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To evoke hilarity in the Athenians, Aristophanes describes a spectacular but also bewildering scene in his play Knights where horses row together in a trireme while yelling wholeheartedly “hippapai!” These cries of encouragement were like the brave oarsmen of his proud city who would scream “ruppapai” from their formidable warships: “We will sing likewise the exploits of our steeds! they are worthy of our praises; in what invasions, what fights have I not seen them helping us! But especially admirable were they, when they bravely leapt upon the galleys,  taking nothing with them but a coarse wine, some cloves of garlic and onions; despite this, they nevertheless seized the sweeps just like men, curved their backs over the thwarts and shouted, ‘Hippapai! Give way! Come, all pull together! Come, come! How! Samphoras! Are you not rowing?’ They rushed down upon the coast of Corinth, and the youngest  hollowed out beds in the sand with their hoofs or went to fetch coverings; instead of luzern, they had no food but crabs, which they caught on the strand and even in the sea; so that Theorus causes a Corinthian crab to say, ‘Tis a cruel fate, oh Poseidon neither my deep hiding-places,  whether on land or at sea, can help me to escape the Knights.’ ” (Aristoph. Equ. 595–610, transl. Eugene O’Neill, Jr., New York 1938)This awe-inspiring description by the playwright would have been even more comical to the Athenians who often transported their steeds on triremes for battle. In his play, they were not oarsmen. Instead, they were conveyed as “passengers” on these ships, requesting wine, garlic, and onion.About the κώθων, a specific cup for drinking wine, which the horses take with them, see Lech 2017. The Athenian fleet of the fifth century BCE included horse-carriers called ἱππαγωγοὶ that enabled the city-state to deliver cavalry to ground troops in the four corners of its maritime empire. With the assistance of these auxiliary ships, they had the technical prowess to engage in combat far away from their homeland to the same degree as if they were fighting at the foot of their own walls. The existence of horse-carriers showcases the efforts taken to combine operations between infantry, cavalry, and navy, which “turned most naval expeditions into amphibious affairs.”Gabrielsen 2008, 266. These vessels were a crucial component specifically of the Athenian fleet, and they are best documented in this city state out of all other thalassocracies in antiquity. Records of these ships provide scholars with an excellent tool for scholars to determine the logistical and technical abilities of any given fleet to carry out expeditions overseas. Horse-transports fascinate experts in ship archaeology who frequently mention them since the conveyance of horses requires specific skills.Jal 1848a, 1848b, 1848c; Casoni 1847, 198–199; Graser 1864, § 58, 52; Kolbe 1899, 514; Morrison – Williams 1968, 248–249; Morrison – Coates – Rankov 2000, 156, 227–230; Casson 1995, 94; Gianfrotta – Pomey 1981, 136; Tucci 2003, 155–159; Mayer – Franke 2004, 45; Pryor – Jeffreys 2006, 304–333, who focus on the Byzantine horse-carriers, only pay some attention to her Greek counterparts. They note that the subject has been addressed far too briefly in the past. Experts in ancient cavalry also mentioned these vessels in various instances, namely Furet 2002, Blaineau 2015; Zipprich 2019. However, they do so only in passing as the primary texts do not particularly detail their architectural features. Our investigation considers the various literary and epigraphical sources evidencing these ships. The aim is to trace the history of ancient horse-carriers and to explore their contribution to the naval strategy of the great sea powers who once controlled Mediterranean waters.Diversity of Ancient Horse-CarriersHorse-carriers were exceptional seafaring vessels that performed crucial missions overseas for all the leading maritime powers of antiquity. They stirred the imagination of ancient writers, and Greek and Latin literature provide numerous references to them. The term describing them has remained nearly constant throughout antiquity. The horse-carrier is named ἱππαγωγός, made up of the noun ἵππος signifying a horse and the verb ἄγω “carrying away,” often applied to a ship.The hippagogos should not be confused with the hippos, a Phoenician ship decorated with a horsehead protome. See Tiboni 2021. The variant ἱππηγός is used in a few texts, appearing for the first time in Philochoros’ history of Athens.Jacoby 1922, 328 F 49–51 (Philochoros, in Dion. Hal. rhet. Amm. 9). This word, which appears frequently in naval records,IG II² 1627.7, 241, 271 (330/329 BCE); 1628.154, 459, 492 (326/5 BCE); 1629.285, 804 (325/4 BCE); 1631.100 (325/4 BCE); Pol. 1.26–28. was perhaps a shortened form of ἱππαγωγός, rather than a defined term employed in reference to a particular area or time period.Morrison 1989, 52. Polybius and several other writers also use this variant, sometimes along with its lengthened version.Diod. 20.83.1; Plut. Pyrrh. 15.2; Aelius Herodianus, Partitiones (ed. Boissonade 1819, 179). Pliny the Elder uses hippegus, a Latinised form of the shortened version. Plin. nat. 7.83.This appellation was almost unchanged during the Greek and Roman periods. However, it does not mean that a Persian ἱππαγωγός was similar to a Hellenistic horse-carrier. Like the trireme, the horse-transport certainly saw many changes throughout antiquity. A. Jal believed the trireme to be an oared warship of a typology preserved mostly unchanged from ancient Greece into the Byzantine period. However, this tendency among scholars to consider vessels as immutable and unchanging over time, or indeed in disparate geographical areas, was also incorrect.L. Basch noticed that twentieth-century nautical studies often adopted this approach, see Basch 1987, 32–35. A. Cartault already noted that the Athenian trieres of the fourth century BCE must not be confused with Cnidian and Samian military ships of the same period.Jal 1840; Cartault 1881, see also P. Pomey’s preface underlining A. Cartault’s innovative efforts to distinguish between warship types, while other scholars did not consider their architectural features in any great detail (Paris 2000, 17–18). The different types of triremes of course were numerous, since every city had warships of their own. Therefore, a Greek trieres most likely did not have much in common with a Byzantine δρόμων.Pryor – Jeffreys 2006. This observation applies not only to triremes but to horse-carriers as well. As a result, we should be aware that texts mentioning ἱππαγωγοὶ probably referred to vessels that had the same function but with differing features.Although many typologies of horse-transports certainly existed, these vessels should not be confused with regular commercial