The Vësiairan (Plural: Vësiairiran) was the principle naval vessel of the Empire for much of its early history, serving as a warship, a transport and a cargo/trade ship. An advanced bireme design, the Vësiairan was the natural outgrowth of the trade-oriented, culturally-meritime city-states which dominated the Imperial Peninsula and were united into the Empire.
Many Vësiairan-like designs were used by these pre-Imperial civilizations, primarily for coastal and river-borne trade. Out of all of them, only the largest & wealthiest city-state, Aquilaea (which would, with the rise of the Empire, be expanded into the Imperial City, its capital) could afford to maintain a force of dedicated warships. The other ten Great Cities and various minor polities simply employed trade vessels for war as necessary.
The term Vësiairan or any such similar words did not exist prior to the formation of the Empire, as the Imperial language itself was created by Markus to serve as a common tongue among his new state's various cultures and sub-states. However, vessels named using the same terminology conventions did exist. Vësiairan means, simply, "four rowers": ships of the Imperial Peninsula's various polities were generally referred to by something similar.
In the Vësiairan's particular case, "Four Rowers" refers to the fact that it has two banks of oars per side and two oarsmen crewing each. It was designed by a commission of maritime authorities drawn from all the major port cities and ocean-going peoples of the Empire, combining the best traits of their respective homelands' own pre-Imperial vessels.
In the Empire's early days, the Vësiairan pushed the technological capabilities of its creators and manufacturers. Although most all the cultures of the world known to the Empire at the time had similar such vessels, none of them fielded ships that offered quite the optimized performance and level of thought as the Vësiairan. It was generally larger than the mainstay ships of rival nations, handled better in rough weather, and made use of top-quality, standardized materials and parts (centralized, uniform manufacturing being a radical new concept which its Imperial builders introduced). As the Empire's technological base rapidly advanced, however, it came to be a common and trivial ship. Its production grew progressively more routine and inexpensive, and it was gradually supplemented - but never really supplanted - by larger, more sea-worthy ships able to carry more offensive weaponry and sustain longer voyages at sea.
The Vësiairan is a bireme: that is, it has two banks of oars per side. More precisely, however, it is a quadrireme, i.e. a "four", as each oar is manned by a pair of rowers. This is because the maximum practical number of oar banks on such a ship design is three: thus, anything higher than "trireme" refers not to additional banks of oars, but to additional crewmen manning them.
Most rival ship designs to the Vësiairan were triremes or quinquiremes. That is, they had three banks of oars (with one oarsman each on the trireme and, in the case of the quinquireme, two oarsmen on each of the lower banks and one on the uppermost bank). However, having a third bank of oars required outriggers to be constructed atop the hull of the ship, limiting deck space. The Vësiairan dispenses with this shortcoming through the quality of its construction and a somewhat greater reliance on sails for motive power (coupled with more effective and controllable sails), allowing a vessel that is larger but proportionally lighter and less labor-intensive to move.A Vësiairan was 60 meters long with a sloping tumblehome hull (the hull sloped outward, becoming wider closer to the waterline), and protruded perhaps 3 meters above the water without the inclusion of its sails, masts or rigging (which were generally quite a bit more sophisticated and prominent than those of foreign vessels). This unique hull shape increased both its handling characteristics and its internal space. The beam / widilth was approximately 8 meters at its widest. It was equipped with two triangular-rigged Lateen sails and a similarly-rigged headsail, such as the vessel in the picture to the right.
The Vësiairan had two decks below the main one, each housing one bank of rowers per side. This severly limited its internal volume, making long voyages of much more than a few days (assuming non-combat conditions on limited rations) impossible without regular access to ports or the support of a supply vessel. However, each was equipped with a large metal pot for boiling and desalinating water, saving more room for the stowage of food. By contrast, the triremes of other nations could not manage voyages longer than one day and did not have the space to spare for a desalinating stove.
