0 A.D. is a free, open-source, cross-platform real-time strategy (RTS) game of ancient warfare. It's a historically-based war/economy game that allows players to relive or rewrite the history of twelve ancient civilizations, from Iberia to Mauryan India, each depicted at their peak of economic growth and military prowess. Developed using Pyrogenesis, a ground-breaking new game engine custom-built to suit this project, 0 A.D. will give players a rich and entertaining real-time gaming experience.

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A history of ancient naval warfare, including exclusive screenshots of our game's representations.

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Although there are other very unique aspects in the design and development, the use of ships in the game, 0ad, are meant to bring a unique aspect of game-play that has for the most part been neglected by the developers of similar games to date. You, the reader, of this article will be introduced to the kinds of ships which were prevalent during the time-frame 500BC spanning 0AD to 500AD, in use by the civilisations of the "Western World" during that time. We have supplied some sketches, and some 3d models accompanying text to give one a better idea of what they looked like and functions they served. This will be followed by a description in some detail of what we want to accomplish in the 0ad game (which will not be included on this webpage).

This document has been compiled in support of Design document 0ad v1.3. There are TWO parts to this document. This is Part 1.

The following is a brief discussion of ships that were extant and employed by the civilisations, nations, of the Mediterranean region during the period of 500BC to 500AD. It is done for those who are interested in developing the game 0 A.D. and who might be involved in the artwork or other design and development aspects, especially programming, of the game. The included descriptions and renditions were derived from comprehensive research of the best available resources from the internet, library, and book stores.

Roman_General (a sketch artist for the WFG team), after studying the images that were supplied by myself, sketched the renditions of the ships below which will most likely be used in the game.

To give credit where it is due, my interest in the ships of this era, to include their capabilities and limitations, was born of wonderful information about them posted to Tonto Clan's now long gone Future RTS Games forum by a fellow then known as Tonto_GIDEON5, also known as just GIDEON5 on AOKH forums, several years ago.

The word suffix "reme" has to do with the number rowers in tiers of oars on each side of a rowed ship.

In addition to a fishing boat, there will be six 'types' of ships available in 0 A.D. Five of them will be available to general gameplay and one reserved to the map editor for campaign and scenario development. Not all civilisations will get all ships.


The bireme is the smallest pure "warship" available to players of 0ad.

The development of the Bireme enabled the shipbuilders to build a shorter ship than the pentekonter that would be more maneuverable than that monoreme, thus a savings was realised in materials, too. The literature says that the Carthaginians had the fastest biremes afloat. Biremes were early built as "Type I" and later, after Triremes came into their own, as "Type II", or the "New Bireme" which was much improved over the old and became yet again a formidable warship on the seas of the Mediterranean and Euxine (Black Sea).

Typically, the Greeks didn't carry more than about a dozen 'warfighters' aboard their ships unless a big battle was anticipated or an invasion about to take place - boarding ladders were mounted aft at the stern, coloured streamers on the flagstaff used to identify ships of the fleet could also have been used as a simple signaling device among ships.

'Achaean' (Phoenician) biremes also had boarding ladders mounted aft at the stern. They about 48-50 oarsmen. It's ram was sculptured to resemble a sea monster which was typical of the tales that the Phoenicians spread about the sea in an attempt to keep others fearful of it, or of exploring it to the extent that they had.

Smaller Greek era Biremes show ships that had 36 oars. Eyes were almost universally painted on the prows of their warships as a matter of announcing that here is a fierce sea 'monster' to be contended with.

Roman biremes typically had a siege tower located aft between mainmast and captain's tent - flying an SPQR ("Senate and People of Rome") banner from sternpost. This ship would have 16 oars to a side for 32 total oarsmen. The top tier of oarsmen were seated in a cantilever section that extends out away from a relatively narrow hull below and over the lower tier of oarsmen. This ship was typical of the "new bireme" which was smaller, thus more maneuverable, and cheaper to produce than the biremes spoken of above, but through redesign it was also much meaner, packing more power into a smaller, faster ship, and they were considerably cheaper than triremes which they could give a 'run for their money' through the employment of ships tactics… especially if they outnumbered them. Based on this, and the ship sketch shown below, this is the bireme that will be modeled for 0ad. With regard to the siege tower, game-wise, either 1 catapult or ballista can be mounted and unpacked, or a group of archers placed there on 'stand ground' stance to gain an additional elevation advantage in arrow shooting range. Because it is not possible to tactically smash oars in game-play (though ramming is very possible, and enhanced or diminished damage done depending upon the 'quarter' from which a ship is rammed), the boarding of troop units will take place between ships, when commanded to do so, when ships are in contact from the oars forward to the bow or oars aft toward the stern… as long as ships can be held in contact with one another, by the players, either human or AI.

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Through "texturing", the look of a ship in 0ad may be changed to reflect the civ that it serves. The 3d model above is a generic textured model of a low poly ship that will be used in the game. Ships are 3d objects in the game and don’t count against population cap.


