Until the Renaissance, navigational technology remained comparatively primitive. This absence of technology didn't prevent some civilizations from becoming sea powers. Examples include the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice, Hanseatic League, and the Byzantine navy. The Vikings used their knarrs to explore North America, trade in the Baltic Sea and plunder many of the coastal regions of Western Europe.
A replica of the carrack Santa Marķa of Christopher Columbus
Towards the end of the 14th century, ships like the carrack began to develop towers on the bow and stern. These towers decreased the vessel's stability, and in the 15th century, the caravel, designed by the Portuguese, based on the Arabic qarib which could sail closer to the wind, became more widely used. The towers were gradually replaced by the forecastle and sterncastle, as in the carrack Santa Marķa of Christopher Columbus. This increased freeboard allowed another innovation: the freeing port, and the artillery associated with it.
A Japanese atakebune from the 16th century
In the 16th century, the use of freeboard and freeing ports become widespread on galleons. The English modified their vessels to maximize their firepower and demonstrated the effectiveness of their doctrine, in 1588, by defeating the Spanish Armada.
At this time, ships were developing in Asia in much the same way as Europe. Japan used defensive naval techniques in the Mongol invasions of Japan in 1281. It is likely that the Mongols of the time took advantage of both European and Asian shipbuilding techniques. In Japan, during the Sengoku era from the fifteenth to 17th century, the great struggle for feudal supremacy was fought, in part, by coastal fleets of several hundred boats, including the atakebune.
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