A Vësiairan could, unlike most other similar vessels, cruise effectively under the power of its sails, thus preserving its oarsmen for when higher speeds were necessary or for battle. Its greatest disadvantage compared to smaller foreign triremes was perhaps its 100 tonne displacement. The lighter, smaller triremes could normally be brought ashore and beached by their crews each night while they camped and foraged for food. The Vësiairan could, however, be rather burdensomely dragged ashore by its sailors using chains and anchored in the shallows, although only when the conditions of the terrain permitted it - making this a rather undesirable, if commonly resorted to, state of affairs.
Normally, the Vësiairan carried 72 marines among a total compliment of somewhat over 300 men, most of the rest of whom (240) were oarsmen. They had a capacity for a full 144-strong Company of marines, although this would crowd the top deck and make both sailing and combat rather difficult (as such, special transport variants of the vessel were normally used for this). The Vësiairan's shallow draft also made the navigation of rivers quite easy, and many of the major water routes of the modern Empire were first mapped and navigated by these ancient vessels. In fact, as the Empire expanded, entire fleets of the ships were created for purely inland operations along major rivers (the ancestor formations to the modern Empire's gunboat flotillas).
In battle, the Vësiairan's heaviest armament was its two bolt-throwers. One of these powerful weapons was mounted at either end of the ship's axis on raised fighting platforms. They were used to fire the specialized Hartiror grapnels as often as bolts, pulling enemy vessels in close for bombardment or boarding. The primary offensive mechanism was the ship's marine compliment. Each of these soldiers carried a shield, a sword and a specialized crossbow designed specifically for nautical warfare. In addition, the Vësiairan had a prow-mounted ram, although this was seldom used offensively, especially as the sophistication of Imperial technology advanced and the ships were supplemented with larger vessels better suited to acting as firing platforms. Rather, the ram's primary purpose was to prevent collision with underwater rocks or sandbars, and was generally viewed as a weapon of last resort. Furthermore, once the mixture known as "Markian Fire" was developed, a projecting siphon for this incendiary liquid was incorporated into the bow of the design. This rapidly proved to be one of the Empire's most potent naval weapons, as the chemical flames would burn even on the surface of the water and could be projected from the siphon across significant distances.
The principle variant of the Vësiairan was a transport which eliminated the second deck of rowers. Instead, banks of oars were mounted on its top deck (much like the uppermost deck of a trireme) and operated by the Marine compliment. This enabled the transport to carry additional troops in the third deck, where the second deck of rowers would normally be located, allowing the comfortable transport of a full 144-strong marine unit or detatchments of Army troops (who would have had to work the oar banks on the top deck). Understandably, because only half the oars of these transports were crewed by professional seamen, they tended to be rather more sluggish than their warfare-oriented counterparts (although they could keep a roughly equal speed when cruising under sail power). They also lacked the basic Vësiairan's bolt-throwers, having a hinged ramp at the prow - which folded back onto the main deck when not in use - for rapid offloading of troops or supplies.
Another advanced feature of the Vësiairan was its method of construction. It was built skeleton-first, in the manner of modern ships - most nations of this time period, including the pre-Imperial city-states, built their ships shell-first. This revolutionary building method improved the overall integrity of the ship's design, making it more resistant to water-logging and to being holed by the ram of an enemy vessel. It also ensured that all Vësiairan were of uniform dimensions and weight. Imperial shipwrights went to great lengths to ensure that every vessel was built with the exact same formulae of materials, often bringing wood across lengthy overland routes even when more readily available, but lower quality, sources of timber were present nearby. This meant that any sailor familiar with one Vësiairan could easily move to and operate any other, without having to take the time to learn the particular ideosyncracies of the new ship's handling and structure. Most modern Imperial scholars think that these new building methods contributed significantly to the demise of the ram as a weapon. Ships built skeleton-first in the manner of the Vësiairan tended to have much better hull integrity and would likely remain afloat for significant periods of time even after being cracked open by a ram. Thus, as this building technique spread to cultures outside the Empire, ramming as a method of nautical warfare became much less effective. Nevertheless, Vësiairiran retained their rams long after the tactic had fallen out of fashion. Indeed, even modern steel-hulled, steam-powered Imperial warships are equipped with them, if only to provide protection against debris and rocks.
