November 11, 2023

Open Thread 143

It is time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you like, so long as it isn't culture war.

Unfortunately, it looks like the USNI sale is currently down, but when it is back, it will be excellent.

Overhauls are Ballistics, Iowa Part 3, the Alaska class Parts One and Two and for 2022, Taranto and Museum Review - DC Redux.


  1. November 11, 2023ack-acking said...

    Anyone else catch this podcast on ancient galley warfare with the acoup guy? ( I thought it was fascinating! It seemed like ancient galley warfare was almost more like an army battle than what we think of how navies work.

  2. November 11, 2023Basil Marte said...

    Yes. The top-line warships of that era weren't capital ships but labor ships. (And just for the sake of completeness, here's his appearance on Drachinifel.)

  3. November 11, 2023cassander said...

    I've read his thesis, and I have a hard time with his numbers. I simply cannot believe that the cost of building ships was as low as he claims, and he must be leaving something out.

    that said, even if they were, the cheapness of ships isn't why naval battle wasn't decisive, it was their lack of staying power. Ancient galleys operated half of the year at best, and war galleys had extremely limited operating endurace. they were light, shallow, and fast, and had hundreds of men on board. they went through food and especially water very fast, and they were not durable. Defeating the enemy war fleet didn't mean leaving the sea open to your use, it meant celebrating for a few days then immediately sailing home before your ships started leaking too badly.

  4. November 12, 2023Basil Marte said...

    I was wondering whether by construction cost he meant "the cost of the wooden hull" or "the cost of the wooden hull and the bronze ram", since it seems to me that the ram may have cost more than the hull.

    And yes, in both podcasts he goes over both the operational limitations as well as that the pattern of "we lost most of the fleet, so we build a new fleet during the winter" happened regularly.

  5. November 12, 2023Hugh Fisher said...

    Re ancient galley fleets, the podcast gives primary sources for the costs. If there are different sources, I'm sure historians (professional and amateur) would be glad to learn about them. Got any?

    The reconstructed Athenian Trireme Olympias was built in the 1980s at a cost of $US700,000 (source: The Trireme Sails Again, John Coates) and has a crew of 200. I'm going to guess that this trireme likewise costs a lot more to run for a year than to build.

  6. November 15, 2023muddywaters said...

    If this seems weird to you, be aware that ancient ships, both oared warships and sailing merchant ships, were much smaller than later sailing ships. The warships also had an incentive to be fast, which meant fitting as many rowers into as light a ship as possible. A ~50-ton trireme in c.400 BC had as many crew as a ~1000-ton sailing frigate in c.1750, so it makes sense that the trireme would be much cheaper to build.

    The estimate I've seen is that building a trireme took about as much labor as crewing it for 0.1 years, though that doesn't include the cost of the raw materials. For comparison, an 18th-century sailing warship cost very roughly as much to build as to crew for 5 years, and a 1910s battleship or present-day carrier cost roughly as much to build as to crew for 20 years or to run (including both crew and other ongoing costs such as maintenance) for 10 years.

    it seems to me that the ram may have cost more than the hull

    Probably not: metal was expensive but not that expensive (in Rome).

  7. November 17, 2023John Schilling said...

    Looking into the matter further, this paper suggests that a trireme ram would weigh 500-1000 lbs, and the raw bronze would cost about 500-1000 drachma in 325 BC. Since the oarsmen are getting ~1 drachma/day each, operating costs will dominate.

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