Hellenistic Tesserakonteres: Largest Human-Powered Vessels In History

Hellenistic Tesserakonteres: Largest Human-Powered Vessels In History

During the Hellenistic era, heavy polyremes warships such as hexaremes, septiremes, etc, became fairly common and were definitely used in battle, although the pentere remained the main line-of-battle galley.

“Appearing at the end of the fourth century BC in the fleet of Demetrios Poliorketes, these super-galleys expanded quickly to reach the level of twenty and thirty rows of oars and culminate, towards the end of the third century BC, with the forty of Ptolemy IV Philopator powered by 4000 rowers.”

~Patrice Pomey.

During the war between Ptolemaios Keraunos and Antigonos Gonatas, the Heraklean fleet (which fought on Keraunos’ side) was made up of “hexaremes, penteres and an octere”. The latter, probably the flagship, had 1600 oarsmen and 1200 soldiers and mariners on the decks, and two helmsmen. Memnon states that this giant ship was actually effective during the battle.

“These warships resembled to floating fortresses, very similar in size to the modern battleships and aircraft carriers. The tessarakonteres had a crew of 6.000 men (officers, oarsmen, sailors, marines and others), as many as a modern aircraft carrier.”

~Periklis Deligiannis.

Stats of the tesserakonteres: Length: 130 m. Beam: 17 m per catamaran hull. Longest rowing oars: 17 m. Oarsmen: 4,000, officers, ratings, deckhands: 400, Marines: 2,850.

Source & Illustration: Paweł Moszczyński for Mówią Wieki Magazine, Feb. 2010.