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1/75 Scale. Length of the model is 415mm. Height 230mm. 214 precision molded parts.

Available as a;
Heller Bireme Imperator Kit # 884.
Aurora / Heller Bireme Imperator Kit # 6515 from the Prestige Series.

For experienced modelers age 12 and up. It is a highly detailed model of a Roman Bireme Warship. Finely engraved surface detailing. Interior planking and details. Preformed Sails. Included rigging thread and instructions.



Instantly the war trumpets of both fleets blared out and the galleys began to move, the drummers building up the stroke as rapidly as possible, for it was of vital importance for the ships to have the maximum amount of momentum when they met.

When galleys fought, they first tried to ram each other with the iron beaks in the prows. If this maneuver succeeded, the rammed galley sank within a few minutes and nothing more needed to be done. If the ramming failed, then each galley tried to plow through the oars of the enemy. As the oars were forced back, the handles crushed the rowers at their benches and the disabled galley could then be rammed at leisure. If this maneuver also failed, then there was nothing for it but to board with the aid of the corvus and slug it out man to man.


1500 - 1200 BC
Phoenicans built the first war galleys and were the best seafarers and ship builders of the ancient world. They had been at sea for some time before the Greeks and were already well established and experienced sailors.

Early galleys were simple ships with single levels of oarsmen, but the galley would be developed over the next 2000 years, to go on and become the dominant fighting ship of the eastern Mediterranean.

At right is a Phoenician trade ship of about 1500 BC. This is a rather capacious vessel with strong stem posts (firm beam in prow and stern extremities of the ship) and two stern oars. The mast bore a direct sail on two curved beams. To the prow stem post they fastened a large clay amphora for a storage of potable water.
The most detailed information about early war galleys comes from the poet Homer. In The Odyssey, written around 700 BC, he tells of the 10 year siege of Troy from 1193 - 1183 BC by the Greek fleet of 1186 galleys with its contingent of 100,000 - 140,000 men and of the hero Odysseus's long voyage home. The oarsmen on Odysseus's galley's were not slaves, but free men.

The Greek fleet included single-decked, single banked galleys, called Triakonters (with 30 rowers) and Pentekonyers (with 50 rowers). The length of the Pentekonyers was around 30m and around 4m wide. The Pentekonters became the standard and the most powerfull ships in the Mediterranean.

The Black Ships
before Troy.
Odysseus bound to the mast of his galley to resist the lure pf the Sirens.
Phoenician shipbuilders are also credited with developing Bireme and Trireme galleys in which the oars were arranged in two or three banks.

This rather narrow, strong ship (left) is of the type used by the Phoenicians from 1500-1000 BC. Two ranks of oars allow us to refer this ship type of ship as a Bireme. The upper combat deck is lifted on racks as a platform. Massive scull and prow oars essentially distinguished these vessels from similar boats of that time. These considerably increased manoeuvrability allowing the ship to turn 180 degrees rapidly. In combat these oars could be strongly firmly clamped to the hull so as to be used as battering rams. The mast was removable. Length of the ship was from 25 up to 35 meters, and the width about 4 to 5 meters.

1250 - 1000 BC
The Greek Dark Ages.
Around 1250 BC, there was a catastrophe of some kind in the Mediterranean and culture and civilisation as it had developed to that time, declined. One theory has it that the earth was hit by a large meteorit and the resulting catastrophic weather changes caused a shift in populations - and / or - local raiders from the north or Asian barbarians (also known as the Sea People) reacted to the upheaval and capitalised on the situation by plundering the Mediterranean. Most of the civilized world was lost, as the previously advanced areas fell into a Dark Age.

The first recorded account of fighting galleys was in 1190 BC. The Egyptian pharoh, Ramses III's fleet of galley's, repelled a navel invasion from Sea People in the eastern Mediterranean.

900 BC
Greek galleys appear with battering rams.

This one dates from the 2nd century BC, is 7.5 feet long and weighs 1/2 ton

850 BC
This galley appeared around 850 BC. The hull of the boat was low in height and the low strong mast bore a large rectangular sail, quilted for strength with leather belts. The hull was quite often filled with water transported usually amphora densely corked and filled by wax or asphalt. The upper deck was used to transport valuable consignments. The vessel was paramilitary and so the bow was bound with iron protecting the hull in case of impact with the hull of the enemy ship.

