Set sail on the wine blue sea

 gallantg1There was a huge toy store on Marion Street in Oak Park, and one December my parents bought a very special toy.  It was a Roman vessel, a monoreme, a one masted oar driven vessel.   The photo on the left is an exact replica except my ship was far more realistic, for the wood was white and the railings brown.   The oars moved back and forth like there were miniature galley slaves deep in the hull.  The ship moved along the ground with every sweep of the oars.   

This is a monoreme.    One of the best descriptions of this type of ship I saw on the Fine Scale Modeler Website. 

It is called a monoreme. It was a small warship that had only one bank of oars. The ship that was in the famous scenes in the movie Ben Hur was a Trireme. It had three sets of oars. That is why there were three men to a bench. The monoreme which had one man to a bench would be equivalent to a frigate or destroyer whereas the trireme would be the Roman equivalent to a battleship. The castle was actually built of stone and was where the archers would have fired from in close combat after the ship had rammed its opponent with the bow ram. Naval battle back then was like siege warfare at sea. They came alongside and fought like two mobile fortresses. The tactic of simply staying at a distance and sinking your enemy with cannon fire (or catapults as the Roman biremes and triremes were equipped with) did not appear until Elizabethan England. The mighty Spanish Armada then still used the siege warfare doctrine which was completely ineffective unless you grapple with your enemy. The British stayed away from the bigger Spanish Galleons and sank them with long range cannon fire. From then, Britannia ruled the waves.

Getting back to Rome, the monoremes were used for shore patrols and escort duties protecting the Roman merchant ships from pirates and the like. They were built for speed and agility rather than brute force and they were not equipped for long voyages like the “Scourge of Poseidon” as the Romans called their main fleet.

The toy had soldiers to place on the deck, and a ballista (powered by rubber bands) that shot small boulders.  Some kids got dump trucks for Christmas, some got dolls, I got a Roman Galley.   My brother and I still have running arguments on who it really belonged to.

At that time my house had blue carpeting.  To a kid it was like a vast ocean spreading throughout the house.  Near the front door the stairs came down from the second floor.   The stairs were carpeted as well, and it gave the illusion of a vast cascading water fall coming down to my own personal, enclosed, front room sea.  So you can imagine how my imagination was fired up.    My brother and I attacked islands, raided pirates, and destroyed sea-locked castles made from wooden blocks.  Two lounge chairs in the living room were the Pillars of Hercules.

It was a great toy.  

Somehow it got lost.  I thought I still had it many years back, but a memory of it sitting out by the garbage cans still haunt me once in a while.   Every few years Dad cleaned out the attic. 

One day I actually saw it up on ebay.  Was it the same ship?  Could it be? It was the same color, and certainly in better condition, but there would be no way to tell.   I even bid on it until the price skyrocketed to $200.00. 


  Roman_ship_full-458x450Now, that I’m older, my tastes have becoming more sophisticated.  The picture to the left is something that has tempted me of late. Look at the lines on this baby.  The color.  The realism is breathtaking.

I wonder how this one would fare on that ocean carpet years ago.  I wonder how it would fare on a wine blue sea, attacking sea-locked castles.

I just wish the oars worked.  Well, nothing could beat out REMCO when it came to stuff like that.


  • Jack Ahola · December 11, 2013 · 2:52 pm

    Here is something I posted on Little Wars a few years ago.

    My main figures for Roman toy soldiers came with Big Caesar in the
    early 1960s. They were great figures for mass display and I wish a
    modern manufacturer would make a similar marching Roman with shield
    and pilum with the segmented armor and the Hollywood type helmet.

    I had two main play areas. I would use the original Big Caesar box,
    along with the large boxes for Mighty Matilda, the Sea Raider, and
    the Barracuda submarine. Each box would be placed together like
    giant stairs. I would then place the pillared porticos from the
    Marx Civil War mansions on them along with cylinder shaped blocks
    and make a kind of Acropolis looking thing. This was my Ancient

    The second area was the Teutoburg Forest of Germany using the trees
    from the Marx Civil War, Battleground Europe, and Knights sets. The
    Remco Romans were organized into two legions, convenient since Big
    Caesar had a red and gray army. I wasn’t too fond of the Roman
    Civil Wars so I needed a barbarian enemy. Enter the Marx Vikings
    from my castle playset! I used Marx Roman WOW figures for my Roman
    command and WOW Vikings for the barbarian leaders. I think Haakon
    and Olaf were the barbarians and Maximus and some others were for
    the Romans. The hard plastic WOW bow, swords and spears didn’t last
    too long! The scales of these figures was totally different with
    the Remco Romans being smaller than the Marx Vikings and the Marx
    WOW towering over all! Somehow that didn’t matter.

    Each side was painted with gloss colors. The tunics were white with
    red trim. Helmets were silver with red crests and the armor gold.
    The WOW were already painted of course.

    My sources for the paint jobs were the 1961 World Book which had a
    color page of Roman soldiers. Also my Classics Illustrated Caesar’s
    Conquests which had excellent pictures throughout. I even had
    Tullus comics in Sunday School to use! What great memories of a
    different time.

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