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[Research] Naval reference all possible ships and boats

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maybe not super on topic, but here is what I think I have learned by studying ancient naval warfare (for personal curiosity) in the last months:

in war, battle ships and transport ship were the same, with some little modification so to make the former faster, and the latter more capacious.

battle formation was almost always one line deep, mode of engagement was usually boarding, with some ramming also involved. for those battles of which we actually know how many ships were rammed and how many boarded, even in ideal conditions for ramming, 9 ships out of 10 were boarded. So I believe emphasis on ramming is often exaggerated.

boarding would generally start with the crew of one or more ships throwing hooks at enemy ships and pulling them together, then the facing crews would confront using any weapon they were more comfortable with, and the losing ship would be either captured or put on fire. this was prior to the first use of flamethrowers in 7th century AD (you can imagine how effective they were). romans' invention of corvus is also often over-emphasized, considering how romans themselves stopped using them quite soon; it is suggested that corvi made roman ships less stable and solid, and played a role in two large roman shipwrecks of that time.

naval battle tactics were heavily dependent on the expertise of the crews: those who knew they were more experts would try confront the other in open sea, and manoeuvre more, because ships manned with more expert crews were faster and quicker at manoeuvring, while less expert crews would more easily make mistakes as being isolated from the rest of the fleet, or insted staying too close, as to impede one another and cross oars with other ships.

all in all I believe that most battle manoeuvres were tended to single out enemy ships and board them from more than one side. this was possible when the less expert sailors made some mistake. until then the more expert crews would sometimes try inconclusive manoevres just to push the enemies into making a mistake. alternatively, they would just charge at each other and board in pairs.

expertise of the crews was particularly important when sea conditions changed during the battle: more then once a battle was lost when sudden strong winds threw into confusion one of the sides, pushing one ship against the other, and taking them out of the control of their crews; more expert crews could avoid that.

the size of the ship was also relevant, but somehow less than some would expect. smaller ships were expected to manoeuvre better in smaller spaces, and were usually deployed in the center of the battle line, so that if the wings would put pressure on them from the sides, they would still be relatively free to move. smaller ships weren't faster probably. bigger ships were in fact almost always preferred, because they could carry a larger boarding team.

artillery didn't play a large role in naval battles (hardly ever cited) until Agrippa started wide adoption of the harpax during roman civil wars: a harpoon thrown using a cataput, which could be used for facilitating both boarding and ramming. we have detailed numbers for his battles and once again boarding is much preferred to ramming: I'm convinced effectiveness of ramming is too often exaggerated.

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11 hours ago, alre said:

n war, battle ships and transport ship were the same, with some little modification so to make the former faster, and the latter more capacious.

ok, so a "transport class" ship could use pretty much the same model as a normal trireme or equivalent ship for gauls, britons, etc. Or at least some slight modifications. 


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The sea battles of the Vikings were fought according to the same principles as battles on land. Each side roped most of their ships together side by side to make a platform on which to form a shield wall. The attackers tried to storm this platform, as e. g. in the battles of Hafrsfjord in 872, Svöldr in 1000 and Nissa in 1062. Ship after ship was taken and then detached from the formation to drift away. Both fleets used to keep some ships outside the formation to manoeuver; these were used to attack the enemy by going alongside and boarding, in a hailstorm of arrows, stones and spears from both sides. If the defenders succeeded in killing the attacking rowers, or if the oars of the attacking ship were broken, the attack often failed through inability to manoeuver. However, the elements of a real naval battle of the Classical age – outmanoeuvering, ramming, forcing the opponent to sail against the wind, or the use of catapults – were unknown among the Vikings. Most sea battles took place in quiet coastal waters or river mouths, where there was no space for such tactics.

