme navy is an aspect of the achievement of the more integrated classical polis, which culminated in the breakthrough of the naval arche of Athens.


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ISSN 2240-774X  e-ISSN 2039-4985