ships. The horse-carrier, which was state-owned and part of the fleet, was not a mere merchantman requisitioned for supply tasks. A ἱππαγωγός had been originally a military vessel and thus was designed to that end. Only later did she undergo a transformation enabling her to convey cavalry. She would have maintained the overall structure of a warship, like that of a trireme or another fighting unit, but with a few architectural changes to facilitate the stowage of horses onboard. Such a vessel would have been provided with oarsmen, usually one third of the number in an Athenian trireme, thus making her sail faster than a merchantman. Hence, the horse-carrier was a vessel perfectly adapted for the conveyance of cavalry with the added advantage that it could outperform commercial ships. This was the principal reason why all the mighty fleets in antiquity included this master weapon capable of transporting horses along with their warships upon the water.Ionian Horse-Carriers in the Persian FleetsHerodotus was the first to mention the existence of these horse-carriers, when he related Darius’ preparations for an expedition against Athens in 490.Hdt. 6.48.1–2; Hdt. 6.95.1; Papalas 2018. The Achaemenid ruler required them to convey his formidable cavalry abroad and ordered the reconquered Ionian cities of Asia Minor after their recent rebellion to build horse-transports in addition to other warships. At this time, Samos had at their disposal highly skilled shipwrights, since the tyrant Polycrates (r. 540s–520 BCE) built a large fleet only a few decades previously.Hdt. 3.122; Thuc. 1.13.6. The city-state was surely the sole power in Ionia capable of constructing such advanced vessels. Writing in the first century CE, Pliny did not know whom should be credited for this invention. However, he did note that the Samians and the Athenians were the first maritime powers to build these kinds of vessels.Plin. nat. 7.83. Nonetheless, Herodotus’ account of the early fifth century BCE should not be disregarded, as the Halicarnassus-born historian was probably well informed about the ships that the Greek cities of his region had to provide to the Persian king. He listed horse-carriers as among those in the impressive fleet commanded by Xerxes in the Battle of Salamis in 480.Hdt. 7.21.2; 7.97. See also Diod. 11.3.9; 11.12.3. On the Persian fleet, see Göttlicher 2006, 42–44.The Greek historian designated this typology of ship either with the noun πλοῖον, or together with the noun νηῦς, an ionic form of ναῦς. When Herodotus used the words πλοῖον and νηῦς, which on their own both mean ‘ship’,Wees 2013, 65–66. although at times they can signify merchantmen.Hdt. 1.163. However, in the account that relates the Second Persian War, when he described the fleet of 480, the adjective μακρόν confirms that Xerxes’ horse-carriers unquestionably had been military vessels. Written sources often refer to a warship as a “long ship” (πλοίον μακρόν) because their length-to-beam ratio was usually close to 1:7 or 1:8. In comparison, it was only between 1:3 and 1:4 for merchantmen in the classical period and onwards.Hdt. 2.102; 5.30; Plat. polit. 298d; Isocr. or. panegyricus (oration 4) 188, or. areopagiticus (oration 7) 80, or. panathenaicus (oration 12), 59. For a discussion of this term, see Nantet 2020, 151–153. Other texts, however, do not provide this detail and are more vague. Were the horse-carriers that took part in Darius’ expedition initially designed as merchantmen for the transportation of Persian cavalry? As they are mentioned along with long ships, it seems more probable that they had been military vessels as well. If so, what exactly were these horse-carriers that Herodotus mentioned? Could they have been made up of smaller units as well, such as trieconters or penteconters, which he listed as part of the Persian fleet? By the time of the Persian Wars, the trireme had become one of the principal units of the Greek fleets, and she could have easily been used as a horse-carrier as well.Morrison – Coates – Rankov 2000, 40–46. Xerxes’ fleet included 1,207 triremes (Hdt 7.89).A Cornerstone of the Athenian Thalassocracy during the Peloponnesian WarThere is no evidence that Athens, who had developed its fleet considerably in the fifty years since their victory over the Persians at Salamis in 480, commissioned a single horse-transport before the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides provides the earliest evidence of their use in the Athenian fleet.Thuc. 2.56.1–2. He clearly stated that Pericles was the first to turn old triremes into horse-carriers in preparation for the raid on Epidaurus in 430 BCE. Despite the late introduction of this type of vessel in the Athenian fleet, the horse-carriers that took part in the expedition were not an insignificant detail: the army included a 300-cavalry strong contingent, implying the inclusion of around ten units. In fact, Pliny’s hesitation to attribute this nautical invention to the Samians or to the Athenians deserves some attention. The expedition of 430 described by Thucydides showed that Pericles carried out a significant innovation. The word ναῦς, which he frequently used for a trireme, cannot give rise to doubt about the kind of ship employed for the raid to Epidaurus.Contra Ioannidou 2019. The Athenian novelty did not consist in the use of a horse-carrier, since such a typology was designed by the Samians sixty years beforehand, but in the transformation of a trireme into a steed-transport. For this reason, horse-carriers commissioned before 430, such as the Samian vessels mentioned by Herodotus, were probably smaller vessels than the trireme. This would likely explain Pliny’s hesitation, all the more since the Roman scholar wrote six centuries after the typologies of warships mentioned by Herodotus and Thucydides had long disappeared from Aegean waters. The raid on Epidaurus event inaugurated a successful period for the Athenian fleet: their horse-transports from this time onward provided them with cavalry support while fighting overseas, which could be very far away from Piraeus.Hanson 2005, 264–265. Shortly afterwards, Nicias led these same horse-carriers with the capability of transporting 200 cavalry to Corinth in 425. Thus, he could provide immense backup support to disembarking Athenian troops, which ultimately proved to be successful in overpowering the army of this city in a battle.Thuc. 4.42.1.In any event, these successful episodes of the Peloponnesian War fuelled the imagination of the Athenians to the extent that Aristophanes dedicated the hilarious scene to them in his play Knights, which was performed only a year later, in 424.Aristoph. Equ. 599. Regarding this episode, see Lech 2017. In the episode, the Chorus, gathering the knights, praises the skills of their horses. Unlike the thetes, the oarsmen of the triremes, and the