Category Archives: Roman Navy

The Roman Navy: From Rivers to Oceans

Ahoy and welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Throughout our time here we have covered various battles and the expansion of Rome from city-state to Empire. During our travels, we have relied upon the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to carry the load of Rome’s development and expansion.

Most recently we shared the prowess of Rome’s military might in The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas. Now that we are familiar with what the Roman Navy actually was, it’s now time to explore its scale.

That is why today we are discovering the Roman Navy various Fleets and Ports of Call!

Roman bireme depicted in a relief from the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste (Palastrina), c. 120 BC (Museo Pio-Clementino in the Vatican Museums).

Upon destroying Carthage and subduing the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, Rome went on to achieve complete mastery of the inland sea, which they called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea). On “Their Sea” the Romans would set up major ports at Portus Julius (Misenum, Southern Italy), Port of Ravenna (Ravenna, Northern Italy), Alexandria (Egypt), Leptis Magna (Roman Libya), Ostia Antica and Portus (Central Italy), and the Port of Mainz (Rhine River, Germania).

The 2 major Fleets (Ostia Antica and Portus) were stationed in Italy and acted as a central naval reserve, directly available to the Emperor. In the absence of any seafaring threat, their duties mostly involved patrolling and transporting.

These duties were not simply confined to the waters around Italy, but throughout the Mediterranean. There is epigraphic evidence for the presence of sailors of the 2 Praetorian Fleets at Piraeus and Syria.

Classis Misenensis Roman Quinquereme

The larger of the 2 Fleets was the Classis Misenensis, which was established in 27 BC and based at Portus Julius. Later its name was changed to Classis Praetoria Misenesis Pia Vindex to which detachments of the fleet served at tributary bases, such as Ostia, PuteoliCentumcellae and other harbors.

The smaller of the 2 Fleets was the Classis Ravennas, which was made in 27 BC and based at Ravenna. Later its classification was changed to Classis Praetoria Ravennatis Pia Vindex.

Replica of a trireme, the main ship operated by Classis Ravennas (Mainz, Germany).

The various Provincial Fleets were smaller than the Praetorian Fleets, composed mostly of lighter vessels. Nevertheless, it was these Provincials that saw action in full campaigns or raids on the fringe of the Empire.

The Classis Pannonica, another fluvial fleet controlling the Upper Danube from Castra Regina in Raetia (modern Regensburg) to Singidunum in Moesia (modern Belgrade). Its exact date of establishment is unknown, but some trace it to Augustus’ campaigns in Pannonia circa 35 BC.

River biremes and triremes of the Classis Pannonica on the Danube.

The Fleet was certainly in existence by 45 AD, for under the Flavian Dynasty it received the cognomen Flavia. Its main base was probably Taurunum (modern Zemun) at the confluence of the river Sava with the Danube.

The Classis Alexandrina, based in Alexandria, controlled the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Founded by Augustus around 30 BC, the Classis Alexandrina was most likely comprised of ships that fought at the Battle of Actium, and was manned mostly by Greeks of the Nile Delta.

Depiction of a typical Roman ship from the Classis Alexandrina.

Having supported Emperor Vespasian in the Civil War of AD 69, it was awarded of the cognomen Augusta. The fleet was responsible chiefly for the escort of the grain shipments to Rome (and later Constantinople), and also apparently operated the Nile river patrol.

Ship of the Classis Flavia Moesica.

The Classis Flavia Moesica was established sometime between 20 BC and 10 AD, and was based in Noviodunum. The honorific Flavia was awarded to this Fleet as it controlled the Lower Danube from the Iron Gates to the northwestern Black Sea as far as the Crimea.

The Classis Germanica was established in 12 BC by Drusus at Castra Vetera. It controlled the Rhine and was mainly a fluvial Fleet, although it also operated in the North Sea.

Replica of a ship from the Classis Germanica.