700 BC
The Bireme (a Phoenician Bireme pictured right) became the leading warship of the 8th century BC. The narrow prolate hull of this Phoenician Bireme of around 100 BC consisted of two floors and the upper one was again for the helmsmen and warriors. For greater stability of the ship the Phoenicians lowered the crinolines (platforms where oarsmen sat). A massive bronze covered battering ram was the main weapon of this narrow high speed bireme. The traditional removable rig was typical. A decorative poop extremity of stern was abruptly bent, similarly to a tail of a scorpion, and the balustrade of the battle platform was covered with the shields of warriors for reinforcement. Phoenicians were considered as the best seamen of the time and many ancient states frequently used them as mercenaries. The length was about 30 meters with a width of some 5 meters.

650 BC
The Trireme (a Roman Trireme pictured right) and reached its highest point of development in the eastern Mediterranean during the 5th century BC. Light, fast (about 30% faster than a Pentekonter), and maneuverable, it was the principal naval vessel with which Persia, Phoenicia, and the Greek city-states vied for mastery of the seas from the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC through the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404. Its unprecedented propulsive power was achieved by the arrangement of 170 oarsmen in three tiers along each side of the vessel, 31 in the top tier, 27 in the middle, and 27 in the bottom. The hull was a thin shell of planks joined edge-to-edge and then stiffened by a keel and light transverse ribs. Such light construction enabled the trireme to displace only 40 tons on an overall length of approximately 120 feet (37 m) and a beam of 18 feet (5.5 m); no ballast was used. The Trireme is said to have been capable of reaching speeds greater than 7 knots (8 miles per hour, or 13 km/h) and perhaps as high as 9 knots under oars. Square-rigged sails were used for power when the ship was not engaged. The principal armament of the trireme was a bronze-clad ram, which extended from the keel at or below the waterline and was designed to pierce the light hulls of enemy warships. In addition, the ship carried a complement of spearmen and bowmen who attacked enemy crewmen or attempted to board their vessels. By the end of the 4th century BC, armed deck soldiers had become so important in naval warfare that the Trireme was superceded by heavier, decked-over ships with multiple rows of oarsmen.

Galleys were built primarily of combustible materials (wood, cloth, hemp, and pitch), and so fire was a devastating weapon against them. Ancient mariners devised several ways to set enemy ships on fire. The simplest was to fire flaming arrows or ballista bolts on an enemy ship. Next most useful were flaming grenades, something like modern Molotov cocktails, filled with a combustible liquid like oil. Most intricate were flaming firepots suspended from the bow of a ship by a pole. When the pole was positioned over the deck of an enemy ship, the pot was dropped, so shattering it and spreading the burning liquid over the deck of the enemy vessel.

480 BC
The Battle of Salamis. A combined Greek fleet of around 300 triremes reverses the advance of 1000 Persian galleys, with a decisive naval victory at Salamis, Greece. The Greeks lost 40 galleys, the Persians 200.

210 BC
Ptolemy IV of Egypt built the largest warship the world would see until the twentieth century. The Tesseraconteres had a catamaran hull, with two hulls full of rowers and a large deck extending over both hulls like a modern aircraft carrier's deck. The ship was 130m (420 feet) long, 18m (57 feet) wide and 22m (72 feet) high. In comparison the length of the Titanic was 243m. Each of the third level oars were operated by 8 men and were 18m (57 feet) long and were counter-balanced with lead. It carried 4000 rowers, 400 sailors, and 2850 men in arms for a total of 7250 men.

31 BC
The Battle of Actium. The Roman Navy defeats the forces of Antony and Cleopatra and establishes its maritime supremacy. With this victory, the Romans gained dominance over the Mediterranean, making it almost a private lake and naval warfare (other than piracy) virtually disappeared from Europe for a thousand years.

52 AD
The insane Roman Caesar, Claudius, staged a navel 'exhibition' battle at Fucine Lake near Rome. Over half a million spectators watched 5,000 men, in twenty-four triremes (three banks of oars), all regulation ocean-going warships—and twenty-six bi-remes (double bank) galley's, fight to the death. 3,000 died.

1380 AD
Galleys make a comeback at the Battle of Chioggia. Venetian Galleys defeat the Genoese, confirming Venice as the dominant maritime power in Italy.

1400-1500 AD
Galleasses (larger galleys) and then Galleons (larger galleasses) begin to appear.

1571 AD
The Battle of Lepanto. The last navel battle fought between galleys/galleasses ends in defeat of the Turks by a Christian coalition. 459 galleys fought it out with the loss of over 200 galleys and over 20,000 men killed and around 40,000 wounded.

