Trireme Vs Longship – What’s The Difference?

Key Point: The main difference between Triremes and Longships is in their: origin, size, propulsion, and armaments.

Do you know these 5 differences between the trireme and the longship? In this article, we will take a look at the topic of trireme vs longship. You will see the 5 main differences between the two ships, and you learn which was better! Now, let’s take a look at a brief overview of the differences between the ancient Greek design of the trireme and the Viking longship.

So what is the difference between the two ships? You have the table below that summarizes the entire article perfectly.

Difference In:TriremeViking Longship
OriginDeveloped in Ancient GreeceUsed by Vikings in the early Middle Ages
SizeAround 120 feet in lengthAround 80 feet in length
Propulsion and speedPropelled by oarsmen rowing in three tiers (9 knots)Used both oars and sails for propulsion (5-10 knots)
ArmamentsEquipped with a large bronze ram, archers, spearmenEquipped with bows and arrows, axes, spears

Those were the 5 key differences between triremes and longships. Now, let’s take a look at it in a little more detail. Starting with the origin.

Trireme VS Longship – Difference In Origin

This difference is quite massive. The trireme came about in the Ancient Mediterranean. Ancient Greeks adopted the bireme design from the Phoenicians and then proceeded to improve upon it. By adding another row of rowers. Very innovative, right? Joking aside, the added row of rowers actually made the ship more agile in combat and a lot faster. The trireme design spread to other civilizations throughout the Mediterranean.

And the longship?

Well, the longship’s origin story came about much later. In the early Middle Ages in Northern Europe.

The longship started off as a fishing and trading ship used by the Nordic people. Up north there was a lack of arable land. This meant the people there relied primarily on fishing and trading to sustain themselves.

The longship was ideally suited for that. It was sturdy enough to make it across the Baltic sea and was small enough to travel on rivers. This mobility across the high seas and rivers enabled the Nordic people to establish trading outposts in some cases on different continents. But, they also found a use for the longship that goes beyond trade, which is pillaging the European coastline cities. Which became a Nordic favorite pastime.

The Speed And Propulsion Difference

The speed difference between the two ships was the result of the difference in how the ships were propelled. Of course, weight also played a part.

The Propulsion Difference

The trireme was powered by its oarsmen. it could carry a crew of up to 170 people most of them, oarsmen.

They were placed below deck in 3 levels on each side of the ship. As you can imagine that was a lot of muscle propelling the ship. Hence why the trireme could reach speeds of up to 9 knots (in ideal circumstances).

While the longship the propulsion system was a hybrid one. it could be powered by sail or by rowers on each side. This had the added benefit of utilizing the win whenever possible and giving the crew time to rest. This was advantageous because while most of the crew on the trireme were rowers full-time, most of the crew on the longship were warriors that disembarked upon arrival to fight.

Hence why it was a good idea to have them rested. As it pertains to speed the longship could reach speeds between 5 and 10 knots. The speed varied depending on the size of the ship and the number of crew.

And now we come to the last and the most fun part in my opinion. The weapons.

Trireme Vs Longship – Difference In Weapons

The difference in armaments between the two warships stems from the difference in the purpose behind the use of each warship. While the trireme was used in naval battles against other ships the longship was not. It was mostly used for transport.

Hence why the trireme was equipped with a powerful battering ram capable of ramming and piercing the hull of other ships. While the crew of the trireme could fire arrows and throw spears from a distance before ramming the ship. But all in all, it was mostly used to ram other ships. While the longship was used mostly to transport warriors to and from raiding parties.

All in all in my opinion the trireme was a much more effective ship to have in one’s navy. The main issue would be it was kind of unsuitable for the rough seas of the Atlantic. While the longship could survive in that environment but was not as useful in my opinion. So, if I had to choose to have a ship in my own personal navy, I would choose the trireme.

As long as I wasn’t the one rowing it, of course.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two and if you wish to continue learning about ancient naval weapons I suggest taking a look at my article comparing the trireme to the Byzantine warship the dromon, right here.

Or go here and take a look at the differences between the trireme and the galleon.

Take care!

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