It is noteworthy that the Romans’ initial lack of experience with the tides of the ocean left Drusus’ Fleet stranded on the Zuiderzee. After around 30 AD, the Fleet moved its main base to the castrum of Alteburg, some 2.5 miles south of Colonia Agrippinensis (modern Cologne).

Later, the Classis Germanica granted the honorifics Augusta Pia Fidelis Domitiana following the suppression of the Revolt of Saturninus.

The Classis Britannica, established in 40 or 43 AD at Gesoriacum (Boulogne-sur-Mer). It participated in the Roman invasion of Britain and the subsequent campaigns in the island.

The Roman Fleet landing on the coast of Britain for the Emperor Claudius’ invasion, earning the title Classis Britannica.

The fleet was probably based at Rutupiae (Richborough) until 85 AD, when it was transferred to Dubris (Dover). Other bases were Portus Lemanis (Lympne) and Anderitum (Pevensey), while Gesoriacum on the Gallic coast likely remained active.

During the 2nd-3rd Centuries, the fleet was chiefly employed in transport of supplies and men across the English Channel. The Classis Britannica disappears (at least under that name) from the mid-3rd Century, and the sites occupied by it were soon incorporated into the Saxon Shore system.

The Classis Perinthia was established after the annexation of Thracia in 46 AD, and was based in Perinthus. Probably based on the indigenous navy, it operated in the Propontis and was united with the Classis Pontica at a later stage.

The Classis Pontica, founded in 64 AD from the Pontic royal fleet, was based in Trapezus. Although, on occasion, it was moved to Byzantium and Cyzicus.

This Fleet was used to guard the southern and eastern Black Sea, and the entrance of the Bosporus. According to the historian Josephus, in the latter half of the 1st Century, the Fleet numbered 40 warships and 3,000 men.

Ship from Vespasian’s Classis Syriaca.

The Classis Syriaca was probably established under Vespasian (69-79 AD), and based in Seleucia Pieria (hence the alternative name Classis Seleucena) in Syria. This Fleet controlled the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

The Classis Mauretanica, based at Caesarea Mauretaniae (modern Cherchell), controlled the African coasts of the western Mediterranean sea. This fleet was established on a permanent basis after the raids by the Moors in the early 170s.

The Classis Nova Libyca, first mentioned in 180 AD, was most likely based at Ptolemais on the Cyrenaica.

The Classis Africana Commodiana Herculea was established by Commodus in 186 AD after the model of the Classis Alexandrina. Its creation was to help secure the grain shipments (annona) from North Africa to Italy.

Banner of the Legio X Fretensis

In addition, there is significant archaeological evidence for naval activity by certain Legions, which in all likelihood operated their own squadrons. Legio XXII Primigenia was active on the Upper Rhine and Main Rivers, while Legio X Fretensis patrolled the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, as several Legionary Squadrons were stationed on the Danube frontier.

The best source for the structure of the late Roman military is the Notitia Dignitatum, which matches the situation of the 390s for the Eastern Empire and the 420s for the Western Empire. Notable in the Notitia is the large number of smaller squadrons that have been created, most of these fluvial and of a local operational role.

The Classis Pannonica and the Classis Moesica were broken up into several smaller squadrons. There was the Classis Histrica which had authority of the frontier commanders (duces), with bases at Mursa in Pannonia SecundaClassis Florentia in Pannonia ValeriaClassis Arruntum in Pannonia Prima; Classis Viminacium in Moesia Prima; and Classis Aegetae in Dacia Ripensis.

Two-banked lburnians of the Danube fleets during Trajan’s Dacian Wars (Trajan’s Column, Rome).

Naval units were complemented by port garrisons and Marines (Muscularii), drawn from the Exercitus Romanus. In the Danube frontier these were:

In Pannonia Prima and Noricum Ripensis, Naval Detachments (Milites Liburnarii) of Legio XIV Gemina and Legio X Gemina at Carnuntum and Arrabonae, along with Legio II Italica at Ioviacum.

