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The now fully professional navy had its main duties consist of protecting against piracy, escorting troops and patrolling the river frontiers of Europe. It remained however engaged in active warfare in the periphery of the Empire. Under Augustus and after the conquest of Egypt there were increasing demands from the Roman economy to extend the trade lanes to India. The Arabian control of all sea routes to India was an obstacle.
One of the first naval operations under princeps Augustus was therefore the preparation for a campaign on the Arabian Peninsula. Aelius Gallus , the prefect of Egypt ordered the construction of transports and subsequently carried 10, soldiers to Arabia. At the other end of the Empire, in Germania , the navy played an important role in the supply and transport of the legions.
In 15 BC an independent fleet was installed at the Lake Constance. Later, the generals Drusus and Tiberius used the Navy extensively, when they tried to extend the Roman frontier to the Elbe. In 12 BC Drusus ordered the construction of a fleet of 1, ships and sailed them along the Rhine into the North Sea. When these entered the river mouths of Weser and Ems , the local tribes had to surrender. Plinius describes how Roman naval formations came past Heligoland and set sail to the north-eastern coast of Denmark, and Augustus himself boasts in his Res Gestae: In the years 15 and 16, Germanicus carried out several fleet operations along the rivers Rhine and Ems, without permanent results due to grim Germanic resistance and a disastrous storm.
From 43 to 85, the Roman navy played an important role in the Roman conquest of Britain. The classis Germanica rendered outstanding services in multitudinous landing operations. In 46, a naval expedition made a push deep into the Black Sea region and even travelled on the Tanais. In 47 a revolt by the Chauci , who took to piratical activities along the Gallic coast, was subdued by Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo.
It seems that under Nero , the navy obtained strategically important positions for trading with India; but there was no known fleet in the Red Sea. Possibly, parts of the Alexandrian fleet were operating as escorts for the Indian trade. In the Jewish revolt , from 66 to 70, the Romans were forced to fight Jewish ships, operating from a harbour in the area of modern Tel Aviv , on Israel 's Mediterranean coast.
In the meantime several flotilla engagements on the Sea of Galilee took place. In 68, as his reign became increasingly insecure, Nero raised legio I Adiutrix from sailors of the praetorian fleets. After Nero's overthrow, in 69, the " Year of the four emperors ", the praetorian fleets supported Emperor Otho against the usurper Vitellius ,  and after his eventual victory, Vespasian formed another legion, legio II Adiutrix , from their ranks.
He burned the fleet, and sought refuge with the Iberian tribes, engaging in piracy. After a new fleet was built, this revolt was subdued. During the Batavian rebellion of Gaius Julius Civilis , the rebels got hold of a squadron of the Rhine fleet by treachery,  and the conflict featured frequent use of the Roman Rhine flotilla.
In the last phase of the war, the British fleet and legio XIV were brought in from Britain to attack the Batavian coast, but the Cananefates , allies of the Batavians, were able to destroy or capture a large part of the fleet.
Civilis attempted only a short encounter with his own fleet, but could not hinder the superior Roman force from landing and ravaging the island of the Batavians , leading to the negotiation of a peace soon after.
In the years 82 to 85, the Romans under Gnaeus Julius Agricola launched a campaign against the Caledonians in modern Scotland. In this context the Roman navy significantly escalated activities on the eastern Scottish coast. During these the Romans would capture the Orkney Islands Orcades for a short period of time and obtained information about the Shetland Islands. Under the Five Good Emperors the navy operated mainly on the rivers; so it played an important role during Trajan 's conquest of Dacia and temporarily an independent fleet for the Euphrates and Tigris rivers was founded.
Also during the wars against the Marcomanni confederation under Marcus Aurelius several combats took place on the Danube and the Tisza. Under the aegis of the Severan dynasty , the only known military operations of the navy were carried out under Septimius Severus , using naval assistance on his campaigns along the Euphrates and Tigris , as well as in Scotland.
