The Amazons were a tribe of warrior women who lived apart from men and faught fearlessly in battle. They even cut off their right breasts so that they would have more freedom to weild a sword or spear with their right arms during battle. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the Amazons lived in a city called Themiscyra along the Terme river near modern day Turkey.


  An anchor is a heavy object which is let down to the seabed from a ship, to keep it in one place when it is not sailing. In Ancient Greece large stones or baskets filled with stones were attached to a rope and used as anchors. Ancient legend has it that King Midas of Phrygia invented the anchor that we know today. It is said that Midas founded the city of Ancyra on the spot where he found an anchor in the ground. Midas named the new city Ancyra which means anchor in the Greek language. After this, anchors where used on ships to keep them fastened to one spot. Today Ancyra is called Ankara and is the capital of Turkey. 


Ancient Greek colonies

In ancient Greece, colonies were settlements or smaller cities which were founded by large city-states called metropolises.  Colonies were most commonly founded in order to extend Greek trade to different locations around the Mediterranean Sea.  Sometimes colonies were founded to make more room for people to live outside the metropolis. In addition, vanquished peoples could establish colonies of their own so that they would not have to live under foreign invaders as a result of war.


Biremes are ancient War Galleys with two banks of oars on either side of the ship. Biremes were about 24 metres long and were powered by 120 rowers.


City State (Polis), Citizen 

Ancient city-states were the first kind of cities where communities of people came together. It is important to understand that in Ancient times Greece was not a unified country- there was no single kingdom or nation called Greece. However, there were powerful cities known as poleis that grew and prospered due to trade. Citizen was the name given to a true and legal inhabitant of the polis. The government of the polis protected its citizens and it was believed that citizens should have a voice in the governance of the polis. This belief was the basis of democratic government. However, only male citizens had a say about decisions made by the government though their right to vote. Women and children citizens as well as slaves and foreigners did not have the right to vote in the polis.


A constellation is a group of stars which form an imaginary pattern resembling animals or mythological gods and creatures. Constellations are divided into two regions-the Northern and the Southern sky constellations. Because constellations are recognisable celestial bodies they have always been useful for sailors to navigate by. The Ancient Greek word for constellation is Astron.

Many of the constellations are named after ancient Greek mythology. These include: Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cetus, Cepheus, Pegasus, and Auriga), the Hercules family (Hercules, Sagitta, Aquila, Lyra, Cygnus, Hydra, Crater, Corvus, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Centaurus, Lupus, Corona Australis, and Ara), the Orion family (Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Lepus, Monoceros), the Zodiac family (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces), and the Ursa Major family (Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Canes Venatici, Boötes, and Corona Borealis). A constellation was even named after the Argo - Argo Navis. Can you see the ship in the stars?


A continent is a large and continuous mass of land which is mostly separated by water from other continents and lands. The seven continents of the modern-day world are Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Antarctica and Australia.

Figurehead (Akrostolia)

Figureheads are carved and painted wooden decorations at the prow (front) of ships. These decorations often come in the form of animals, mythological creatures and people. In ancient times figure heads were called akrostolia. The ancient akrostolia was often shaped as a shield, helmet, sea deity or animal. These decorations were located on the front of the ship to ward off evil or seek the favour of the gods.

The inclusion of figureheads in the design of ships suggested that sailors treated their vessels like living entities with personalities. For example, Ancient Greek ships often featured a boar or lion head as an akrostolia to show that their ship was quick sighted and ferocious. Eyes were also painted at the front ships to ward off bad luck, and because sailors believed their ship needed eyes to find its own way across the seas.

Greek Fire

Greek Fire was a weapon used on ancient galleys. The Greeks used a bronze tube (a siphon) to shoot a burst of fire out at an enemy ship. Greek Fire could not be put out with water. In fact, ancient records say that water made the fire worse and only sand would put it out!!! Historians are not clear about the recipe for this terrifying fire, however there is evidence that it contained resin from pine trees, quicklime, sulphur and calcium phosphate.


The Iliad is an epic poem written by the ancient Greek poet Homer in 762 BC. It tells of the legendary Seige of Troy by Greek forces.


Medusa is a dreadful mythical creature in Greek mythology with a human body, venomous snakes instead of hair and wings on her back. Medusa’s face was so hideous to behold that one glance would turn anyone to stone. However Perseus (the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Danae) succeeded in bringing an end to Medusa.  With the assistance of the gods, he killed Medusa in her sleep by severing her head.


A mercenary is a foreign and highly skilled soldier who is hired by an army for extra manpower. Mercenaries fought for money and not because they held loyalties to any country or group of people.

