Aplustre or apluster : Latin, probably from an Etruscan word borrowed from Greek. An aphlaston is an ornamental appendage of wood at the ship's stern. Though varying much in design, these ornaments were often very graceful, usually spreading like a fan and curved like a bird's feather. A usual form was a sheaf or plume of volutes, variously combined. The aplustre rose immediately behind the steersman, and is often represented as supporting a flag. As a conspicuous part of the ship, it was often removed as a trophy by captors. The apluster can be found on ancient coins and is used to symbolize naval prowess.
According to Gibbs Smith, 1957 (p170) the large shields displayed at the stern and prow are a form of ancient aphlaston, designed to protect the boat from damage caused by ramming. However, Grape (1994, 35-36) finds this argument unconvincing as the traditional form of naval combat at the time was grappling, not ramming. Grape considers such shields would have provided insufficient protection and, if a ship did ram, it would most likely be amidships, not to the stern or prow.
History of Navigation