As the 3rd century dawned, the Roman Empire was at its peak. In the Mediterranean, peace had reigned for over two centuries, as piracy had been wiped out and no outside naval threats occurred. As a result, complacency had set in: The so-called " Crisis of the Third Century " ushered a period of internal turmoil, and the same period saw a renewed series of seaborne assaults, which the imperial fleets proved unable to stem.
Via two surprise attacks on Roman naval bases in the Caucasus and near the Danube , numerous ships fell into the hands of the Germans, whereupon the raids were extended as far as the Aegean Sea ; Byzantium , Athens , Sparta and other towns were plundered and the responsible provincial fleets were heavily debilitated. It was not until the attackers made a tactical error, that their onrush could be stopped. In — another, much fiercer series of attacks took place.
A fleet composed of Heruli and other tribes raided the coasts of Thrace and the Pontus. Defeated off Byzantium by general Venerianus,  the barbarians fled into the Aegean, and ravaged many islands and coastal cities, including Athens and Corinth.
As they retreated northwards over land, they were defeated by Emperor Gallienus at Nestos. Emperor Claudius II however was able to defeat them at the Battle of Naissus , ending the Gothic threat for the time being. Barbarian raids also increased along the Rhine frontier and in the North Sea.
Eutropius mentions that during the s, the sea along the coasts of the provinces of Belgica and Armorica was "infested with Franks and Saxons". To counter them, Maximian appointed Carausius as commander of the British Fleet. A new fleet was constructed in order to cross the Channel,  and in , with a concentric attack on Londinium the insurgent province was retaken.
By the end of the 3rd century, the Roman navy had declined dramatically. Although Emperor Diocletian is held to have strengthened the navy, and increased its manpower from 46, to 64, men,  the old standing fleets had all but vanished, and in the civil wars that ended the Tetrarchy , the opposing sides had to mobilize the resources and commandeered the ships of the Eastern Mediterranean port cities. Vegetius , writing at the end of the 4th century, testifies to the disappearance of the old praetorian fleets in Italy, but comments on the continued activity of the Danube fleet.
Although the Notitia Dignitatum still mentions several naval units for the Western Empire , these were apparently too depleted to be able to carry out much more than patrol duties. For the West, there would be no recovery, as the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus , was deposed in In the East however, the classical naval tradition survived, and in the 6th century, a standing navy was reformed.
The bulk of a galley's crew was formed by the rowers, the remiges sing. Despite popular perceptions, the Roman fleet, and ancient fleets in general, relied throughout their existence on rowers of free status, and not on galley slaves. Slaves were employed only in times of pressing manpower demands or extreme emergency, and even then, they were freed first.
During the early Principate, a ship's crew, regardless of its size, was organized as a centuria. Along with several other instances of prevalence of army terminology, this testifies to the lower social status of naval personnel, considered inferior to the auxiliaries and the legionaries. Upon honorable discharge honesta missio , the sailors received a sizable cash payment as well.
As in the army, the ship's centuria was headed by a centurion with an optio as his deputy, while a beneficiarius supervised a small administrative staff. Some of these positions, mostly administrative, were identical to those of the army auxiliaries, while some mostly of Greek provenance were peculiar to the fleet. An inscription from the island of Cos , dated to the First Mithridatic War , provides us with a list of a ship's officers, the nautae: Each ship was commanded by a trierarchus , whose exact relationship with the ship's centurion is unclear.
Squadrons, most likely of ten ships each, were put under a nauarchus , who often appears to have risen from the ranks of the trierarchi. During the Republic, command of a fleet was given to a serving magistrate or promagistrate , usually of consular or praetorian rank. In the subsequent wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, praetors would assume the command of the fleet. However, since these men were political appointees, the actual handling of the fleets and of separate squadrons was entrusted to their more experienced legates and subordinates.
