Archived Pages from 20th Century!!

The Athenian Trireme Olympias

This page is always under development: last update 28/3/96

Some items on this page:


New on this page
After many requests, I have started adding some pictures of Olympias to this page. I have also updated it with the new information about sea trials this year, and enlarged some other sections. Some people have asked me to start up a trireme email list, mainly to act in a social sense so we do not lose touch with each other: if you are interested in being on it, please email me. I have also added an article written by Alec Tilley which takes a different look at the historical evidence about the trireme.
Latest news on seatrials
Details are starting to firm up for the next series of sea trials to be held at Poros from 27/28 July to 17/18 August. Ford Weiskittel has started recruiting in America, and Rosie Randolph is handling the UK and Europe. Other countries should contact Rosie (see the Trireme Trust). Further details, including a recruiting form, can be reached here.

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An Introduction to the Trireme

Olympias is a reconstruction of an Athenian Trireme of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, built in Greece to a design worked out by John Coates, a naval architect, taking into consideration ancient evidence researched by John Morrison, former President of Wolfson College, Cambridge. Olympias was commissioned into the Hellenic Navy in 1987. The two pictures below show Olympias propelled in two ways: by sail and under oar.

She is manned by 170 oarsmen (and women), 85 a side, arranged in three tiers, Thranites at the top, Zygians in the middle, and Thalamians at the bottom. Height generally determines where you sit. The ideal crew height is 5'10", and if you are over 6'1" you will probably find conditions cramped on board. You can get an idea of what it looks like from the inside from the first picture below; the second picture gives you a side-on view of Olympias coming into dock.

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Olympias Sea Trials

Based on Poros (an island approx. 30 miles south of Athens).

1987 (First Series)
Highly experimental. Featured in BBC documentary. Crew: mostly British. Longest voyage: circuit of Poros (1 day)
1988 (Second Series)
Modified oars - now with counterweights. Crew: 2/3 British, 1/3 American, some Irish. Longest voyage: to Methana then circuit of Poros (1 day).
1990 (Third Series)
Most existing speed records set during this trip. Crew: 1/2 British, 1/2 American, also some Dutch. Longest voyage: around coast to Porto Heli (5 days).
1992 (Fourth Series)
Longest voyage achieved (and first trireme passage of the Corinth canal). Crew: 2/3 British, 1/3 American (only 90% capacity). Longest voyage: Corinth, via Aegina and Salamis (6 days)
1993 (London)
Participation in Democracy 2000 Celebrations on Thames, i.e. lots of PR, not much proper rowing. Based in Putney, then Tower Bridge. Crew: 2/3 British, 1/3 American (only 70% capacity)
1994 (Fifth Series)
Mostly PR purposes: Channel 4 and Greek film crews. Crew: mostly British (only 70% capacity).

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There are a number of books available on the topic of ancient ships, but these are just a few to act as a starting point.

Coates, J.F., The Trireme Sails Again, Scientific American, April 1989, pp68-75
Morrison, J.S., and Coates, J.F., The Athenian Trireme: The History and Reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Warship, Cambridge University Press, 1986
Morrison, J.S., and Williams, R.T., Greek Oared Ships, 900-322 B.C., Cambridge University Press, 1968
Shaw, T., The Trireme Project: Operational Experience 1987-90, Lessons Learnt, Oxbow Monograph 31, 1993

For an alternative view on what a trireme actually looked like, check out the article here. For a more detailed discussion, try:

Tilley, A., Three men to a room - a completely different Trireme, Antiquity, Vol 66, No 252, Sept 1992

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Some WWW resources about the Trireme

This list is rather random: as I explore the net myself it will probably improve.

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Glossary of Trireme Terms

Leather sleeve for keeping seawater from entering through the thalamian oarports.
Keleustes (pl. Keleustai)
The bo'sun who controls the oarcrew
English term from Greek thalamios, the name for the oarsmen in the lowest file of the trieres
Thole, tholepin
The pin of wood forming, with the oarloop, the fulcrum of the oar.
English term from Greek thranites, the name for the oarsmen in the uppermost file of the trieres
The captain of a trieres
English term from Greek zygios, the name for the oarsmen in the (vertically) middle file of the trieres

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Trireme Self-Assessment Questionnaire

By Anu Dudhia, originally appeared in the '92 Trials year book

A lot of people may have felt that they were rowing in the wrong place in the trireme. This is a self-assessment questionnaire to decide which position you are most naturally suited to.

