An ancient warship with five banks of oars. This is the same definition that you'll get in Webster's Quinquereme. Latin quinque = five and remus = oar.

So why am I writing about it here, not there? Well, the word occurs in John Masefield's famous poem Cargoes, which I noded earlier today, and when I clicked on quinquireme there wasn't anything, so I created this nodeshell. Then I thought I'd fill it in, and began looking it up. Well. In dictionaries, they always use -E-. But on the Web, most of the references are to -I-. It seems Masefield used -I- too. Both look pretty good Latin, since medial unstressed vowels often become -I- in combination, so I can't decide between them. Might as well have something in both.

In the course of looking it up, I found out that five "banks" of oars doesn't mean five rows, one above the other, which sounds pretty much impossible for an ancient ship. It actually means five rowers. They could be three vertical sets of oars, with two rowers each on the top two and one strong man on the bottom; or two sets, three rowers on the top oar and two on the bottom one; or even a single oar with five men all on the one oar. (This is closest to your average Kirk Douglas film, I guess.)

The ancient Greek ship was the trireme. This had been used for centuries. The more powerful quinquereme was said to have been invented by Dionysius I of Syracuse. Both the Carthaginians and the Romans used them in the Punic Wars: the historian Polybius says that the Romans commissioned a fleet of 120 ships, 20 triremes and 100 quinqueremes. That was about 260 BCE.

The thing that interested me was that one oar requires one experienced oarsman to handle it, but if it's got more than one rower on it the others can be just strong conscripts. Rome was a very new naval power trying to break the hold of Carthage, so they had very few experienced oarsmen. So instead of the 2-2-1 arrangement the Carthaginians used, requiring three skilled oarsmen per five, the Romans devised the system of a single oar with five rowers on it, so only one in five of their rowers needed experience.

Node what you don't know! I can't even remember how I got onto this.

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