The battle of Lepanto was the last naval action fought by galleys manned by oarsmen.

1500-1600 AD
Galleons evolve into ships of the line.

1588 AD
Spanish Galleasses sail with the Armarda.

1660 AD
French king, Louis XIV, established the Galley Corps. The forces opposing the French at this time were often poor principalities without the resources to build heavy gun warships, so nothing bigger was really needed. France built the La Reale in 1988.

1729 AD
The French build the ceremonial galley, the Bucentaure.

Galleys being relatively unseaworthy, war at sea among the ancients was always near land. Pictures of billowing sails notwithstanding, masts and canvas were stowed for battle, and oars were the means of propulsion. The most destructive weapon was a ram in the bow, which dictated a line abreast as the tactical formation. In the line abreast, two lines of opposing galleys…

Naval warfare.

Very limited evidence of war at sea exists until the Greco- Persian Wars and Punic Wars of the last millennia BC. Historians are left to make largely educated guesses about sea fighting prior to these events. For example, the Minoan civilization of Crete prospered as sea traders from around 3400 BC until the catastrophe of 1200 BC. For those two millennia the Minoans apparently controlled the Mediterranean Sea. Mycenean palaces on the mainland were fortified while Minoan palaces on Crete were not. The lack of fortification on Crete suggests that the Minoans controlled the seas so completely that walls were not needed. Crete was defended by warships at sea that prevented any potential invader from coming ashore.

Following the catastrophe of 1200 BC, various powers vied for control of the Mediterranean Sea, including the Greeks, Phoenicians, Persians (through Eastern Mediterranean port cities they controlled), Carthaginians, and the Romans. Fleets of several hundred warships clashed in many naval battles. From this period we have the best information available about the evolution of the ancient fighting ship and how sea battles were fought. Once the Romans gained dominance over the Mediterranean, making it almost a private lake, naval warfare (other than piracy) practically disappeared from Europe.

Evolution of the fighting ship.

The first ships evolved into two major types: those built to carry a large cargo volume as traders or fishing boats at a sacrifice in speed, and those built primarily for speed to carry small important cargoes such as diplomats or messages. Ships designed for war needed speed to run down the slower cargo vessels or to out-maneuver enemy warships.

Speed and maneuverability.

Ancient courier and combat ships were galleys, relying on both sails and oarsmen for power, with the oars serving as a back-up power source in non-battle situations. Oar power was critically important during combat because it allowed precise and speedy movement, including fast turns (oared ships could essentially rotate in place by having the rowers on each side row in opposite directions) and backward movement. Sailing ships of the time had almost none of the maneuvering capability.

The first courier ships were long and thin, rather than short and wide, to maximize speed. A single mast might have been carried to provide wind power when conditions were right. A row of oarsmen were arranged down each side of the ship. The stroke of the oars was controlled by drums, chanting, or some other timing device. Oars had to be pulled together to keep the ship movement smooth. Tangled oars or "catching a crab" (failing to withdraw the oar after the stroke and being pinned by it and the force of the ship's motion) interrupted movement and interfered with steering. This could mean disaster in battle.

War galleys.

The most familiar ancient warship was the trireme, a long thin ship carrying three banks of oars on both sides and a ram on the prow. This ship had evolved from the Greek pentecontor that carried 50 rowers. Naval architects wished to add more power by adding more oarsmen, but the ship could not be made too long or risk breaking in the middle at sea. The solution was to add banks of rowers above each other. The basic trireme was powered by 170 rowers and was about 120 feet long. The first triremes were built by Corinth around 700 BC. After years of modification they became the predominate warship type from 500 to 300 BC.The triremes were eventually replaced by super galleys that were much larger and wider ships. On the super galleys oars were manned by multiple men, up to as many as eight per oar. Super galleys appeared first in the navy of Dionysius I of Sicily, the ruler responsible for the invention of the catapult around 399 BC.

Following the death of Alexander and the division of his empire, an arms race for control of the Mediterranean was touched off between the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia and the Ptolemies in Egypt. During this period the largest oar-powered ships ever built appeared.The most colossal of the new wide beam ships was built by Ptolemy IV of Egypt in the second century BC. It had a catamaran hull, apparently, with two hulls full of rowers and a large deck extending over both hulls like a modern aircraft carrier's deck. The writer Athenaeus reports this ship was 420 feet long and 57 feet wide. The third level oars were 57 feet long. It carried 4000 rowers, 400 other crewmen, and 2850 marines. It was the largest warship the world would see until the twentieth century. Historians believe this particular monster was more for show than practical use, but there are many accounts of smaller but still immense galleys engaging in combat.

