Ancient History & Civilisation



MANY BACKS WERE BENT AND ARMS STRAINED TO PROPEL Lords of the Sea across the finish line. Most of the heavy work was done by the crew from Team Viking, intrepid argonauts who launch their racing shells at the foot of Houston Street in Manhattan. For this particular effort the rowing cadence was set by the mighty stroke oar of Bruce Giffords, senior production editor, with copy editor Janet Biehl right behind him in the number 7 seat. Artists powered the boat’s engine room: designer Carla Bolte at 6; cover designer Christopher Sergio at 5; mapmaker Jeff Ward at 4; while the most experienced oarsman, Sam Manning at 3, brought all his knowledge of Maine’s wooden craft to the task of rendering the Athenian trireme in pen and ink. Publicists Meghan Fallon and Ben Petrone made a flashy bow pair, and the cries of coxswain and marketing director Nancy Sheppard drew the attention of crowds along the bank. In the coaches’ launch, the editorial team of Liz Parker and Hilary Redmon gripped their stopwatches while Carolyn Coleburn recorded the session. Beside them, megaphone in hand, stood editor Wendy Wolf, the head coach, who had set all this activity in motion: a commanding yet encouraging figure with the steady gray eyes of Athena, the enigmatic smile of an archaickore from the Acropolis, and an occasional rasp in the voice during moments of crisis. They have passed out of sight now down the broad and shining reaches of the Hudson, to tackle other books and other authors. It was my good fortune to row, for a little time, in their company.

Even before my friends at Viking set to work on the book’s final version, a number of readers had worked their way through the manuscript and given helpful advice. Among them were Neville Blakemore, Eli Brown, Molly Bundy, Helen Darmara, Dan Davis, Sharon Heckel, Åsa and Håkan Ringbom, Camille Thomasson, Joan Vandertoll, and Tom Weil. I am particularly grateful to Matt Bahr of Pittsburgh, NFL placekicker supreme, who brought his keen eye for timing and strategy to bear on this story of the Athenian navy.

Many chapters began as lectures, and I thank the University of Louisville, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the Teaching Company (through a course titled “The Greek and Persian Wars”) for sponsoring both lecture series and individual presentations. In 2003 the Louisville Collegiate School provided a hall where I talked my way through the entire history of the Athenian navy over thirteen hot July evenings. Research assistant Bess Reed coordinated the lectures, Elijah Pritchett taped them, Mary “Corky” Sachs transcribed the tapes, and Stephanie Smith wrestled the hours of discursive talk into edited and readable form. Generous funding from Daniel and Joanna Rose helped support the process and the research that accompanied it. To help me present the evidence in favor of a new site for the battle of Aegospotami, Captain Christopher Windisch of the United States Army Reserves superimposed ancient naval maneuvers onto modern satellite images of the Hellespont and the Gallipoli peninsula.

My travels and field surveys of sites in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean have been supported by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the Association of Yale Alumni, Travel Dynamics, the trustees of the University of Louisville, my dear friends Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie, and VPRO Television Rotterdam, who flew me to Greece so that I could try out trireme-style rowing on a sheepskin pad at the Homilos Ereton rowing club in Zea Harbor. Welcome and enthusiastic traveling companions have been the Gunlicks of Virginia, the Regueiros of Pennsylvania, and the Ringboms of Finland. Muharrem Zeybek of Izmir provided indispensable guidance for my travels in Turkey, from the fast-flowing Eurymedon River in the south to the rainy coast of Cyzicus (modern Erdek) in the north. Where my own travels could not reach, Bob Brier and Pat Remler stepped in with vivid accounts of the Nile delta in Egypt. And to a kind invitation from the great archaeologist John Camp I owe my first glimpses of Halicarnassus, Miletus, Ephesus, Notium, Samos, Lesbos, the Hellespont, and other sites along the Athenian maritime empire’s eastern frontier.

Over the years of research into Greek naval matters I have been educated by the conversations, correspondence, and critical comments of many great scholars, among them Lucien Basch, Jack Cargill, Lionel Casson, John Coates, Philip de Souza, Victor Davis Hanson, Peter Krentz, Robert Littman, Sean McGrail, John Morrison, Bill Murray, Boris Rankov, Barry Strauss, Larry Tritle, Harry Tzalas, Hans van Wees, and H. T. Wallinga. Here at the University of Louisville I am indebted to my colleagues Bob Luginbill, who helped interpret the Greek text of Phormio’s stratagems as recorded by Polyaenus; Bob Kebric, who took an interest in ancient rowing techniques; and astronomer John Kielkopf, who helped determine the positions of celestial bodies in the night sky at the time of the battle of Salamis. In Finland, Ville Aaltonen enlightened me about modern competitors who depend for their speed, as did the ancient Athenians, on rowing pads and leg muscles.

Among underwater archaeologists I have learned much about ancient ships from Bridget Buxton, Deborah Carlson, Susan Katzev, Paraskevi Micha, and Katerina Delaporta, ephor of underwater antiquities during the time of my research in Greece. I salute my friends and colleagues in the Persian Wars Shipwreck Survey—Shelley Wachsmann, Bob Hohlfelder, Dan Davis, Alexis Catsambis, Dana Yoerger, and the crew and scientific team of the Greek research vessel Aegaeo. I owe my understanding of the Navy Yard and the life of the Athenian trireme on shore to the amphibious heroes of the Zea Harbor Project, including Bjørn Lovén, Mads Nielsen, artist Ioannis Nakas, as well as the generous souls who joined the American Friends of the Zea Harbor Project.

Donald Kagan provided the original inspiration for this book. Years later, he also provided its title. On a snowy night in February 2006 I was sitting at the table in the Kagans’ gleaming black-and-white kitchen. Myrna Kagan had already washed her hands of yet another obsessive discussion of the Athenian navy and retired to the upper regions. Don was staring at a long list of phrases, keywords, and rejected titles that had accumulated over half a decade in the quest to name the book. The only sound was the blizzard beating lightly on the windowpane. Suddenly Don raised his head, stared at me with a sort of visionary glow, and pronounced, in oracular tones, four words. I acknowledged at once that the phrase made a good title, and also had the benefit, if I remembered rightly, of being drawn from one of Pericles’ speeches.

“Are you sure? Not the Funeral Oration, anyway. Bring me the book.” In the Kagans’ house, a Greek text of Thucydides is never more than a few steps away from your chair. I fetched the nearest one. Don began to work his way through the last speech of Pericles, the defiant oration delivered after the plague had struck and the people had turned against their leader. As always, he held the page three inches away from his face and ran his finger along the lines, muttering as he read.

“If I did not see you discouraged . . . the world . . . land and sea . . .” The translating ceased. “Ha! It’s better than you remembered. Kyriôtatous! The Athenians rule as supreme lords—most lords. So!” Don clapped the book shut and handed it back across the table. “Let it be Lords of the Sea.

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