The Battle of Alalia


The Battle of Alalia, ca. 540 BCE, took place in the Sardinian Sea between the Phocaeans and a coalition of Etruscans and Phoenicians. According to Herodotus (1.166.2) the Phocaeans with sixty galleys achieved a "Cadmeian victory," over the coalition forces consisting of one hundred and twenty galleys. Both sides presumably deployed biremes, penteconters with two levels of oarsmen. The Phocaeans, out-numbered two to one, did not resort to the traditional method of naval warfare: fighting from the decks of their galleys. Instead they reduced the odds against them by introducing the bronze ram, and naval maneuvers that included not only ramming but also the diekplous. Penteconters, however, were not ideally suited for such tactics. The Greeks had developed the trireme more than a century before Alalia but had deployed it in non-military situations. In the generation after Alalia, influenced by the lessons of that battle, they converted the trireme into a ramming machine, thus transforming naval warfare.