It was therefore during the Punic Wars that the separate position of praefectus classis "fleet prefect" first appeared. Initially subordinate to the magistrate in command, after the fleet's reorganization by Augustus, the praefectus classis became a procuratorial position in charge of each of the permanent fleets. These posts were initially filled either from among the equestrian class, or, especially under Claudius , from the Emperor's freedmen , thus securing imperial control over the fleets.
The prefects of the two praetorian fleets were ranked procuratores ducenarii , meaning they earned , sesterces annually, the prefects of the Classis Germanica , the Classis Britannica and later the Classis Pontica were centenarii i. The generic Roman term for an oar-driven galley warship was "long ship" Latin: The navy consisted of a wide variety of different classes of warships, from heavy polyremes to light raiding and scouting vessels.
Unlike the rich Hellenistic Successor kingdoms in the East however, the Romans did not rely on heavy warships, with quinqueremes Gk. During the final confrontation between Octavian and Mark Antony, Octavian's fleet was composed of quinqueremes, together with some "sixes" and many triremes and liburnians, while Antony, who had the resources of Ptolemaic Egypt to draw upon,  fielded a fleet also mostly composed of quinqueremes, but with a sizeable complement of heavier warships, ranging from "sixes" to "tens" Gk.
This prominence of lighter craft in the historical narrative is perhaps best explained in light of subsequent developments. After Actium, the operational landscape had changed: The tasks at hand for the Roman navy were now the policing of the Mediterranean waterways and the border rivers, suppression of piracy, and escort duties for the grain shipments to Rome and for imperial army expeditions. Lighter ships were far better suited to these tasks, and after the reorganization of the fleet following Actium, the largest ship kept in service was a hexareme, the flagship of the Classis Misenensis.
The bulk of the fleets was composed of the lighter triremes and liburnians Latin: In addition, there were smaller oared vessels, such as the navis actuaria , with 30 oars 15 on each bank , a ship primarily used for transport in coastal and fluvial operations, for which its shallow draught and flat keel were ideal.
In late Antiquity, it was succeeded in this role by the navis lusoria "playful ship" , which was extensively used for patrols and raids by the legionary flotillas in the Rhine and Danube frontiers. In Classical Antiquity, a ship's main weapon was the ram rostra , hence the name navis rostrata for a warship , which was used to sink or immobilize an enemy ship by holing its hull.
Its use, however, required a skilled and experienced crew and a fast and agile ship like a trireme or quinquereme. In the Hellenistic period, the larger navies came instead to rely on greater vessels. This had several advantages: The Romans in particular, being initially inexperienced at sea combat, relied upon boarding actions through the use of the corvus. Although it brought them some decisive losses, it was discontinued because it tended to unbalance the quinqueremes in high seas; two Roman fleets are recorded to have been lost during storms in the First Punic War.
During the Civil Wars, a number of technical innovations, which are attributed to Agrippa,  took place: After the end of the civil wars, Augustus reduced and reorganized the Roman armed forces, including the navy.
A large part of the fleet of Mark Antony was burned, and the rest was withdrawn to a new base at Forum Iulii modern Fréjus ,  which remained operative until the reign of Claudius. This organizational structure was maintained almost unchanged until the 4th century.
The two major fleets were stationed in Italy and acted as a central naval reserve, directly available to the Emperor hence the designation "praetorian". In the absence of any naval threat, their duties mostly involved patrolling and transport duties. These were not confined to the waters around Italy, but throughout the Mediterranean. There is epigraphic evidence for the presence of sailors of the two praetorian fleets at Piraeus and Syria. These two fleets were:. The various provincial fleets were smaller than the praetorian fleets and composed mostly of lighter vessels.
Nevertheless, it was these fleets that saw action, in full campaigns or raids on the periphery of the Empire. In addition, there is significant archaeological evidence for naval activity by certain legions, which in all likelihood operated their own squadrons: Our main source for the structure of the late Roman military is the Notitia Dignitatum , which corresponds to the situation of the s for the Eastern Empire and the s for the Western Empire.
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