The development of the trireme enabled a 'step up' from the bireme by arranging oars in three tiers, thus basically a bigger and faster ship could be built while still retaining a high degree of maneuverability and length approximately 50-55% of the old penteconter (single row of oarsmen) which was also about twice as long as a bireme. Although attempts were later made to go 'up' even more tiers of oars, those ships were found to be unwieldy and the tri-level of staggered oar ports long remained the epitome and standard for rowed ships. The literature indicates that the Greeks had the fastest triremes afloat. The trireme typically was manned by only up to 20 'marines'. It was probably the most formidable ship ever designed for fighting with a ram, and by 500 BC it was the standard heavy warship of the Greek city states; other civs of the Mediterranean region quickly learned from the Greek standard.

I found an image of an Eastern Mediterranean civ trireme with 'siege' towers forward and aft and boarding ladders that appears to have about 66 oarsmen, the siege tower located far forward appears to have a catapult mounted, the ram appears to be horizontally mounted with its three 'prongs' which would open a wider hole in a rammed ship, its anchor is hanging near the bow and just above that you can see one of two projections which are mounted high enough so that when ramming they smash into the deck line of the ship being attacked which also causes havoc for any units that might be placed there closest to the ship's contact point, there appears to be a 'crow's nest' lookout basket at the top of the mainmast (if that is what it is) though that wouldn't have been typical of ships of the time; I don't know what civ it might have belonged to (might just be someone's idea of a cool ship). It has a LOT of boarding ladder structure aboard so this ship was definitely one designed with assault in mind. This is the ship that the trireme for 0ad will be modeled upon. Its cool profile will make it distinctive and easily recognisable in the game. Game-wise, either a siege engine, catapult of ballista, can be mounted and unpacked on the siege tower, or archers stationed there to gain an additional elevation advantage in arrow firing range and LOS.

The sketch below is based on an Eastern Mediterranean civs trireme with siege towers fore and aft (aft not shown in the cutaway).

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Quinqueremes will be the largest warships available to the player, for the civs that get them, in the game 0 A.D.

Quinqueremes were large multi-purpose warships. Note that although there were many variations tried to build bigger and/or faster rowed ships (up to and including Ptolemy's ungainly and unseaworthy "40" which was based on two ships decked together catamaran style that had 4000 rowers capable of carrying many siege engines and 4000 troops), the most successful was the redesign of the trireme to be a larger, longer and wider ship, because again it had to be broadened so that an additional rower could be placed on two of the three tiers of oars. Thus each vertical row or 3 oars had 5 rowers (the bottom tier having but a single rower at each oar) and that’s where it gets its name, quinquereme. While all of the Mediterranean civs probably built "quinqs"(pronounce "kinks") for their navies, the Carthaginians probably built the most and the Romans finally got into that game by copying a captured Carthaginian quinq. Roman quinqs were not built to the quality standard of the Carthaginians but were used effectively against them when the Romans installed a spiked boarding ramp, called the Corvus (meaning "crow"-don't ask me why), that could be dropped to spike itself into the deck of an enemy ship and hold it fast while troops swarmed aboard from the attacking ship with resulting major successes being achieved… thus the quinq for the Romans was more of a BIG troop transport that could grapple at sea than it was a multi-use warship; however, for the most part they were multi-purpose.

The concept sketch below is of a Carthaginian quinquereme with 'siege' tower/platforms mounted foredeck and aft near the stern where below it may have also served as the captain's cabin. There is a cantilever "poop deck" extending rearward which may have also served the purpose of giving protection to the rudders as well as providing additional deck space where to place ranged or other troops in repelling boarding or in boarding another ship. This is the quinquereme from which the one in 0 A.D. will be modeled because it provides 'space' for at least 4 siege engines to be mounted, 2 forward and 2 aft, and yet provides lots of space for troop units and other members of the ship's complement on deck.

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Roman quinqueremes were sometimes fitted with corvus boarding ramp… which made them very unstable in stormy weather (meaning that quite a few sunk themselves). The Corvus cannot be implemented in 0 A.D. "Boarding" operations will instead take place from either about the bows or the stern, of warships in the game when ships are in contact with one another.

Large and Small Merchantmen

Typical merchantman of 300-100 BC: could be a large grain carrier or a Celtic ship suitable for travel in either shallow water or at deep sea. The Celtic ships although already strongest hulled as built of oak were often also banded with iron straps giving them added strength and durability. This ship will be modeled in 0 A.D. and tasked with multi-purpose functions such as trading, transport, or may sometimes even be used as a ‘light’ warship.

Here we show the sketch of a small merchantman typical of all civs Mediterranean area after 100 BC. This rig was quite common.

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And this sketch and rendering below are of the large merchantman, though I think that I’d like to yet see a ‘cabin’ placed on deck aft. This ship will also be modeled in 0 A.D. and given multi-purpose functionality.

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Finally, here is the concept sketch for a Viking ship that will be a scenario unit that will be accessible in the map editor for your custom scenarios.

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Wow those ships look awesome! Must... have... Naval battles!

Reply Good karma Bad karma+3 votes

Those ships are actually old versions... Like summer 2003. The newer ships are much better.

Reply Good karma Bad karma+2 votes

will the naval battles be the historical ram and board? which btw is lacking in almost all RTS's based on this timeframe

Reply Good karma Bad karma+1 vote

We plan to have at least ramming and possibly boarding/capturing.

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