Naval Warfare in the Ancient World
The first known battle at sea occurred in 1210 BCE when the Hittites defeated a force of vessels from Cyprus and burned their ships at sea. By 700 BCE the Phoenicians were employing advanced vessels equipped with rams and two banks of oars, one on top of the other while a third deck carried fighting men for boarding actions.
By the time of the Greco-Persian wars, during which the Persian Empire attempted unsuccessfully to conquer the Greek city states on several occasions, combat at sea was carried out by fleets of advanced vessels known as triremes which worked in concert with forces on the ground in complicated land-sea operations.
Although the Roman Empire is known primarily for the military might of its powerful heavy infantry legions, they too engaged in naval warfare, especially in the Punic Wars against Carthage, one of the great naval powers of the ancient world. These early vessels leveraged the might of the Roman ground forces, with Roman ships equipped with powerful grapples that would allow their ships to link with enemy Carthaginian vessels so Roman marines could employ the infantry tactics of which Rome was the undisputed master to eliminate enemy vessels during boarding actions.As Rome expanded, they discovered an increasing need for naval power in order to quickly project their military might over a wide area, a need every wide-ranging empire has needed from the Persians to the United States of America. The Battle of Actium, fought between Octavian and Marc Antony to determine the successor to Julius Caesar shows just how Rome’s naval power had expanded as the size of the Empire expanded, with hundreds of ships involved on each side bearing towers filled with archers and boarding parties and ship-mounted catapults.