We know the Carthaginian fleet from representations on coins or stelae , and from Polybius's descriptions that the main Punic combat vessel was the quinquerreme , or ship with five orders of rowers. This was the ship that the Romans copied to build their own. Polibio narrates in his History that in 256 a. C. Carthage had chosen a fleet of 350 ships, but nothing was left of it after the Punic Wars and the fall of Carthage 146. C.
The true power of Carthage was in the sea : The Punic navy was the most powerful in the known world.
The Phoenicians used boats equipped for commercial purposes ( gaulos ), which had a large load capacity and with a length between 20 and 30 m and a beam of 6 or 7 m, with a draft of approximately 1.5 m. The stern was rounded and culminated with a fishtail frieze . The prow ended in the aplustro , a frieze that represented the head of a horse. Two eyes were painted on the hull, which had to allow the ship to see the route and cause terror to the enemy in case of combat.
They carried a mast that supported a rectangular sail, and the rudder was an oar with very wide asymmetrical blades, which was fastened on the left side of the stern. On the bridge near the stern was the castle, where the gear and the onboard galley were kept. The crew consisted of about twenty men, since sailing did not require a greater number of sailors.
Along with commercial and war ships there were others, such as boats used for small coastal voyages or fishing boats. The shape of the hull and its measurements were similar to those of merchant ships. The stern was rounded and the prow sharp, carrying a beam on top. The propulsion depended as much on the sails, with a small mast, as on the oars, and was governed with a rudder located to the left of the stern.
In 1971 the hull of a Punic ship was discovered in Lilibea : the keel is made of maple , the frames of oak and the planks of pine . The living work (part of the ship that remains submerged) was lined with lead to prevent rotting of the wood. The frames are engraved with the builder's brand, proof that the ships were made in large quantities, prefabricated and later assembled in shipyards , which allowed them to be built in a very short time.
The mighty quinquerreme was the backbone of the Carthaginian navy . It had a crew of 420 men: 120 soldiers who placed their shields on the gunwales, and 300 sailors of which 270 were rowers who were arranged in three orders: 2 rowers in the upper order, two in the middle and one in the lower order. .
This vessel was thinner than those of the commercial fleet, it had a beam of one seventh of the length. While the stern was similar to that of commercial ships, the bow was an offensive weapon during combat, so it carried a bronze- reinforced spur representing various figures, which was used to destroy the sides of opposing ships. Eyes were painted on the sides of the bow, above which there were holes through which the chains or ropes of the anchors passed . On the bridge, near the bow, was the castle that protected the archers and catapults during the fighting; a sternthere was a leather covering and two large oars that served as rudders . A retractable mast could be raised in the center of the ship to hang a square sail, and another located in the bow carried a small sail that allowed to steer the ship even in crosswinds, but during the fighting it was not used: the ships would disarm, and In order to move more quickly, the propulsion was entrusted to the rowers. These were placed inside the hull along the sides, and held the oars that came out through the holes made under the gunwale.
It was the oldest ship, fast, agile, 25 m long and with fifty rowers located on two levels, in addition to the captain, the second, the pilot and another ten sailors on deck. The rhythm of the rowers was set by a flute player named Diere . The pentecontera disappeared at the end of the 6th century BC. C. and was replaced by the trireme.
Designed by the Phoenicians , it became widespread in the Mediterranean between the 7th and 4th centuries BC. It was a 36-meter long ship, and it had a crew of about 180 men: 170 rowers, eight or ten to handle sails, and a group of soldiers . As the rowers were positioned at three heights, the force was tripled without extending the length of the ship and without hindering each other.
From the 4th century BC. C., in the shipyards of Cartago it is transformed into the tetrera , which has four rowers for each row on the same bench, hence the name. Both the tetrera and the pentera that succeeded it had a length of 40 m and a width of 6 m, with a draft of no more than 2 m. The maximum possible speed was five and six knots , although the cruising speed was two to three knots. The crew was 240 and 300 men, respectively, handling the thirty oars per side, in addition to the sailors assigned to the sails.
During the wars with Rome, Carthage had several squadrons of twelve ships and could form fleets of 120 ships, as well as, in special cases, of more than three hundred.
When the enemy was sighted, the sails were lowered and the mast was removed : the confrontation was carried out by force of oars, to be able to handle the ship with greater ease. The crews were made up exclusively of Carthaginian citizens , unlike the army that was nourished by mercenaries .
It was a tactic that consisted of a simultaneous and rapid departure of the entire Navy arranged in a line to cross the adversary between ship and ship, make a quick turn and attack with the spur the stern of the enemy ships.
It consisted of standing next to the enemy ship and piercing its side with a blow with the spur.
The discovery of two ships from the 3rd century BC. Sunken near Marsala , which seem to be auxiliary ships, since they are small (30 m) and do not have a spur, has allowed to study the technique of naval construction. Both boats were built with separate prefabricated pieces of wood and assembled later, which has been deduced by the presence of marks for the guide of the carpenters.
The structure of these boats was quite similar to the fishing boats of the Mediterranean countries of today: a plank composed of a set of boards placed by knife or partially superimposed, held on the inside by the ordered ones, a skeleton of orthogonal beams to the keel . An external coating of tarred lead sheets was placed.
Sailing along the coastline if possible during the day and camping on the beaches to spend the night; in case of need, distance tables were used during the night in addition to being guided by the stars : the Pole Star was called the Phenicia Star . They also used homing pigeons to help themselves in foggy weather. To protect the fleet from tides and storms, they built ports and created a breakwater system. The port of Carthage was a marvel of technology, sheltered by the bay and divided into two parts by a canal (civil port and military port); it sheltered about 400 ships.
- Bláquez, José María (1992). History of the Ancient East . Madrid: Editions Cátedra.
- Corzo, Ramón (1988). The Phoenicians, lords of the sea . Madrid: Information and Magazines.
- Decret, François (1977). Carthage or the empire of the sea (in French) . París: Éd. of the Threshold. ISBN 978-2-02-004712-8 .
- García and Bellido, A. (1942). Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the West .