When fighting amongst themselves, the Vikings’ major battles almost invariably took place at sea- witness Hafrs Fjord in 872, Svöldr in 1000 and Nissa in 1062, to cite but three examples. Nevertheless, they made every effort to ensure that a naval action was as much like a land battle as possible, arranging their fleets in lines or wedges; one side-or sometimes both-customarily roped together the largest of their ships gunwale to gunwale to form large, floating platforms. The biggest and best-manned ships usually formed the middle part of the line, with the commander’s vessel invariably positioned in the very centre, since he normally had the largest vessel of all. High-sided merchantmen were sometimes positioned on the flanks of the line too. The prows of the longer ships extended out in front of the battle-line and some of them, called bardi, were therefore armoured with iron plates at stem and stern, which bore the brunt of the fighting. Some even had a series of iron spikes called a beard (skegg) round the prow, designed to hole enemy ships venturing close enough to board.

In addition to this floating platform there were usually a number of additional individual ships positioned on the flanks and in the rear, whose tasks were to skirmish with their opposite numbers; to attack the enemy platform if he had one; to put reinforcements aboard their own platform when necessary; and to pursue the enemy in flight. Masts were lowered in battle, and all movement was by oar, so the loss of a ship’s oars in collision with another vessel effectively crippled it. Nevertheless, the classical diekplus manoeuvre, which involved shearing off an enemy vessel’s oars with the prow of one’s own ship, does not seem to have been deliberately employed, and nor was ramming.

The main naval tactic was simply to row against an enemy ship, grapple and board it, and clear it with hand weapons before moving on to another vessel, sometimes cutting the cleared ship loose if it formed the wing of a platform. The platforms were attacked by as many ships as could pull alongside. Boarding was usually preceded by a shower of arrows and, at closer range, javelins, iron-shod stakes and stones, as a result of which each oarsman was often protected by a second man, who deflected missiles with his shield. On the final approach prior to boarding, shields were held overhead ‘so closely that no part of their holders was left uncovered’. Some ships carried extra supplies of stones and other missiles. Stones are extensively recorded in accounts of Viking naval battles, and were clearly the favourite form of missile. The largest were dropped from high-sided vessels on to (and even through) the decks of ships which drew alongside to board.


King from 995, probably brought up in Russia after the killing of his father. He took part in raids in the Baltic and on expeditions to England. He was probably the victor of Maldon in 991. He allied with Sweyn Forkbeard. Olaf converted to Christianity in England, promising not to return. He overthrew Hakon to become King of Norway, encouraging the conversion of Norway and Iceland. He was killed at Svöld, fighting an alliance of Danes and Swedes. It was said that, recognising defeat, he leaped from his ship the Long Serpent (the largest ship recorded in the sagas) and drowned. Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga is part of the Heimskringla. There were tales that he survived.


King from 987, son of Harold Bluetooth from whom he seized the Danish throne. He led raids against England in 991 and 994 with Olaf Tryggvason. He opposed his former comrade in Norway. Sweyn’s ally, Jarl Erik of Lade, defeated Olaf at Svöld in 1000. As king Sweyn took over Hedeby and dominated the Wends. He led expeditions to England in 1003 and 1006. In 1013 he came to defeat Aethelred II, who fled. He controlled England but died in February 1014 at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. In Denmark his son Harold succeeded but his most famous son was Cnut the Great.


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I think the biggest issue is that the naval gameplay should be accessible to most factions while there is a huge gap from a historical pov.

Some groups to distinguish the size:

  1. Coracles, logboats, river boats etc. were basically used for trading and transportation, generally it was driven by 4 men and at the maximum it could hold 10.
  2. Eikosoroi were typical merchant ships with ~20 oarsmen and better at sailing. In some case they were used to military transport and to fight with archers aboard.
  3. The triakonters and pentekonters were the most versatile and polyvalent ship dedicated to war of ancient Greece, rowed by 30 and 50 oarsmen respectively (hence the name). They had no deck and were the most common warships, even used by pirates and merchants.
  4. Hekatonters/dikrotoi/biremes were larger ships, with between 100 to 120 oarsmen, already used by Greeks and Phoenicians since the 8th century BC. It had two banks of oarsmen. Assyrian and Phoenician ships had a higher desk in addition.
  5. Triremes, quadriremes, quinqueremes,..., and deceres were bigger and bigger versions of the biremes, with more oarsmen and more banks. A Roman quinquereme is basically 420 men, 300 of whom were rowers on 5 banks. Some of them could have siege engines.


