The Continuation of a Civic Obligation: The Athenian Trierarchy in the Late Third Century
Lecture by Christian Ammitzbøll Thomsen
The Classical Athenian trierarchy, the system by which the Athenians appointed a section of their wealthiest citizens to not only captain, but also pay from their own means for the readying and maintenance of a warship, is arguably one of the most fascinating aspects of Classical Athens and one that is firmly connected with that city’s military and economic success, as well as its democracy. Defeat in the Lamian War (323-322 BCE), however, spelled the end for Athenian naval supremacy and ushered in a century of considerable political turmoil for Athens. Though the Athenians continued to maintain a fleet through the third century and beyond, the trierarchic liturgy is widely believed to have been permanently abolished.
Recent but brief discussions of the question point to I. Rhamnous 31, an honorific decree for an Athenian trierarch voted by a section of his crew in Rhamnous in northern Attika, as a crucial piece of evidence, but draw from it only hesitant—albeit diverging—conclusions about the nature of naval organisation in late-third-century Athens. This paper offers a detailed study of the decree in the attempt to reconstruct the third-century Athenian trierarchia, a system which featured profound continuities with its Classical predecessor as well as remarkable innovations in meeting the military needs of the Hellenistic Athenian state.