Roman Imperial Navy

Classis Romanum (Latin)
Marina Imperiale Roma (Latina Nova)

RIN flag.png
Flag of the RIN
General statistics
Type of Organisation Military division
Affiliation Roman Empire
Branches Imperial Navy Special Corps

Imperial Marines Corps

Established 311 BCE
Disestablished N/A
Sister organisations Roman Army

Imperial Internal Intelligence Division
Imperial Secret Intelligence Service

The Roman Imperial Navy (Latina Nova: Marina Imperiale Roma, abbrieviated as RIN or MIR) is the maritime military division of the Roman Empire. It is the second oldest division of the Roman miitary, after the Army and was founded in 311 BCE. It is jointly headed by the two Duumviri of the Navy. The positions a currently held by Admiralia Antonius Navitus and Octavius Milius.

History[edit | edit source]

Old Navy (311 BCE - 330 CE)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Old Roman Navy
This text is based on Roman navy from Wikipedia, licensed under CC-BY-SA.

The Imperial Navy, in the form of the Republican Fleet (Latin: Classis Romana) was established in 311 BCE with the creation of the two offices of Duumviri navales classis ornandae reficiendaeque causa. These two positions still stand in the modern navy, but with the shortened name of Duumvir of the Navy. The Old Navy was never really important in the Roman military, as it always was an adjunct to the Army, which at the time held much more prestige.

The first Roman expedition outside mainland Italy was against the island of Sicily in 265 BC. This led to the outbreak of hostilities with Carthage, which would last until 241 BC. At the time, the Punic city was the unchallenged master of the western Mediterranean, possessing a long maritime and naval experience and a large fleet. Although Rome had relied on her legions for the conquest of Italy, operations in Sicily had to be supported by a fleet, and the ships available by Rome's allies were insufficient. Thus in 261 BC, the Roman Senate set out to construct a fleet of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes. According to Polybius, the Romans seized a shipwrecked Carthaginian quinquereme, and used it as a blueprint for their own ships. The new fleets were commanded by the annually elected Roman magistrates, but naval expertise was provided by the lower officers, who continued to be provided by the socii, mostly Greeks. This practice was continued until well into the Empire, something also attested by the direct adoption of numerous Greek naval terms.

Despite the massive buildup, the Roman crews remained inferior in naval experience to the Carthaginians, and could not hope to match them in naval tactics, which required great manoeuvrability and experience. They therefore employed a novel weapon which transformed sea warfare to their advantage. They equipped their ships with the corvus, possibly developed earlier by the Syracusans against the Athenians. This was a long plank with a spike for hooking onto enemy ships. Using it as a boarding bridge, marines were able to board an enemy ship, transforming sea combat into a version of land combat, where the Roman legionaries had the upper hand. However, it is believed that the corvus' weight made the ships unstable, and could capsize a ship in rough seas.

Although the first sea engagement of the war, the Battle of the Lipari Islands in 260 BC, was a defeat for Rome, the forces involved were relatively small. Through the use of the corvus, the fledgling Roman navy under Gaius Duilius won its first major engagement later that year at the Battle of Mylae. During the course of the war, Rome continued to be victorious at sea: victories at Sulci (258 BC) and Tyndaris (257 BC) were followed by the massive Battle of Cape Ecnomus, where the Roman fleet under the consuls Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius inflicted a severe defeat on the Carthaginians. This string of successes allowed Rome to push the war further across the sea to Africa and Carthage itself. Continued Roman success also meant that their navy gained significant experience, although it also suffered a number of catastrophic losses due to storms, while conversely, the Carthaginian navy suffered from attrition.

The Battle of Drepana in 249 BC resulted in the only major Carthaginian sea victory, forcing the Romans to equip a new fleet from donations by private citizens. In the last battle of the war, at Aegates Islands in 241 BC, the Romans under Gaius Lutatius Catulus displayed superior seamanship to the Carthaginians, notably using their rams rather than the now-abandoned corvus to achieve victory.

