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goldfinger0303 t1_jcl57ut wrote

Boarding wasn't as common for most navies until the Roman navy with the corvus. So I would say it's not an aide


MeatballDom t1_jcmaw29 wrote

That's not accurate, as someone else mentioned the grappling hooks were very common, and the entire idea of the corvus being a specific boarding bridge comes only from Polybius, and is not really accepted as the mainstream theory anymore (though of course Wallinga was incredible for the work he did in regards to the theory). Polybius and the corvus is a bit of an enigma as a whole, can get into it a bit more if you want, but overall remember he's writing well after events.

As for boarding before the First Punic War, it was common. Look at depictions of Athenian naval warfare in the 5th century, which we have a good chunk of. Ships get stuck together, marines (ἐπιβάται) could then fight ship to ship. During the Sicilian Expedition we see the Sicilians prepare to use boarding hooks (one of the older, but still acceptable arguments for what a corvus was) and the Athenians already familiar enough of them to counter them with animal hides which would make it difficult for the hooks to grab on.

You also see these strategy employed elsewhere not long after Rome in areas that would not have been familiar with the corvus, typically with groups associated with piracy, the Illyrians, etc. who would deliberately plant traps to allow them closer access to ships to board them and take them over. These seem to have been the norm for them, and plays a major role in the First Illyrian War.


goldfinger0303 t1_jcmz00o wrote

I should've been a little more specific. I'm aware of the battles of the Athenian navy and antiquity in general. However, using the ram as a boarding aide was not common. So the person I replied to who said the ram could be used as a boarding aide is wrong...up until the invention of the corvus.

However this is the first I'm hearing about Polybius not being accepted as mainstream anymore.


MeatballDom t1_jcoi84a wrote

Sorry if you get two notifications, hit send too soon...

Yes, correct, the ram was not primarily used as a boarding device. But other boarding devices did exist that were primarily used for that purpose well before the First Punic War.

Polybius speaks up the beauty of the corvus, it plays a major role in a couple of battles, and then disappears very quickly, it's a bit of an enigma. Though we need to keep in mind that Polybius wasn't even born until 67 years or so after the First Punic War started, and not in Rome until about 95 years after. There's zero expectation that he's going to know the exact actions occurring during each naval battle (and this is the case for most naval battles in antiquity), but he can create a really good narrative. His objective is, after all, to talk about how Rome became the greatest power. He states this outright in his work so it's not exactly some hidden bias.

He also creates this dichotomy of where Rome is apparently only entering the sea for the first time at the start of this war, but also reportedly had naval treaties with Carthage dating back to the start of the Republic. As it is written, it doesn't make much sense. Perhaps he's speaking of Rome as more of a unified state, perhaps, but this story does match similarly to what other Greek historians did with navies (Herodotus and Athens for example). We definitely know there's more going on there though, and from the 70s onward we really start to question Polybius on this. But it wouldn't really be until with Steinby throwing down the gauntlet to challenge historians in 2007, and it picking up steam from about 2017 onwards with Harris and others that we started to really try and figure out what was going on if not what Polybius was describing. Projects like the Egadi's Island project and studies on iconography have helped to slowly morph our understanding but there's still a lot of unknowns; the evidence for this era was just not great. I know there's a few projects in the works at the moment that should hopefully make things a bit more clear though, but cannot comment too much as they are still unpublished.

As for the corvus: Campbell argues it was a grappling hook (he wasn't the first but he's the only one that comes to mind right now), and de Souza and others have discussed how similar hooks were called corvii in later Roman works but long after. I do think Lazenby is correct to say we need to be careful with these later named tools, but there's still plenty of reason to question whether it was a grappling hook in these earlier instances as we know they are using these in Sicily and obvious Sicily has a large impact on seafaring in the region. Polybius described some other siege weaponry almost exactly like he described the corvus later in his work, this may show where some of the inspiration for how he imagined the corvus came from.

This is not to say that we need to bin Polybius, again there's not a lot of evidence from the period and Polybius is incredibly important to our understanding of this period. But we do need to be a bit careful and not take everything he says as gospel. As stated before, Wallinga's work on the corvus and investigating Polybius from a scientific standpoint was a good step forward as well, but the era was still dominated by traditionalists and for the longest time Polybius was gospel.

Writing this quickly on my phone so hopefully not too chaotic, excuse any errors.


War_Hymn t1_jclqlam wrote

Where did you hear that? They used grappling hooks to pull and tethered ships. Its not like Age of Sail ships used a corvus device, but boarding was still common.


goldfinger0303 t1_jcmyijh wrote

You don't board from the front of the ship??? You grapple it and pull it side by side. People weren't hopping over the bow.

The corvus was unique because you could ram, stun the crew, drop the corvus and charge.