  1. Your height is....
  2. The role of the Thranite is to....
  3. The role of the Zygian is to....
  4. The role of the Thalamian is to....
  5. The Thalamian behind you catches a crab. You think....
  6. How many Thalamians does it take to change a light bulb?
  7. You have just been told that you achieved a maximum speed of 9.7 knots. You think....
  8. Returning from a 4 hour morning outing, do you....
  9. The most memorable part of rowing a trireme was....
  10. Boris and Ford are....

(1) a=2, b=1, c=0.
(2) a=0, b=1, c=2.
(3) a=1, b=2, c=0.
(4) a=0, b=1, c=2.
(5) a=0, b=1, c=2.
(6) a=2, b=1, c=0.
(7) a=2, b=1, c=0.
(8) a=2, b=0, c=1.
(9) a=2, b=1, c=0.
(10)a=1, b=2, c=0.

If you were a Thalamian and scored...
0-4: You probably complained a lot, but you secretly enjoyed it and wouldn't have been happy rowing anywhere else
5-9: You hated every minute of it, and aspire to Zygianity.
10-20: I think your head must have hit one cross-beam too many.
If you were a Zygian and scored...
0-4: You are an unusually sensitive and caring person
5-9: Born and bred a Zygian, always were, always will be. Sorry.
10-20: You're probably wondering why your Thalamian never talks to you any more
If you were a Thranite and scored...
0-10 : You probably didn't mix much with other Thranites. Tiresome, aren't they?
11-15: Nice to think you talked to your triad occasionally.
16-20: I bet you came back with a good sun-tan, didn't you?
21-30: You've probably spent too long out in the sun.

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The Trireme Trust

The Trireme Trust was formed in 1982 by Frank Welsh, John Morrison and John Coates in order to foster studies and other activities leading eventually to the reconstruction of an Athenian Trireme or trieres of the 5th Century BC.

Information about the trust may be obtained from the secretary Mrs Rosie Randolph, Pyrton Halt House, Watlington, Oxford OX9 5AN, Tel: (01491) 612 411, Fax: (01491) 614 061.

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The Trireme Trust USA

The US branch of the Trireme Trust has as its President Ford Weiskittel, who is responsible for recruiting crews from the North American continent. You can contact Ford directly at [email protected] or via snail mail at: Trireme Trust USA, 803 South Main Street, Geneva, NY 14456.

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Trireme Rowing Club

Doug Lindsay and Andrew Ruddle are still interested in forming a group to encourage on-the-water activity between sea trials. Doug has experience in traditional wooden craft like gigs and cutters, and Andrew has connections with what he calls the 'ARA Rowing' world. They wish to develop fixed seat rowing as a skill, creating a permanent pool of skilled and experienced oarspeople for Olympias, as well as encouraging ARA competition. For a first step, they suggest that a Trireme Rowing Club could be set up, as a 'flag' for oarspeople to row under on a scratch basis at any sort of race or regatta (The name has been approved by the ARA for racing). If there was enough interest, it may well be possible to find a permanent base; this would, they guess, be somewhere between Reading and Putney as a geographical average of where most of our crews are based, but they are open to suggestions. Branches in other areas of active support would also be encouraged, and trips to specialised rowing facilities. If you're even the SLIGHTEST bit interested, please contact either of them, at:

Doug Lindsay     Andrew Ruddle
59 Inmans Rd     59 Berkeley Court
Hedon            Weybridge
Hull             Surrey
HU12 8NQ         KT13 9HY
(01482) 897 066  (01932) 220 401

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This page is maintained by Charlie Day. You can reach me by email at: [email protected]. Thanks also to Anu Dudhia for help and suggestions.