Ancient History & Civilisation



admiral: Spartan naval commander annually appointed to lead the allied fleet; the office could not be held more than once. The Greek term was navarchos. Confusingly, at Athens the naval commands were the responsibility of the ten annually elected generals(strategoi), and their termnavarchos, which is rendered as “navarch” in this book, referred not to an admiral but to a naval officer in command of a small squadron and subordinate to the generals. Unlike Sparta, Athens had no unified command of its entire naval effort under a single individual.

Agora: An open space in Athens and other Greek cities that served as a civic, commercial, and ceremonial center.

archon: An Athenian official, one of nine, who held a leading position in the government each year. Archons were originally elected; the office lost much prestige when the people decided to select archons by lot. The eponymous archon gave his name to the year, presiding from one midsummer to the next.

Areopagus: A hill near the Acropolis where the aristocratic council of ex-archons held their meetings. The council of the Areopagus accumulated prestige and power after the invasion of Xerxes, but it was stripped of most prerogatives during Ephialtes’ democratic revolution of 462-461.

Assembly: Greek ekklesia; the gathering of citizens who debated and voted on policies and affairs of state. In Athenian democracy the Assembly held supreme power.

Athenian Empire: A modern term for the territory controlled by Athens at the height of its power in the fifth century B.C., when more than 150 islands and maritime cities paid annual tribute to Athens. According to Thucydides, Pericles did once tell the Athenians that they governed an archêor empire, but in its own day it was never called anything other than “the Athenians and their allies.”

bema: The speaker’s platform for Assembly meetings on the Pnyx.

cleruch: An Athenian who was allotted a tract of farmland abroad and sometimes emigrated there but retained his Athenian citizenship. A colony of such expatriate Athenians is called a cleruchy and was often resented by the local population.

Council: Greek boulê; a group of citizens or delegates who acted in an advisory or executive capacity. At Athens the Council of Five Hundred was composed of fifty citizens from each of the ten tribes, each serving for a single year and holding the presidency of the Assembly in rotation. The Council was specifically charged by the Athenian Assembly with responsibility for administering the navy and ensuring that new triremes were built on schedule.

Delian League: The modern term for the organization of the Athenians and their allies formed in 478 or 477 B.C. after the invasion of Xerxes. The league maintained a naval force to preserve the freedom of Greek islands and cities and carry on perpetual war against the Persian Empire. The alliance originally held its meetings and kept its treasury on the holy island of Delos in the Aegean Sea.

democracy: Greek dêmokratia, from demos (“the people”) and kratis (“power”); a form of government in which the majority rules, thus in theory giving power to the common citizens.

diekplous: A naval maneuver in which a warship or file of warships breaks through a gap in the opposing line, then attacks the enemy ships from the flank or rear. One could counter a diekplous by arraying one’s own fleet in two lines or by backing one’s line up against the shore.

drachma: A Greek measure of weight, but also a small silver coin. In classical Athens a skilled worker earned a drachma per day. One hundred drachmas made a mina (roughly a pound), and six thousand drachmas made a talent.

general: Greek strategos, or “army leader”; the term used by Athenians to designate their supreme commanders both on land and sea. Each of the ten tribes of Attica elected a general annually, so there was always a board of ten generals. These citizens were generals only during their annual term of office, though the post could be held repeatedly. No military or naval experience was required, nor was there a regular path of promotion from lower ranks to the generalship. The rank of general did not stick to a man after his term of office expired. In addition to the annual elections, the Assembly could also appoint citizens (or in the fourth century even non-Athenians) to the generalship for specific campaigns or initiatives. As some of the only officials chosen by vote rather than by lot, Athenian generals exercised political power at home as well, especially in the fifth century.

Great King: The Persian term for the monarchs who ruled the Persian Empire. Ancient Greek texts customarily refer to Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and the other rulers simply as “the King.”

hippagogos: A ship serving as a horse carrier or cavalry transport.

hipparch: Athenian commander of the aristocratic cavalry. Two were chosen each year to command the city’s horsemen.

holkas: A broad-beamed sailing ship or freighter with a large carrying capacity for cargo.

hoplite: A heavily armed foot soldier equipped with a panoply of large round shield, helmet, cuirass, greaves, spear, and sword. Hoplites fought in a tightly packed formation called a phalanx. In Athens, the ten thousand or so citizens of the third class were expected to serve as hoplites.

horseman: Attic Greek hippes; at Athens, a citizen of the second class (numbering about twelve hundred) who were wealthy enough to own a horse and serve in the city’s cavalry. The horsemen were traditionally aristocratic and antidemocratic. The term is sometimes translated “knight,” but Athenian horsemen were neither heavily armored nor part of a feudal system. (Knight derives from Old German Knecht, or “one who serves.”) Nor did they adhere to any chivalric code. Aristophanes’ play Horsemen is sometimes called Knights.

hubris: Arrogant and wanton violence; a much stronger term in Greek than in English.

hypozomata: Girding cables for a trireme, wrapped around the outside of the hull and kept taut with spindles or winches to reinforce the ship’s light and slender design.

keleustes: A petty officer on a trireme who called out the beat to the rowers, among other duties; equivalent to a coxswain in a modern racing crew.

kubernetes: The steersman of a ship; on a trireme the second in command after the trierarch.

kyklos: A fleet formation, adopted by Greek triremes at Artemisium and by Peloponnesian triremes at Patras, in which the ships form a stationary circle with their rams pointing outward.

