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Boats on the Inland Waterways of Europe in 1100AD

by Jane
(Jacksonville, Florida USA)

What type of small sailing vessel would have been used on the inland waterway in Europe in 1100?

Would there have been a small vessel going from city to city?

Comments for Boats on the Inland Waterways of Europe in 1100AD

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Jun 18, 2010
Not much inland sailing then...
by: Han

Dear Jane,

I've been digging in history for you again (interrupted by my failing health; sorry it took so long), but didn't find conclusive evidence for real sailing (powered by sail) on Europe's waterways. I'll elaborate on that:

The rivers, even the big ones, were shallow, meandering round mountains, hills and islands of gravel and sand; only in the rainy seasons were they wide and deep enough to sail them, but then the current was too strong. Apart from that, to navigate narrow waters you need a rig you can beat upwind with, and that was, in the shape of the lateen rig, only available in the Mediterranian, the Indian and the Pacific Oceans; it was not used in Europe before the 15th

The rivers mostly ended in vast swampy areas or wetlands (like your Everglades) and delta's or estuaries like the Missisippi. See also:

The only exceptions were the Romans, who built rafts (and flat-bottom ships based on the raft) to transport wood and stone from the upper Rhine to the low countries (the Netherlands, for example) to build their border-fortresses. But those ships never went back upstream.

Small vessels making regular trips from town to town were not in use before the 15th century (and as far as I know only in the Netherlands), when developing trade made that necessary; trips overland in this swampy landscape by horse and carriage were nigh impossible, dangerous and simply took too much time.

Hope you're happy with this,



Jun 20, 2010
by: Han

Once again, dear Jane!

My description of (mainly) the Dutch landscape indicates that all that water in summer was ice (smooth as a paved road)in winter; the waterways were then used to transport goods by sledge, and it is also the reason why the Dutch have a long tradition of skating.



Feb 20, 2011
Sailboats on the Inland Waterways
by: Anonymous

Thanks Han for the terrific information!

I knew the Crusaders went overland but wondered about the small traders in some of the flat bottomed craft.

Thanks again for sharing your expertise!!!


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