In Pannonia Secunda, Legio I Flavia Augusta (at Sirmium) and Legio II Flavia are listed under their Prefects.

In Moesia Secunda, 2 units of Sailors (Milites Nauclarii) were stationed at Appiaria and Altinum.

In Scythia Minor, Marines of Legio II Herculia were at Inplateypegiis along with Sailors at Flaviana.

Roman Marine units

In the West, and in particular in Gaul, several fluvial Fleets had been established. These came under the command of the Magister Peditum of the West, and were:

The Classis Anderetianorum which was based at Parisii (Paris) and operating in the Seine and Oise Rivers.

The Classis Ararica was based at Caballodunum (Chalon-sur-Saône) and operated in the Saône River.

Classis Barcariorum was composed of small vessels docked at Eburodunum (modern Yverdon-les-Bains) at Lake Neuchâtel.

The Classis Comensis, stationed at Lake Como, truly made the lake their own.

Painting of a ship from the Classis Misenatis.

The old Praetorian Fleets, the Classis Misenatis and the Classis Ravennatis are still listed, albeit with no distinction indicating any higher importance than the other fleets. The Praetorian surname is still attested until the early 4th Century, but absent from Vegetius or the Notitia.

The Classis Fluminis Rhodani was based at Arelate and operated in the Rhône River. It was complemented with a Marine Detachment (Milites Muscularii) based at Massalia.

The Classis Sambrica was based at Locus Quartensis (unknown location) operating on the Somme River and the Channel. It came under the command of the Dux Belgica Secunda.

The Classis Venetum, based at Aquileia, operated in the northern Adriatic Sea. This Fleet may have been established to ensure communications with the Imperial Capitals in the Po Valley (Ravenna and Milan) and with Dalmatia.

It is notable that, with the exception of the Praetorian Fleets (whose retention in the list does not necessarily signify an active status), the old fleets of the Principate are missing. The Classis Britannica vanishes under that name after the mid-3rd Century, but its remnants were later incorporated in the Saxon Shore system.

Barbarians crossing of the Rhine

By the time of the Notitia Dignitatum, the Classis Germanica had ceased to exist, most probably due to the collapse of the Limes Germanicus (Germanic Frontier) after the Crossing of the Rhine by the barbarians in winter 405-406 AD. The Mauretanian and African Fleets had been disbanded or taken over by the Vandals.

As far as the East is concerned, we know that the Classis Alexandrina and the Classis Seleucena continued to operate, and that around 400 AD the Classis Carpathia was detached from the Syrian Fleet and based at the Aegean island of Karpathos. A Fleet is known to have been stationed at Constantinople itself, but no further details are known about it.

We hope you enjoyed setting sail with the various Fleets of the Roman Navy. We wish you safe passage on future journeys, and look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Casson, Lionel. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-691-01477-7.

Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0.

Cleere, Henry. “The Classis Britannica”CBA, 1977.

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill, 1998.

Gardiner, Robert. AGE OF THE GALLEY: Mediterranean Oared Vessels since pre-Classical Times. Conway Maritime Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-85177-955-3.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265–146 BC. Cassell, 2000. ISBN 0-304-36642-0.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Complete Roman Army. Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2003. ISBN 0-500-05124-0.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. “A Roman Alexander: Pompey the Great“. In the name of Rome: The men who won the Roman Empire. Phoenix, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7538-1789-6.

Gruen, Erich S. The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome: Volume IIUniversity of California Press, 1984. ISBN 0-520-04569-6.

Lewis, Archibald Ross; Runyan, Timothy J. European Naval and Maritime History, 300-1500. Indiana University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-253-20573-5,

MacGeorge, Penny. “Appendix: Naval Power in the Fifth Century”. Late Roman WarlordsOxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-925244-2.

Meijer, Fik. A History of Seafaring in the Classical World. Routledge, 1986. ISBN 978-0-7099-3565-0.

Potter, David. “The Roman Army and Navy”. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-521-00390-2.

