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The Roman Fleet

Roman Stuff

Roman Fleet 

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Roman Helmet Picture- airbrush illustration by Les Still

Early Roman Helmet

Roman fleets operated under the control of the army.The principle role of the fleet was transport of men and supplies in support of the army. Roman fleets comprised both oared galley warships and sail powered merchantmen.

Vespasian raised the status of the Roman navy. The sailors were normally freemen not slaves as so commonly depicted. There were never very few Italians in the Roman fleet, the majority of the sailors appear to have originally come from the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. In two Roman fleets, Misene and Ravennate, one modern authority found only four percent were Italian in origin. One of the largest 'national' groups, over twelve percent, were Egyptian; but all the sea faring peoples of the eastern Mediterranean are represented.

However as with the army, the later roman navy would have been manned with men local to the province where the ships served.

In AD70 the fleet supplied Agricola in his campaigns in Scotland.


The first mention we have of units of a provincial British fleet, Classis Britannica, under a prefect, praefectus classis Britannicae,  occur as early as the reign of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD).

The Classis Britannica operated out of various harbours around the British coast both as protection against pirates and as part of the trade network. A mosaic from the 4 Th. C. temple at Lydney on the northern side of the Severn estuary mentions a 'PRAEFECTUS RELIQATIONIS' - a naval officer.


There was very little, if any, significant difference between the ships of the Roman fleet and those of the tin traders.

The fleet was much expanded to meet the Saxon threat. 

 Carausius was appointed to command the fleet by the emperor Maximus. When the emperor dismissed him for being too successful, Carausius led his fleet to Britain and had himself declared emperor. Protected by his fleet and the sea he was practically unassailable and he was recognized as co -emperor by Rome286AD to



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