The Hellenic Navy maintains a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme, the HS Olympias

18 April 2017
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The HS Olympias is an astonishing reconstruction of a trireme, an ancient type of galley commonly used by the maritime civilisations of the Mediterranean.

This reconstructed trireme, built in 1987 by a shipbuilder in Piraeus, is one of a kind. It is a commissioned ship in the Hellenic Navy of Greece, the only commissioned vessel of its kind in the world.

The construction of the ship began in 1985 and was finished in 1987. The ship was built according to drawings made by John F Coates, a naval architect, which he developed through elaborate discussions with the historian J.S Morrison.
The drawings were additionally advised by Charles Willink, a classics teacher who drew on evidence from Greek history, art, and literature.

The project was financed by the Hellenic Navy, but also by individual donors such as Frank Welsh, a banker and trireme enthusiast who, along with Morrison, Coates, and Willink, founded the Trireme Trust.

Built from Virgina oak and Oregon pine, Olympias was adorned with a bronze bow ram weighing 200 kg. The bracing ropes, or hypozomata, had to be replaced by a steel rope since there were no natural fibre ropes with the same elastic modulus as hemp.

Rather than exerting constant tension like a natural fibre rope, the steel cables tension varied as the hull bent on the waves. Consequently, protective measures had to be taken, as there was an alarming possibility of the rope breaking and endangering the crew.

The “modern” ancient vessel underwent a couple of sea trials in 1987, 1990, 1992 and 1994. The most significant sea trial was the one in 1987, when 170 volunteer oarsmen and oarswomen crewed the trireme.

She achieved a speed of 9 knots and was able to perform 180 degree turns in one minute in an arc no wider than two and a half (2.5) ship-lengths.

The results that the trireme achieved with an amateur crew proves that ancient historians like Thucydides were not overstating the capabilities of triremes.

In 1993, Olympias was sent to Britain and took part in in events celebrating the 2,500 years since the beginning of democracy. She was also used in 2004 to transport the Olympic Flame from the port of Keratsini to the main port Piraeus for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Today, Olympias rests in the dry dock in Palaio Faliro in Athens.

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