The time when they first appear to have become aware of the importance of a fleet, was during the second Samnite war, in the year B.C. 311 when they looked to building a Roman Navy. At this time the Romans resolved to build their first fleet. The idea of founding a Roman navy was probably connected with the establishment of a colony in the Pontian islands, as the Romans at this time must have felt that they ought not to be defenceless at sea. The ships which the Romans first built were undoubtedly Triremes, which were then very common among the Greeks of Italy.
Roman Navy - The Triremes
The trireme derives its name from its three rows of oars on each side, manned with one man per oar. These war-ships (naves longae) rarely had more than a single sail and were propelled mainly by means of oars. The speed of the warship was dependent on how fast the rowers could work and they kept time according to the speed of the beat of a drum. The sail and mast had to be lowered during combat. The triremes, used by the early Roman navy, were made of softwoods such as pine and fir. Larch and plane were used for the ship's interior parts. The light woods allowed emphasis on manoeuvrability and speed. The ship's primary propulsion came from the 170 oars arranged in three rows, with one man per oar. The triremes required 170 rowers and 10-15 sailors and 10-20 marines who fought during boarding actions. The Roman navy relied on two methods of combat: ramming and boarding. Rams (embolon) were fitted to the prows of the Roman triremes. Although their boarding methods were effective this type of attack was limited due to the small number of marines that there was room for on the triremes of the early Roman Navy.
Roman Navy - The Quinqueremes
The Roman Navy with its small fleet of Triremes were totally ineffective when the First Punic War (264 to 241 BC) erupted between Carthage and the Roman Republic. The time had come for a powerful Roman Navy but they had only a small number of triremes, galleys with three banks of oars, and were quite unable to cope with the quinqueremes, or large vessels with five banks of oars, of which the Carthaginian navy consisted. The Senate, with characteristic energy, determined to build Roman Navy with a fleet of these larger vessels. A Carthaginian quinquereme, which had been wrecked upon the coast of Italy, served as a model; and in the short space of sixty days from the time the trees were felled, 130 ships were launched. While the ships were building, the rowers were trained on scaffolds placed upon the land like benches of ships at sea.
Roman Navy - Boarding Techniques
The Romans believed that they could defeat the Carthage by their man to man fighting techniques and to take their ships by boarding. For this purpose, every ship was provided with a boarding-bridge 36 feet in length, which was pulled up by a rope and fastened to a mast in the fore part of the ship. As soon as an enemy's ship came near enough, the rope was loosened, the bridge fell down, and became fastened by means of an iron spike in its under side. Grappling-hooks were provided, by which the opposing ship might also be seized. The boarders then poured down the bridge into the enemy's ship. The Carthaginians ships were rapidly seized by the boarding-bridges, and when it came to a close fight their crews were no match for the veteran soldiers of Rome.
The Roman Navy rules the Mediterranean Sea
The wealth of Rome enabled the growth of the Roman Navy and their biggest fleet of quinquiremes temporarily ruled the Mediterranean. By the time of Julius Caesar the Roman Navy had added other types of ships to the Roman Navy. The Snaves actuariae were small, fast and light ships ideal for reconnaissance missions to assess the strengths of harbors and enemy forces. Broader and slower Transport ships called 'onerariae naves' were used to transport troops, escorted by warships of the Roman Navy.
The Roman Navy fight the Liburnian Pirates
During the civil wars after Caesar's death naval warfare erupted with the Liburnians. The Liburnians were renowned seafarers and pirates, notorious for their raids in the Adriatic Sea, which they conducted in their fast, light galleys called 'liburna' which were perfect for their pirate raids. The liburnian design was adopted by the Romans and became a key part of Ancient Roman navy in their naval combats with the pirates.
Roman Navy of the Eastern Roman Empire - The Dromons
By Imperial times the Roman Navy was small and used for controlling the grain supply to Rome and fighting pirates. In 285 the Roman Empire was split in half by Diocletian. The Western Roman Empire and the other half became known as the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire. The Western Empire fell in 474AD following defeat by the Visigoths. The Roman navy of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire adopted the 'Dromons' as their favored battle ships. The largest dromons had a crew of 200: 50 on the lower bank and 100 on the upper bank in two files, together with 50 marines.