A carrack or nao was a three-
or four-masted sailing ship
developed in the Mediterranean
in the 15th century. It had a
high rounded stern with an
aftcastle and a forecastle and
bowsprit at the stem. It was
square-rigged on the foremast
and mainmast and lateen-rigged
on the mizzenmast.

Carracks were one of the first
proper ocean-going ships in
Europe; large enough to be
stable in heavy seas, and
roomy enough to carry provi-
sions for long voyages. They
were the ships in which the
Portuguese and the Spanish explored the world in the 15th and 16th centuries. In Portuguese this type was called nau, while in Spanish it is called carraca or nao (both of which meant simply "ship"). In French it was caraque, caravelle or nef.

English military carracks were called great ships.

Early Origins

The word carrack is usually traced back through the medieval European languages to the Arabic, and thence to the Greek κέρκουρος (kerkouros) meaning approximately "lighter (barge)". 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".

The kalakku was a barge with goatskin or bladder floats, which might measure up to 15 m in a square or rectangular form, and which, in its later manifestations, was capable of being poled, dragged, rowed, or even sailed up the Tigris or the Euphrates.

The European carrack may have resulted from a fusion of this design, or that of the Phoenician lighter, with that of the Germanic longship when the latter diffused into the Mediterranean.


The carrack was the high seas beast of burden of choice and has been described as the "perfected transport ship".

However, the large superstructures of these ships made them prone to toppling in strong winds.

Famous Carracks

Carracks In Asia

From around 1515, Portugal had trade exchanges with Goa in India, consisting in 3 to 4 carracks leaving Lisbon with silver to purchase cotton and spices in India. Out of these, only one carrack went on to China in order to purchase silk, also in exchange for Portuguese silver.

From the time of the acquisition of Macao 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 ground that the ships were smuggling priests into Japan.

During the 16th century the carrack developed into the galleon.

The Santa Maria at anchor by Andries van Eertvelt, painted c. 1628 - Click To Enlarge