A carrack was a three- or four-masted ocean-going sailing ship that
was developed in the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe. Developed from
the single-masted cog, the carrack was first used for European trade
from the Mediterranean to the Baltic and quickly found use with the
newly found wealth and status of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In
its most advanced forms, it was used by the Portuguese for trade along
the African coast and finally with Asia and America from the 15th
century before evolving into the galleon of the 16th and 17th
In its most developed form, the carrack was a carvel-built ocean-going
ship: large enough to be stable in heavy seas, and for a large cargo
and the provisions needed for very long voyages. The later carracks
were square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and lateen-rigged on
the mizzenmast. They had a high rounded stern with large aftcastle,
forecastle and bowsprit at the stem. As the predecessor of the
galleon, the carrack was one of the most influential ship designs in
history; while ships became more specialized in the following
centuries, the basic design remained unchanged throughout this
3 In Asia
4 Famous carracks
5 Popular culture
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Look up carrack in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
English carrack was loaned in the late 14th century, via Old French
caraque, from carraca, a term for a large, square-rigged sailing
vessel used in Spanish, Italian and Middle Latin.
These ships were called carraca or nau in Portuguese and Genoese,
carraca or nao in Spanish, caraque or nef in French, and kraak in
Dutch and Flemish.
The origin of the term carraca is unclear, perhaps from Arabic qaraqir
"merchant ship", itself of unknown origin (maybe from Latin carricare
"to load a car" or Greek καρκαρίς "load of timber").
Famous nau Frol de la Mar (launched in 1501 or 1502), in the
16th-century "Roteiro de Malaca".
A replica of Nao Victoria, the only one of the five ships of Magellan
that returned to Spain in 1522, being the first to circumnavigate the
Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages the cog, and cog-like square-rigged vessels
equipped with a rudder at the stern, were widely used along the coasts
of Europe, from the Mediterranean, to the Baltic. Given the conditions
of the Mediterranean, galley type vessels were extensively used there,
as were various two masted vessels, including the caravels with their
lateen sails. These and similar ship types were familiar to Portuguese
navigators and shipwrights. As the Portuguese gradually extended their
trade ever further south along Africa's Atlantic coast during the 15th
century, they needed a larger, more durable and more advanced sailing
ships for their long oceanic ventures. Gradually, they developed their
own models of oceanic carracks from a fusion and modification of
aspects of the ship types they knew operating in both the Atlantic and
Mediterranean, generalizing their use in the end of the century for
inter-oceanic travel with a more advanced form of sail rigging that
allowed much improved sailing characteristics in the heavy winds and
waves of the Atlantic Ocean and a hull shape and size that permitted
larger cargoes. In addition to the average tonnage naus, some large
naus (carracks) were also built in the reign of John II of Portugal,
but were only widespread after the turn of the century. The Portuguese
carracks were usually very large ships for their time, often over 1000
tons, and having the future large naus of the India run and of the
Japan trade, also other new types of design.
The origin of the word carrack is usually traced back through the
medieval European languages to the Arabic القُرْقُورُ
(Al-gurgoor) and from thence to the Greek κέρκουρος
(kerkouros) meaning approximately "lighter" (barge) (literally, "shorn
tail", a possible reference to the ship's flat stern). Its attestation
in Greek literature is distributed in two closely related lobes. The
first distribution lobe, or area, associates it with certain light and
fast merchantmen found near
Cyprus and Corfu. The second is an
extensive attestation in the
Oxyrhynchus corpus, where it seems most
frequently to describe the Nile barges of the Ptolemaic pharaohs. Both
of these usages may lead back through the Phoenician to the Akkadian
kalakku, which denotes a type of river barge. The Akkadian term is
assumed to be derived from a Sumerian antecedent.  A modern reflex
of the word is found in Arabic and Turkish kelek "raft; riverboat".
A typical three-masted carrack such as the São Gabriel had six sails:
bowsprit, foresail, mainsail, mizzensail and two topsails.
From around 1515,
Portugal had trade exchanges with
Goa in Portuguese
India, consisting of 3 to 4 carracks leaving
Lisbon with silver to
purchase cotton and spices in India. Out of these, only one carrack
went on to Ming China in order to purchase silk, also in exchange for
From the time of the acquisition of Macau in 1557, and their formal
recognition as trade partners by the Chinese, the Portuguese Crown
started to regulate trade to Japan, by selling to the highest bidder
the annual "Captaincy" to Japan, in effect conferring exclusive
trading rights for a single carrack bound for
Japan every year. That
trade continued with few interruptions until 1638, when it was
prohibited on the grounds that the ships were smuggling priests into
In the middle of the 16th century the first galleons were developed
from the carrack. The galleon design came to replace that of the
carrack although carracks were still in use as late as the early 17th
Columbus' Ships (G.A. Closs, 1892): The Santa Maria and Pinta are
shown as carracks; the Niña (left), as a caravel.
