The trireme boat Olympias

Trireme Trust

The archive of the Trireme Trust, founded by our first President, John Morrison, is held at Wolfson College.

The trireme boat Olympias

The Trireme Trust

Our founding President, John Morrison, established the Trireme Trust in 1982 in order to pursue extensive and ground-breaking research into the ancient Greek Trireme, the most important warship of the ancient Mediterranean world. His collaboration with the naval architect John Coates and writer Frank Welsh resulted in the building and launch in 1987 by the Hellenic Navy of a full-scale reconstruction, the Olympias, powered in accordance with the ancient evidence by 170 oars arranged over three levels. A series of six sea-trials between 1987 and 1994 demonstrated that the ship could be rowed efficiently and fast, despite almost universal academic opinion that a three-level arrangement of oars was wholly impracticable.

From 1994 to 2017, the Trireme Trust was dedicated to disseminating information about the ship as widely as possible, through publications, lectures to schools and historical/archaeological societies, supply of photographic images, and television and press interviews, and to carrying out further research based on the sea-trials. The Trust has published all the sea trials undertaken between 1987 and 1994, together with a considerable body of further research based on the data produced by those trials; see most recently Trireme Olympias: The Final Report (Oxbow, Oxford, 2012), and the second edition of The Athenian Trireme (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

In 2017, the Council of the Trireme Trust decided, with considerable regret and reluctance, to wind up the Trust. Olympias was no longer structurally capable of being used for experimental sea-trials, even though she continues to be maintained by the Hellenic Navy, and still fulfils an important part of her intended role in educating the public about the ancient world, visited by thousands each year at the Battleship Averof Floating Naval Museum in Faliro, Greece. We are delighted that the Trireme Trust chose Wolfson College as the permanent home for their archive.

The archive includes:

  • The genesis of the project, including correspondence in The Times in 1975, related articles, correspondence, notes of meetings, press cuttings, drawings, and photographs.
  • Governance records, including the Trust Deed, minutes of Company meetings (annual and extraordinary); notes of the appointments of new Trustees; minutes of meetings of the Council of Trustees; statutory accounts and financial statements; register of members.
  • The construction of Olympias, including drawings, plans, photographs, sketches, correspondence, submissions relating to the building and financing of the reconstruction and the rowing, sailing and crewing of the vessel Olympias; finding a location for the trials, recruiting and training the crew.
  • The first sea trials in the Aegean in 1987; subsequent trials in the Aegean in 1990, 1992 and 1994; and the visit to the Thames in 1993.
  • Material relating to the period from the final sea trials in 1994 to 2017: Research and refinement of the design and specification; the possibility of computer modelling of construction, performance, and battle tactics; the possibility of building another vessel (Olympias Mk II); the conservation and repair of the vessel; the possibility of further trials of the existing vessel; the possible use of the vessel at the Olympic Games and in celebrations of the 2500th anniversary of the battle of Salamis (480 BC) in 2021.
  • Material relating to the period 2017-2018: acceptance that Olympias, is no longer structurally capable of being used for experimental sea-trials, and there is unlikely to be further use or restoration of the vessel; decision to dissolve the Trust and wind-up the Company; the permanent deposit of the archive at Wolfson College.

For further information, please search the catalogue or contact the Archivist, Frieda Midgley.