pentacosiomedimnoi, who commanded the units as trierarchs, the hippeis were riders and members of the lower class of the elite.Bugh 2014. Therefore, their main contribution took place on the battlefield, and they did not participate in naval battles. The construction of the horse-carriers gave them the opportunity to take part in expeditions outside of Attica, thus making them fully involved in the imperialist strategy of their city. Aristophanes clearly expresses this paradox with humor. Although their mounts were often sick at sea, their steeds embark their ship with great enthusiasm bellowing “hippapai” all the while. In his play, he made the horses set sail for Corinth as would have the seated thetes that rowed in actual Athenian triremes. An initial target of Nicias’ expedition, this city was also the place of the sanctuary of Isthmia dedicated to their father Poseidon located there.Aristoph. Equ. 561–564. In the play, the crabs are confused, trapped between the Athenian knights on land and Poseidon with his chariot and hippocampi at sea. Aristophanes’ crustaceans most certainly represent the Corinthians, who had ambitions on both land and sea. A longstanding rival of Athens in the Saronic Gulf, Corinth located on its isthmus had two harbours, a prestigious navy, and a mighty army. Horses had a particular meaning for them, most specifically the mythical winged-horse Pegasus represented on the obverse of coins that they had begun to issue a few years previously.Coupar 2000, 38–39, 40–41. Nevertheless, Aristophanes in his play made a mockery of their land and maritime claims by reducing the Corinthians to crabs, ugly but inoffensive creatures too inept to escape the noble steeds that would encircle them. Unlike the Athenians, who excelled on land with their cavalry and at sea with their triremes, the Corinthians were neither skilled riders nor bold seamen.Before this comedy, in 430, Euripides dedicated his tragedy “Bellerophontes”, of which only a few fragments survive, to Bellerophon’s terrible end. The Corinthian hero, after great successes, sought to ascend to heaven with his horse Pegasus, but fell humiliated to the ground. Jouan – Van Looy 2003. When considering relevant literary references for Aristophanes, he may have been referring to Euripides’ play. In 425, when Aristophanes performed his “Knights”, the public certainly had in mind Euripides’ work. May noticed several examples demonstrating that Aristophanes derived inspiration from Euripides’ tragedies. May 2012, 44–50. These two plays contributed to emphasising Athenian superiority over the Corinthians. Athens punished them for their hubris as they dared to initiate hostilities in 431. Even though Athens defeated their enemies, Aristophanes exaggerated the victory, as the city of Pegasus was still standing.Athenians soon employed horse-carriers in a larger theatre of operations located farther away from the Saronic Gulf. The expedition to Sicily of 415, which ended as miserably as it had begun in high spirits, included 134 triremes.Brice 2013. The Athenians categorically required an immense cavalry contingent to carry out an operation of this size. Addressing the Syracusans just before their enemies attempted to disembark, Athenagoras was cognizant of this, stating that it was impossible for them to transport cavalry to Sicily.Thuc. 6.37.1. Beating the odds, the Athenian fleet managed to beach the shores of Sicily. Among their ships was a horse-transport carrying thirty cavalrymen.ἱππαγωγῷ μιᾷ τριάκοντα ἀγούσῃ ἱππέας. Thuc. 6.43.1. Contrary to what J. H. Pryor and E. M. Jeffreys have suggested, this vessel not only transported horsemen but also their equidae.Pryor – Jeffreys 2006, 305. This idea was recently suggested again by Ioannidou (2019). This was since Thucydides’ account clearly stated that she was a ἱππαγωγός, and there is no reason to believe that this type of vessel traveled without horses.In his account of the expedition, Diodorus uses a plural, which signifies that the expedition included more than one horse-transport. Diod. 13.2.5. This account, which is later than that of Thucydides, invites us to consider this information cautiously. Thirty riders was a quite standard number onboard an Athenian horse-carrier.The thirty-five Pergamene horse-carriers of the fleet appearing in Livy’s account relates to a much later event, yet it indicates that the number of horsemen amounted to one thousand riders. This would imply an average of twenty-eight or twenty-nine mounts for each unit, which was a very similar number to those in use by the Athenians for their vessels. Liv. 44.28. The conveyance of cavalry and their mounts for such a long distance was an unexpected logistical feat, demonstrating once more the abilities of the Confederate fleet. Despite this initial sea expedition, Athenagoras was right in asserting that the Delian League would face numerous difficulties without cavalry. This small contingent could not match the formidable horsemen of Syracuse, who were far more numerous and who harassed their army continuously as it marched in Sicily. Athenian generals quickly realized that they needed to restore the balance in their favor, and they repeatedly requested cavalry reinforcements in the winter of 415–414.Thuc. 6.64.1, 6.71.2, 6.74.2, 6.93.4. Soon after, the city-state granted them 250 riders. Most interestingly, Thucydides clearly stated that they had come with their tacks but without their steeds on this later occasion, as they could find them more easily in Sicily now partially under Athenian control.Thuc. 6.94.4, 6.96.1. The Athenians requested from the Segestans to locate as many horses as possible, probably to outfit their reinforcements with the mounts they required. Thuc. 6.88. Soon after, Segesta and other Sicilian cities sent their cavalry to them. Thuc. 6.98.1.The Athenians possessed other horse-carriers that did not take part in the faraway expedition to Sicily, which were still in active use when Alcibiades enjoyed his victories over the Spartans in Abydos (411) and Cyzicus (410). As he restored Athenian control over Hellespont, Alcibiades could return in 407 to the city that had banned him several years previously. The strategos removed the bronze rams of the 200 enemy ships he had captured and filled these vessels with weapons and spoils subsequently sent as a gift to his fellow citizens along with 5,000 prisoners.Ath. deipn. 