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Penteconter – great colonization galley

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Penteconter ship model
Penteconter ship model | Author: Gts-tg / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Thinking about the ships of ancient Greece, we certainly see fast and slender triers, with protruding, shiny brown beaks and rowers sitting in three rows, one above the other.

However, the first Greek warships, we know about today, differed significantly from the triers popularized by historiography and even pop culture. Monery – the first ancient Greek ships had only one row of oars, and there were 30 (in triaconters) or 50 (just in penteconters).


The penteconter was a type of Greek warship, belonging to the moner class. The name of this type of ship simply means “fifty rowing boat”. Along each side of the penteconters there were 25 rowers seated in a row. The rowing deck was not covered, so the rowers were exposed not only to the effects of weather conditions but above all to enemy fire.

The fifty-rowing boats were built mainly of pine wood, but to improve tightness, animal skins were stretched over the hull. The ship had a rectangular sail, thanks to which it was not dependent only on the rowing drive.

The first penteconter rams were simply wooden, only with the passage of time, probably due to combat experience, it was decided to mount a bronze spearhead on their most advanced point.

Combat tactics

Initially, penteconters were used in naval combat to board and take over enemy units, or to destroy enemy ships from their decks with missiles. This is evidenced by the preserved clay vessels with penteconters carrying armoured infantry on the decks.

For a long time, naval battles were mainly based on capturing enemy ships. Battering rams appeared over time, initially wooden, then covered with bronze. However, it took hundreds of years to master the ramming tactic to the point of becoming the basis of naval warfare.

Great colonization

The preserved sources, both written and works of art, prove that the basic naval units used during the Greek great colonization were precisely the war penteconters, and not the commercial transporters. According to some researchers of ancient Greek maritime affairs, it proves that colonization was by no means peaceful, but rather based on the military conquest of other territories.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz
  • W. Pasiut, Nie tyko Salamina. Wojny morsie Hellady do 355 r. p.n.e.

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