What I’m Reading: Warships of the Ancient World

This book is part of the research I’m doing for the fantasy trilogy I’m currently writing. It’s pretty straightforward–Warships of the Ancient World: 3000-500 BC, by Adrian K. Wood, gives you exactly what it says in the title. It covers every aspect of warships built by the ancient Egyptians, Cretans, Assyrians, and Phoenicians. In the final section, it presents Greece on the cusp between the Bronze and Iron ages, from Homeric times through to the very edge of the classical era.

It’s packed full of maps, diagrams, photos of actual shipwrecks from the era brought to the surface, and helpful pictures with artistic recreations. The writing is clear, if a bit dry in an encyclopedia entry kind of way. It explains shipbuilding, navigation, and tactics and how these evolved over time, and describes several famous battles.

For instance, in early battles, the idea was to board the enemy’s ships, kill the crews, and tip the ships over to sink them. Later, ships became larger and tipping them impossible, and shipbuilders learned to build decks down the middle of the ships for archers to stand on, making boarding more difficult. Finally, the Greeks learned to build rams developed from the cutwater, which increased the speed of their ships in the water, and required only a bronze covering to turn it into a weapon. With two rows of oarsmen on each side, another innovation, the Greek ships could build up the speed necessary for their bronze-covered ram to smash enemy boats in half.

This book’s focused subject matter necessarily limits its audience. Still, if anybody has an interest in ancient warships, I can definitely recommend it.

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