Civ accessing up to level 5 like ships => Romans, Carthaginians, Athenians, Spartans, Persians, Macedonians, Seleucids, Ptolemies.

Civ accessing up to level 4 like ships => Han dynasty?

Civ accessing up to level 3 like ships => Maurya, Han dynasty?

Civ accessing up to level 2 like ships => Gauls, Iberians?, Britons?

Civ accessing up to level 1 like ships => Iberians?, Britons? Any future nomad factions.

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Article about naval warfare in the Dacian wars



Priscus described river boats being used in Hun territory:




At the river we were received by barbarian ferrymen, who rowed us across the river in boats made by themselves out of single trees hewn and hollowed. These preparations had not been made for our sake, but to convey across a company of Huns; for Attila pretended that he wished to hunt in Roman territory, but his intent was really hostile, because all the deserters had not been given up to him. Having crossed the Danube, and proceeded with the barbarians about seventy stadia, we were compelled to wait in a certain plain, that Edecon and his party might go on in front and inform Attila of our arrival.



We proceeded along a level road in a plain and met with navigable rivers--of which the greatest, next to the Danube, are the Drecon, Tigas, and Tiphesas--which we crossed in the Monoxyles, boats made of one piece, used by the dwellers on the banks: the smaller rivers we traversed on rafts which the barbarians carry about with them on carts, for the purpose of crossing morasses. In the villages we were supplied with food--millet instead of corn, and mead, as the natives call it, instead of wine.

Edited by Ultimate Aurelian
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  • 2 months later...
4 hours ago, Genava55 said:


The only thing that would be historically difficult for us to depict is the "Fast Fire Ship," which seems to be based on the much later "Greek Fire" siphon-equipped Byzantine warships and would be very anachronistic. The others can be justified for Mediterranean civs. Difficult for Celts/Land-based civs. 

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Yeah. Obviously it would be a necessity to develop a concept including smaller ships as well.

Maybe every civ could have :

- large canoe like hjortspring boats for boarding (capture).

- large canoe but with javelin throwers instead.

- Merchant ship converted to platform for archers/slingers, with higher board. A bit like the ship used by the Veneti against Caesar.

The merchant ship would be resistant to the boarding ship. But weak against the javelin ship. Boarding ship would be efficient against javelin ship. 

Med. Civs would have upgraded version of those ships, with biremes instead of canoe for exemple etc. But following the same logic.

Med. Civs could have also new kind of ships like the ramming ships and artillery ships.

Ramming ships could be a concept replacing the suicidal boats. Relying on a special attack that take time to load. 

Since suicidal boats and greek fire ships aren't mentioned in the classical literature.

Edited by Genava55
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Coming from a gameplay perspective, I would say a big issue with naval battles (other than their size/pathfinding troubles) is garrisoning for effectiveness. Overall, this makes boats essentially siege towers, which isn't very fun. Also, the firepower of each boat depends on garrisoning which introduces probability into boat fights. Garrisoning individual boats for effectiveness is tedious (made worse by size and pathfinding). After doing this, you then have much less pop to fight with on land. 

I think ships should be dedicated fighters with garrisoning only used for transportation. They should use unitAI instead of building AI. From here, you can introduce ship classes: light (or scout), medium, siege, and special. Instead of bigger = better, they should have different ranges, speeds, and unit characteristics. Fireships can go in special, along with new additions to this category mentioned above. Some kind of capturing ship would be good, but it should be clear it is for capturing so you can avoid it.

I will put together something like this in the community mod after a27 is released, and once those are play tested we could try adding new abilities like ramming, special ships, technologies etc.

