ROMAN NAVY

The Roman Navy operated between the First Punic War and the end of the Western Roman Empire.

Early Republic Roman Navy:
Prior to the First Punic War the Roman Navy only consisted of a few ships patrolling along the Italian coast and rivers. When in the conflict with Carthage the engagements at sea became decisive, the Romans were at first rendered helpless against the nautically experienced Carthaginians who were much better equipped with superior technology. According to legendary tradition, when the military was able to seize several Carthaginian warships, massive efforts were made for a naval build-up according to the Carthaginian archetype. De facto, it was the experience of the Roman socii in the Greek-influenced southern Italy, that was decisive for the Roman naval build-up. The Romans also developed a new tactic in naval warfare. Rome worked to counter the Carthaginian advantage of maneuverability by equipping their ships with the corvus, possibly developed earlier by the Syracusians against the Athenians, a plank with a spike for hooking onto enemy ships. Via a boarding bridge, numerically superior units of marines were transferred on to the enemy ship to board it in closed combat units, they had trained in landwarfare, avoiding the traditional tactics of ramming, burning or traditional boarding, which required highly trained and experienced pilots. The Roman casualties, increasingly due to the installation of the boarding bridge, can also be found in antique sources. We have records about revolts of allied levies, who did not want to crew these ships. Before the end of the First Punic War the corvus was banned from all Roman Navy ships. Although the first sea engagement, the Battle of the Lipari Islands in 260 BC, was a defeat for Rome, the forces involved were relatively small. The fledgling Roman navy won its first major engagement later that year at the Battle of Mylae. Through the course of the war, Rome continued to win victories at sea and gained naval experience. Their string of successes allowed Rome to push the war further across the sea to Carthage itself. At the beginning of the Second Punic War (218 BC - 202 BC), the balance of naval power in the Western Mediterranean had shifted from Carthage to Rome. This caused Hannibal, Carthage's great general, to shift the strategy, bringing the war to the Italian peninsula. Ultimately the enemy fleet was forced to give way to the Roman navy, bootlegged from their own and employing the new tactic at sea. On the other two following Punic Wars the navy did not play an important role. During other conquests, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, the navy played a very significant function. When the Mediterranean was mostly under Roman control (later to be called mare nostrum, "our sea", by the Romans), the Roman naval strategists had no more to do than concentrate on rampant piracy. This posed, especially from Cilicia, a growing threat for the Roman economy. However, when Pompey the Great downright wiped them out in a concentrated strike, there wasn't much left to do in the Mediterranean. Afterwards naval operations essentially took place in the provinces. Large parts of the Roman fleet during the Republic were provided by allies, mainly Greek, more accustomed to naval operations. The Romans were originally a land power based in the Italian peninsula, and were wary of the sea. In the First Punic War (264 BC-241 BC), the Carthaginians, a power rooted in sea trade, were able to exploit their strength at sea in their struggles with the Roman Republic. Since most of the conflict in the war was overseas (especially in Sicily), Rome saw that it needed to build a fleet in order to develop an effective military response. The result was the rapid construction in 260 BC of the first sizeable Roman fleet of about 150 quinqueremes and triremes, operating near the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the toe of Italy.

Late Republic Roman Navy:
After Rome's eventual victory over Carthage, there was no other sea power left to contend with Rome's marine might, and the Roman Navy was largely disbanded. In the absence of a strong naval presence, piracy flourished throughout the Mediterranean. Periodically, Rome would organize expeditions to deal with pirates. In 67 BC the Senate authorised Pompey to organize a large naval force and with this he effectively rid the Mediterranean of large scale piracy. As the Roman Republic unraveled in the period of civil war, competing Roman forces once again built up their naval might. Sextus Pompeius, in his conflict with Octavian, amassed a fleet powerful enough to threaten the vital supply of grain from Sicily to Rome. Octavian, with the help of Marcus Agrippa, built a fleet at Forum Iulii, and defeated Sextus in the Battle of Naulochus in 36 BC, finally putting an end to all Pompeian resistance. Octavian's power was further cemented against the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. This last naval battle of the Roman Republic definitively established Rome, with Octavian in sole command, as the supreme naval power in the Mediterranean. After this, he formalised several key naval harbours for the Mediterranean and the now fully professional navy had its main duties consist of protecting against piracy, escorting troops and patrolling the rivers frontiers of Europe.

