Jal’s Nef X and Genoese Naval Architecture in the 13th Century

By John E. Dotson, published May 1973


Auguste Jal reconstructed a number of Genoese and Venetian vessels in his Archéologie Navale. Although a valuable, pioneering work, the accuracy of its ship descriptions is nonetheless impacted by the complexity of medieval units of measure. In his descriptions of Venetian ships the problem is not serious, but for Genoese ships, because of the different units used by Genoese shipbuilders, the issue is significant. This article discusses the various naval units of measure and their conversion to current units. Then using the corrected measurements, the proportions for Genoese ships are altered substantially. A comparison of an illustration of Jal’s reconstruction with one employing corrected measurements demonstrates that the Genoese ships were much larger primarily because of increased length. Also the article corrects the configuration of the masts and rigging to conform better to known practices for lateen rigged vessels. Finally, the article concludes that contrary to the widely held belief that Genoese ships were smaller, they indeed were as large as Venetian vessels of the period.

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Filed under: Late Middle Ages | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Historic Vessels, Museums & Restoration | Shipbuilding & Design

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