Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

Ancient Ships

The ships in olden times were very different from many of those which you see now. They were not made to go by steam, but only by sails or by oars. As sails were useless unless the wind happened to blow in a favorable direction, the people preferred to use oars, as a rule.

Even large ships were rowed from one place to another by well-trained slaves, who sat on benches along either side of the vessel, and plied their oars slow or fast according to the orders of the rowing master. These vessels with many rowers were called galleys. When the men sat on three tiers of benches, handling oars of different lengths, the boat they manned was known as a trireme.

There were other boats, with five, ten, or even twenty-four banks of oars; but for war the most useful were the triremes, or three-banked ships, and the quinqueremes, or those with five tiers of rowers. For battle, the ships were provided with metal points or beaks, and a vessel thus armed was rowed full force against the side of an enemy's ship to cut it in two.

Of all the people settled on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the Carthaginians were now the best sailors. They dwelt at Carthage, in Africa, and, as their city was all the land they owned there at first, they soon turned all their energies to trading.

The Carthaginians thus amassed great wealth, and their city, which was near the present Tunis, and was twenty-three miles around, was one of the finest in the world.

In the course of their journeys, the Carthaginian sailors often visited Sicily, one of the most fertile countries in the world. Little by little they began to establish trading places there, and daily gained ground in the island. The Romans saw the advance of the Carthaginians with great displeasure; for it is but a step from Sicily to the Italian mainland, and they did not want so powerful a people for their neighbors.

The city of Syracuse was at this time the largest and strongest on the island, although the Carthaginians had waged many wars against it. There was also another city that was independent, which was occupied by a band of soldiers called Mamertines. A quarrel between these two cities led to war, and the Mamertines were so badly defeated that they asked the Romans for help.

When Hiero, the King of Syracuse, heard that Rome was planning to help his enemies, he sought aid from Carthage, and began to get ready for the coming war. The Romans, however, boldly crossed over into Sicily, and won such great victories that Hiero soon made peace with them, and he remained friendly to Rome as long as he lived.

The Carthaginians were thus left to carry on the war without the help of Syracuse. Now while the Roman legions were noted for their bravery on land, the Romans soon realized that Carthage would have the advantage, because it had so many ships.

A navy was needed to carry on the war with any hopes of success, and as the Romans had no vessels of war, they began right away to build some. A Carthaginian quinquereme, wrecked on their shores, was used as a model. While the shipbuilders were making the one hundred and twenty galleys which were to compose the fleet, the future captains trained their crews of rowers by daily exercise on shore.

Such was the energy of the Romans that in the short space of two months the fleet was ready. As the Romans were more experienced in hand-to-hand fighting than any other mode of warfare, each ship was furnished with grappling hooks, which would serve to hold the attacked vessel fast, and would permit the Roman soldiers to board it and kill the crew.

The fleet was placed under the command of Duilius Nepos, who met the Carthaginian vessels near Mylæ, on the coast of Sicily, and defeated them completely. Most of the enemy's ships were taken or sunk, and, when Duilius returned to Rome, the senate awarded him the first naval triumph.

In the procession, the conqueror was followed by his sailors, bearing the bronze beaks of the Carthaginian galleys which they had taken. These beaks, called "rostra," were afterwards placed on a column in the Forum, near the orators' stand, which was itself known as the Rostra, because it was already adorned by similar beaks of ships.

Duilius was further honored by an escort of flute players and torchbearers, who accompanied him home from every banquet he attended. As no one else could boast of such an escort, this was considered a great privilege.


Front Matter

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire