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Triremes and Biremes - Galleys of the Dubrovnik Republic

Antun Ničetić

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str. 9-56

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For centuries Dubrovnik managed to retain a significant strategic role on the Eastern Adriatic. Its port lied on the busy sea and land communications, while its arsenals and war galleys - triremes and biremes in particular - contributed to the untrammelled development of trade. These vessels also served for the protection of the City and its port, as well as the entire territorial waters of the Republic. According to the records, Dubrovnik’ arsenals date from the year 782, when the first berths were built, and where closed down at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The arsenals of the Dubrovnik Republic were facilitated with ten building berths: four berths in the Great Arsenal, three in the Small Arsenal of the City port, plus three berths in the arsenal of Mali Ston. Judging by the size of the shipyard (42 m long and 10.25m wide in the 14th c., or 52m in length by the end of the 15th c.), one can presume that the largest galleys of the time could be constructed and maintained here. The archives reveal that the Ragusan triremes and biremes differred in size, the greatest being those rowed by men who sat on 25 benches. A smaller type of galley (galijica) equipped with 15, 20, and 22 benches was also built in the arsenals of Dubrovnik. Triremes and biremes - warships of the Dubrovnik Republic - were both well armed and equipped, their crews being famed for maritime skill and courage. Ragusan war galleys took part in a number of sea battles. On 13 July 1409, they overpowered a much stronger fleet of Ladislas of Naples in the Pelješac Channel; together with the Byzantine and Croatian fleet they fought against the Saracens; as part of the Norman fleet they took part in the operations against Venice and the Byzantine Empire. They were also to take action against pirates outside the Adriatic waters. In the sixteenth century, Ragusan triremes and biremes sailed across the oceans to America and India, where the Ragusans founded a colony in Goa. There is no doubt that the Republic of Dubrovnik not only kept pace with the seafaring, trade, and shipbuilding mainstreams of Europe and the world, but those of scholarship, culture, and art too, representing thus a unique example on the eastern coast of the Adriatic.

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