Greek Bireme on an Etruscan Water Jar

Illustration

Nathalie Choubineh
by The Trustees of the British Museum
published on 06 October 2022

Black-figure hydria from Vulci, Etruria, attributed to the Micali Painter, c. 510-500 BCE.

The British Museum, London

This Italiote reproduction of the Greek naval invasion of Troy based on the Iliad is shaped around a bireme (diiris), the Greek Archaic warship invented sometime prior to the 6th century BCE and continued to be in use way into the Roman era. The typical bireme, developed from the earlier 30-meter long penteconter (fifty-oared), was at least 50 m longer but relatively narrower to increase the swiftness and speed and to make it difficult for enemy troops to jump on board in clusters. The elongated shape of the bireme made it distinctive from round-shaped cargo ships. As represented on this vase, each bireme was manned by hoplites and archers with the relative frequency of 4:1 or 5:1. Biremes were decorated by massive staring eyes near the stern and a zoomorphic ram, here a boar's head, crowning the bow to strike and sink enemy ships. In the first half of the 6th century BCE, a wider model of the bireme, samaina, was invented on the island of Samos under Polycrates (r. 539-522 BCE). Unlike the battleship bireme that had rails and no decks, samaina ships lacked the rail and were covered up by a bow-to-stern deck. These features made them suitable for both warfare and trade thanks to their covered-up and capacious hull.

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APA Style

Museum, T. T. o. t. B. (2022, October 06). Greek Bireme on an Etruscan Water Jar. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/image/16458/greek-bireme-on-an-etruscan-water-jar/

Chicago Style

Museum, The Trustees of the British. "Greek Bireme on an Etruscan Water Jar." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 06, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/image/16458/greek-bireme-on-an-etruscan-water-jar/.

MLA Style

Museum, The Trustees of the British. "Greek Bireme on an Etruscan Water Jar." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 06 Oct 2022. Web. 30 Nov 2022.

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