12.49. Despite these great successes, the Athenians probably lost all their precious horse-carriers during their ignominious defeat at Aegospotami (405). Another possibility that explains the disappearance of this naval contingent was when they had to deliver to Sparta all of their ships save for twelve as part of a particularly unfavorable peace treaty concluded with Lysander in the following year.Xen. hell. 2.20. The sources remain silent on any further vessels of this kind in the Aegean over the next half century.Horse-Carriers of the fourth Century BCEAthens would commission this typology of ships again but only after the fall of her second maritime empire in 355 BCE, when the Macedonians became a real threat to them. In the second half of the fourth-century BCE, key figures in Athens advocated for the construction of horse-transports, since they understood their central role and key importance for maritime domination. In January 350, Demosthenes invited the Athenians to commission a sufficient number of these vessels to convey 200 cavalry so as to adequately maneuver against Philip II at sea.Demosth. 4.16; 4.21. For Demosthenes’ proposition, see Bugh 2014, 159. The “First Philippic” certainly occurred in January 350 at the earliest. Ellis 1966. The number requested by the Athenian leader to carry out this mission implied the use of approximately six or seven ships. His recommendation would mean that the fleet certainly did not include these vessels at the time of his speech. However, it would seem that the Macedonian operations against Olynthos in the following year, as detailed by Philochoros, pushed the city-state to commission these ships that would number more than what Demosthenes had initially requested.Jacoby 1922, 328 F 49–51 (Philochoros, in Dion. Hal. rhet. Amm. 9). The precise time of year when the three expeditions set sail to Olynthos has been much discussed, see Cawkwell 1962, Carter 1971, and Burke 1984. Demosth. 19.266 asserts that the Athenians provided Olynthos with 50 triremes, 4,000 citizens, and 10,000 mercenaries, which was probably an exaggeration, Bugh 2014, 164 n 27. This was since they needed to support the 2,000 mercenary peltasts that came to support Athenian forces at Olynthos in the late summer or early fall of 349, in addition to eight new warships and the thirty triremes led by the strategos Chares. This initial expedition did not include cavalry, unlike two operations that took place in the following year.The Failure of the Athenian Horse-Carriers at Olynthos (348)The failure of the horse-transports sent to Olynthos probably reveals the difficulties of the Naval Board to project cavalry outside of Attica. The second force setting sail in spring 348 conveyed 150 cavalry, along with 4,000 peltasts and eighteen triremes under the strategos Charidemos’ command arriving from Hellespont.Cawkwell suggests that the cavalry in this expedition was made up of a small contingent of volunteers operating with Phocion in Tamynae, Euboea, who joined to support Plutarch of Eretria against Callias. Aeschin. 3.86. Cawkwell 1962, 131. Phocion would have had only a handful of horsemen with him, Parke 1929, 247. Demosthenes proposed that all of the remaining cavalry continued to Eretria in order to assist Phocion at Tamynae (21.162). These volunteers can be identified with the horsemen sent to Olynthus (Demosth. 21.132). Carter rejects the notion that the second reinforcement could have included these cavalrymen, since they had not set sail yet to Euboea. Carter 1971, 424. The horsemen fighting in this second army would have been made up of only mercenaries, perhaps hired in Hellespont where Charidemos was in command before he journeyed with his army to Olynthos. He could have conveyed his cavalry with ordinary merchantmen found locally rather than with horse-carriers, which were more probably positioned in Athens. The Olynthians appreciated this helpful reinforcement of mercenaries when besieged by Philip, but nonetheless they begged for citizen troops.In summer 348, the Athenians approved their request and granted them 2,000 hoplites and 300 cavalrymen, all of them citizens, under Chares’ command. Philochoros details that this third expedition, which arrived too late, transported the above equestrians by means of horse-carriers. Possibly these riders were the same as those that Meidias who, after fighting alongside them, blamed later for their failure at Olynthos. But what might have been the source of his criticism? It is true that these ships carrying less oarsmen would have been slower. The actual reason for the full-on logistical failure that Meidias points out could be the lack of the cavalrymen’s preparedness.The loading of the horses, which took a great deal of time, unquestionably required great skill that the Athenian riders perhaps did not acquire by then. These vessels probably had just been recently built, fifty years after the last horse-carriers were decommissioned at the end of the Peloponnesian War. Their training was maybe not sufficient in 348, since the horse-carriers had just been freshly commissioned, thus delaying the departure of the vessels. The above difficulties would explain why the expedition reached Olynthos too late and after Philip had already seized her, thus justifying the harsh reprimands Meidias addressed to his fellow knights. In any case, there can be no doubt that the Athenian fleet included a significant number of these vessels in 348, perhaps even ten units, which would have been enough to convey 300 men on horseback or the equivalent of one third of the Athenian cavalry.Bugh 2014, 165. Their construction must certainly be credited to Demosthenes who convinced the Athenians to reinforce their fleet in order to assist the Olynthians facing a grave Macedonian threat. The failure of the expedition demonstrates the difficulties of overstretching the capabilities of this fighting unit. Their military strategy not only required the commissioning of horse-carriers but also well-trained troops who knew their vessels well and who could operate quickly when required.The Fate of the Athenian Horse-Carriers after OlynthosThe Athenian horse-carriers continued to serve in the Macedonian expedition against the Persians. Despite their bitter failure at Olynthos, the Athenians did not decommission those vessels. In 341, Demosthenes recommended mobilizing all the military resources of the city to face Philip, including horse-carriers, which reveals that these units were indeed still in active use.Demosth. 10.19. Worthington explained the “Fourth Philippic” was wrongly deemed a forgery due to numerous stylistic elements demonstrating that it was in unpolished, draft-like form, unlike the three other “Philippics”. The above was certainly related to the fact that the speech was probably delivered in the Athenian assembly. Worthington 1991. However, what happened to them after the defeat of Chaeronea in 338 that led to the formation of the Hellenic League under Macedonian leadership? According to the treaty, Athens, like any other Greek city, had to provide naval support for the expedition prepared by the Macedonian king against the Persians. Similar to the Athenian fleet, Alexander, in addition to his own Macedonian ships, could probably have made use of the horse-carriers. They were part of the Greek fleet that he transferred to the command of his admirals Amphoteros and Hegelochos.Morrison 1996, 3–9. This would explain the presence of several horse-transports that Alexander brought from Sidon for his siege on Tyre in 332.Arr. an. 2.21.1; 2.21.4. These units are listed among the naval reinforcements arriving at this time. Among them are the “fours” used to carry siege engines, which Morrison believes were part of the Hellenic fleetCurt. 