What Made The Quadrireme So Unique?

Key Point: A quadrireme was an ancient Roman naval vessel with four rows of oars, typically arranged in two levels on each side.

In this installment of naval weapons from history, we will be taking a look at the quadrireme. The naval warship was used predominantly by the Ancient Romans. You will see what the quadrireme looked like, how big it was, and how it compared to other warships of the era. Now, before we begin, let’s establish what a quadrireme is, just so we’re on the same page here.

The Quadrireme was an ancient warship that was used for battle and naval transport. It was called a quadrireme because it had four rows of oars on each side, which made it faster and more maneuverable than earlier warships. It was about 39 meters long and 5 meters wide, and it could hold a crew of around 200 men.

That was the short introduction. Now, let’s explore the origin of the quadrireme.

The Origin Of The Quadrireme

Quadrireme at sea

The quadrireme was likely invented by the Carthaginians. Although it is not 100% certain as to which nation was the first to invent the quadrireme style of warship.

Based on when it first appeared at sea we can conclude it came from one of two powers. Either the Carthaginians or the Athenians. They were superb naval powers in the Mediterranean at that time.

Now, you might be thinking, what about the Romans? Well, in the beginning, they kind of sucked at naval warfare. So they weren’t in the running at the time.

How Did It Compare To Earlier Warships?

Compared to earlier warships like the Bireme or the Trireme. It was an improvement. It could carry more weapons, supplies, and soldiers. Which was crucial when it came to naval engagements. Back then ships rammed each other and one ship tried to board the other. So, when it came to boarding the enemy ship the number of your soldier mattered.

Speaking of boarding, it was such an important tactic that Romans invented a wooden bridge whose purpose was to pin the enemy ship down while the soldiers crossed. It was called the Corvus.

Now another way we could compare the quadrireme to other ships of the era is speed. It is estimated that the quadrireme could reach speeds of 9-10 knots while the trireme could go between 8 and 9 knots.

To see a couple of other ways the quadrireme compared to its predecessor the trireme you can go here to check it out.

Now, let’s continue by checking out the dimensions of the quadrireme, including the crew size.

Dimensions Of The Quadrireme

Here are the dimensions of an average quadrireme:

Length: 39 meters or 128 feet Width: 5 meters or 16 feet

Crew size: Up to 200 sailors

Displacement: Around 50 tons

How It Was Used

A large ship like the quadrireme was used in a couple of ways by the Romans. The most famous tactic was to simply ram the other ship, in order to create a hole big enough so the ship would sink.

That was one tactic. The other option was to put Ballista or Catapults on ships and use these large artillery pieces to damage enemy ships from afar. The same goes for arrows and javelins that were fired from the quadrireme at opposing ships.

In general packing, a lot of soldiers on the quadrireme was useful since it means the ship had a larger firepower. Which the Romans put to good use when they came close. All those soldiers jumped on the enemy ships and basically took over.

According to this book, the quadrireme was also used as a scout ship:

“The quadrireme could be used sometimes as a scout ship (navis speculatoria)” pg. 14 Republican Roman Warships 509 – 27 B.C.

So to sum up:

The 3 tactics used by the Romans were:

  • ramming enemy ships
  • firing with their catapults and ballista at enemy ships
  • boarding enemy ships

Now, given how awesome I made the quadrireme look. Which it was. This begs the question. Why did the quadrireme fall out of use?

Why Did The Quadrireme Fall Out Of Use?

There are 2 main reasons why the use of quadrireme stopped. The first one is cost. The Roman Empire found itself investing more and more in its army. And less so in their navy. Which made sense. They literally had control of the Mediterranean. There was no one else that could challenge them. Hence maintaining a large fleet of expensive ships was impractical. To say the least.

The other reason is. Better ships came along. The quinquereme or the polyreme were sort of a bigger and better option in comparison.

Key Takeaway: The quadrireme stopped being used because it was too costly to maintain a large fleet of quadrireme and better ship technology contributed to the quadrireme becoming obsolete.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. And I will see you at the next one. I suggest taking a look at my article on the Quinquireme. As you can guess it’s a ship even bigger than the quadrireme. You can see it here.

Sources: Republican Roman Warships 509–27 BC

Take care!