Long Walls: Athenian fortifications many miles in extent that connected the city to the sea. The original pair of Long Walls, built in the 450s, enclosed a wide triangle of land between Athens, the Piraeus, and the village of Phaleron. Later a Middle Wall was built close to and parallel with the wall to the Piraeus, thus forming a narrow but easily protected corridor between Athens and its principal port.

metic: A resident alien who had settled in Athens, enjoying certain civic and ceremonial rights and at times fighting for the city as well.

mêtis: Cunning intelligence, a quality highly prized by Greek strategists.

mina: A measure of weight (and when consisting of silver or gold, of wealth) equal to one hundred drachmas, or roughly a pound.

naumachia: Naval battle.

naupegos: Shipwright or ship’s carpenter.

navarch: An Athenian naval commander in charge of a squadron. Navarchs appear in the latter part of the fifth century and play only a small role in the city’s naval affairs. They are subordinate to the generals. The same Greek term, navarchos, was used at Sparta for the admiral in supreme command of the Spartan and allied naval force each year.

Navy Yard: Greek neorion; a protected place for ships, especially warships.

oligarchy: Rule by the few.

ostracism: An Athenian institution in which citizens who had committed no crime but were perceived as potentially disruptive could be exiled for ten years. Votes were cast by inscribing names on potsherds or ostraka.

pentekontor: A galley of fifty oars. Both Persians and Greeks were still using some pentekontors at the time of Xerxes’ invasion in 480 B.C., but they were rapidly giving way to triremes and played no part in the classical Athenian navy.

peplos: Athena’s robe, woven anew each year for her statue in the temple on the Acropolis and hung as a sail on a processional ship as it was wheeled through the streets of Athens during the Panathenaic festival.

periplous: A naval maneuver in which a warship or file of warships rows around the end of the opposing line to attack enemy ships from the flank or rear. A periplous could be countered by doubling one’s line, backing one’s line up against a shore, or arraying one’s ships in a kyklos formation. The term periplous also refers to the circumnavigation of a landmass, as in Tolmides’ expedition around the Peloponnese in 456 B.C.

Pnyx: The meeting place of the Assembly at Athens, a rocky hill in the southwestern part of the city.

quadrireme: Greek tetreres, or “rowed by four”; a larger warship than a trireme that was adopted by the Athenian navy in the latter part of the fourth century B.C.

quinquereme: Greek penteres, or “rowed by five”; an even larger warship than a quadrireme. Two were added to the Athenian navy in its final years before the surrender to the Macedonians. The design remains somewhat conjectural.

rowing frame: Greek parexeiresia, often referred to as the outrigger; an open wooden rectangular structure fixed atop the hull of a trireme. The tholepins for the thranite oars were fixed along its lower edges, while its upper timbers provided supports and places of attachment for the cloth and hide screens that protected the rowers from sun and enemy missiles. In quadriremes and quinqueremes the trireme’s rowing frame was replaced by a completely enclosed rowing box or oar box.

satrap: Persian for “protector of the realm”; an official who governed a province (called a satrapy) on behalf of the Great King and was responsible for collecting the local tribute each year and also for mustering military and naval forces to participate in royal wars and expeditions. The most important satrap to the Athenians was the Persian who ruled from Sardis, in western Asia Minor.

Second Maritime League: The organization of city-states led by Athens in the mid-fourth century B.C., officially (as with the Delian League) known as “the Athenians and their allies,” banded together against the common threat of Spartan aggression. The second league fueled Athens’ naval and civic revival but strictly limited Athens’ control over the allies and never reached the heights (or depths) of its fifth-century predecessor.

shipsheds : Greek neosoikoi, literally “ship houses”; long narrow colonnaded structures with sloping stone floors that served as slipways for triremes and other galleys, protecting them from the elements and the teredo. By the fourth century Athens had built so many ships that immense double shipsheds had to be constructed to accommodate them in pairs, end to end.

strategos: See general.

symmories: Athenian naval boards created by the statesman Periander and reformed by Demosthenes, each composed of a group of citizens who contributed jointly to the financing and outfitting of a trireme.

talent: A measure of weight and also (if consisting of silver or gold) of wealth. A talent of silver was equal to six thousand drachmas or sixty minas and therefore weighed about sixty pounds.

tamias: Treasurer, as in Hellenotamias, “treasurer of the Greeks,” or Tamias Paralou, “treasurer of the Paralos.

thalamian rower: An oarsman in the lowest of a trireme’s three tiers, enclosed within the hold of the ship and working his oar through an oar port enclosed by a leather sleeve. There were twenty-seven thalamians on each side of the ship.

thalassocracy: Greek thalassokratia, or “sea rule,” from thalassa (“sea”) and kratis (“power”).

thete: An Athenian citizen of the fourth and lowest class; a member of the democratic majority and generally a proponent of the navy and naval initiatives.

thranite rower: An oarsman in the uppermost of a trireme’s three tiers, seated within the rowing frame. There were thirty-one thranites on each side of the ship. These rowers sometimes received higher pay than the zygians and thalamians.

triakontor: A galley of thirty oars; important in the Athenian navy as a support vessel. The sacred ship that made the annual mission to Delos each spring (probably called the Delias) was the Athenian triakontor par excellence.

trierarch: An Athenian citizen who served as the commander in charge of outfitting, financing, and supervising a trireme as part of his civic duty. The official term trierarchos was also used for those who performed their service by commanding triakontors as well. At Athens the “trierarchic class” was the first, wealthiest, and smallest class of citizens, probably numbering only three or four hundred citizens or households. In other Greek cities trierarch was the generic term for the commander of a trireme, even when the post carried no element of civic obligation.

trireme: Greek trieres, or “rowed by three”; a warship type that formed the backbone of the Athenian navy throughout its existence. The English term trireme comes from the Latin triremis, a designation that indicates that the ancient Romans thought the Greek name meant “rowed by three” and not “three-fitted” as has been claimed by some modern scholars since the nineteenth century.

zygian rower: An oarsman in the middle of the three tiers in a trireme; there were twenty-seven zygians on each side of the ship.

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