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Financial, human, material and economic resources required to build and operate navies in the classical Greek world

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Vincent Gabrielsen
Affiliation:
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution describes and assesses the magnitude of the resource demands facing Greek city-states aiming at naval pre-eminence in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, and indicates how those states tried to meet them. It argues that, because these issues had a direct bearing on political, social and economic developments, sea power had an immense influence on ancient societies, as can be seen most clearly in the case of Classical Athens.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution décrit et évalue l'ampleur des exigences en termes de ressources auxquelles firent face les cités-États grecques cherchant à établir leur prédominance maritime au Vème et IVème siècles av. J.-C., et indique les moyens employés par ces États pour les réunir. En tenant compte de l'emprise directe de ces questions sur les développements politique, économique et social, elle témoigne de l'immense influence du pouvoir maritime sur les sociétés antiques, comme il apparaît très clairement dans le cas d'Athènes.

INTRODUCTION

In the Archaic period (c. 800–500 BC), several Greek poleis boasted fleets, some of them quite sizeable ones: for instance, Samos, Corinth, Syracuse, Phokaia, Miletos, and even Sparta. It was the Greek tyrants, who, according to Thucydides, spearheaded the building of large fleets. Some of these poleis began to provide their fleets with a proper military organization, one increasingly, but not solely, sustained by public means. As it was expanding, that organization came to include an administrative apparatus, initially a rudimentary one, with harbours with ship sheds and other infrastructural facilities, and a formal command structure effective in wartime. The transition was gradually being made from a fleet to a navy proper (to nautikon). For most of this period the largest type of warship was the ‘fifty-oared galley’, the penteconter (pentêkontoros), with a crew of just over fifty.4 Its tactical strength lay in the bronze ram fastened at the bow.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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