Wisconsin Rowing Team to Host 4,000 Boat Re-Enactment of Epic Ancient Naval Battle

The UW rowing team annonced they would re-enact The Battle of Salamis, an epic ancient naval battle.

The Battle of Salamis was a naval engagement in 480 B.C. between the Persian Empire and the allied Greek city-states during the First Peloponnesian War. The most widely known battle of the war was the final stand of the 300, where 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas held a mountain pass at Thermopylae against 150,000 Persian infantrymen under King Xerxes.

“There are other battles just as badass as that,” an official tweet from the UW-Madison Department of Ancient History stated Monday. “It is fitting that our sports teams pay them tribute. We couldn’t be happier that #UWCrew is re-enacting #theBattleofSalamis #480BC.”

Triremes, the traditional oared warring galleys of ancient Mediterranean civilizations, were three-tiered warships designed to ram and sink enemy vessels. Triremes were used in pre-A.D. societies from Crete to Phoenicia, and were the main vessels used by the fleets at Salamis.

“We’re trying to replicate the triremes,” Assistant Rigger Matt Sullivan said. “It won’t be as accurate as we’d like. We only have one tier of oars to work with per eight, so that’s a concern. We’re using every shell and every rower in the boathouse to make this work.”

Schools invited include the University of Washington, Boston University and Syracuse University. The event will be co-ed. Coxswains (navigators) have been briefed on ramming angles, ramming speed and the proper locations to ram in order to sink an enemy vessel.

“It’s the closest thing we can get to what actually happened back in 480 B.C.,” Sullivan says. “The first athletic competition ever recorded was a rowing race on the Nile in ancient Egypt. It’s fitting that we recognize the origins of our sport.”

“The uniforms were tricky,” Assistant Event Choreographer Jamie Blanton said. “We had to adapt the designs of ancient armor with modern spandex and stretch unitsuits, which are standard for NCAA competition. We had to keep school colors consistent across fleets as well.”

Damages from the engagement are expected to run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A single top-grade racing eight can cost up to $55,000, and numerous athletic department administrators have voiced concerns about the practicality of an event dedicated to sinking and destroying the vessels.

“Thankfully, these racing shells really don’t sink,” Sullivan said. “The carbon fiber composites they’re constructed from ensure they stay afloat, even when punctured by an enemy ram in the midst of engagement.

“The athletes sometimes get swamped during practice,” Sullivan added, “and then they’re stuck floating until they get rescued by a coach on a motor launch. But here, there are no coaches. There are no launches. There are no rescues. This is history.”

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