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Full Version: The Lateen Sail - A Greco-Roman Invention
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Hello,

I found a good overview article on the history of the lateen sail, and more generally the fore-and-aft sails. These later sails are, unlike square sails, parallel to the keel, and are used today on all kind of yachts and sporting boats. Their invention thus represented a revolution in rigging, and there has been now for over half a century, thanks among others to the work of Lionel Casson, enough evidence to prove that this too place in Greco-Roman times in the Mediterranean. So, it is nice to see Campbell to summarize and present concisely the evidence again.

The main points are this:
1. The lateen, both the triangular and the quadrilateral type, were introduced by Greek and Roman sailors between the 2nd century AD and 4th century AD, that is hundreds of years before the Arabs took to large scale sailing.
2. Not only lateen sails were employed, but also spritsails appeared by the 2nd century BC. Greco-Roman sailors thus invented the first fore-and-aft sailings. One of the most important inventions of antiquity in my mind, ranking alongside the watermill, concrete or glass-blowing.
3. The thesis of the European, particularly Portuguese, adoption of the lateen sail from Arab navigators in the age of discovery is no longer tenable. In fact, lateen sails were continually used in European/Christian navigation from antiquity onwards.
4. Long overlooked, although so evident: Even in countries conquered by the Muslims after 632 AD, navigation and navigation technology remained for hundred of years in the hands of the indigenous Christian population. And these people followed the same ancient shipbuilding tradition as those on the nortern Mediterranean shore. It was in this tradition in which the Muslim nomads actually stepped, when they adopted the lateen sail from the Copts.

[quote]Page 8ff.: The Mediterranean Evidence

It seems increasingly likely that the lateen may have originated in the Mediterranean where the missing link between the square and triangular sails was the brailed square sail. Brails were ropes that ran from the foot of the sail, up the front of it (fastened at various holding points) and over the upper yard to the deck.22 By pulling on the ropes sailors could wholly or partly furl the sail, and they could shorten one side of it more than the other merely by adjusting the lengths of the various brail ropes. The process is similar to adjusting horizontal venetian blinds. This was an important innovation in allowing sailors to adjust the amount of sail surface area exposed and in trimming the sail to wind conditions. Sails brailed on one side could be tilted toward the wind to further increase efficiency. A remark by Aristotle suggests that partially furled sails were used in a fore-and-aft manner by the fourth century B.C.23 This suggestion establishes the typological “missing link.â€
Quote:1. The lateen, both the triangular and the quadrilateral type, were introduced by Greek and Roman sailors between the 2nd century BC and 4th century AD,
WOW!! If that is correct, we must rethink Late Ancient economic history. The number of wrecks is usually taken as an indication of the trade volume, under the condition that (a) trade routes did not change (e.g., from a well-researched area to an unresearched area) and (b) naval technique did not change. If, indeed, in the second-fourth centuries the lateen sail was introduced, we may have an alternative explanation for the decline of the number of wrecks in that period: it was the introduction of the lateen sail, and not a decline of the trade volume.
I think you are reading a bit too much into this article, EG. First and foremost, the fact that spritsails (or rather one version of them), the earliest fore-and-aft sails and lateens existed long before the arabs took to sailing the mediterranean has been fairly well established (by those in the know) for almost half a century now - look at the references to Casson's earlier articles, for example.

What is most important about this article is that it clears up a few old maritime superstitions - the idea of the lateen sail as an all-or-nothing superior sail to the square sail (and rather argues the point that the different sail forms each have their different uses) and that it directly attacks, quite successfully, the idea that the indian ocean sailors were the ones who built the arab fleets in the 7th century (which is the purpose of the extended discussion of indian ocean and pasific sails in the article). It tries to add the continuity to mediteranean maritime history from ancient to medieval to early modern times that we see more and more of in the history of technology and crafts.

Quote:WOW!! If that is correct, we must rethink Late Ancient economic history. The number of wrecks is usually taken as an indication of the trade volume, under the condition that (a) trade routes did not change (e.g., from a well-researched area to an unresearched area) and (b) naval technique did not change. If, indeed, in the second-fourth centuries the lateen sail was introduced, we may have an alternative explanation for the decline of the number of wrecks in that period: it was the introduction of the lateen sail, and not a decline of the trade volume.

