In the ‘Iliad and the Odyssey’, Jason and the Argonauts sailed on the ship ‘Argo’ on their search for the Golden Fleece. ‘Argo’ is a feminine name. After examining the surviving poems, plays, and documents, we discovered the ancient Greeks used female names as designations for their ships.
When the 1st Punic War began in 264 B.C., the Roman fleet consisted of just 20 older triremes. Everything else seagoing, they leased from the Greeks. In 261 B.C., the Roman Senate voted to expand the fleet to meet the threat of the Carthaginian ships-of-war. The funding provided for the construction of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes. Unlike the Greeks, Roman mariners did not grace their ships with just female monikers. They used male, female, the names of God & Goddesses, attributes, and adjectives. It was this naming of Roman warships that interested me.
One source suggested the Romans identified their new warships by numbers. The idea came from the numbering of Legions. However, during the mid-Republic period, the Legions weren’t numbered. They were named for the Consul who raised them. Numbering went into effect in 70 B.C. when Consul Pompey the Great named one of his Legions the 1st and the other the 2nd. Thus, in 261 B.C. the new Roman warships were not labeled by numbers.
It’s been proposed the Romans named warships after their Captains. Although the fleet would confront Carthage and eventually control the seas, the Navy never reached a high status within the Roman military. This lack of respect made it unlikely the ship’s senior officers, proud Legion Centurions, would attach their names to boats.
We have some data on the naming of warships, but it seems unsatisfying. Historians offered that the warships were named after Gods and Goddesses, mythological figures, or concepts. It was suggested the ships carried just the name such as Mars – the God of War, Jupiter – the God of Thunder, Minerva – the Goddess of Wisdom, War, & Justice, Isis – the Goddess of Death & Healing, Hercules – a Demigod Hero, and Oceanus – the God who regulated the heavenly
bodies which rose from and set into his waters. Or maybe the ships carried a word expressing feelings such as Harmony, Peace, or Loyalty. Very poetic, but would Priests of deities have an issue with the names of their Gods and Goddesses being tossed about by drunken sailors or Marines? If you have ever experienced shore leave, you would appreciate the last sentence.
In the end, would the hard men who fought the Roman ships identify with a war vessel named for a touchy feelie emotion.
Plus, no matter the significance of the name, using a single honorific gave no personality to the individual warship. The crew of a fighting vessel needed to say the name of their ship with pride. Shouting, we’re the crew from ‘The Pietas’, the Roman Goddess of duty, didn’t have a heroic tone. Men going into combat required more than a word implying high status, politeness, or respect to improve their morale. They needed a descriptor that elicited self-esteem and allowed for boasting.
While the deity’s name, or a concept, might have been found cast or carved in a figurehead at the fore section of a warship, in my opinion, the crew would have called their ship something different.
Let me submit warship names that could have been used to motivate the crews and intimidate an enemy.
Neptune’s Fury – an angry Roman God of the sea
Epiales’ Veil – a stealthy Roman God of nightmares
Furor’s Face – the glare of the Roman God of mad rage
Minerva Clever – the acumen of the Roman Goddess of strategic warfare
These names suggest action because the sailors and Marines of the ancient Roman Republic were warriors, not poets or priests.
J. Clifton Slater
I am J. Clifton Slater and I write Military Adventure both Future and Ancient.
The question of how the Legionaries heard commands while in combat came to me while doing research for my historical adventure series. The Clay Warrior Stories are books set in the framework of the First Punic War. They are epic tales designed to make you want to strap on a shield, grab a gladius, and join a Century’s battle line.
Available on Amazon.com in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.
Clay Warrior Stories
Set in the backdrop of the 1st Punic War, the books tell the tales of a hot-headed young swordsman in the growing Republic.
The Clay Warrior Stories are Available at Amazon.com in paperback, on Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.