Did Ancient Greece Build Ships?

Ancient Greece was a civilization that emerged from the Greek peninsula in the 8th century BCE and flourished for several centuries. It is known for its contributions to philosophy, art, literature, architecture, and politics. However, one aspect of ancient Greece that is often overlooked is its maritime tradition.

The Importance of Ships in Ancient Greece

Ships played a crucial role in the economy, military, and culture of ancient Greece. The Greeks relied heavily on seaborne trade to import raw materials such as timber, metals, and grain and export finished goods such as pottery, wine, and olive oil. They also used ships to transport soldiers and supplies during wars with other city-states.

Moreover, ships were an integral part of Greek mythology and literature. The story of Jason and the Argonauts who sailed on the ship Argo to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis is one of the most famous tales in Greek mythology. Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey also feature numerous descriptions of ships and seafaring.

Shipbuilding Techniques in Ancient Greece

The Greeks were skilled shipbuilders who developed advanced techniques that allowed them to build fast and maneuverable vessels. They used different types of wood such as oak, pine, cypress, and cedar depending on their availability and properties.

One technique that they pioneered was shell-first construction where they built the hull by laying planks edge-to-edge along the keel instead of using a frame. This allowed them to create sleeker hulls that could cut through waves more easily than those built with frames.

The Greeks also used mortise-and-tenon joints to connect planks together instead of nails which made their ships more flexible and resistant to splitting during rough seas. They also developed a system of rigging and sails that allowed them to control the direction and speed of their ships more effectively.

Types of Ships in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greeks built several types of ships for different purposes and environments. Some of the most common ones were:

  • Trireme: A warship with three banks of oars and a ram on the prow for ramming enemy ships.
  • Bireme: A warship with two banks of oars.
  • Pentekonter: A fast and light ship with one bank of oars used for scouting, piracy, or transport.
  • Hemiolia: A hybrid between a trireme and a pentekonter that could be used for both war and trade.
  • Trieres: Merchant ships used for carrying cargo such as grain, wine, or pottery.

The Legacy of Greek Shipbuilding

The legacy of ancient Greek shipbuilding can still be seen today in modern maritime technology. Many of the principles and techniques that they developed such as shell-first construction, mortise-and-tenon joints, and sail-rigging have been adapted and refined over time to create new types of vessels that are faster, safer, and more efficient than ever before.

In addition, Greek mythology and literature continue to inspire writers, artists, and filmmakers who draw upon their rich imagery and symbolism to create new works that capture the imagination of audiences around the world.


Ancient Greece was not only a land-based civilization but also a seafaring one that relied heavily on ships for its survival and prosperity. The Greeks developed advanced shipbuilding techniques and built several types of vessels for different purposes and environments. Their legacy continues to influence modern maritime technology and inspire new forms of art and literature.