After the Roman victory, the balance of naval power in the Western Mediterranean had shifted from Carthage to Rome.[15] This ensured Carthaginian acquiescence to the conquest of Sardinia and Corsica, and also enabled Rome to deal decisively with the threat posed by the Illyrian pirates in the Adriatic. The Illyrian Wars marked Rome's first involvement with the affairs of the Balkan peninsula.[16] Initially, in 229 BC, a fleet of 200 warships was sent against Queen Teuta, and swiftly expelled the Illyrian garrisons from the Greek coastal cities of modern-day Albania.[15] Ten years later, the Romans sent another expedition in the area against Demetrius of Pharos, who had rebuilt the Illyrian navy and engaged in piracy up into the Aegean. Demetrius was supported by Philip V of Macedon, who had grown anxious at the expansion of Roman power in Illyria.[17] The Romans were again quickly victorious and expanded their Illyrian protectorate, but the beginning of the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) forced them to divert their resources westwards for the next decades.

Due to Rome's command of the seas, Hannibal, Carthage's great general, was forced to eschew a sea-borne invasion, instead choosing to bring the war over land to the Italian peninsula. Unlike the first war, the navy played little role on either side in this war. The only naval encounters occurred in the first years of the war, at Lilybaeum (218 BC) and the Ebro River (217 BC), both resulting Roman victories. Despite an overall numerical parity, for the remainder of the war the Carthaginians did not seriously challenge Roman supremacy. The Roman fleet was hence engaged primarily with raiding the shores of Africa and guarding Italy, a task which included the interception of Carthaginian convoys of supplies and reinforcements for Hannibal's army, as well as keeping an eye on a potential intervention by Carthage's ally, Philip V. The only major action in which the Roman fleet was involved was the siege of Syracuse in 214-212 BC with 130 ships under Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The siege is remembered for the ingenious inventions of Archimedes, such as mirrors that burned ships or the so-called "Claw of Archimedes", which kept the besieging army at bay for two years. A fleet of 160 vessels was assembled to support Scipio Africanus' army in Africa in 202 BC, and, should his expedition fail, evacuate his men. In the event, Scipio achieved a decisive victory at Zama, and the subsequent peace stripped Carthage of its fleet.

Rome was now the undisputed mistress of the Western Mediterranean, and turned her gaze from defeated Carthage to the Hellenistic world. Small Roman forces had already been engaged in the First Macedonian War, when, in 214 BC, a fleet under Marcus Valerius Laevinus had successfully thwarted Philip V from invading Illyria with his newly built fleet. The rest of the war was carried out mostly by Rome's allies, the Aetolian League and later the Kingdom of Pergamon, but a combined Roman-Pergamene fleet of ca. 60 ships patrolled the Aegean until the war's end in 205 BC. In this conflict, Rome, still embroiled in the Punic War, was not interested in expanding her possessions, but rather in thwarting the growth of Philip's power in Greece. The war ended in an effective stalemate, and was renewed in 201 BC, when Philip V invaded Asia Minor. A naval battle off Chios ended in a costly victory for the Pergamene-Rhodian alliance, but the Macedonian fleet lost many warships, including its flagship, a deceres. Soon after, Pergamon and Rhodes appealed to Rome for help, and the Republic was drawn into the Second Macedonian War. In view of the massive Roman naval superiority, the war was fought on land, with the Macedonian fleet, already weakened at Chios, not daring to venture out of its anchorage at Demetrias. After the crushing Roman victory at Cynoscephalae, the terms imposed on Macedon were harsh, and included the complete disbandment of her navy.

Almost immediately following the defeat of Macedon, Rome became embroiled in a war with the Seleucid Empire. This war too was decided mainly on land, although the combined Roman-Rhodian navy also achieved victories over the Seleucids at Myonessus and Eurymedon. These victories, which were invariably concluded with the imposition of peace treaties that prohibited the maintenance of anything but token naval forces, spelled the disappearance of the Hellenistic royal navies, leaving Rome and her allies unchallenged at sea. Coupled with the final destruction of Carthage, and the end of Macedon's independence, by the latter half of the 2nd century BC, Roman control over all of what was later to be dubbed mare nostrum ("our sea") had been established. Subsequently, the Roman navy was drastically reduced, depending on its Greek allies to supply ships and crews as needed.

