A Full Guide On The Quinquireme

In this article, it’s time we take a look at the quinquireme. You and I will take a look at what a quinquireme was, how it was used, and how big it actually was. So, now strap yourself in, and let’s explore this ancient naval weapon in detail.

But first, let’s establish what a quinquireme is in a little more detail. So … What is a quinquireme?

A quinquireme was a type of ancient warship most often used by the Romans and the Carthaginians. It was powered by five levels of oars on each side and could carry up to 300 people on board.

That was the short introduction to the quinquereme. Now let’s take a look t the origins of the quinquereme.

Origins Of The Quinquireme

The quinquireme is believed to have been developed in the 5th century BC. Although there is some debate between historians who came up with the design, the Greeks or the Phoenicians.

Most historians are in the camp of “the Greeks made it” I kind of doubt it, to be honest.

Just letting you know, the ongoing theory is that the Greeks made the first quinquireme. And from there the Carthaginians perfected the design. Based on my knowledge it would be hard for a city-state to maintain a fleet of large expensive ships. So, it is more likely that the Carthaginians with their vast trading empire were the ones that made the first quinquireme.

Regardless of the origin, the Carthaginians were the ones that put the quinquireme to most use in naval engagements. Speaking of putting the quinquireme to good use, let’s explore how these large ships were used.

How The Quinquireme Was Used

The Quinquireme was used most extensively in the Mediterranean by the Romans and the Carthaginians. They used it in 2 different ways. The first way is they rammed and boarded the enemy ship where they engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

The second way was they rained projectiles, meaning arrows and javelins from afar at the opposing ship.

Now, when it comes to ramming the opposing ship, there were 2 tactics that they employed. The first was the “diekplous”. This is where they would row alongside enemy ships and then suddenly turn into them. This would have the effect of splitting the enemy formation which in theory resulted in confusion and made the ramming and boarding process much easier.

The second tactic was “periplous”. This is where the quinquireme would use their superior speed and place themselves behind enemy ships and attack from the rear. This was effective against ships that were slower than the quinquireme. Which were most ships out there.

The main advantage of the quinquireme wasn’t just the speed. It was the number of soldiers they could carry. This meant more marines that could board enemy ships and more soldiers that could fire projectiles from afar. So, more soldiers meant more firepower.

Let’s take a look at a few numbers, right now. More specifically how big an average quinquireme was, and how many people it could carry.

Its Dimensions

The length of an average quinquireme was 45 meters or roughly 145 feet. It was 5 meters or 16 feet wide. Given its large dimensions, it is rather surprising it had a shallow draft of just 2 meters. Which made it ideal for coastal operations. The displacement is estimated at 100 tons.

With its large size, the quinquireme could carry more than 300 people on board at any one time. Most of them rowers.

From the wonderful book Republican Roman Warships pg. 28: “270–300 rowers were divided into 60 teams of five men each (hence quinque-remis)”

With this large number of rowers, the quinquireme could reach speeds of up to 10 knots (around 18.5 kilometers per hour or 11.5 miles per hour).

So, as you can see it was a large and formidable ship capable of reaching huge speeds. Given all that, why is it that it wasn’t used much by the Roman Empire after a certain point? Let’s explore why.

Why The Quinquireme Stopped Being Used

The reason why the quinquireme stopped being used was largely due to cost and there not being any need for it. As you can imagine having a large ship is expensive to maintain. Having a fleet of them is even more so.

So, after kicking Carthage’s ass and later the Egyptians as well at sea … there was no one left. Rome was the supreme ruler of the Mediterranian sea. So, what was the point of investing in a large fleet of ships when all you had to do is maintain your influence? Which could be achieved with cheaper and smaller ships. And given that the Roman Empire had to fight off invaders on land, the navy was not that important. Since all of the threats they faced came by land.

So, the quinquireme slowly stopped being used, and the quadrireme was as well.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. To learn more about naval warships the Romans liked to use I suggest checking out an article on the hexareme right here.

Take care!

Sources: Republican Roman Warships 509–27 BC (New Vanguard)