War spread to the seas even in ancient times. The Romans and Punics fought legendary naval battles for control of the Mediterranean Sea.
But effective naval warfare required appropriate instruments. The Romans learnt their naval skills from other ancient nations and based their warships on Greek, Etruscan and Carthaginian ships. The most powerful of the warships during the Hellenistic era was the trireme, a type of galley with three rows of oars on each side. Roman Quinqueremes also had three rows of oars.
‘Quinque’ means five in Latin and refers here to the number of oarsmen pulling on a group of oars: 2 in the top row, 2 in the middle row and 1 at the bottom row.
The ships were about 37 m (121.4 ft) long and 4 m (13.12 ft) wide on average. The main mast held one huge square sail, which helped the 270 oarsmen when they had a good wind. The ship also carried 30 sailors and 120 soldiers.
Quinqueremes featured rams, which were pointed, metal-covered projections at the bow. They could render an enemy ship useless by puncturing its hull. But the most powerful weapon on Roman warships was not the bow. The army of the Roman Republic was most powerful on dry land.
They therefore equipped their warships with corvuses, or boarding bridges, usually 9-11 m (29.53-36.09 ft) in length. When they approached an enemy ship, they broke its oars, making it unable to escape. There was a spike on the underside of the corvus, designed to pierce the enemy ship's deck when the boarding bridge was lowered. This allowed a firm grip between the ships and provided a route for the soldiers to cross, allowing them to fight as if they were on dry land.