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The Olympias and its Reception

Since its launch in 1987, the Olympias trireme reconstruction has become the most frequently referenced representation of an ancient warship. Through its appearance in videos and television programmes, and illustrations in numerous popular encyclopedias, textbooks and academic works, it has raised awareness of ancient Mediterranean seafaring worldwide, as well as providing experimental data and acting as a paradigm of a project in experimental archaeology. It is also regularly used as a symbol of Greece’s maritime heritage and contribution to the development of democracy. It has served to popularise the Greek heritage and improve understanding of ancient shipping. Impact is in Cultural Life, primarily through preserving, conserving and presenting cultural heritage, developing stimuli to tourism and enhancing the experience of tourists, and secondarily in inspiring new forms of creative endeavour.Enter the webpage content here.

The trireme Olympias was built by the Hellenic Navy and launched in 1987, and the Trireme Trust undertook a series of experimental sea trials on the ship between 1987 and 2004. Professor Boris Rankov was one of the directors of these trials, and has since 1996 served as Chairman of the Trireme Trust, overseeing its publications.


The research underpinning the development of our knowledge of the Olympias was conducted by Professor Rankov at Royal Holloway between 1987 and 2004 in sea trials with analysis and further trials being undertaken up until the publication of final results in Rankov (2012). The quality and importance of the research has been recognised both in reaction to publications and grants (detailed below) which have built on this fundamental research including a £250,000 grant from Leverhulme to investigate Shipsheds of the Ancient Mediterranean, which was for a project in Rankov’s role as Principal Investigator stemmed directly from his central contribution within the Olympias team and which was deigned to apply what had been learned from the Olympias reconstruction to the understanding of the functioning of the shipsheds As a consequence of work on the trireme, Rankov has been invited to present on the project and trials to an International Conference on Computer Application in Shipbuilding (2007) and to the AGM of the Hellenic Society. Rankov has also been asked to contribute chapters on the project to three different volumes on ship reconstructions of various periods (Historic Ships (Royal Institution of Naval Architects 2007). Publication of the experiments or related pieces have come in New Scientist (2007), reprinted in their 2011 anthology on unusual scientific experiments; M.-J. Springmann and H. Wernicke (eds), Historical Boat and Ship Replicas (Steffen Verlag, 2008); J. Bennett (ed.), Sailing into the Past: Learning from Replica Ships (Seaforth 2009. The final publications of the experiment in Rankov 2012 has been favourably reviewed by W. Murray for JHS 2013. The related shipsheds project reached final publication in 2013 with Cambridge University press. This multi-authored, large collaborative project making extensive use of the initial Olympias reconstruction to further reconstruct the shipsheds.


The Olympias trireme reconstruction was designed as a very large scale archaeological experiment in the early 1980s by J.S. Morrison (1913-2000) and J.F. Coates (1922-2010). Rankov’s role in this multi-disciplinary project was to design and co-direct the sea trials. These were conducted between 1987 and 1994 by Rankov and colleagues. Operational, performance and physiological parameters were established through these experiments, together with detailed proposals for modifications to the design, papers both in support of and critical of the original design, and new research arising from the trials on aspects of operation, performance, construction, maintenance, collision damage, dimensions and modelling of battle manoeuvres Rankov published key results in his chapter in in Morrison, Coates and Rankov (2000). Preliminary dissemination of results (in publications, conference contributions, and through more informal academic and non-academic networks) led to further research and publication of the final report in Rankov 2012

1.    J.S. Morrison, J.F. Coates and N.B. Rankov, The Athenian Trireme: The History and Reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Warship. 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press,  2000)


2.    N.B. Rankov (ed.), Trireme Olympias: the Final Report (Oxbow, 2012)


3.    D.J. Blackman and N.B. Rankov et al., Shipsheds of the Ancient Mediterranean (CUP 2013)

The Olympias has been discussed in a range of fora. In July 2013, a web-search revealed the following key areas of debate in which the Olympias has been employed: The Olympics; History blogs; Education; as a News story (Anglophone and Greek); Greek Naval Tradition. The Olympias has become an important element of the Greek cultural heritage and its image is frequently reproduced. 


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