During the course of the 4th Century, monarchs of Macedonian descent rejected the model of naval power perfected by Athens during the Classical Age of Pericles that was described so well by Thucydides. Instead of fleets comprised solely of fast and maneuverable triremes engaging in maneuver-and-ram warfare, these monarchs added warships of increasingly large dimensions that eventually reached unbelievable proportions. Because ancient warships were lightly ballasted and did not routinely sink when destroyed in battle, few remains survive from ancient galleys to help us understand the specific designs of these larger warships and the reasons behind their construction.
This lecture reviews some of the new evidence for warships larger than triremes and explains how 3D computer modeling is helping to recover direct dimensions for the bronze rams carried by warships that fought in the Battle of Actium (31 BCE). This, in turn, informs our understanding of Hellenistic naval warfare when battles began with frontal charges and large warships were used for attacking harbor fortifications. This new model of naval war accords well with historical accounts of the period, but also with a third century siegecraft manual written by an engineer named Philo of Byzantium. The lecture concludes by announcing a new field of warship analysis—“ram studies”—and the launching of a new website to promote the development of this field.