Considering that, as Campbell points out, merchant vessels appears to have stuck to square sails (seeing as they were quite satisfactory to their needs and in many ways superior to other sail forms), that's not necessary.
Quote:
Jona Lendering:25m6e1lt Wrote:WOW!! If that is correct, we must rethink Late Ancient economic history. The number of wrecks is usually taken as an indication of the trade volume, under the condition that (a) trade routes did not change (e.g., from a well-researched area to an unresearched area) and (b) naval technique did not change. If, indeed, in the second-fourth centuries the lateen sail was introduced, we may have an alternative explanation for the decline of the number of wrecks in that period: it was the introduction of the lateen sail, and not a decline of the trade volume.
Considering that, as Campbell points out, merchant vessels appears to have stuck to square sails (seeing as they were quite satisfactory to their needs and in many ways superior to other sail forms), that's not necessary.
Yes, you are right.
I thought I had seen representations of tilted for sails and lateen's from ancient times, but though it was just my imagination......this is quite interesting!
Ancient sprit sails on the Copenhagen Sarcophagus from the late 3rd century:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image ... ail_02.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image ... ail_01.jpg

Toby, A.Steven "Another look at the Copenhagen Sarcophagus", International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 1974 vol.3.2: 205-211
And there you have perfect examples of the mainsails being trimmed exactly as mentioned in the above post by, yourself, I would say! Smile
Would it be possible that these types of sails fell out of popular use for a time until the Arabs picked up the pace again? Are there any medieval European writers that remarked on Arab sails and said 'What a great invention!'? Something along these lines would help show it was unknown to them (Europeans) at the time.
The article writer argues, from sources, that the arabs, when building their first fleets, used subjected christian shipbuilders and sailors. So if he is right (and his argument is more powerful than the earlier hypothesis of the arabs introducing the latin sail to the mediterranean, in my opinion at least), the answer to your question would be no.
Quote:The article writer argues, from sources, that the arabs, when building their first fleets, used subjected christian shipbuilders and sailors. So if he is right (and his argument is more powerful than the earlier hypothesis of the arabs introducing the latin sail to the mediterranean, in my opinion at least), the answer to your question would be no.

Ah, very interesting. Thank you.
Quote:Would it be possible that these types of sails fell out of popular use for a time until the Arabs picked up the pace again? Are there any medieval European writers that remarked on Arab sails and said 'What a great invention!'? Something along these lines would help show it was unknown to them (Europeans) at the time.


Wouldnt said statement merely mean it was unknown to that particular writer?
I am just reading a piece by the late medievalist Lynn White (from the 1960s) who argues that, in a complete reversal of earlier assumptions, the Muslim world, far from actually being the inventor of the lateen, adopted it only after 1500, from the Portuguese who penetrated the Indian Ocean.

White points out that before 1500 there are only two Arab reference to lateen sails in the Med, and none in the Indian Ocean. The first who actually described the lateen sail on Arab ships in the Indic were Portuguese seafarers in the days of Vaso da Gama. White surmises that the lateen sail was rapidly adopted by the Muslim traders after initial contact with the lateen-rigged caravel.

This may fit into the larger picture of European shipbuilding techniques, unknown in local tradition, being copied around the western Indian Ocean, the most prominent example being the tiller (Lawrence Mott) and iron nails for hull planking, which made for sturdier ships. White goes even so far as to claim that even as late as the 19th century, Arab and Indian ships remained in many ways faithful copies of European ships of the 16th century.

The theory of the Indian origin of the lateen seems to be, at least in my mind, credibly demolished by that fact that as late as the 20 century, lateen sails were totally absent in Indian inland navigation, lending credence to the view that the lateen-rig of Indian coastal navigation was stimulated from abroad.
Hi guys.

I found this interesting reference to just how old the lateena may be and dates it back to 1300-300 BC.



Some indication of how such foreign contacts were effected is given by another pendant from Tell Abraq which shows the only Iron Age depiction of a boat in the Oman peninsula (Potts 1991a: Figs. 142-143). In this case the boat appears to be a square-sterned vessel with a sharp bow and triangular sails (Potts 1995b: p 564). The sail is obviously similar to the Arab lateen sail, otherwise unattested in the region until the Sasanian period and absent in the Mediterranean until c. 900 AD. The Tell Abraq pendant is thus the earliest depiction of a lateen sail yet discovered.


p. 49-50, Ibrahim Abed and Peter Hellyer, United Arab Emirates

Source: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=QcM ... t#PPA50,M1

Picture on page 82: http://www.google.com.au/books?id=sHPro ... g#PPA82,M1
I read about some piece of evidence like that. However, I would like to see a detailed discussion about it before I buy it. The coin is very much stylized.

There are Greco-Roman depictions of sails, too, on which much ink has been spilled whether they show a square or a triangular sail (see Kelenderis ship).
Quote:Picture on page 82: http://www.google.com.au/books?id=sHPro ... g#PPA82,M1

Can you show where that sail is? The coin is a jumble and it's impossible to make anything out. Roman pictures, on the other hand, are unambiguous, and unambiguously triangular.
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