Renaissance Ships: Caravel, Carrack, and Galleon

A major contributor of the economic growth in the Renaissance came from trade; as bits of different cultures trickled in through spice, clothing, and (unfortunately) slave trading, the European world took off. Clothing changes, card games, food, and activities trickled in, along with new gold and gems. This new wealth allowed the rich to expand their horizons and explore concepts that would have seemed frugal before. Much of this was made possible by the evolution of ships used, and since Portugal was a leading faction of exploration, let’s look at what types of ships they used to make it possible. 

The first type we will look at today is a Caravel. While its origins are unknown, it is known it came from Portugal, and by the late 15th century this ship was dominating the oceans. Two of the three ships Christopher Columbus sailed with were Caravels (the Niña and the Pinta). The design was based off the balinger of the Mediterranean Seas, and was a game changing for men like Prince Henry the Navigator and Diogo Cão. The small design was easy to navigate and was much faster than its predecessors, making exploration easier. It’s biggest draw backs were its capacity for both men and supplies, as well as its fragility, especially the earlier versions with only one mast. They could not handle going too far south much less across the Atlantic, where our next ship comes in.

The Carrack developed from a ship design called a cog. The cogs were more durable than the caravel, but they were slower, and so the carrack was developed. They were often around 1000 tons, and in 1498 they helped Portugal open permanent trade routes to India (Goa is what the Portuguese trading state in India is referred to as). From there, they opened silk trade in China, before establishing silver trade with Japan. That was until 1638 when Japanese monarchs banned what they called the “black ships” — as reference to their hull colors — for smuggling Cathloic priests into their country. Soon this term would refer to any western ship.

By the 17th century, these ships were becoming less utilized as the Galleon became more popular. The galleon was an upgrade to the carrack, it was more stable and faster. Carracks were used pretty much exclusively as trade ships, but galleons would be used for both trade and military. They often protected cars, and when the Spanish Armada attempted to take England, many of the ships on both sides were galleons. One of the most famous is the Portuguese galleon known as the São João Baptista. These ships began losing popularity in the 18th century, and were replaced by the 19th.

That concludes the ships we are going to look at today. Make sure to follow us for updates on future posts, and thank you for your support!