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Augustus and the Roman Navy:
Under Augustus and after the conquest of Egypt there were increasing demands from the Roman economy to extend the trade lanes to India. The Arabian control of all sea routes to India was an obstacle. One of the first naval operations under princeps Augustus was therefore the preparation for a campaign on the Arabian peninsula. Aelius Gallus, the prefect of Egypt ordered the construction of 130 transports and subsequently carried 10,000 soldiers to Arabia. But the following march through the desert towards the Jemen failed and the plans for control of the Arabian peninsula had to be abandoned. At the other end of the Empire, in Germania, the navy played an important role for the supply and transport of the legions. In 15 BC an independent fleet was installed at the lake Constance. Later the militaries Drusus and Tiberius used the Navy extensively, when they tried to accomplish the Roman plan of a border extension to the Elbe. In 12 BC Drusus ordered to construct a fleet of 1,000 ships and sailed them along the Rhine into the North Sea. The Frisians and Chauci had nothing to oppose the superior numbers, tactics and technology of the Romans. When these entered the river mouths of Weser and Ems, the local tribes had to surrender. In 5 BC the Roman knowledge concerning the North and Baltic Sea was fairly extended during a campaign by Tiberius, reaching as far as the Elbe: Plinius describes how Roman naval formations came past Heligoland and set sail to the north-eastern coast of Denmark. The multiple naval operations north of Germania had to be cancelled mostly after the battle of the Teutoburg Forest in the year 9 AD.

Julio-Claudian dynasty and the Roman Navy:
In the years 15 and 16, Germanicus made within the scope of his Germania campaigns several fleet operations along Rhine and Ems, although they were knocked out in response to grim Germanic resistance and a disastrous storm. By 28, the Romans lost further control of the Rhine mouth in a succession of Frisian insurgencies. From 37 to 85, the Roman navy played an important role in the conquest of Britain. Especially the classis Germanica rendered outstanding services in multitudinous landing operations. In 46 the military made a push deep into the Black Sea region and even travelled on the Tanais. By 57 an expedition corps reached Chersonesos. It seems under Nero the navy obtained strategically important positions for trading with India; but there was no known fleet in the Red Sea. Possibly, parts of the Alexandrian fleet were operating as security for the Indian trade. I

Flavian, Antonine, Severan dynasties and the Roman Navy:
During the Batavian rebellion of Gaius Julius Civilis (69-70), the rebels got hold of a squadron of the Rhine fleet by treachery. But could not employ it in a decisive strike against the rival fleet. The remaining ships returned to Imperial authority, when Civilis was defeated in open battle. In the years 82 to 85, the Romans launched a campaign against the Caledonians in modern Scotland. In this context the Roman navy significantly escalated activities on the eastern Scottish coast. Simultaneously multiple expeditions and reconnaissance trips were lauched. During these the Romans would capture the Orkney Islands for a short period of time and obtained information about the Shetland Islands. Supposedly the Romans also landed on the Hebrides and in Ireland. Under the Five Good Emperors the navy operated mainly on the rivers; so it played an important role during Trajan's conquest of Dacia and temporarily an independent fleet for Euphrates and Tigris was founded. Also during the wars against the Marcomanni confederation under Marcus Aurelius several combats took place on the Danube and the Tisza. Under the aegis of the Severan dynasty, the only known military operations of the navy were carried out under Septimius Severus, using naval assistance on his campaigns along the Euphrates and Tigris, as well as in Scotland. Thereby Roman ships reached inter alia the Persian Gulf and top of the British Isles.

Third century crisis and the Roman Navy:
Under the barracks emperors, the navy made it through a major crisis, when during the rule of Trebonianus Gallus for the first time Germanic tribes built up their own powerful fleet in the Black Sea. Via two surprise attacks (256) on Roman naval bases in the Caucasus and near the Danube numerous ships fell into the hands of the Germans, whereupon the raids were extended as far as the Aegean Sea; Byzantium, Athens, Sparta and other towns were plundered and the responsible provincial fleets were heavily debilitated. It was not until the attackers made a tactical error, that their onrush could be stopped. In 268 another much fiercer Germanic attack took place. Part of the invading fleet attacked the Mediterranean islands of Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus, while the other part targeted the Greek mainland. Once again the Romans had nothing to withhold to this attack. Only when the Germanic force set off for the interior Claudius Gothicus could defeat them. In 286 the Roman Empire faced again a great danger when the insurgent supreme commander of the British Fleet, Carausius, dominated Britannia and parts of the Gallic coast. For with one blow the complete Roman control of the channel and the North Sea was lost, emperor Maximinus was forced to reinstitute a completely new Northern Fleet, but in lack of training it was almost immediately destroyed in a storm. Only under Caesar Constantius Chlorus the navy was again able to deliver troops to Britannia. By a concentric attack on Londinum the insurgent province could be retaken. John the Lydian spoke of 45,562 sailors under Diocletian and the tetrarchs.