Breakdown & Equipment of the CrewEdit
The theoretical commander was the Tïrarçan (or Tïrarçet for a woman - Tïrarçor being gender-neutral). This was a wealthy or politically important Imperial citizen who was responsible for either providing, or raising through political connections, the funds necessary to operate the ship for the duration of his/her term of service to the Imperial State. The Tïrarçan was not, however, a holder of military rank (rather more a glorified accountant / benefactor) and thus all practical matters of command and control were delegated to the sailor holding the rank of Captain, while the ship itself was considered the property of the Imperial State.
All the sailors, including the Tïrarçan, were given armor and normal meter-long swords like those of the Marines, allowing them to fight when the situation called for it - an uncommon practice by the standards of the day. They wore the same light cloth armor as the Imperial Army's ranged troops, minus the rather cumbersome helmets, with degrees of standardized embelishment / ornamentation to designate hierarchy. The Marines, meanwhile, were outfitted in the same way as the Army's heavy infantry Legionnaires.
The vast majority of the non-Marine crewmen were oarsmen. In terms of deck & command crew, there was the Captain and a helmsman (Kïbernânan), who was also responsible for the routine management of the non-rowing crew, much like a senior non-commissioned officer. Orders were generally relayed from the Captain to the crew through the Helmsman. Other officers included a bow lookout, a botswain (the senior deck crewman responsible for the integrity and components of the ship's hull), the quartermaster (the senior non-com), and a shipwright who was responsible for at-sea repairs to the vessel and generally keeping it sea-worthy. Further specialized crew included two drummers, one for each deck of rowers, to provide the oarsmen with rhythm, a piper to convey orders - who would normally be located at the rear of the vessel alongside the helmsman, captain & Tïrarçan. Each bank of rowers (four in all) would have been overseen by a Sôtïjaçan, a Master Oarsman, who was a type of non-commissioned officer, with one Sotïjaçan on each deck being senior to the other. Normally, the positions of the more-senior Master Oarsmen were staggered, so that the upper deck's was on the right and the lower deck's on the left. There was also a section of 12 deck crewmen responsible for the operation of the sails, headed by another non-com called a Purjäçan (Master of the Sail). The Marine detatchment would have followed the normal rank structure for the Imperial Army, and thus would have been headed by a Lieutenant-Major (Hä-Âvüstïjan) or Captain (Jöhatïjan).
Note that most of the terms above for crewmen, with the exception of Lieutenant and Captain, were titles rather than actual ranks, so the precise rankings of the different sailors could vary between ships according to length of service and importance within a given fleet's hierarchy.
The design of the Vësiairan was not stagnant, and seven sub-classes (designated Type-X with X being a sequential numeral) were identified in Imperial records. This Type system was the precursor to the modern Imperial designation system, which uses the Imperial calendar year rather than a sequential numeral (i.e. Type-4321 indicates that the given sub-class was put into production in the 4321st year of the Imperial calendar).
The most obvious development of the Vësiairan's design was the incorporation of incendiary-projecting siphons in the bow of the warships. Early versions of ships equipped with this weapon system had a single projector. Later models had two smaller, more technologically advanced siphons firing through eyelets in the bow armor (which were normally painted by the manufacturers to look like eyes). This alteration was to make way for a device called a Vëkator, a scyhe-like blade mounted underneath the foremast (the smaller mast for the foresail projecting forward from the bow of the ship at an angle). This Vëkator - generally called the "Razor" by its crews - replaced the ram as an offensive weapon, and was designed to allow the Vësiairan to plow across the side of an enemy vessel and slice apart its oars, hampering its mobility.
