Bireme, Trireme or Quinquireme   

  A Roman Bireme

This project is a real wooden bireme from Mantua. I added some 28mm tin soldiers from Crusade and oarsmen from Scheltrum miniatures.

I don't know if the ship can really float. I don't dare to find out, because
it took months to assemble it from pieces of wood.

You can feel the fresh sea wind blowing in your in your face with this picture...

The Corvus, I added myself and is not a part of the original model. This turnable entering weapon coursed much confusion on the Carthaginian side during the first Punic war. The Carthaginians were much better sailors, but the Romans brought their superior land warfare to the sea with this device.


The sharp hook was dropped into the deck of the enemy vessel and the Roman foot soldiers rushed onboard. The only drawback was that it made the Roman ships top heavy. During storms whole fleets were destroyed as this tipped over quite easily.

It is not exactly known how the Romans constructed the 'Raven', but Polybius has some information on it. Based upon his writings I designed the 'raven' in this bireme. It can actually turn and go up and down.  


Polybius describes the Corvus:

As the [Roman] ships were ill-built and slow in their movements, someone suggested to them as a help in fighting the engines which afterwards came to be called "Corvus". They were constructed as follows: On the prow stood a round pole four fathoms in height and three palms in diameter. This pole had a pulley at the summit and round it was put a gangway made of cross planks attached by nails, four feet in width and six fathoms in length. In this gangway was an oblong hole, and it went round the pole at a distance of two fathoms from its near end. The gangway also had a railing on each of its long sides as high as a man's knee. At its extremity was fastened an iron object like a pestle pointed at one end and with a ring at the other end, so that the whole looked like the machine for pounding corn. To this ring was attached a rope with which, when the ship charged an enemy, they raised the Corvus by means of the pulley on the pole and let them down on the enemy's deck, sometimes from the prow and sometimes bringing them round when the ships collided broadsides. Once the Corvus were fixed in the planks of the enemy's deck and grappled the ships together, if they were broadside on, they boarded from all directions but if they charged with the prow, they attacked by passing over the gangway of the Corvus itself two abreast. The leading pair protected the front by holding up their shields, and those who followed secured the two flanks by resting the rims of their shields on the top of the railing. Having, then, adopted this device, they awaited an opportunity for going into action.


Polybius describes first use of the Corvus:

The Carthaginians on sighting him [Gaius Duilius] put to sea with a hundred and thirty sail, quite overjoyed and eager, as they despised the inexperience of the Romans. They all sailed straight on the enemy, not even thinking it worth while to maintain order in the attack, but just as is they were falling on a prey that was obviously theirs. They were commanded by Hannibal the same who stole out of Agrigentum by night with his army in the seven-banked galley that was formerly King Pyrrhus'. On approaching and seeing the Corvus nodding aloft on the prow of each ship, the Carthaginians were at first nonplussed, being surprised at the construction of the engines. However, as they entirely gave the enemy up for lost, the front ships attacked daringly. But when the ships that came into collision were in every case held fast by the machines, and the Roman crews boarded by means of the Corvus and attacked them hand to hand on deck, some of the Carthaginians were cut down and others surrendered from dismay at what was happening, the battle having become just like a fight on land. So the first thirty ships that engaged were taken with all their crews, including the commander's galley, Hannibal himself managing to escape beyond his hopes by a miracle in the jolly-boat. The rest of the Carthaginian force was bearing up as if to charge the enemy, but seeing, as they approached, the fate of the advanced ships they turned aside and avoided the blows of the engines. Trusting in their swiftness, they veered round the enemy in the hope of being able to strike him in safety either on the broadside or on the stern, but when the Corvus swung round and plunged down in all directions and in all manner of ways so that those who approached them were of necessity grappled, they finally gave way and took to flight, terror-stricken by this novel experience and with the loss of fifty ships.


Another invention the Romans added to naval warfare was the use of a tower. This gave bowmen and artillery an edge over the enemy. It is easier to shoot on the enemy deck, and more difficult for the enemy to hide. Although the tower looks like is if made from stone, this was not the case. The Romans made this things of wood, but painted a stone motif on it to make it look more 'solid'. I represented this by leaving the inside of the tower unpainted.


See also a game of Corvus with 1/600th quinquiremes here.



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