Navy/Naval force

A navy, also known as a naval force, is a millitary force at sea. Ancient Greek navies protected their city- states from enemies who came by sea including foreigners and local pirates too.  The ancient Athenian navy was developed by the politician and general Themistocles after the first Persian invasion of Greece (492BC-490BC). He believed that a strong naval force was important in preventing foreign invaders. At its largest, the navy of ancient Athens had a fleet of 400 ships. Most of these vessels were Triremes; wooden warships with three banks of oars. The Athenian navy would have had around 80,000 men rowing the ships and fighting enemies. Those who fought for the navy at sea and sometimes on land were the Marines, Hoplites and archers. The Marines acted to prevent their ship from being boarded  by an enemy and were responsible for attacking enemy ships.  Hoplites were master warriors who did most of the fighting when ships anchored and battles were faught on land. The Archers, as you can imagine, rapidly fired arrows at their enemies when ships approached each other.The most common formation of battle was the abreast formation.  This involved a strait battle line where the Triremes would be lined up side by side, facing their enemies. In this possition, the Triremes were ready to charge strait at foes with their rams, or sharp timbers sheathed in bronze which stuck out at the front of ships.

Oracle/ Oracle of Apollo at Delphi

In Ancient times an Oracle was a priestess or priest who received divine messages from the gods. These messages helped the priestess foretell people’s future and give them advice when they visited her at her temple. The Oracle of Delphi is one of the most famous ancient Oracles. The Ancient sanctuary (or sacred place of worship) of Delphi was built on the spot where the God Apollo killed the terrible snake called Pytho. For this reason, the sanctuary was dedicated to Apollo. The Oracle at Delphi was a woman priestess called Pythia, who sat on a tall tripod and awaited her visitors. It was thought that Apollo spoke though Pythia.



The Penteconter was a 50-oared ancient War Galley. It had a single row of 25 oars on each side and was one of the fist kind of galleys. It was used not only in battle but as a trading ship which carried cargo.


Poleremes were huge warships built in Carthage and ancient Rome. Some were big enough to have catapults stationed on deck! There is even an account a polyreme big enough for a 7000-man crew!! The Hexareme was one of the first kinds of polyremes with six levels of oars.


This is a diagram showing five levels or banks of oars on in a Quinquereme war ship. The Hexareme had six levels or oars.


A prophesy is a foretelling of the future. In ancient Greece wise mythical creatures and Oracles were believed to be able to tell the future and give advice to people. Have a look at the definition of Oracle to strengthen your understanding.



A Seer or mantis was a person in ancient Greek society who was believed to have the skills of foreseeing the future. Seers would read the signs of fate provided by the gods in many ways. For example to predict the fate of a battle between two armies, Seers examined the livers of sacrificed sheep and foretold which side would win. Usually Seers could answer only yes or no questions relating to peoples’ future. However, their advice was considered important in the everyday life of ancient people who could not always afford to visit an Oracle or had to travel too far to find one.


The transportation, exchange, selling and buying of goods. For example, in Ancient Greece Merchant ships would stock up on olive oil and wine to transport in ships to Egypt. In Egypt the Merchants would exchange or sell these goods for Egyption goods that they did not have in Greece, like Ivory (Elephant tusks).


The Trireme is a type of ancient War Galley which had three rows of oars on both sides. The rowers were seated in three tiers along the sides of the ship - a bit like a triple-decker bus if you can imagine that!! Ancient Triremes were 37 metres long and employed 180 rowers.

Triremes were the most common warships of the Mediterranean. They played a large role in the Persian Wars, particularly during the second Persian invasion of Greece (480-479BC) at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. Under the command of General Themistocles, the outnumbered Greek Triremes gave the Persians a decisive blow and won the Battle of Salamis.


War Galley

A galley is a kind of ancient ship which is propelled through the water with oars. These Ships had sails as well, however they were only used in favourable winds. The galley originated in the Mediterranean region in the second millennium BC. Ancient Greeks used galleys for transporting soldiers and for actual fighting at sea. War Galleys had to be streamline and fast, so they could get up close to an enemy ship and board her. Once aboard the enemy’s ship the warriors fought on the upper deck in hand to hand combat. The fiercest weapon a war galley had was the ram, a sharp timber sheathed in bronze which stuck out at the front (bow)of the ship. The ram would be used  to ‘ram’ into a foes’ ship, punctureing it so that it would sink. The galley ship type has been used right up to the early 1800’s in war, trade and often by pirate crews. Biremes, Triremes and Pentaconters are all kinds of ancient War Galleys.


© Hellenic Museum Argonauts Club