Rodgers, William L. Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries: A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design. Naval Institute Press, 1967. ISBN 978-0-87021-487-5.

Saddington, D.B. “Classes. The Evolution of the Roman Imperial Fleets”. A Companion to the Roman ArmyBlackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007. ISBN 978-1-4051-2153-8.

Starr, Chester G. The Roman Imperial Navy: 31 BC-AD 324 (2nd Edition). Cornell University Press, 1960.

Starr, Chester G. The Influence of Sea Power on Ancient History. Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-505667-9.

Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. Salamander Books Ltd., 2004. ISBN 0-8061-2794-5.

Webster, Graham; Elton, Hugh. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries AD. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8061-3000-8.

Workman-Davies, Bradley. Corvus: A Review of the Design and Use of the Roman Boarding Bridge During the First Punic War 264 -241 BC. Lulu.com, 2006. ISBN 978-1-84728-882-0.

The Roman Fleet, Roman-Empire.net

The Roman Navy: Masters of the Mediterranean, HistoryNet.com

Port of Claudius, the museum of Roman merchant ships found in Fiumicino (Rome)

Warfare of Classical Antiquity: Republican Fleet Tactics (Roman Navy)

Ahoy and welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The Roman Fleet landing on the coast of Britain for the Emperor Claudius’ invasion, earning the title Classis Britannica.

Throughout our time here we have covered various battles and the expansion of Rome from city-state to Empire. During our travels, we have relied upon the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to carry the load of Rome’s development and expansion.

The Romans were late to the naval game but soon dominated the Mediterranean. If you care to dive into more depth on Rome’s maritime force, check out The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas.

Today THFE Productions helps us set sail and explore the weapons and tactics employed by the Roman Navy!

We appreciate THFE Productions for their hard work and efforts in creating this wonderful visual presentation. Gratias for stopping by and we hope you join us on further adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas

Ahoy and welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Throughout our time here we have covered various battles and the expansion of Rome from city-state to Empire. During our travels, we have relied upon the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to carry the load of Rome’s development and expansion.

Most recently we shared the prowess of Rome’s military might in Making It Happen: The Military of Ancient Rome – Part I & Part II. Although the men of the Roman Legions did a lot of the work, the burden was not theirs alone.

That is why today we are exploring the Roman Navy, the unsung champions of the ancient seas!

The Roman Navy (Classis) comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. The Navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, but it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman Legions.

Throughout their history, the Romans remained a primarily land-based people and relied partially on their more nautically inclined subjects, such as the Greeks and the Egyptians, to build and man their ships. Partly because of that, the Navy was never wholly embraced by the Roman state, and deemed somewhat “un-Roman”.

In Antiquity, navies and trading fleets did not have the logistical autonomy that modern ships and fleets possess. Unlike modern naval forces, the Roman Navy even at its height never existed as an autonomous service but operated as an addition to the Roman Army.

The Roman Empire at its farthest extent in AD 117. Note, however, that the Sea is called Mare Internum “Inner Sea” here.

During the course of the First Punic War, the Roman Navy was massively expanded and played a vital role in the Roman victory and the Roman Republic‘s eventual ascension to supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea. In the course of the first half of the 2nd Century BC, Rome went on to destroy Carthage and subdue the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, achieving complete mastery of the inland sea, which they called Mare Nostrum.

The Roman Fleets were again prominent in the 1st Century BC in the wars against the pirates, and in the Civil Wars that brought down the Republic, whose campaigns ranged across the Mediterranean. In 31 BC, the great naval Battle of Actium ended the Civil Wars culminating in the final victory of Augustus and the establishment of the Roman Empire.

Drawing of Julius Caesar as he is held captive by Mediterranean Pirates.

During the Imperial period, the Mediterranean seemingly became a Rome’s peaceful lake. In the absence of a maritime enemy, the Navy was reduced mostly to patrol, anti-piracy and transport duties.

