Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are We Wimps? Compared to Ancient Athenians?

Provocative anthropologist Peter McAllister says yes.

Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.

The evidence for this can only be the failure of the modern trireme reconstruction Olympias to reach the cruising speed implied by classical authors for ancient triremes.

If we knew that Olympias was a perfect reproduction of an ancient trireme, then the argument might be valid. We don't.

Olympias was a plausible first effort at reconstructing an ancient trireme. The men responsible for the reconstruction now believe they can do better, tweaking some key details to give the rowers more room for a longer stroke while still fitting the surviving evidence. This exactly the sort of thing that experimental archaeology can teach us.

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