Troubled waters

If Simon & Garfunkel will allow me, of course...

I thought this was a good post title for my next blog entry, as I am writing the "acquisition" and arrival of the Greek navy fleet from Kypros to the Delta.

It's incredible how many things we give for granted that, when you actually start to write your ideas down on paper (electronic paper in my case) you are absolutely at a lost, risking, otherwise, being extremely anachronistic.

A an example: when your camp wakes up in the morning (probably by the kyprian cock), do they take their breakfast? Did greeks eat more than once a day, or just one? (dinner?). Sigh, another lookup of info on books and the Internet...

Another, more elaborated, example: the Delian League fleet (huge fleet, of 200 trierei/trirremes and some 150 merchant, support ships, not mentioned but likely, as the warships were not meant to carry lots of water or food aboard) arrives to Kypros. Big island, many beaches. I just grab one, and deply the jnavy for a good night's sleep. We know that the Hellenes would take their trierei out of the water whenever they could, because, not knowing how to "seal" the wood planks of their hulks, they tied to get them to dry or they would spoil themselves and sink.

Therefore, they start moving the trierei to the (big) beach. Some stay behind, to protect the whole operation, after all a trieres is not a simply boat, it's some 32 meters beam, and carries more than 200 men on board (most of them oarsmen). So you get the ship to the water line (careful, specially if there are some strong waves), minutiously measuring the water depth, and calculating where the tide is, to (gently) get the ship on the sand. Then move it up, to the dried part of the beach, put on the pillons to keep it upright, (while the psiloi, light infantry, and the epibatai, heavy infantry, about 15 in total, create a defensive perimeter around the ship, just in case). Nest start mounting tents, fires, and so on...

In the meantime, the next ship starts performing the same operation. And after it, the next one. It took some 5 hours for a Roman army of 4 legions to make their fortified castrum after a walk, and when the camping site had been secured, and the engineers had started to delimit the streets, where the walls will go, and so on, some 15 kilometers away the last legionnaire is closing their last castrum.

I can imagine the beaching of such a fleet to be of a similar magnitude. Calculate a very well trained crew, in ideal conditions, can beach their trieres in half an hour. This is really fast. And let's suppose that, for a long enough beach, we can have several trierei beaching at the same time, say 3 of them, and that beaching operations overlap some 15 minutes (i.e., mid-way of the previous one). Then we have, every 15 minutes, 3 ships beaching for some half an hour. 200/3 = 66 (roughtly), this is 66 waves of 3 trierei every 15 minutes...

Let's see:

Time in minutes after beginning of beaching operations, waves show number of ships beaching at the time.

T.... 1 2 3 4 ... 65 66
000 3 0 0 0 ... 00 00
015 3 3 0 0 ... 00 00
030 0 3 3 0 ... 00 00
045 0 0 3 3 ... 00 00
xxx 0 0 0 0 ... 03 00
yyy 0 0 0 0 ... 03 03
zzz 0 0 0 0 ... 00 03
TTT 0 0 0 0 ... 00 00

How much is time TTT? 990 minutes, which is, exactly, 16 hours and a half.

Whoah! Therefore, they must have been beaching at a much higher pace, or they wouldn't have time to row from place to place, nor to get the ships back to the water. And we know they did so. Therefore, we have to reduce such an operation to a shorter time.

How? Let's suppose that the navy organized itself, internally, in small squadrons of some 10 ships. Why 10? Well, Athens provided some 100 ships to the Egyptian Expedition, and there were 10 demei (tribes) n Athens, and they did manage their army by demos (at this time, 460BCE, the trierarchies had lost most of its power) and they did so for the phalanx in Marathon, each taxis was formed by a tribe. It's not clear how they did, and I'm still researching it, but, well, it looks reasonable.

If every squad would beach at, more or less, the same time, in a smaller area of the beach, to keep more or less, in a small cluster of fellow neighbourhs and slaves that knew ones anothers, we have only 20 beaching operations. Considering the complexer method, let's suppose they took the whole hour to beach the squad. This makes, if we still allow 3 beaching operations (each side of the beach, and center, and the next wave using the open spaces, according to the tide), then we have 20/3 < 7... Less than 7 hours. Better, but still insufficient.

