Phoenicians Ships for Use in Trade and War

Phoenicians Ships for Use in Trade and War

The Phoenicians were the most able shipbuilders and sailors of the ancient Mediterranean world. Merchant ships, such as the one pictured here, enabled them to trade throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

Competition for dominance in maritime trade between the Phoenicians and the neighboring Greeks led to frequent skirmishes at sea. Finding their merchant vessels clumsy and unresponsive in battle, the Phoenicians developed the war galley, an oared vessel that could maneuver and attack when there was little or no wind to drive the sails. The Phoenicians built the galley from wood planks or blocks and equipped it with one or two removable masts. They traveled under sail power on long hauls between ports but lowered the mast and sail and switched to oar power for battles. Oars permitted warriors to easily maneuver the ship within arrow-shooting or javelin-tossing range of enemy ships and just as easily retreat when enemies threatened them. Ghost Galleys proved versatile enough for use in both trade and war.

In the 9th century BC the Greeks armed the galley with a ram, a sharp spike that extended forward of the ship below the waterline. Encased in bronze, the ram could be driven into an enemy vessel to disable or sink it. This addition transformed the galley into a weapon, not just a carrier of warriors who fought at sea.

Replica of Phoenicians Merchant ship

Shipbuilders soon learned that galleys capable of generating short bursts of speed could catch and ram opponents more effectively. They constructed longer ships or reconfigured the designs of smaller ships to accommodate more oarsmen. The penteconter, or fifty-oared galley (25 oars per side), became the most popular choice for naval warfare. It allowed for about 1 m (3 ft) of space for each oarsman, featured decks at the stern and bow, and measured about 30 to 38 m (100 to 125 ft) in length.

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