4.3.22. Morrison 1996, 9. and may correspond to these very same Athenian horse-carriers.However, perhaps not all the Athenian horse-carriers had been decommissioned or destroyed, as their fleet still included at least three of these units just a few years later. Naval Records of 330/9, 326/5, 325/4, and 323/2 clearly documented the following as horse-transports:IG II² 1627.7, 241, 271 (330/329 BCE); 1628.154, 459, 492 (326/5 BCE); 1629.285, 804 (325/4 BCE); 1631.100 (325/4 BCE). the Gnome, Asklepias, and Callixena.Gnome: IG II² 1627.249 (330/9 BCE); 1628.466 (326/5 BCE); 1629.730 (325/4 BCE).Asklepias: IG II² 1627.254 (330/9 BCE); 1628.471 (326/5 BCE); 1629.735 (325/4 BCE).Callixena: IG II² 1627.260 (330/9 BCE); 1628.476 (326/5 BCE); 1629.740 (325/4 BCE). The people decreed that these three ships must be removed from the list of the fighting units. The word ἄχρηστος qualifying these horse-carriers, does not precisely denote that they were “useless,” which was how Vincent Gabrielsen chose to translate it and was indeed the most common meaning.Gabrielsen 1994, 138. Diodorus Siculus used the very same term to describe consul M. Aemilius Lepidus Porcina as an excessively hefty man. Yet the meaning was not that his plump flesh made him useless, but that the Roman general was unfit to command during the disastrous war against the Vaccaei in Spain in 137 BCE.Diod. 188.8.131.52. The correct term when applied to the horse-transports would imply rather that they were unfit, indicating they could not take part in battle. To avoid further confusion, the decree lists precisely the equipment with which these vessels were outfitted, including full rigging, while also specifying sixty wooden oars, far less than usually required of triremes.The rigging of the Callixena, however, did not include any ὑποβλήμα: IG II2 1627.264 (330/29 BCE), IG II2 1628.476 (326/5 BCE), IG II2 1629.744 (325/4 BCE). This could have been an old sail that covered the tholes, where oars passed through, listed in IG II2 1621, a1 (349/8 or 348/7 BCE), among other parts of the rigging (Graser 1864, § 82, followed by Cartault 1881, 57). Triremes recorded in IG II2 1615 and 1616 (c. 358/7 BCE) were outfitted with approximately 62 thranite oars, 54 zygite oars, 54 thalamite oars, and 30 spare oars. It is worth noting that significant numbers of these oars were listed as adokimoi, signifying that their length did not comply with official regulations. Basch 2008, 21–23, Table 5. As such, they were unable to take part in naval encounters. Nevertheless, the horse-carriers were still outfitted with some equipment, even though not to the same degree as fighting units. Thus, no other naval commanders in Athens would attempt to strip them from their oars to supply their own triremes. The recurrence of this same decree in the Naval Records over the years probably reveals that this fear was not unfounded. It was surely tempting for crooked Athenian trierarchs to appropriate these hulls and transform them into triremes at a bargain cost.Horse-Carriers and Knights in AthensThe commission of horse-carriers gave the opportunity for Athenian knights to play a more important role in naval expeditions. Apart from the above mentioned three ships, also the Hipparche, Axionike, and Kallisto can be identified with horse-carriers if the reconstruction [ἱππ]ηγός, as associated with the name of these vessels in the Naval Records, is correct.Hipparche: IG II² 1629.64 (325/4 BCE); Axionike: IG II² 1629.76 (325/4 BCE); Callisto: IG II² 1631.349 (325/4 BCE). It would imply that the Axionike, which first appeared as a trireme in the lists of 377/6 and 357/6, and then in 325/4, belonged to this typology of vessel. In this last instance, she may have been an old warship that the Naval Board turned into a horse-carrier similar to the ἱππαγωγοὶ that took part in the raid of Epidaurus in 430.IG II² 1604 (377/6 BCE); IG II² 1611.99 (357/6 BCE); IG II² 1629.75 (325/4 BCE); Casson 1971, 350 n 40. Contra Ioannidou 2019, who does not mention this fact. More than fifty years later, the horse-carrier was already an aged vessel unable to participate in active battles anymore. At any rate, after her conversion from a fighting unit into a horse-transport, the trireme kept her initial name, which the shipwright would have decided upon on her completion at the shipyard.McArthur 2021, 480. In addition to these three vessels, two further triremes bore the name Hippagogos and Hippegos,Hippegos: IG II² 1628.423 (326/5 BCE); 1629.944 (325/4 BCE), Hippagogos: IG II² 1611.101 (357/6 BCE). Köhler 1879, 85. both clearly in reference to the conveyance of horses. Lysistratos, who constructed these two triremes, as well as the Axionike that was perhaps an actual horse-transport, did not name them thus because of their function or in remembrance of a glorious past, namely their participation in the expedition to Epidaurus in 430 or inclusion in Aristophanes’ play. The shipwright, who was probably a cavalry commander, may have wanted to emphasize he belonged to the class of hippeis, the second highest of the four social classes that served as cavalry citizens on the battlefield.Stylianou 1998, 491; McArthur, 2021, 506, 524–525. In any case, the number of Athenian horse-transports was certainly less than ten. They seemed to have been in the minority of the vessels in the fleet at the time, which included 392 triremes and 18 quadriremes in 330/9, and 360 triremes, 50 quadriremes, and 7 quinqueremes in 325/4.IG II² 1627.266–78 (330/9 BCE); 1629.808–812 (325/4 BCE). See Morrison 1987, 92. Nevertheless, the above relatively few vessels were probably sufficient for one or two squadrons that were already a significant part of the cavalry forces, while the remainder of the horsemen remained at home in Attica in case of a land invasion. In other words, the knights were an actual military force to be reckoned with that could contribute immensely to the maritime expansion of the Athenian city-state.Naval Strategy and Political Networks in AthensOur investigation also provides some material that highlights discussions about political leaders in Athens, more precisely their views on the naval strategy of the city. The mention of these horse-carriers in 330/9 occurred twenty years after Demosthenes’ suggestion in the “First Philippic” (350 BCE), where the orator called for the construction of these units in order to check the military ambitions of Philip II.Demosth. 