In the absence of a strong naval presence however, piracy flourished throughout the Mediterranean, especially in Cilicia, but also in Crete and other places, further reinforced by money and warships supplied by King Mithridates VI of Pontus, who hoped to enlist their aid in his wars against Rome.[24] In the First Mithridatic War (89–85 BC), Sulla had to requisition ships wherever he could find them to counter Mithridates' fleet. Despite the makeshift nature of the Roman fleet however, in 86 BC Lucullus defeated the Pontic navy at Tenedos.

Immediately after the end of the war, a permanent force of ca. 100 vessels was established in the Aegean from the contributions of Rome's allied maritime states. Although sufficient to guard against Mithridates, this force was totally inadequate against the pirates, whose power grew rapidly. Over the next decade, the pirates defeated several Roman commanders, and raided unhindered even to the shores of Italy, reaching Rome's harbor, Ostia. According to the account of Plutarch, "the ships of the pirates numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred." Their activity posed a growing threat for the Roman economy, and a challenge to Roman power: several prominent Romans, including two praetors with their retinue and the young Julius Caesar, were captured and held for ransom. Perhaps most important of all, the pirates disrupted Rome's vital lifeline, namely the massive shipments of grain and other produce from Africa and Egypt that were needed to sustain the city's population.

The resulting grain shortages were a major political issue, and popular discontent threatened to become explosive. In 74 BC, with the outbreak of the Third Mithridatic War, Marcus Antonius (the father of Mark Antony) was appointed praetor with extraordinary imperium against the pirate threat, but signally failed in his task: he was defeated off Crete in 72 BC, and died shortly after. Finally, in 67 BC the Lex Gabinia was passed in the Plebeian Council, vesting Pompey with unprecedented powers and authorizing him to move against them. In a massive and concerted campaign, Pompey cleared the seas from the pirates in only three months. Afterwards, the fleet was reduced again to policing duties against intermittent piracy.

In 56 BC, for the first time a Roman fleet engaged in battle outside the Mediterranean. This occurred during Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars, when the maritime tribe of the Veneti rebelled against Rome. Against the Veneti, the Romans were at a disadvantage, since they did not know the coast, and were inexperienced in fighting in the open sea with its tides and currents. Furthermore, the Veneti ships were superior to the light Roman galleys. They were built of oak and had no oars, being thus more resistant to ramming. In addition, their greater height gave them an advantage in both missile exchanges and boarding actions. In the event, when the two fleets encountered each other in Quiberon Bay, Caesar's navy, under the command of D. Brutus, resorted to the use of hooks on long poles, which cut the halyards supporting the Veneti sails. Immobile, the Veneti ships were easy prey for the legionaries who boarded them, and fleeing Veneti ships were taken when they became becalmed by a sudden lack of winds. Having thus established his control of the English Channel, in the next years Caesar used this newly built fleet to carry out two invasions of Britain.


New Navy (330 - Present)[edit | edit source]

The navy was re-established in its present form in 330 CE by Anastasius I. This new navy would play a far greater role in the defence of the Empire than its predecessor. It was also well-respected during the Roman exploration and colonisation eras.


RIN today[edit | edit source]

Ranks[edit | edit source]

This is a list of ranks, in order, with their English meanings.

  • Tironem (Recruit)
  • Sub-Locumtenente (Sub-Lieutenant)
  • Locumtenente (Lieutenant)
  • Inperator Locumtenente (Lieutenant-Commander)
  • Inperator (Commander)
  • Navarchus (Captain)
  • Rerum (Commodore)
  • Admirallus Tergo (Rear Admiral)
  • Sub-Admirallus (Vice Admiral)
  • Admirallus (Admiral)
  • Admirallus Classis (Admiral of the Fleet)

See Also[edit | edit source]

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