Maybe they could do such beaching operations in bigger waves (4 or 5 places at the same time), who knows? a more normal sized navy of 90-100 trierei, would use some 3 hours in this way. A lot, but still maneageable. maybe the Kyprian (later Egyptian) Expedition was of such a scale that it wasn't meant to be beached, but after disembarking, the ships would stay at the sea, harassing the Kyprian harbors...

At this moment, I am skillfully ignoring these issues, but I am all too well aware of them, for the next revision of the draft. So many things to learn! On the other hand, these kind of things are important, because they may explain many things that are obscure in so many historical, military events. Hoplology and Sciences may help to disentangle many historical, dark sources, when put to a good use. This calls for a marriage (or, at least, a "getting along") between all Disciplines of Human Knowledge, all pushing in the same direction, with rythm.

Like the oarsmen of a trieres.

And speaking of troubled waters, the novel is sailing forward at a good pace (considering I'm mostly writing it while I commute from home to work and back on the train). Don't you love writing on the go?



Pacal said...

Its my understanding that the Greeks had breakfast and a dinner while serving on board a trireme, on shore of course. Triremes were primarily fighting ships not sailing ships and had to be beached each night. I suspect that the support ships being primarily sailing ships were not beached except for repair. All of this made Trireme fleets vunerable some of the time. Look what happened with the relief expedition sent to Egypt. Apparently ambushed by a surprise attack by land and sea wghile camped. In the fact the last important battle of the Peloponnesian War was decided by such a surprise attack at "Goats Creek", 405 B.C.E.

I wonder if you had a bit of fun with Trireme crews, after all despite the general tendancyto believe the oarsmen were all Athenian Citizens, (I'm talking about the Athenian portion here), it appears they included Metics, (Foreigners living in Attica), Slaves and hired oarsmen. So I think arguements about the size of the expedition involving assuming that all the oarsmen were Athenian citizens are beside the point. Likewise many of the marines / Soldiers may have been mercenaries / non-Athenian citizens.

Regarding motives I just want to mention that at this time the Delian League was not yet an Athenian Empire, despite events like the supression of revolts by Thasos and Naxos. In fact a Synod of the league seems to have meet until c. 450 B.C.E., although we know vertually nothing about how it operated. It has been thought that the Egyptian expedition may have been heavily supported by the non-Athenian members of the league and its disasterous outcome seriously undermined their power in relation to Athens. And it appears that after the disaster Athens tightened up the rules regarding who was or could become a citizen of Athens.


Wynn Bexton said...

As someone else invovled in all these complexities of a historical fiction novel (Alexander's world) I much appreciated your detailed blog about the fleets.

Excalibor said...

All, thanks for your help and support.

Pierre, thanks for your info, I thought I had read about this in Burckhardt's book (I have the first half) or any other of the books I have somewhere...

As for the Fleet, yeah, I'm having some fun... :-)

I'm supposing the trirremes must sleep ashore, but that the support ships are mainly sailing merchant ones, prepared to sail the Mediterranean, thus they would simply throw their anchors and sleep, like they would do nowadays... I cannot, however, get into how did they get the trirremes out of the water in the first place: easy to do when in harbor, not so easy when on a beach, uh? Gotta search archeological sites to find out if we have found any machine they could use (like poles, macchinae, ect) to tow the ship---upright---up the beach...

As for the crew composition, I'm making the epibatai completely upper class, Athenian knights; but both rowers and psiloi are from a variety of origins, and all of them work for a good pay... One of the three main characters, actually, is a Metic living in Athens---though at the time, basically anyone could be an Athenian just by moving in, my character has some political problems because of his father, when they arrived from Barca, in Kyrenaica...

I have divided the fleet in, roughly, 100 Athenian trirremes, 40 from Samos and 60 from Naxos, Chios, Lesbos, Megara, Euboea, etc... I will review those numbers, but I believe you talked about that proportion---Athenian vs. other Delian League members---on your book, right?

Anyway, it's mainly chirning out words at the moment, and just pausing when the decisions may affect the writing. Once the first draft is finished, I'll have to do a profound review of the novel, both from a writing point of view, as well as from a historical one. By that time I expect my knowledge of Greek, Egyptian and Persian cultures and history to have improved enough to make a difference... And my quality as a writer as well! :-)

thanks for all!