What Ancient Civilization Had the Best Navy?

When we think of the great naval powers throughout history, we often think of modern superpowers like the United States or Great Britain. However, ancient civilizations also had powerful navies that played a significant role in shaping history.

But which ancient civilization had the best navy? Let’s explore.

Introduction to Ancient Navies

Navies were essential to ancient civilizations for both military and economic reasons. Ships enabled trade and commerce, allowing civilizations to expand their wealth and influence beyond their borders. Additionally, control over the seas was crucial for military dominance as naval power allowed civilizations to protect their shores, transport troops and supplies, and launch attacks on enemy territories.

Ancient Egyptian Navy

The ancient Egyptians were known for their impressive engineering feats such as building the pyramids, but they also had a formidable navy. The Egyptians used their ships primarily for trade and transportation on the Nile River but also had a fleet capable of defending against sea invasions.

The Egyptian navy was equipped with warships that were designed to ram enemy vessels or shoot arrows from a distance. They also used archers and spearmen aboard their ships for close combat. However, despite their impressive capabilities, the Egyptian navy was limited by its lack of maritime experience.

Ancient Greek Navy

The Greeks are often considered the fathers of Western civilization due to their significant contributions to philosophy, politics, art, and science. However, they also had one of the most powerful navies in history.

The Greek navy was instrumental in defeating the powerful Persian Empire during the Greco-Persian Wars in 480-479 BC. Greek triremes (warships with three rows of oars) were faster and more maneuverable than Persian ships, allowing them to outmaneuver and defeat larger enemy fleets.

Furthermore, Greek naval tactics relied heavily on boarding parties who would jump onto enemy ships and engage in hand-to-hand combat. This technique was incredibly effective and helped the Greeks achieve naval dominance in the Mediterranean.

Roman Navy

The Romans, like the Greeks, were known for their military prowess, and their navy was no exception. The Roman navy was one of the most extensive in ancient history with a fleet of over 400 ships at its peak.

The Romans utilized various types of ships, including triremes and quinqueremes (warships with five rows of oars), which were faster and more maneuverable than other contemporary warships. Additionally, the Romans pioneered the use of boarding bridges, which enabled soldiers to board enemy ships more easily.

The Roman navy played a crucial role in expanding the empire’s reach beyond Italy as they conquered territories along coastlines and used their naval power to maintain control over them.


While each ancient civilization had its strengths and weaknesses when it came to naval power, it’s challenging to determine which had the best navy overall. The Egyptians had impressive warships but lacked maritime experience, while the Greeks were masters of naval tactics but focused primarily on triremes. The Romans had both quantity and quality when it came to their navy but were primarily focused on conquering territories rather than winning naval battles.

Ultimately, each ancient civilization’s navy played a crucial role in shaping history, whether through trade or military conquests. As we continue to navigate our modern world with advanced technology and global interconnectedness, it’s essential to remember that even thousands of years ago, civilizations recognized the importance of controlling the seas.