Ancient Greek Ships

Ships were not used for pleasure in ancient Greece. Instead, they were used for fishing, to carry cargo, or to go to war and fight enemies.

Ships were also used for carrying goods for trade. They would sail around the Mediterranean calling in at ports to swap something they owned and had plenty of, for something they needed.

Ships in these times were used in wars and were around the same length as three buses in a row, about 115 feet.


Bear in mind that back then they did not have the skills or tools of today, so building a ship was difficult and one of this size would be a huge achievement to build.

Materials Used For Building Ships

The ships were made from softwood. The outside of the ship was made using oak.

Pine, cypress, or fir wood was used for the inside of the ship.

The oars were made out of a whole young fir tree, around 4.5 meters in length.

The ship remained lightweight thanks to the use of softwood, which was good for when the oarsman was rowing it.

Battering Ram Ship Helped Greeks Rule during the 5thCentury

The Greeks were clever as they used the ship as a battering ram by fixing brass layers onto the front tip of the ship.

If they could alongside the enemy ship they would try to smash a hole in the ship to sink it.

The biggest warship built in Athens was called a “Trireme”, which means “three-rower”.

The ship was one of the best on the Aegean Sea thanks to its battering ram and helped win battles in the black sea.

This style of ship played an important role during the Persia wars.

Hundreds of Oarsmen Were Needed to Row

The Greek sailors were called oarsmen.

This was because the ships did not have motors as they do today, they were traditional sailing vessels powered by the wind in their sails or men rowing.

This meant that if there was no wind they had to rely only on the oarsmen.

It took around 180 men to row the Trireme.

The oarsmen sat on hard seats on both sides of the ship in three layers, top, middle, and bottom.

Rowing the ship was very hard work so speed was only possible in short bursts.

The ships were lightweight so if the wind was strong they could move fast over the Mediterranean Sea.

Ancient Greeks Prayed to a Sea God before Sailing

Before heading out on the ship the crew would pray to Poseidon, the Olympian sea god, to watch over them and make sure they remained safe on their journey.

Poseidon always carried a trident, a fork with three prongs. It was said if he got angry, he would bang it down heavily.

On the sea, this was said to produce huge waves, which could damage ships. By praying, the crew hoped Poseidon would send them calm seas.

Facts about Ancient Greek Ships

  • In 939 BC one of the first long vessels, the “Argo” was made. The ship was rowed using around 50 oars and was about 25 meters long.
  • They called the oars “Tarsos”, meaning “Wing of a bird”. They thought of the oars as being like wings flying the ship along the water surface.
  • The sails of the Trireme were made from Papyrus.
  • Archaeologists discovered the world’s oldest intact shipwreck at the bottom of the Black Sea, which is believed to be 2,400 years old
  • The Trireme was a ship used in wars but versions were made specifically for transporting goods.
  • During the Hellenistic period a giant ship, “Syracusia” was built. The machines invented and made by Archimedes were used to move this ship.
  • The fights between neighboring Greek cities and states sometimes lasted a full day, each trying to ram the other ship to sink it.
  • The Trireme warships were able to turn 90 degrees in just a few seconds.
  • In The Battle of Aegospotami (405 BC), Athens, unfortunately, lost what was left of its navy and was defended.
  • One of the first boats used by ancient Greeks was the “Strogulla”. This was a small round boat, carrying up to four people, who paddled it using oars. People who went fishing to catch fish to eat used the boats.

Question and Answers

Question 1 – What was the name of the sea god the ancient Greeks used to pray to before setting sail?

Answer – Poseidon

Question 2 – What was the large warship called that was built in Athens and used during the 5th century.

Answer – Trireme

Question three – How many oarsmen did it take to row the Greek warship?

Answer – 180

Question four – What main material was used for building the outside of ancient Greek warships?

Answer – oak

Ancient Greece