Late Antiquity and the Roman Navy:
In 330 both main fleets were stationed in Constantinople. Classic naval battles were now a rare case. Documents tell of the victory of Crispus over the fleet of Licinius in 324, the destruction of the boats under Gainas in 400 and naval operations in the struggle with Geiseric in the 5th century. The Roman fleets suffered defeats against Germanic tribes in 460 and 468 under the emperors Majorian and Anthemius on the North African shore. When the Völkerwanderung struck with full force on the Roman borders, the endeavors of the navy could hardly change a thing. Until the breakdown of the Western Roman Empire in 476 the Roman warships were solely employed to evacuate Roman citizens out of troublespots. The navy stationed in the Eastern Empire became the cadre for the Byzantine Empire. Under the rule of Justinian I triremes were still in use, although mainly dromons were employed, Constantinople was itself protected by a fleet of liburnians.

Major events and the Roman Navy:
First Punic war
Battle of the Lipari Islands, 260 BC, minor Carthaginian victory.
The Battle of the Lipari Islands or Lipara (Lipara harbour, 260 BC) was the first encounter between the fleets of Carthage and the Roman Republic, fought during the First Punic War. The Carthaginian victory was a result of an ambush, rather than a fixed battle.

Roman Navy composition:
A ship's crew, regardless of its size, was organised as a centuria with one officer responsible for sailing operations and a centurion for the military tasks. Among the crew were usually also a number of principales and immunes, some of which were identical to those of the army and some of which were peculiar to the fleet. Command of fleets was given to equestrian prefects, those of the fleets based at Ravenna and Misenum having the largest prestige.

Ship types used:
Small single-oar-bank galleys Examples are penteconters and others

Triremes:
They were different types of ships in the small early navy and later in the Imperial navy

Quinqueremes:
They made the bulk of the ascending Roman navy during and after the Punic Wars

Liburnas:
They were galleys that Tacitus relates had a usual complement of three to four hundred men[ Roman ships were commonly named after gods (Mars, Iuppiter, Minverva, Isis) heroes (Hercules), and concepts such as Trust, Loyalty, Victory (Concordia, Fides, Victoria)

Weapon systems on board:
The following systems were used at various times by the Roman navy to fight their adversaries:

Ship hull, used to ride across and break the oars of an enemy ship, immobilising it. Rams used to sink an enemy ship by holing its hull, when driven against its flank under oar power. Grappling hooks used to clamp onto an enemy ship in order to allow the storming of its deck by embarked troops. Corvus, a large boarding plank with a heavy spike on the bottom. The enemy ship was prior positioned via the help of grappling hooks. Afterwards the corvus swung down on the enemy deck with the spike mooring both ships to each other. This enabled large numbers of infantry in battle formation to fight the enemy marines. Actual use is only briefly reported from the First Punic War. Modern reconstruction suggests that it was probably discontinued because of the tendency to unbalance the quinqueremes in high seas. Two fleets armed with this device were reportedly lost in storms. Arpax, a later successor in function to the corvus, an improved design reducing instability. Deck-mounted ballista, like their land-based counterpart, used to bombard the enemy ships with missiles, such as arrows. Also used occasionally to launch incendiary devices. Deck-mounted catapults, like their land-based counterpart, used to bombard the enemy ships with missiles, such as rocks. Also used occasionally to launch incendiary devices. Troops from the army, who could embark before battle and try and assault enemy ships Sailors were lightly armed but could also fight in battle when necessary.

Navy terms of service:
Men could sign on as marines, rowers/seamen, craftsmen and various other jobs, though all personnel serving in the imperial fleet were classed as soldiers, regardless of their function. Though the fleet had its own marines, these troops were used for boarding enemy vessels rather than amphibious assaults. The status of the sailors and marines of the Roman navy were somewhat similar to that of the auxiliary soldiers serving in the army, and received a salary of around the same amount. The fleet recruited freeborn citizens and provincials as well as freedmen. Soldiers that did not possess Roman citizenship received this privilege after a minimum of 20 years of service with all the attending benefits that this entailed, as well as a sizable cash payment.

Fleets:
The fleet of the Roman Empire had two major bases, as well as several minor ones.
The two major ("prsetorian") fleets, which controlled the Mare Nostrum, were:
Classis praetoria Misenensis, based at Portus Julius;
Classis praetoria Ravennatis, based at Ravenna.
The various provincial fleets were:
Classis Britannica controlled the English Channel and the waters around Britannia
Classis Germanica controlled the Rhine river, and was a fluvial fleet
Classis Pannonica controlled the Danube river, and was a fluvial fleet
Classis Moesica controlled the western Black sea
Classis Pontica controlled the southern Black sea
Classis Syriaca controlled the eastern Mediterranean sea
Classis Alexandrina controlled the eastern Mediterranean sea
Classis Mauretania controlled the African coasts of western Mediterranean sea.