Later model Vësiairan were also dimensionally slightly wider and taller than early versions, in order to make more room for the crew as more and more Imperial servicemen were drawn from northern lands with genetically taller, lankier populations (this gene stock would eventually supplant the original, shorter and swarthier Imperials of the peninsula almost entirely). An advanced feature added to later ships was the inclusion of granite sand ballasts in the bellies, in order to off-set the weight of the added equipment. Obviously, later Types of Vësiairan had a higher displacement than earlier models, and thus were even more difficult for their crewmen to beach.
Various types of Vësiairan, in contrast to typical practices of the period, would have only briefly served alongside one another. When updates could not be easily retrofitted to older models, they would have gradually been broken up and their components employed in the construction of newer, updated vessels as they were brought in for routine maintenance. The theoretical lifespan of a given ship was several decades but, due to this practice, a large number of them never lived out that term.
- The Vësiairan was crewed entirely by professional military personnel. Although the practice of keeping slaves was an integral part of Imperial culture, they were not - as was common among many other nations - used to operate the oars. This gave the ship an advantage in unity and maneuverability over many rival designs, although the use of professional crews was not something unique to the Empire. This also improved the endurance of the vessels, as their oarsmen were used to a lifetime of their craft.
- The Vësiairiran were generally larger than the primary naval vessels of rival nations. That said, they were by no means the biggest ships in the inventories of the Empire or of other nations. Due to the design, however, this size did not compromise their maneuverability or handling characteristics compared to foreign Triremes.
- The Vësiairan was maneuvered through the water by two rudders. This was a distinct advantage that foreign nations had little success copying, as the placement of rudders in precise alignment was something only the Empire had mathematics and tools advanced enough to do (at least on a regular, mass production basis). Without perfect placement of the rudders, they would have the opposite effect, destabilizing the vessel.
- With its granite ballasts, the Vësiairan was generally better balanced and yet more heavily armed than enemy triremes.
- With the advanced grapnel ammunition for its ballistæ, the Vësiairan could pull enemy ships into close quarters and dispatch them rapidly. The only effective counter to these weapons was to equip the effected ship's crewmen with pole-mounted blades to cut the ropes. However, it took the Empire's enemies a long time to adapt to this reality, and even then, the grapples would pull the ship off balance, making cutting the ropes quite difficult.
- The incendiary siphon was a powerful weapon and allowed relatively small numbers of Vësiairan to decimate much larger enemy fleets. There was little foreign navies could do to defend their small triremes (which were generally less than 40 meters long) against such fire.
- The Marines' specialized, powerful crossbows were, unlike the small composite bows used by most enemy soldiers, capable of penetrating the hulls of enemy warships and killing their oarsmen, which was a primary objective in military combat.
- The Vësiairan's Vëkator blade could rip the oars of enemy ships asunder. If one side of the ships' oars were disabled, the other banks became useless, and would essentially leave the enemy vessel dead in the water unless they could catch a gale.
- The Vësiairan's skeleton-first construction ensured their hulls were of precise, uniformed dimensions and better able to withstand damage.
- The Vësiairan's large, well-designed sails could easily be used in battle to give the ship a burst of speed - perhaps the deciding factor in an engagement.
- The Vësiairan, like most foreign ships, was equipped with rails along its flanks for mounting shields to offer additional protection. Unlike the vessels of their enemies, however, the Imperial ships were equipped with permanently-mounted shields during their manufacture, rather than having the marines simply place their shields on the racks when they boarded the vessel.
- The Vësiairiran were equipped with proper fluted metal anchors, rather than the baskets of stone or lead-filled logs used by many foreign countries, which better stabilized them and created a better firing platform.
Note that many of these advantages were lost over time as the technologies were sporadically adopted by foreign countries. Some of them, however, such as the advanced semi-automatic ballistæ and incendiary siphons, were advanced state secrets and were never really properly replicated.