Roman Warships pt. 1 & the Celeuma's Song

We know alot about this powerful means of conquest and control of the seas, especially with reproductions on coins, bas-reliefs, pompeian frescoes and historical descriptions, while the archaeological finds are limited in large measure to "navi onerarie" (cargo ships) and their loads.
The Roman warships were classified in:

naves praetoriae (flagships): long, rowing and very fast;

naves longae and naves liburnicae: very fast and with several rows of oars;

naves actuariae: read, for troops transportation;

naves speculatoriae: of reconnaissance, to observe the enemy;

naves tabellariae: small units for sending dispatches.

The type of ship is generally related to the orders of oars present on each of them.

"navis longa" with two rows of oarsmen sitting on the same bench. It was also equipped of a square sail and developed a good speed thanks to its weight and small size. It was superseded by more
functional trireme.

"navis longa" with three series of rowers. It was the most commonly used warship, was equipped with a rostrum and, in newer units, there was a tower to house archers at bow to launch arrows from higher positions. At the aft was built cab blanket commander. Its crew was 200 men including 150 rowers and 15 between Officers and NCOs.

"navis longa" with four orders oars during the First Punic War it rode two "crows", one at the bow and the other at aft. It was generally equipped with several siege weapons: catapults and asses.
Even the quadrireme had one or two raised towers for archers' shots. The crew was 240 remiges (rowers), 15 Nautes (sailors) and 120 Classiarii (Marines).


"navis longa" with five rows of oars. Very similar to quadrireme but faster.


"navis longa" and heavy which there are no elements to say if it was with six rows of oars or a trireme with two rowers per oar. Heavily armed, apparently was intended to board the Staff of the fleet.


also called decireme by the number of rows of oars in its possession. In the Actium battle (31 BC.), disputed between Antony and Octavian, both fleets deployed this type of ships. The crew was 600 Nautes (sailors) and 200-250 Classiarii (Marines).

fast ship with two rows of oarsmen, It was the copy of the identical pirate "liburnian" unit (ie Illyrians pirates) that had fought against the Romans. Marcus Agrippa had appreciated maneuverability of this boat than the trireme so he let build so many of this kind for the battle of Actium.

Although the Roman Navy was present in the Mediterranean for a long time, but with Augustus, and his famous military genius Vipsanius Agrippa, they came to the realization of a permanent fleet.
In the Mediterranean sea there were located naval units in the two main bases of Misenum (Classis Misensis) in Campania, and Ravenna (Classis Ravennatis) on south of Po river's delta.
Of these two, the fleet of Misenum was considered prominent and controlled by a Praefectus Classis, of higher rank than the one of Ravenna. 
They were, however, "provincial fleets" for the control of local waters. These were:
Classis Britannica: control authority of the English Channel and British sea;
Classis Germanica: river fleet on the Renus;
Classis Pannonian: river fleet on the Danube;
Classis Flavia Moesica: placed to control the Black Sea and part of the Danube;
Classis Pontica: for the control of Southern Black Sea;
Classis Syriaca: for the control of Turkish, Syrian and Palestinian waters;
Classis Alexandrina: control authority of the Egyptian sea;
Classis Mauretanica: for the control of African Western  Mediterranean;
Classis Lybica: located to control the Libyan coast.

This important military force was governed by:
  • Praefectus Classis, appointed to command the whole fleet under the direct order of the Emperor hiself;
  • Subpraefectus Commander, second in command into a fleet;
  • Navarchus, corresponding to the current Rear Admiral, he was appointed to the command of a squadron made by 10 units;
  • Trierarchus or Magister Navis, Commander of a single naval unit but responsible of the conduct only;
  • Centurio classicus, officer of high rank in the Navy, which toke care about military operations only.

Among the non-commissioned officers there are:

  • Gubernator, corresponding to the helmsman;
  • Proreta,  bow officer;
  • Optio, corresponding to a Marshal;
  • Decuriones, leading the oars rowers;
  • Pausarius, the one who gave rhythm to vogue.

The Sailors were divided into:

  • Remiges (rowers);
  • Nautes  (the typical sailors on a ship);
  • Classiarii, corresponding to the modern marines.


Poetry of the rowers of Roman ships

The poem by an unknown author entitled Celeuma, namely 'lilting song of the rowers' has been handed down by a code of the Anthologia Latina (cod. Beroliniensis, mss. Diez B66, Sec. VIII-IX). It is a very interesting example of poetry which combines ancient literary forms with folk motifs. In fact, the classic structure hexameter is enriched with freshness and liveliness punctuated as it is by the refrain with the crew chief gives rhythm to the cadence of the rowers, creating a show of force naturalistic set of joyous abandon enchantment landscape.

Heia, viri, nostrum reboans echo sonet heia!

Arbiter effusi late maris ore sereno

Placatum stravit pelagus posuitque procellam,

edomitique vago sederunt pondere fluctus.

Heia, viri, nostrum reboans echo sonet heia!
Aequora prora secet delphinis aemula saltu
Atque gemat largum, promat seseque lacertis,
pone trahens canum deducat et orbita sulcum

Heia, viri, nostrum reboans echo sonet heia!
Annisu parili tremat ictibus acta carina
Nunc dabit arridens pelago concordia caeli
Ventorum motu praegnanti currere velo.

Heia, viri, nostrum reboans echo sonet heia!
Aequoreos volvens fluctus ratis audiat heia!
Convulsum remis spumet mare; nos tamen: heia.
Vocibus adsiduis litus reduci sonet heia!

Translation (Note: the english translation of this poem may not give a fair idea of  the exact cadence of the poem itself):

Come on!, friends, 
feel resonate as an echo our "come on"!

The Lord of the wide expanse of the sea with serene voice

Calmed down and subsided the marine storm,
the waves were tamed powerless rambling.

Come on!, friends, feel resonate as an echo our "come on"!
The hullshaken by the beats, vibrates under uniform pressure.

Nowfavorable to the sea, the sky will agree
To run with the sails to the meaningful push of the winds.

Come on!, friends, feel resonate as an echo our "come on"!

The prow cuts waves with the rival dolphin jump
It vibrates deep inside, got to notice under our arms,
behind the leading trail got to open a whitening furrow.

Come on!, friends, feel resonate as an echo our "come on"!
Sweeping away the salty waves the boat feel "come on"!
Frothing the sea upset by oarsand we still "come on"!
The coast resound "come on"! on our lilting voices.


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