Model of the carrack Madre de Deus, in the Maritime Museum, Lisbon.
Built based on another design, later in
Portugal (1589), she was the
largest ship in the world in her time. She had seven decks.
Santa María, in which
Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to
America in 1492.
São Gabriel, flagship of Vasco da Gama, in the 1497 Portuguese
expedition from Europe to India by circumnavigating Africa.
Flor do Mar or Frol de la Mar, as it was called, served over nine
years in the Indian Ocean, sinking in 1512 with Afonso de Albuquerque
after the conquest of Malacca with a huge booty, making it one of the
mythical lost treasures.
Victoria, the first ship in history to circumnavigate the globe (1519
to 1522), and the only survivor of the Spanish expedition.
La Dauphine, Verrazzano's ship to explore the Atlantic coast of North
America in 1524.
Grande Hermine, in which
Jacques Cartier first navigated the Saint
Lawrence River in 1535. The first European ship to sail on this river
past the Gulf.
Santo António, or St. Anthony, the personal property of King John III
of Portugal, wrecked off
Gunwalloe Bay in 1527, the salvage of whose
cargo almost led to a war between England and Portugal.
Great Michael, a Scottish ship, at one time the largest in Europe.
Henri Grâce à Dieu
Henri Grâce à Dieu and Peter Pomegranate, built during
the reign of Henry VIII — English military carracks like these were
often called great ships.
Grace Dieu, commissioned by Henry V. One of the largest ships in the
world at the time, she was one of the very first ships to be armed
Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai, a war ship built in India by the
Santa Anna, a particularly modern design commissioned by the Knights
Hospitaller in 1522 and sometimes hailed as the first armoured ship.
Jesus of Lübeck, chartered to a group of merchants in 1563 by Queen
Jesus of Lübeck
Jesus of Lübeck became involved in the Atlantic slave
trade under John Hawkins.
Madre de Deus, which was seized by the
Royal Navy off Flores Island.
Lisbon during 1589, she was the world`s largest ship. She was
captured by the English in 1592 with an enormously valuable cargo from
East Indies that is still considered as the second-largest
treasure ever found. She was supposedly renamed and used as an English
ship from thence onward.
Santa Catarina, Portuguese carrack which was seized by the Dutch East
India Company off
Singapore in 1603.
Nossa Senhora da Graça, Portuguese carrack sunk in a Japanese attack
near Nagasaki in 1610
Peter von Danzig, ship of the
Hanseatic League in 1460s-1470s.
La Gran Carracca, the ship of the
Order of St. John
Order of St. John during their rule
The word caracca and derivative words is popularly used in reference
to an cumbersome individual, to an old vessel, or to a vehicle in a
very bad condition.
Portuguese India Armadas
^ Konstam, A. (2002). The History of Shipwrecks. New York: Lyons
Press. pp. 77–79. ISBN 1-58574-620-7.
^ Gong, Y (1990). "kalakku: Überlegungen zur Mannigfaltigkeit der
Darstellungsweisen desselben Begriffs in der Keilschrift anhand des
Beispiels kalakku". Journal of Ancient Civilizations. 5: 9–24.
^ a b Cassar Pullicino, Joseph (October–December 1949). "The Order
of St. John in Maltese folk-memory" (PDF). Scientia. 15 (4): 174.
Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 April 2016.
Kirsch, Peter (1990). The Galleon. Conway Maritime Press.
Nair, V. Sankaran (2008). Kerala Coast: A Byway in History. (Carrack:
Word Lore). Trivandrum: Folio. ISBN 978-81-906028-1-5.
Media related to Carracks at Wikimedia Commons
The dictionary definition of carrack at Wiktionary
The Development of the Square-Rigged Ship: from the carrack to the
Computer modeling of a Portuguese carrack
Types of sailing vessels and rigs
Mast aft rig
By sail plan
Naval & merchant
(by origin date)
Chinese treasure ship
Square-rigged caravel (round or de armada)
Ship of the line
Clipper (Baltimore Clipper)
Ship of the line
Mast aft rig
Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter
Pinnace (ship's boat)