The wars with Carthage forced the Romans to adapt to naval operations in order to compete and defend. During the First Punic War a large fleet was built, allegedly using a stranded Phoenician vessel as a prototype. The Romans lacked the skill of other maritime powers such as the Greeks and Carthaginians and had to resort to technology for advantages, such as the introduction of the corvus.
The relative calm of the Mediterranean Sea was not ideally suited to sails and wind power, and so fighting boats of the civilizations of the region relied on people power in the form of oars and rowing. Not only did this ensure a steady source of propulsion, but also made the boats highly maneuverable.
By the 3rd centrury BC, these boats had evolved into substantial vessels. The trireme consisted of three rows of oarsmen, one above the other, with each row having a different length of oar to be able to reach the water and avoid clashes with the row above or below. With around 85 men on each side, it is estimated that these ships could possibly reach speeds of up to 8mph with all that muscle power!
There were downsides of course. Whilst movement could start at a single command, unlike relying on wind power which is unreliable, it did also mean the ship could only move as far as the rowers could take it until they became exhausted. The size was also limited, as a bigger ship would need even more men to row, who would take up more space, which would need a bigger ship etc. There was nowhere near enough space on board to accommodate all those men when they needed to rest, which meant that ships had to be beached if the whole crew was to get a break. For this reason, triremes never ventured too far from the shore…
presented by NAVISMOTOR, Romano Pisciotti