The development of the Helladic oared galley during the Late Bronze Age not only opened up new maritime possibilities, but the unit cohesion demanded of rowing crews also had a significant social impact on Aegean coastal territories. In the words of Michael Wedde, “rowing a galley led to the fusing of rowers into a team, creating an esprit de corps, further enhanced by the virile activities in which rower–warriors usually engage. The enhanced position of the helmsman and the aeonian authority of the captain provided two leader–figures for the crew” (2005: 32). The resulting phenomenon, entirely driven by unit cohesion among rowing crews and fleets, has been referred to as a “galley subculture” (Tartaron 2013: 132).
This subculture, in turn, created power bases for maritime leaders, who in the coastal areas of the Aegean would also have had at their disposal one of the most lethal weapons of the age, in the form of oared galleys that were fully manned with seasoned rower-warriors whose primary allegiance was to their captain and to each other. In the years surrounding the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, participants in the galley subculture and their growing power bases may have morphed into discrete maritime threats both to the Eastern Mediterranean trade network and to the major Aegean polities of the age – particularly on the coast. Ca. 800 BC, following the “dark age” that separates the Aegean Bronze and Iron Ages, the Helladic oared galley reappears once again on painted pottery in a form that clearly represents continuity of style with (and, perhaps more importantly, continuous development of) the galley from LH IIIC onward. This, combined with some continuity in the representation of warriors between the Late Helladic and Geometric periods, demonstrates that the “galley subculture” remained strong throughout this centuries-long gap in the historical record, thus standing as a testament to the unit cohesion among rowing crews that sparked its initial development.