Once Rome had established control of the Mediterranean world, the need for large super galleys disappeared after the battle at Actium in 31 BC. The Romans maintained sizable galley fleets, including several of the big super galleys, at big naval bases at Naples and Ravenna, plus smaller bases around the Mediterranean. The most useful ship in this navy was the liburnian, a light and fast two- deck galley equivalent to modern destroyer that was useful for chasing pirates and protecting commerce.

Naval weapons.

For most of antiquity, warships did not carry ship-killing weapons. Naval battles were boarding exercises. Fighting ships closed with each other and the battle was decided by missile fire and hand-to-hand combat between crews. Ships carried contingents of soldiers for combat and oarsmen left their posts to join in once the fighting started.The principal ship-killing weapon of the ancient world was the ram, which appeared sometime after the catastrophe and before 850 BC. A blunt ramming point was mounted below the waterline on a heavily reinforced bow. Such a ram of bronze, weighing over 1000 pounds, has been recovered from the Mediterranean by Israeli archaeologists.

The object of naval fighting was to drive the ram into the side or rear of an enemy ship, puncture it, and then pull back, leaving a hole that resulted in the ship sinking.After 300 BC, grappling and boarding once again became important as ships increased greatly in size and became less maneuverable. The larger ships of this period carried large fighting contingents, up to the hardly believable figure of 2850 soldiers mentioned earlier.

A Roman innovation of the third century BC was a combination gangplank and grapple called a corvus. This large plank was held in an upright position until an enemy ship got close. The corvus was then released and swung down onto the deck of the enemy ship, simultaneously grappling the two and providing access for Roman marines to attack. The Romans were great land fighters but were at a disadvantage when fighting the superior navy of the Carthaginians. The corvus made it possible for the Romans to fight at sea using their strengths.Dionysius I of Sicily was the first to mount catapults and other missile-firing engines on ships. These were useful in causing casualties to marines on the enemy's deck and a lucky hit in the rowing banks disrupted the rowing rhythm.

Sea tactics.

The tactics of sea fighting were missile fire and hand-to- hand boarding attacks until the invention of the ram. The boarding tactics are well illustrated in a series of carvings commissioned by Ramses III of Egypt on his temple at Medinet Habu. These carvings celebrate Ramses III's naval victory over barbarian invaders around 1190 BC. He apparently surprised the barbarian fleet at the mouth of the Nile. The carvings show the antagonists fighting with bows, maces, spears, and javelins. Naval fighting at this time was primarily accomplished by moving ships adjacent, showering the opponent with missiles, and then boarding.

The fitting of rams to the prow of fast oar-powered ships changed tactics. The boarding of ships was de-emphasized for several hundred years. Ships maneuvered into position to race in quickly and ram. If the ramming ship could withdraw, the punctured ship usually sank quickly and with heavy loss of life. If the ramming ship was too slow in its attack, the ram might not punch through the enemy hull. If it attacked too fast, it might become stuck, leaving it motionless and vulnerable to other enemies. An account of a sea battle off the island of Chios in 201 BC mentions a ship stuck in such a manner being saved by a friendly ship ramming the already pierced enemy ship and pushing it off the stuck ship's ram. If a ramming ship missed, many of the oars on one side were sheered off, again leaving the ship vulnerable until replacement oars could be put in place.

Smaller and faster ships had an advantage in maneuverability, but the larger ships were stronger and more powerful. The ability of oar-powered ships to turn quickly made it difficult to catch them at a disadvantage, unless more than one ship could attack an enemy simultaneously. If a larger ship could turn its ram head-on against a smaller ship, the result was usually sheered oars, leading to grappling and successful boarding by the larger ship.

Fleets attempted to get around each other and attack simultaneously from two angles, making an anvil attack. The enemy could only turn to face one foe, leaving himself exposed to a second. One ship held the enemy in place on the anvil and the other struck the blow.During last millennia BC, the oar-powered warships gradually got larger and more powerful, and began mounting fighting towers and catapults on their decks. Although boarding became important once again in the last centuries, warships continued to carry and use rams.

Bireme Imperator 1:75 by Revell.
Description: Styrene plastic model kit Galley "Bireme Imperator" 1/75 Scale by Heller kit #
Length: 415 mm (16.5 in.)
Parts: 210+

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Every effort has been made to trace the owners of copyright and we apologies to any we have been unable to contact

Jon Crooke

30 January 2005