Classis praetoria Misenensis:
This fleet was based in Misenum beginning in 27 BC. The classis praetoria Misenensis, later awarded the honorifics Pia Vindex, was the Empires' most important fleet, and intended to control the western part of the Mediterranean Sea. Among the sailors of this fleet, Nero levied the legio I Classis. In 330 her ships were moved to Constantinople, where emperor Constantine had moved the capital of the Roman Empire.

Classis praetoria Ravennatis:
Based in the port of Classis at Ravenna since 27 BC, the classis praetoria Ravennatis, later awarded the honorifics Pia Vindex, was second in importance after the classis Misenensis, and used to control the eastern part of the Mediterranean sea. In 330 her ships were moved to Constantinople. The port of Classis was similar to that of Misenum, but more complex. A canal, the Fossa Augusta, united Classis with the lagoons of the interior, as well as with the Venetian Lagoon in the north. Naval arsenals and docks stretched along the Fossa, in a complex that reached 22 km in length.

Classis Britannica:
His short-lived Britannic Empire was based on the control of the British Fleet and the supporting ports, such as the port of Bononia in Gaul.Based since 43 in Portus Itius (Boulogne-sur-Mer, called also Gesoriacum or Bononia), Gallia, and probably since 296 in Rutupiae (Richborough), Britannia. It also had a base (smaller than that at Boulogne) at Dubris, now to be seen at the Painted House, and in the basement of the town library (the former White Cliffs Experience). Its purpose was to control the English Channel and the waters around the Roman province of Britannia. This fleet played a major role in the invasion of Britannia. Under Agricola it circumnavigated Scotland, and in 83 it attacked the eastern coast of Scotland. One year later the fleet reached the Orkney Islands. The control of the Classis Britannica and of the harbour of Bononia allowed two Roman generals, Carausius and Allectus, to declare the secession of the Britannia province, in the 290s. When Constantius Chlorus, by order of Diocletian, regained Bononia, he was able to cross over into the island, and the put the Carausian revolt to an end.

Classis Germanica:
Beginning in 12 BC in Castra Vetera (Germania Inferior), this fleet controlled the Rhine river as well as the North Sea. After 50, this fleet moved its main base to Colonia Agrippinensis (Germania).

Classis Pannonica:
From 35 BC in Aquincum (Pannonia, modern Budapest), this fleet controlled the Danube from Castra Regina (Raetia, modern Regensburg) to Singidunum (Moesia, modern Beograd). It was re-organized under the Flavian dynasty, when it was renamed classis Flavia Pannonica.

Classis Moesica:
Based in Noviodunum, the classis Flavia Moesica controlled the lower Danube.

Classis Pontica:
Operative since 14 BC, and based since 54/60 in Trapezus (Pontus), this fleet was used to guard the Southern and Eastern Black Sea.

Classis Syriaca:
Established in 63 BC, and based since 70 in Seleucia Pieriae (Syria), this fleet controlled the Eastern Mediterranean sea and the Aegean sea.

Classis Alexandrina:
Based in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Aegyptus, classis Alexandrina controlled the eastern part of the Mediterranean sea. It was founded by Caesar Augustus around 30 BC, and probably fought at the battle of Actium. Having supported emperor Vespasian in the civil war of 69, it was awarded of the cognomen Augusta, and was called Classis Augusta Alexandrina.

Major Roman ports were:
Misenum
The port of Classis, near Ravenna
Alexandria
Leptis Magna
Ostia.

Caligula's Giant Ship:
Also known as the round ship, was a very large barge whose ruins were found during the construction of Rome's Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino, Italy. This was previously a Roman port a few miles north of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber River. This Roman barge had a length of between 95 and 104 meters (341 feet) and a beam of about 20.3 meters (66 feet). It was 6 decks high, displaced a minimum of 7400 tons, and carried a crew of 700-800. Some speculate that this ship, or a similar ship, was used to transport the obelisk in St. Peter's Square from Egypt on the orders of Roman emperor Caligula

Nemi Ships:
Huge and exceedingly luxurious ships built by the Roman emperor Caligula in the first century AD at Lake Nemi. One of the ships was designed as a temple that was dedicated to Diana, the larger ship however was essentially an elaborate floating palace, which counted marble and heated, mosaic floors and plumbing such as baths among its amenities, the sole role of which was to satisfy Caligula's increasingly self-indulgent behavior. It has been stated that the emperor was influenced by the lavish lifestyles of the Hellenistic rulers of Syracuse and Ptolemaic Egypt.

Crews:
The Roman fleet relied throughout its existence on rowers of free status. Galley slaves were usually not put at the oars except in times of pressing manpower demands or extreme emergency. In Imperial times, provincials which were free men became the mainstay of the Roman rowing force.

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