Sit to the oar!

01 Mar 2017

In the Battle of Salamis (480BC) a small Greek fleet outmanoeuvred the much larger Persian navy to win a decisive victory. The “secret weapon” deployed by the Greeks in this defining sea battle was an innovative and devastating warship: the trireme.

In a recent lesson Year 12 Classics students were able to get a feel for what it might be like to row in a trireme. Guest lecturer and physics teacher Dr Andrew Taylor rearranged the classroom furniture to reflect the configuration of a trireme – three lines of rowers down the length of each side of the ship – and, quoting an extract from Aristophanes’ play The Frogs, reminded the boys of the need to “sit to the oar”, row hard and work in unison.

“… Grasp the oar, stretch out your hands.
– See?
– Stop fooling around. Lean your body forward, and pull with a will …
– Then order away!
– Heave ho, heave ho …”

In the early 1990s, Dr Taylor was a member of the crew of the Olympias, a full-scale reconstruction of an Athenian trireme commissioned by the Hellenic Navy of Greece, which is now housed in the Naval Tradition Park, Palaio Faliro, Athens.

Classics teacher Chloe Harland was thrilled to be able to bring history to life in such a meaningful way and delighted when Dr Taylor agreed to share his experience with her students.

See the Olympias under sail on Turning Points in History – Salamis