4.16; 4.21 (First Philippic). Demosthenes, who delivered his speech “On the Crown” in 330, became an influential figure in Athens during the tense decade marked by the struggle with the Macedonians. During this crucial period, he could endorse key military decisions more easily. Nevertheless, horse-carriers were not part of the major naval reform that he carried out in 340 in order to further involve the financial contribution of the 300 wealthiest citizens in the construction of the navy.Gabrielsen 1994, 207–213. In fact, a closer examination of the Naval Records reveals that horse-transports were commissioned following the decree of another political leader of the time mentioned in the inscriptions: “Demades, son of Demeas of the deme of Paiania.” Demades, who played an important role in Athens in the 330s–320s,Later written sources do not favourably describe this person. Although P. Brun, who carried out an extensive investigation, demonstrated that we should be cautious with this assessment (Brun 2000). was probably a naukleros rather than an oarsman,S. Emp. Adversus Mathematicos 2.16. and he could even have been a shipwright.Souda, Δημάδης, 415. At any rate, he certainly would have known quite well the monetary issues of the fleet.Demades was born in 388–380 and executed by Cassander in 319. His activity did not begin in 338 when Philip II released him after his capture on the battlefield in Chaeronea, but earlier, in 341, since he is included in an epigraphical example. The inscriptions IG II2 1623 (341 BCE) and IG II2 1629.520 (325/4 BCE) mention a decree proposed by Demades that aimed at subsidizing the construction of triremes lent to the Chalcidians (Demosth. or. 18.87; Aeschin. Ctes. 89–105). On these inscriptions, see Mitchel 1964, 337–351; Migeotte 1983, 143–144; 1984, 241, and no. 69, 238–242; Gabrielsen 1994, 204–206; Brun 2000, 41–54. Demades was also the instigator of a decree of 325/4 to outfit quadrireme with oars and rigging, which were the stronger and more advanced warships that the Athenians began to build.IG II2 1629. 1. 348–9.The horse-carrier decree in the Naval Records could demonstrate a collaboration between Demades and Demosthenes, two political leaders who had an in-depth knowledge of the fleet. The former ordered the construction of ships that the latter demanded in his fiery speeches against Philip II. Even though both belonged to the deme of Paiania, sources do not evidence a link between their families. In fact, the views of the two leaders were opposed, as Demosthenes abhorred the Macedonians at least as much as Demades was fond of them. Nonetheless, they often worked together and pursued similar policies on a variety of issues in the 330s and 320s and even had the opportunity to help one another at times. The above decree regarding the three horse-transports provides proof that their political views could agree about the naval strategy of the city and the preparation of the fleet. As Brun noted, family relationships may conveniently explain their political proximity.Brun 2000. Beyond the possible cooperation between Demades and Demosthenes, Lycurgus’ involvement should also be considered, as he revived Athenian finances from 338/7 to 326/5 BCE. He certainly paid close attention to the fleet, which constituted a heavy expense.Burke 1984; 1985, 256–258; 2010, 398–399. Although his consideration of horse-carriers is not known, the prosperity of Athens presented the opportunity to increase the wage of the oarsmen from three obols to one drachma. In any case, their defeat to the Macedonians off the island at Amorgos in 322 wiped out any notion of naval domination and rendered horse-carriers useless.Morrison 1987. After this disaster, Athens was unable to reconstitute its fleet and no further mention of horse-transports are evidenced in the historical record.Horse-Carriers outside the AegeanEven though the Athenians excelled in the construction and use of horse-carriers, other naval powers outside the Aegean commissioned similar vessels to transport their cavalry to far-flung lands in the fourth century BCE. Dionysius the Elder (r. 406–367 BCE) sailed against the Etruscans in 384, plundering the sanctuary of Leucotea in Pyrgi (Santa Severa). His impressive fleet included horse-transports among other units.Polyaen. 5.2.21. Morrison 1996, 1–3. Alexander the Molossian (r. 343/2–331 BCE) also employed horse-carriers in his naval force alongside fifteen warships when he waged war against the Tarentines.The treatise providing this detail is attributed to Aristotle and, although lost, it is known from later sources (Ptolemaeus of Ascalon, On the Differences of Words, Nu 101; Philo Herennius, On Differences of Meaning, Nu 122; Philo Herennius, On the Differences of Similar Words, 334). Likewise, the Macedonian conqueror conveyed his cavalry with these types of vessels down the river Hydaspes to the Ocean, as he fiercely battled the autochthonous inhabitants living on its banks.Arr. an. 6.1.1; 6.2.4; 6.3.2; 6.3.4; Ind. 19.7. Morrison 1996, 9–10. However, not only the Greeks but also the Phoenicians were capable of constructing and manoeuvring these vessels. To repel Alexander’s assaults against their strongly fortified city in 332, the Tyrians loaded a horse-transport with an immense quantity of combustibles and ignited her, deploying her as a fireship to counter the Macedonian siege installations.Arr. an. 2.19. As we have seen, the construction of horse-carriers was not an Athenian specialty, even though Aristophanes had made them very popular. A number of other cities and kingdoms, albeit very few, incorporated this type of vessel into their fleet. Most significantly, their construction and deployment unquestionably required advanced skills available only to a handful of the leading naval powers in the Classical period that could dispose of immense funds and the necessary expertise.A Master Weapon of Naval Warfare in the Hellenistic PeriodThe presence of horse-carriers in the Greek fleets, even in a small number, demonstrates a significant evolution in the naval warfare of the city in the transitional decades between the Classical and Hellenistic periods. It is worth noting that these horse-transports appeared at the very same time as the number of quadriremes and quinqueremes was increasing. In many ways, they were a prelude to the development of larger Hellenistic warships.Murray 2012. The above naval strategy strongly indicates that numerous horse-carriers were involved in many conflicts requiring a large army to be conveyed to distant territories. For instance, the Romans considered them to be a key component in their first struggle against the Punics. As they wished to subjugate Carthage directly by means of a land campaign, they sent horse-transports with three hundred and thirty warships in the expedition