Roman ships in harbour Ships were vital to Rome's power. It was often cheaper and quicker to transport goods or troops by boat than any other form of transport. Shipping in the Mediterranean was always busy—slow merchant vessels and great quinquereme warships jostled for position outside the port of Ostia, near Rome. The largest ships were the oar-driven warships (galleys) which were named after the number of banks of oars on each side: triremes had three banks, while quadriremes had four.
A quinquereme was the largest type of Roman warship, with up to 300 oarsmen in all. Oarsmen were free men, who trained hard before setting out. Slaves were only put to the oars in times of emergency. A warship and troop carrier, the quinquereme was equipped with a battering ram, a ballista crossbow, and a corvus, a platform that could be stabbed into the deck of an enemy ship for boarding. It could transport 120 soldiers. It did not carry much in the way of stores, as voyages were normally short. Eyes were painted on ships to “guide” them.
Cutaway illustration of a quinquereme warship, with a merchant ship sailing behind it
In 2013, the 2000-year-old shipwreck of a Roman merchant ship was found off the coast of Liguria, Italy. It contained 200 earthenware pots called amphorae, which have been tested to reveal they contained pickled fish, grain, wine and oil.
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