The Navy also manned and maintained craft on major frontier rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube for supplying the Army. On the fringes of the Empire, in new conquests or in defense against barbarian invasions, the Roman Fleets were still engaged in open warfare.

The decline of the Empire in the 3rd Century took a heavy toll on the Navy, which was reduced to a shadow of its former self, both in size and in combat ability. As successive waves of the Völkerwanderung crashed on the land frontiers of the battered Empire, the Navy could only play a secondary role.

In the early 5th Century, the Roman frontiers were breached, and barbarian kingdoms appeared on the shores of the western Mediterranean. The Vandal Kingdom even raised a navy of its own and raided the shores of the Mediterranean sacking Rome.

The Imperial Ensign (Basilikon Phlamoulon) with the tetragrammic cross, carried by Byzantine warships.

Diminished Roman fleets were incapable of offering any resistance. With the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th Century, the Navy of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Navy.

The generic Roman term for an oar-driven galley warship was navis longa (long ship), as opposed to the sail-driven navis oneraria (merchant vessel), or the navigia minora (minor craft) like the scapha. The Navy consisted of a wide variety of different classes of warships, from heavy polyremes to light raiding and scouting vessels.

Unlike the rich Hellenistic Successor kingdoms in the East however, the Romans did not rely on heavy warships, with quinqueremes, and to a lesser extent quadriremes and triremes providing the mainstay of the Roman Fleets from the Punic Wars to the end of the Civil Wars.

Roman Quadrireme

The heaviest vessel mentioned in Roman Fleets during this period was the hexareme, of which a few were used as flagships. Lighter vessels such as the liburnians and the hemiolia, both swift types invented by pirates, were also adopted as scouts and light transport vessels.

During the final confrontation between Octavius (before he became Augustus) and Mark Antony, the fleet of Octavius was composed of quinqueremes, together with some “sixes” and many triremes and liburnians, while Antony, who had the resources of Ptolemaic Egypt to draw upon, fielded a fleet also mostly composed of quinqueremes, but with a sizeable complement of heavier warships, ranging from “sixes” to “tens”.

Roman Liburna

Later historical tradition made much of the prevalence of lighter and swifter vessels in Octavius’s fleet. Fourth Century Roman writer Vegetius even explicitly ascribed Octavius’s victory to the liburnians.

This prominence of lighter craft in the historical narrative is perhaps best explained in light of subsequent developments. After Actium, the operational landscape had changed.

For the remainder of the Principate, no opponent existed to challenge Roman maritime control and no massed nautical confrontation was likely. The tasks at hand for the Roman Navy were now the policing of the Mediterranean waterways and the rivers along the Empire’s borders, suppression of piracy, and escort duties for the grain shipments to Rome and for Imperial Army expeditions.

Baroque painting of the Battle of Actium by Laureys a Castro, 1672 (Maritime Museum of Greenwich, UK).

Lighter ships were far better suited to these tasks, and after the reorganization of the Fleet following Actium, the largest ship kept in service was a hexareme, the flagship of the Classis Misenensis. The bulk of the Fleets was composed of the lighter triremes and liburnians.

In addition, there were smaller oared vessels, such as the navis actuaria, with 30 oars (15 on each bank), a ship primarily used for transport in coastal and fluvial operations, for which its shallow draught and flat keel were ideal. In late Antiquity, it was succeeded in this role by the navis lusoria (playful ship), which was extensively used for patrols and raids by the Legionary Flotillas in the Rhine and Danube frontiers.

Roman ships were commonly named after gods (MarsJupiter, MinervaIsis), mythological heroes (Hercules), geographical maritime features such as Rhenus or Oceanus, concepts such as Harmony, Peace, Loyalty, Victory (Concordia, Pax, Fides, Victoria) or after important events (Dacicus for the Trajan’s Dacian Wars or Salamina for the Battle of Salamis).

Bronze figurehead from Roman ship, circa 1st Century BC-1st Century AD.