Edited by real_tabasco_sauce
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On 07/01/2023 at 2:03 PM, real_tabasco_sauce said:

Coming from a gameplay perspective, I would say a big issue with naval battles (other than their size/pathfinding troubles) is garrisoning for effectiveness. Overall, this makes boats essentially siege towers, which isn't very fun

I agree. Ships should just be good from the get go. I understand the original idea. There would be a lot fewer ships and then you'd get to micro them by putting things (archers, catapults, et al.) on deck, similar to that Sparta game from like 15 years ago ( https://store.steampowered.com/app/1693250/Ancient_Wars_Sparta_Definitive_Edition/ ). But I think folks want more than 5 ships. And people only have a limited APM available in their brains and fingers. 

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C. Julius Caesar, Gallic War, book 3, 13-15:

For their ships were built and equipped after this manner. The keels were somewhat flatter than those of our ships, whereby they could more easily encounter the shallows and the ebbing of the tide: the prows were raised very high, and, in like manner the sterns were adapted to the force of the waves and storms [which they were formed to sustain]. The ships were built wholly of oak, and designed to endure any force and violence whatever; the benches which were made of planks a foot in breadth, were fastened by iron spikes of the thickness of a man's thumb; the anchors were secured fast by iron chains instead of cables, and for sails they used skins and thin dressed leather. These [were used] either through their want of canvas and their ignorance of its application, or for this reason, which is more probable, that they thought that such storms of the ocean, and such violent gales of wind could not be resisted by sails, nor ships of such great burden be conveniently enough managed by them. The encounter of our fleet with these ships' was of such a nature that our fleet excelled in speed alone, and the plying of the oars; other things, considering the nature of the place [and] the violence of the storms, were more suitable and better adapted on their side; for neither could our ships injure theirs with their beaks (so great was their strength), nor on account of their height was a weapon easily cast up to them; and for the same reason they were less readily locked in by rocks. To this was added, that whenever a storm began to rage and they ran before the wind, they both could weather the storm more easily and heave to securely in the shallows, and when left by the tide feared nothing from rocks and shelves: the risk of all which things was much to be dreaded by our ships.

Caesar, after taking many of their towns, perceiving that so much labor was spent in vain and that the flight of the enemy could not be prevented on the capture of their towns, and that injury could not be done them, he determined to wait for his fleet. As soon as it came up and was first seen by the enemy, about 220 of their ships, fully equipped and appointed with every kind of [naval] implement, sailed forth from the harbor, and drew up opposite to ours; nor did it appear clear to Brutus, who commanded the fleet, or to the tribunes of the soldiers and the centurions, to whom the several ships were assigned, what to do, or what system of tactics to adopt; for they knew that damage could not be done by their beaks; and that, although turrets were built [on their decks], yet the height of the stems of the barbarian ships exceeded these; so that weapons could not be cast up from [our] lower position with sufficient effect, and those cast by the Gauls fell the more forcibly upon us. One thing provided by our men was of great service, [viz.] sharp hooks inserted into and fastened upon poles, of a form not unlike the hooks used in attacking town walls. When the ropes which fastened the sail-yards to the masts were caught by them and pulled, and our vessel vigorously impelled with the oars, they [the ropes] were severed; and when they were cut away, the yards necessarily fell down; so that as all the hope of the Gallic vessels depended on their sails and rigging, upon these being cut away, the entire management of the ships was taken from them at the same time. The rest of the contest depended on courage; in which our men decidedly had the advantage; and the more so, because the whole action was carried on in the sight of Caesar and the entire army; so that no act, a little more valiant than ordinary, could pass unobserved, for all the hills and higher grounds, from which there was a near prospect of the sea were occupied by our army.

The sail yards [of the enemy], as we have said, being brought down, although two and [in some cases] three ships [of theirs] surrounded each one [of ours], the soldiers strove with the greatest energy to board the ships of the enemy; and, after the barbarians observed this taking place, as a great many of their ships were beaten, and as no relief for that evil could be discovered, they hastened to seek safety in flight. And, having now turned their vessels to that quarter in which the wind blew, so great a calm and lull suddenly arose, that they could not move out of their place, which circumstance, truly, was exceedingly opportune for finishing the business; for our men gave chase and took them one by one, so that very few out of all the number, [and those] by the intervention of night, arrived at the land, after the battle had lasted almost from the fourth hour till sun-set.

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