The Greece by the fifth century B.C. had transformed the oared war galley into the most deadly naval weapon of the age. The Greek trireme, powered by three banks of oars on each side, shattered the mighty fleet of Persia in the famous sea battle of Salamis (September 21, 480 B.C.) in which over 200 Persian ship were lost in exchange for less than 40 Greek ones.
Though the trireme carried masts for sailing when was in the right direction, it fought under oars. It’s 170 rowers were not salves but free men, working to cripple enemy ship by smashing off their oars. Once this had been done, the trireme closed in to allow the soldiers and archers on its upper fighting deek to board and capture the enemy ship.
After the great victory over Persia st Salamis, there were many sea fights between trireme fleets in the long wars between Athens and Sparta (460-404 B.C.), which ended with the last Athenian fleet beaten at Aegospotami in 405 B.C.). Heavier galleys gradually replaced the trieme.