commanded by Regulus. At Cape Ecnomus in 256, they succeeded in carefully protecting their ἱππηγοὶ between the third and fourth squadrons of their fleet from the redoubtable Carthaginian rams that failed to sink them.Pol. 1.26–28. Despite this tremendous naval victory, Regulus’ land campaign in Africa ended calamitously. The entire fleet bringing back the remains of Regulus’ to Rome was lost in a storm near Camarina in 254. Among them were horse-carriers, perhaps the very same ones present in Ecnomus.Diod. 23.18.1; 23.19.1. The following year, another storm off Panormus brought an ignominious end to a further expedition that raided the Carthaginian coasts, which also included horse-transports.In fact, every great navy of the Hellenistic period contained such units. For instance, the thirty-five horse-carriers of the Pergamene fleet, sailing from Elaia to Chios that the Macedonian admiral Antenor intercepted in 168, reveal that these vessels, many more than the dozen units in the Athenian navy at the peak of its power, were highly active in Hellenistic navies.Liv. 44.28. The great number of these kinds of ships involved in the struggle between Eumenes II of Pergamon (r. 197–159 BCE) and Perseus of Macedon (r. 179–168 BCE) were enough to convey 1,000 riders and their steeds. Other Hellenistic fleets transported even larger cavalry contingents. The well-trained army that Pyrrhus of Epirus (r. 306–302, 297–272 BCE) brought to Italy in 280 to assist the Tarentines in their struggle against the Romans, included at least 3,000 Thessalian cavalrymen ferried with horse-carriers, as well as twenty elephants, 20,000 footmen, 2,000 archers, and 500 slingers.Plut. Pyrrh. 15.2. The number of these support vessels was perhaps fewer than those led by Demetrius Poliorcetes (r. 306–301, 294–288 BCE) in an expedition against Rhodes in 305. His mighty navy counted no less than 170 auxiliary ships, both infantry- and horse-transports, to convey 40,000 troops.Diod. 20.82.4; 20.83.1. As she took part in every large expedition overseas, the horse-carrier was a very popular ship in Hellenistic naval forces. Among the numerous vessels that fought in the waters of Actium, Aelianus lists them in the fleets of both Mark Antony and Octavian. Even though horse-transports were a key component of ancient navies vying with one another for Mediterranean control, this maritime battle brought the heyday of these vessels to a close.Ael. Tact. A. 4.The Fading Glory of the Athenian Horse-Carrier in the Imperial PeriodThe end of the large naval operations in the imperial period brought about the demise of the horse-carrier as well. When discussing Germanicus’ campaigns of 16 CE, Tacitus does not employ the word ἱππαγωγός for the vessels conveying the Roman cavalry’s horses.Tac. ann. 2.6. In the historian’s account, the two officers Gaius Silius and Aulus Caecina Severus carefully outfitted the fleet, which can be evidenced by the fact that they provided these ships with decks to protect their mounts from enemy shots and the elements. In terms of their typology, the vessels were probably not the oared warships specifically designated and designed as horse-transports, rather they were merchant boats that conveyed horses and supplies. However, imperial sources did not note the use of horse-carriers in campaigns against the Germanic tribes, certainly because the operations took place mainly along rivers where ἱππαγωγοὶ would have been of no use. Without the necessity of delivering cavalry from one end of the empire to the other to combat an enemy power, this typology of ships was certainly useless. Anyway, merchantmen could easily accomplish this mission in their place.Fig. 1: The horse-carrier of Althiburus, labelled with a bilingual inscription and with the names of the horses (Althiburus, Tunisia, 3rd century CE; Gauckler 1905, 130, fig. 10).Soon the horse-transport probably did not signify much to educated Roman elites. In any case, their primary object of fascination were their noble steeds, which made the rowing horses in Aristophanes’ “Knights” particularly enthralling. In the early 3rd century CE, Athenaeus references this episode in the Athenian play that describes the horses rushing into the boat.Athen. deipn. 11.66. The vessel depicted in the Althiburus mosaic (second half of the 3rd century CE) gives us an idea of how Roman elites might have visualised an ἱππαγωγός (fig. 1).Gauckler, 1905, 130–131; Picard 1960, 36; Duval 1949, no. 6, 135. Redaelli 2014, no. 5, 121–122. Among the multitude of crafts shown, the ship in question is identified on its hull with a bilingual Greek and Latin inscription denoting that she was a horse-carrier. This vessel does not display any feature of a trireme such as a ram, instead she resembled a simple barge with only three oars. The latter were certainly intended for each steed shown onboard in the mosaic. For this reason, Jean Rougé and François Bertrandy considered her depiction in the mosaic as wildly unrealistic.Rougé 1966, 76; Bertrandy 1987, 223–224. Yet, it is worth noting the inclusion of the names of the three equidae, which is a highly unusual inclusion. Respectively Ferox, Icarus, and Cupido, the first refers to the animal’s combat skills while the last two to mythological figures. Revealing also the great care given to these animals, they are shown with tacks on the mosaic revealing that they are racehorses.Gauckler 1905, 131. The equidae displayed on the Althiburus mosaic are reminiscent of the Carthaginian Mosaic of the Horses that includes the names of the racing mounts (Parc Archéologique des Villas Romaines, Carthage). Mongi 1994. The horse-carrier displayed on the Althiburus mosaic may also refer to the fantastical scene described by Aristophanes. Although their names are different from those in the play, they denote that the three steeds have anthropomorphic designations, precisely like Samphoras, one of the equidae that row in the “Knights”. The landowner of the 3rd century CE Althiburus villa who ordered this mosaic probably knew Aristophanes’ work quite well and certainly other Greek playwrights as well who mentioned horse-transports. Yet, wealthy and educated persons were most likely entirely ignorant of the outward appearance of these Athenian vessels. Seven centuries after the horse-carriers of the city-state waged war over the Aegean, the ἱππαγωγός designated probably nothing more than the name of a prestigious ship in classical literature. Nonetheless, these vessels still had the power to stimulate the imagination of educated provincial elites.The Althiburus mosaic was akin to an illustrated catalog of vessels, corresponding to the numerous lexical lists of ships composed by scholars of the imperial period like Pollux, Aulus Gellius, or Herodian. These men of letters list ἱππαγωγός or ἱππηγός next to other crafts, but without explaining their function or particular idiosyncrasies.Poll. 1.83; 1.126; 1.131; 1.181; 5.17; Gell. 10.25.5; Aelius Herodianus, Part. (ed. Boissonade 1819, p. 179). At this time, many writers, which include Arrian, Aelianus, Polyaenus, and Athenaeus, in addition to Lucian and Philostratus, often mentioned these vessels, revealing just how popular these ships had become in the literature of the imperial period.Arr. an. 2.19; 2.21.1; 2.21.4; 6.1.1; 6.2.4; 6.3.2; 6.3.4; Ind. 19.7; Polyaenus, Strat. 