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Greek Bireme

A bireme is an ancient Hellenistic-era warship with two decks of oars, probably invented by the Phoenicians. It typically was about 80 feet (24 m) long with a maximum beam length of around 10 feet (3.0 m). It was modified from penteconters (a ship that had only one set of oars on each side) but the bireme had two sets of oars on each side. The bireme was twice the triaconter's length and height, and thus employing 120 rowers, while the trireme, keeping the length of the bireme, added a tier to the height, the rowers being thus increased to 180. It also had a large square sail. This ship was also used by the Romans frequently and were used during the second of Caesar's invasions of Britain. It evolved into the trireme. Often there would be a group of marines and a unit commandant (the commandant was given a tent on the open deck). We first find it recorded in ancient history on 8th century Assyrian reliefs. The name bireme comes from "bi-" meaning two and "-reme" meaning oar.

Medieval galleys are spoken of as being "bireme" or "trireme"; This Greek bireme, with its shallow hull and lofty, open super-structure, could hardy have been a seaworthy vessel. This terminology can lead to some confusion, since the terms are also used for rowed warships of the Greco-Roman period built on entirely different design principles. In 1275 Charles of Anjou king of Sicily, issued an order for the construction of several galleys that now provides the earliest evidence for the dimensions of these bireme galleys. Because of increased weight and breadth, which brought increased friction through the water, a trireme galley wouldn't have been dramatically faster than a bireme. However, the change from bireme to trireme produced even more significant developments than a gain in tactical speed over short distances. Early bireme galleys escorted merchant ships but were only rarely used to carry goods themselves. There are a few Genoese freight contracts of the mid-thirteenth century that record charters for bireme galleys.


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