They were initially distinguished by their figurehead (insigne or parasemum). During the Civil Wars at least, they were identified by the paint schemes on their turrets, which varied according to each fleet.

In Classical Antiquity, a ship’s main weapon was the ram (rostra), which was used to sink or immobilize an enemy ship by punching a hole in its hull. Use of a rostra, though, required a skilled and experienced crew and a fast and agile ship like a trireme or quinquereme.

In the Hellenistic period, the larger navies came instead to rely on greater vessels. This heavier and sturdier construction lessened the effects of ramming, but also allowed for the placement of deck-mounted ballistae and catapults.

Romans using the corvus

Being initially inexperienced at sea combat, the Romans relied upon boarding actions through the use of the corvus. Its use was cut short, however, because it tended to unbalance the quinqueremes in high seas.

During the Civil Wars, a number of technical innovations attributed to Agrippa took place. The most significant were the harpax, a catapult-fired grappling hook used to reel in an enemy ship like a fish, and the use of collapsible fighting towers placed one apiece bow and stern, which were used to provide the boarders with supporting fire.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Rome’s 1st simultaneous General and Admiral.

During the Republic, command of a fleet was given to a serving Magistratu (Magistrate) or Pro Magistratu (Promagistrate) of either Consular or
Praetorian rank. In the Punic Wars for instance, one Consul would usually command the Fleet, and another the Army.

In the subsequent wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, Praetors would assume the command of the Fleet. However, since these men were political appointees, the actual handling of the fleets and of separate squadrons was entrusted to their more experienced Legati (Legates) and subordinates.

It was therefore during the Punic Wars that the separate position of Praefectus Classis (Fleet Prefect) originally appeared. At first subordinate to the Magistrate in command, after the Fleet’s reorganization by Augustus, the Praefectus Classis became a Procurator in charge of each of the permanent Fleets.

These posts were initially filled either from among the Equestrian class, or, especially under Claudius, from the Emperor‘s freedmen, thus securing Imperial control over the Fleets. From the period of the Flavian Emperors, the status of the Praefectura was raised, and only Equestrians with military experience who had gone through the Militia Equestri were appointed.

Nevertheless, the Prefects remained largely political appointees, and despite their military experience, usually in command of Auxilia (Auxiliary Units), their knowledge of naval matters was minimal, forcing them to rely on their professional subordinates. The difference in importance of the Fleets they commanded was also reflected by the rank and the corresponding pay of the commanders.

A sestertius of Nero, struck at Rome in 64 AD.

The Prefects of the 2 Praetorian Fleets were ranked Procuratores Ducenarii, meaning they earned 200,000 sesterces annually, the Prefects of the Classis Germanica, the Classis Britannica and later the Classis Pontica were centenarii (earning 100,000 sesterces), while the other Fleet Prefects were sexagenarii (earning 60,000 sesterces).

The bulk of a galley’s crew was formed by the Remiges (Rowers). Despite popular perceptions, the Roman Fleet, and ancient fleets in general, relied throughout their existence on Rowers of free status, and not on galley slaves.

Slaves were employed only in times of pressing manpower demands or extreme emergency, and even then, they were freed first. In Imperial times, non-citizen freeborn Provincials (Peregrini), chiefly from nations with a maritime background such as Greeks, Phoenicians, Syrians and Egyptians, formed the bulk of the Fleets’ crews.

During the early Principate a ship’s crew, regardless of its size, was organized as a Centuria. Crewmen could sign on as Marines (Marinus), Rowers/Seamen, Craftsmen and various other jobs, though all personnel serving in the Imperial Fleet were classed as Milites (Soldiers), regardless of their function.

Naval personnel were considered to hold a lower social status, considered inferior to the Auxilia and the Legionaries. Emperor Claudius originally gave legal privileges to the Navy’s Crewmen, enabling them to receive Roman citizenship after their period of service.

This period was initially set at a minimum of 26 years (1 year more than the Legions), and was later expanded to 28. Upon honorable discharge (honesta missio), the Sailors received a sizable cash payment as well.