5.2.21; Athen. deipn. 11.66, 12.49. One of Lucian’s characters, Samippus, who dreams to conquer the world as a brave general, considers beginning his campaigns in Greece. After having subjugated these lands without resistance, he sends cavalry across the Aegean by means of horse-carriers.Lucian. nav. 32. As for Philostratus’ tale, it includes a legend that would have been particularly pleasing to Roman readers accustomed to Greek myths where Amazons were seemingly omnipresent. As part of its narrative, female warriors embarked on fifty ships and one ἱππαγωγός acquired from merchants whom they had previously captured and then forced to build for them. They intended for this specialized vessel to convey Achilles’ mares after they had captured them from him in the sanctuary of Protesilaos at the entrance of the Hellespont in Elaious, Thracian Chersonese. The above tale about the Amazons’ raid describes an unusual situation where the fearsome female fighters dismounted and handled the oars of the ships. Finally, their own mounts devoured their riders, and the vessels crashed against one another during a heavy storm, bringing about their expedition to a disastrous end.Philostr. her. 57.12–16. This surprising reversal of events, an upside-down story greatly appreciated in ancient literature, continues in the spirit of Aristophanes’ “Knights” and his playful inclusion of horses replacing oarsmen.Even though the ἱππαγωγός had already been extinct in the Roman navy for at least three centuries, she suddenly reappeared in late antiquity. Constantius II (r. 337–361) sent an embassy with 200 well-bred Cappadocian horses along with other gifts to the Sabaeans, a Semitic people who followed both Jewish and pagan rituals, to convert them to Christianity. The emperor ordered the loading of equidae into specific types of vessels that Philostorgius called ἱππαγωγοί.Philostorgius 3.4. Despite this mention, horse-carriers certainly remained quite rare in the Byzantine fleet in this period. When Belisarius attempted to seize Africa from the hands of the Vandals in 533, he did not use horse-transports but mere merchantmen.In Procopius’ account of this impressive expedition, the Byzantine fleet included 5,000 cavalrymen without stating whether they sailed in horse-carriers. Proc. BV. 3.11.2. According to Pryor and Jeffreys, they probably would have been conveyed in regularly outfitted sailing ships. Pryor – Jeffreys 2006, 325–327. Only much later, during the Cretan expeditions of 911 and 949, do literary sources once more note horse-carriers in the Byzantine fleet.For instance, the treatises written by Leo VI (r. 886–912) and Nikephoros Ouranos (died c. 1010) emphasized the importance of horse-transports in naval warfare. Leo VI, Tact. 19.11, 19.13, 19.23 (ed. Pryor – Jeffreys 2006, 483–519); Nikephoros Ouranos, “On Fighting at Sea” 10, 11, 21 (Pryor – Jeffreys 2006, 571–605). As noted by Pryor and Jeffreys, the Byzantine ἱππαγωγός shared only her name with her Athenian counterpart. The medieval configuration of the ship was based on the χελάνδιον, the primary oared warship unit of the Byzantine fleet. This vessel would have been completely different from the trireme-based ἱππαγωγός, as she was deprived of a ram and could carry only a dozen horses.Pryor – Jeffreys 2006, 304–333. On crusader horse-carriers, see Dotson 1973; Pryor 1982a, 1982b, 1984, 1990, 1992; Fourquin 1982, 161–170; Martin 2002.ConclusionHorse-carriers were a formidable weapon of immense military and strategic significance for every maritime empire in antiquity. As we have seen, the bronze ram of the trireme was not everything for a sea power, as only swift and strong horses could win battles on land. The Athenian fleet included a relatively low number of horse-carriers in relation to fighting units, yet one or two-hundred-strong cavalry enforcements made an immense difference on the battlefield. Just how crucial these vessels were for imperial strategy is revealed by the numerous calls of Demosthenes to his fellow citizens to outfit horse-transports. Leaders could even put aside their resentments and political ideas, as they had to provide the fleet with the right vessels to help fulfil its mission abroad. Nevertheless, horse-carriers required advanced nautical experience that only mighty sea powers could afford to sustain over time. For this reason, it is possible to make out the actual navies that made use of them like Athens. However, other city-states, namely Corinth, with maritime ambitions did not count any such unit among their fleet. The contrast between these major and secondary naval powers appears in Aristophanes’ play where the crabs representing the Corinthians are described in disparaging terms when compared to the noble steeds of the Athenian city-state praised by the knights of the Chorus. Horse-carriers contributed to the prestige of cavarlymen who won battles on land, while playing a key role at sea. The Athenian thalassocracy could include knights as well, most notably the shipwright Lysistratos, who might have been one of them, the builder of the Hippagogos and the Hippegos. Like the Chorus in Aristophanes’ play, they took great pride in fighting on both land and sea. In other words, these horse-carriers held great social and political significance. They gave the opportunity to the knights, usually assigned to the passive defence of the territory on land, to play an active role in the expeditions of their maritime empire. As we have seen, however, the Roman navy did not require this kind of ship after the Battle of Actium any longer, as they had long ceased to conduct large-scale naval operations. Even though the horse-carrier became extinct, her popularity reached its peak in the imperial period aided by the strong interest of educated elites in Aristophanes’ “Knights”. The memory of these vessels had not been lost since it remained part of the Roman and Byzantine cultural heritage and in their literary traditions. When the Mediterranean became once more the stake of several rival powers in the Early Middle Ages, the horse-carriers were one of the means by which the Byzantines saturated with classical Greek culture were able to rule the seas once again.
Klio – de Gruyter
Published: Nov 1, 2023
Keywords: Thalassocracy; Ship Battle; Military Logistics; Horses; Athenian Navy; Cavalry
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