In 427 BC, the Greek city-state of Athens crushed a revolt in
Mytilene on the Aegean island of Lesbos. The Athenian assembly decided
that all men in Mytilene should be killed in punishment and dispatched
the order by the fastest means it knew - a trireme, the classic oared
warship of the ancient Mediterranean. The next day, the assembly
relented and sent a second trireme to call off the massacre. Mytilene
was 340 kilometres away and the first ship had a day-and-a-half start -
but by rowing non-stop for 24 hours, the crew of the second ship
arrived in time to stop the slaughter. Modern crews who tried to match
this feat in a reconstructed trireme have never come close. Were
ancient Athenian oarsmen supermen?
David at Cronaca has been following an unsuccessful attempt to duplicate the feats of ancient Greek trireme rowers. At first, it was believed that the reconstruction of the ship was wrong. Now there's another possibility:
We may not be as fit as the people of ancient Athens, despite all that
modern diet and training can provide, according to research by
University of Leeds (UK) exercise physiologist, Dr Harry Rossiter.
Dr Rossiter measured the metabolic rates of modern athletes rowing
a reconstruction of an Athenian trireme, a 37m long warship powered by
170 rowers seated in three tiers. Using portable metabolic analysers,
he measured the energy consumption of a sample of the athletes powering the ship over a range of different speeds to estimate the efficiency of the human engine of the warship. The research is published in New Scientist.
Photo from The Trieres