Roman Naval Centurion, note this Marine is armed just like his land-based counterpart.

As in the Army, the ship’s Centuria was headed by a Centurion with an Optio as his deputy, while a Beneficiarius supervised a small administrative staff. Among the crew were also a number of Principales (Junior Officers) and Immunes (specialists exempt from certain duties).

An inscription from the island of Cos, dated to the First Mithridatic War, provides us with a list of a ship’s officers (Nautae): the Gubernator (helmsman or pilot), the Celeusta (Rower Supervisor), a Proreta (Look-Out stationed at the bow), a Pentacontarchos (Junior Officer), and an Iatros (Ship’s Doctor).

Each ship was commanded by a Trierarchus, whose exact relationship with the ship’s Centurion remains unclear. Squadrons, most likely of 10 ships each, were put under a Nauarchus, who often appears to have risen from the ranks of the Trierarchi. The post of Nauarchus Archigubernes or Nauarchus Princeps appeared later in the Imperial period, and functioned either as Commander of several squadrons or as an Executive Officer under a Civilian Admiral, equivalent to the Legionary Primus Pilus.

Until the reign of Antoninus Pius, all careers of these Officers were restricted to the Fleet. Only in the 3rd Century were these Officers equated to the Legionary Centurions in status and pay, and from this time forth could be transferred to a similar position in the Legions.

Naval operations on the Rhine (357 AD).

After the end of the Civil Wars, Augustus (formerly Octavius) reduced and reorganized the Roman Military, including the Navy. A large part of the Fleet of Mark Antony was burned, and the rest was withdrawn to a new base at Forum Iulii (modern Fréjus), which remained operative until the reign of Claudius.

However, the bulk of the Fleet was soon subdivided into 2 Praetorian Fleets at Misenum and Ravenna, supplemented by a growing number of minor ones in the provinces, which were often created on an ad hoc basis for specific campaigns. This organizational structure was maintained almost unchanged until the 4th Century.

Roman Bireme with a tower on the front.

We hope you enjoyed today’s voyage and look forward to having you back again soon. There’s lots more about the Roman Navy to discuss, but who knows where or what we’ll experience next?

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Casson, Lionel. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-691-01477-7.

Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0.

Cleere, Henry. “The Classis Britannica”CBA, 1977.

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill, 1998.

Gardiner, Robert. AGE OF THE GALLEY: Mediterranean Oared Vessels since pre-Classical Times. Conway Maritime Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-85177-955-3.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265–146 BC. Cassell, 2000. ISBN 0-304-36642-0.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Complete Roman Army. Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2003. ISBN 0-500-05124-0.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. “A Roman Alexander: Pompey the Great“. In the name of Rome: The men who won the Roman Empire. Phoenix, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7538-1789-6.

Gruen, Erich S. The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome: Volume IIUniversity of California Press, 1984. ISBN 0-520-04569-6.

Lewis, Archibald Ross; Runyan, Timothy J. European Naval and Maritime History, 300-1500. Indiana University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-253-20573-5,

MacGeorge, Penny. “Appendix: Naval Power in the Fifth Century”. Late Roman WarlordsOxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-925244-2.

Meijer, Fik. A History of Seafaring in the Classical World. Routledge, 1986. ISBN 978-0-7099-3565-0.

Potter, David. “The Roman Army and Navy”. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-521-00390-2.

Rodgers, William L. Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries: A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design. Naval Institute Press, 1967. ISBN 978-0-87021-487-5.

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Starr, Chester G. The Roman Imperial Navy: 31 BC-AD 324 (2nd Edition). Cornell University Press, 1960.

Starr, Chester G. The Influence of Sea Power on Ancient History. Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-505667-9.

Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.

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The Roman Fleet, Roman-Empire.net

The Roman Navy: Masters of the Mediterranean, HistoryNet.com

Port of Claudius, the museum of Roman merchant ships found in Fiumicino (Rome)