The Galleon

A galleon was a large, multi-decked sailing ship used primarily by European states from the 16th to 18th centuries. 

Documentary sources point to a new type of sailing ship built in early 16th century Venice. It was called Gallioni and used by the Venetians against pirates. By the second half of the century, Galleons were already seen along the Mediterranean.



A solid wooden ship model with brass supports holding the model in place. It gives well deserved presentation to a superior craftmanship. The solid wooden support is shown here on the left.


A lowering of the forecastle and elongation of the hull gave galleons an unprecedented level of stability in the water, and reduced wind resistance at the front, leading to a faster, more maneuverable vessel. The galleon differed from the older types primarily by being longer, lower and narrower, with a square tuck stern instead of a round tuck, and by having a snout or head projecting forward from the bows below the level of the forecastle.

In Portugal at least, carracks were usually very large ships for their time (often over 1000 tons), while galleons were mostly under 500 tons, although the Manila galleons were to reach up to 2000 tons. With the introduction of the galleon in Portuguese India Armadas during the first quarter of the 16th century,carracks gradually began to be less armed and became almost exclusively cargo ships (which is why the Portuguese Carracks were pushed to such large sizes), leaving any fighting to be done to the galleons.

One of the largest and most famous of Portuguese galleons was the São João Baptista (nicknamed Botafogo, 'spitfire'), a 1,000-ton galleon built in 1534, said to have carried 366 guns.


A Spanish galleon (left) firing its cannons at a Dutch warship (right).
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