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A model of a Portuguese caravel[n 1]

From Middle French caravelle, from Old French caruelle, carvelle (caravel), from Old Portuguese caravela (caravel), a diminutive of caravo, carabo (type of small vessel), from Late Latin carabus (small wicker boat decked with hide), from Ancient Greek κᾱ́ρᾰβος (kā́rabos, type of light ship; kind of beetle, probably a longhorn beetle; kind of crustacean, probably a crayfish).[1]



caravel (plural caravels)

  1. (nautical, historical) A light, usually lateen-rigged sailing ship used by the Portuguese and Spanish for about 300 years from the 15th century, first for trade and later for voyages of exploration.
    Synonym: carvel (one sense)
    • 1597, Joseph Hall, “Sat[ire] VI”, in Virgidemiarum, Sixe Bookes. [], London: Printed by Thomas Creede, for Robert Dexter, OCLC 837213735; republished as Virgidemiarum: Satires, [...] In Six Books, London: William Pickering, [], 1825, OCLC 12198253, book III, lines 1–4 and 11–14, page 41:
      When Gullion di'd (who knows not Gullion?) / And his drie soule arriu'd at Acheron, / He faire besought the feryman of hell, / That he might drink to dead Pantagruel. / [] Yet still he drinkes, nor can the Botemans cries, / Nor crabbed oares, nor prayers make him rise. / So long he drinkes, till the black Carauell / Stands still fast grauel'd on the mud of hell.
    • 1711, Francis Cauche, “A Voyage to Madagascar, the Adjacent Islands, and Coast of Africk”, in [J. Stevens], editor, A New Collection of Voyages and Travels, into Several Parts of the World, [], volume II, London: Printed for J. Knapton, Andrew Bell, D. Midwinter, Will. Taylor, A. Collins, and J. Baker, OCLC 733949550, page 3:
      We also barter'd all the Goods that were in the firſt Spaniſh Caravel, taken at our firſt ſetting out for other Commodities, and left all the Priſoners. A Caravel ſays Oforius lib. 2 is a Veſſel that has no round Top, nor any Timber acroſs the Top of the Maſt, but the Yard is made faſt a little below the Top. The Sails are triangular, and their lower Points are but little above the Deck.
    • 1776, [John Campbell]; John Kent, “Memoirs of Christopher Columbus”, in Biographia Nautica; Or, Memoirs of Those Illustrious Seamen, to whose Intrepidity and Conduct the English are Indebted, [] In Four Volumes, volume I, London: Printed for J. Wallis and C. Stonehouse, [], OCLC 912937496, page 433:
      On the Ninth of May, in the Year one Thouſand, five Hundred, and Two, [Christopher] Columbus and his Brother departed, from Spain, on their laſt Voyage of Diſcovery, with four Caravelles, and one hundred, and ſeventy Men.
    • 1788, [Claude-Étienne] Savary, “Letter XIII. To M. L. M.”, in Letters on Greece; being a Sequel to Letters on Egypt, [] Translated from the French [...], London: Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, [], OCLC 731554387, page 98:
      At preſent theſe trees are not very numerous, as the Turks make uſe of them to build the Grand Signior's caravelles, and cut down without ever planting.
    • 1812, John Pinkerton, “Of Another Mutiny among Those that Remained with the Admiral, which was Quelled by the Coming of a Vessel from Hispaniola”, in A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World; [], volume XII, London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, []; and Cadell and Davies, [], OCLC 836321444, page 150:
      [T]he governor of Hiſpaniola was afraid that if the admiral returned to Spain, Their Catholic Majeſties would reſtore him to his government, and ſo he ſhould be forced to quit it; for which reaſon he would not provide, as he might have done, for the admiral's voyage to Hiſpaniola; and therefore had ſent that little caraval to ſpy and obſerve the condition the admiral was in, and to know whether he could contrive with ſafety to have him deſtroyed, []
    • 1874 December 19, “Military and Religious Life in the Middle Ages and at the Period of the Renaissance. By Paul Lacroix (Bibliophile Jacob.) Illustrated. (Chapman & Hall.) [book review]”, in The Athenæum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, number 2460, London: Printed by Edward J. Francis, [] published [] by John Francis. [...], OCLC 956082422, page 835, column 3:
      Probably the most famous of all the forms of craft used at this period was the caravel, so well adapted for voyages of discovery, that nearly every one of the great navigators employed ships of this character, and in them performed feats of seamanship which are absolutely astounding. [] Narrow at the poop, wide at the prow, having a double tower at the stern and a single one at its bows, the caravel carried four vertical masts, and one inclined one.
    • 1992, William D. Phillips, Jr.; Carla Rahn Phillips, “Tools of Expansion”, in The Worlds of Christopher Columbus, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, page 71:
      Fishermen and other mariners who used caravels along the Atlantic coast of Portugal and the Cantabrian coast of Spain probably strengthened the hull to withstand the open ocean, perhaps using small whaling vessels as their model. As the Portuguese explored the coastline of Africa, they used small caravels with a two-masted lateen rig for many tasks, especially after they rounded Cape Bojador. The lateen caravel could beat its way home while keeping within reassuring sight of the coast.
    • 2001, Peter Edward Russell, Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’: A Life (Yale Nota Bene), New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, →ISBN, page 229:
      Thus the brand-new caravel which took [Alvise] Cadamosto to Senegambia in 1455 was a vessel of some fifty-four tons capacity.
    • 2008, Richard W. Bulliet; Pamela Kyle Crossley; Daniel R. Headrick; Steven W. Hirsch; Lyman L. Johnson; David Northrup, “The Maritime Revolution, to 1550”, in The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, volume 1 (To 1550), 4th edition, Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin Company, →ISBN, part 4 (Interregional Patterns of Culture and Contact, 1200–1550), page 468, column 2:
      [T]he voyages of exploration made use of a new vessel, the caravel. Caravels were much smaller than the largest European ships and the Chinese junks Zheng He had used to explore the Indian Ocean early in the fifteenth century.

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. ^ From the collection of the Musée national de la Marine in Paris, France.


Further reading[edit]




Probably from Catalan clavell.[1] Compare Spanish clavel.


caravel m (plural caraveis)

  1. carnation (flower)

Related terms[edit]