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The Age of TitansThe Rise and Fall of the Great Hellenistic Navies$
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William Murray

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195388640

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195388640.001.0001

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The End of the Big Ship Phenomenon

The End of the Big Ship Phenomenon

Chapter:
(p.208) 7 The End of the Big Ship Phenomenon
Source:
The Age of Titans
Author(s):

William M. Murray

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195388640.003.0007

Four separate battle accounts—Chios (201), Side and Myonessus (190), and Actium (31)—allow us to complete our picture of the big ship phenomenon. In each case, mid–sized polyremes (“sixes” to “tens”) formed part of a fleet whose objectives involved siege operations. Past evaluations of these battles stressed the ineffectiveness of big ships against smaller “fives” and “fours” in the opposing fleets. More importantly, these battles demonstrate the need for naval siege units to include an adequate force of “fours” and “fives” to protect them while they were at sea. Although the Romans developed some skill in naval siege warfare, they never felt compelled to build warships larger than “sixes,” partly because their main enemies lacked naval siege units, but also because of the tremendous costs involved. They preferred to settle conflicts with superior land forces rather than naval siege operations aimed at coastal cities. These same conditions apply to Antony’s big ships at Actium which were intended primarily to secure his access to the ports of southern Italy, not to crush Agrippa’s “fours” and “fives” in high sea duels.

Keywords:   Chios, Side, Myonessus, Actium, Syracuse, Utica, Africanus, Antony, Octavian, Augustus

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