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An Insight into Mediterranean Naval Architecture in the Sixteenth Century Through the Texts of Nicolò Sagri (1538–1571). A Comparative Perspective with Ibero-Atlantic Shipbuilding


In 1997, the existence of a manuscript dealing with Mediterranean navigation and shipbuilding in the sixteenth century was revealed in the USA at an auction organised by Christie. Four years later, in 2001, the contents of this document entitled 'Il Carteggiatore' (The Cartographer) by Nicolò Sagri (1538–1571) were made available to researchers after being donated to the James Ford Bell Library of the University of Minnesota (Dell’Osa 2010). Although lost for a long time, its existence was known due to its evocation by Bartolomeo Crescentio in Della Nautica Mediterranea (Crescentio 1602). Aware of the high interest of this manuscript, the French naval historiographer Auguste Jal had searched for it in Italy, in vain, between 1834 and 1835 (Jal 1840, p. 25). Its recent reappearance is a boon for research into the maritime history and Mediterranean shipbuilding of the modern period (Falchetta 2009, 2013).

The present study is the result of collaboration between its three authors within the framework of the ‘ModernShip Project’. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Grant Agreement no 843337 (Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions). The translation of Sagri’s manuscript on which this study relies was carried out by F. Ciacchella.

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Fig. 7.1
Fig. 7.2
Fig. 7.3


  1. 1.

    Sagri, Nicolò, 1571, ‘Il Carteggiatore’, University of Minnesota, TC Wilson Library manuscript n°31951SA0111372C. Online access:

  2. 2.

    The only known ragusan treatise on navigation and shipbuilding before Nicolò Sagri is that of Benedetto Cotrugli (Benedikt Kotruljević) dated to the middle of the fifteenth century (1464). Discovered in the 1990s, this text is kept in the Yale University Library. It was translated by D. Salopek in 2005, then studied and transcribed by P. Falchetta (Falchetta 2009, 2013).

  3. 3.

    ‘Libro de navegar’, (Civic Library Angelo Mai MA334, Bergamo, Italy. Accession Number: ex Σ. VII. 29. Italy); manuscripts ‘Libro’ by Michele da Rodi (private collection); the ‘Libro di apunti’ c.1444, by Zorzi ‘Trombetta’ da Modon British Library (BL), Cotton ms. Titus A XXVI; the ‘Ragioni Antique’, National Maritime Museum Library (NMML), Greenwich, ref. Cid. NVT.19.

  4. 4.

    ‘Instructione sul modo di fabricare galere o Arte de far vasseli’ by Theodoro de Nicolò, 1550. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana di Venezia, manoscritti italiani, cl. IV cod. XXVI (5131). A copy of this manuscript in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia (ASV) under the title ‘Arte de far vasselli’, Archivio proprio Giacomo Contarini. sec. XVI, Miscellanea Codici 373. Manuscript Online:

  5. 5.

    Units of measurements used in this text are explained in Table 7.1.

  6. 6.

    This part is written by Arnaud Cazenave de la Roche.

  7. 7.

    This part is written by Cayetano Hormaechea.

  8. 8.

    This part is written by Fabrizio Ciacchella.

  9. 9.

    The question of the number of decks has given rise to much confusion. We attempt to clarify it in the part that deals with the horizontal structures of the nave.

  10. 10.

    Leonardo Fibonacci (1175-c. 1250), a native of Pisa, was the author of the algebraic sequence called ‘Divine Proportion’. It is designed as a series of numbers, each of which is the sum of the two preceding ones (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.).

  11. 11.

    The laws of hydrodynamics which associate an increase in the speed of movement of the hull with an increase in its waterline length are empirically known in the sixteenth century. They were first theorised mathematically by the British William Froude in the nineteenth century.

  12. 12.

    ‘Instructione sul modo...’, op. cit., f°26 and 27.

  13. 13.

    ‘Relación de la fábrica de doce galeones de guerra de la Escuadra Yllirica de Pedro de Ivella y Estéfano Dolisti. Carta de Pedro de Ivella al rey, de 17 diciembre 1593’. AGS, Guerra Antigua, Leg. 380–105. Reproduction in MNM. Colección Navarrete, Tomo IX, doc. 27, MNM.

  14. 14.

    It must be outlined that the smaller is the tonnage of a ship, the more her shapes will be stretched. In fact, the ‘As-Dos-Tres’ rule is only applicable to medium or large tonnage units.

  15. 15.

    The ‘Nueva fabrica’ is a movement that emerged in Spain in the last third of the sixteenth century under the impetus of builders such as Juan de Veas. It advocated stretched shapes to merchant ships that departed from the ‘As-Dos-Tres’ rule. We will return to it in the next part of this chapter.

  16. 16.

    This Spanish terminology expresses the absence of a deck. In the remainder of this article, it will be referred to as ‘naked’ beams.

  17. 17.

    Archivio di Stato di Genova (ASG), Notai antichi, Rivanegra Abramo filza 26, Genova, 8 Aprile 1599: Contract dated 1599 for a nave with dimensions close to those of Sagri.

  18. 18.

    For example, in the Ragusan construction, we can cite Pedro de Yvella’s ‘assiento’, mentioned above. Indeed, the characteristics of the galleons explicitly mention the presence of ‘baos vacios’ under three decks: the two ‘cubiertas’ and the ‘puente’.

  19. 19.

    Mathew Baker, c.1580, ‘Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry.’ Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepysian Library, Ms. 2820.

  20. 20.

    ‘Informe de Cristóbal de Barros sobre cómo han de ser los galeones a construir en Guarnizo y cómo eran los de Pero Menéndez de Avilés’, 19 marzo 1581; MNM, Colección Navarrete, Tomo XXII, doc. 76, f° 292v° a 296v°; ‘Relación del maestre Domingo de Bustrurria (...) en lo tocante a los arqueamientos de naos que se toman para el armada en esta costa de Biscaya...’. 1568. AGS, G. A., Legajo 347, n° 23, f°1–2; ‘Cédula de Arqueamiento de Navíos’, 1590. MNM, Colección Navarrete, T. I, N° de catálogo 789, f°169.

  21. 21.

    Juan Cardona, Memorial que dio Juan de Cardona a su Majestad sobre los doce galeones que hacen en Santander y Bilbao. 24 febrero 589 GS.’ 1589. AGS, Guerra Antigua, Legajo 245, f°11.

  22. 22.

    ‘Decreto del Consejo de guerra sobre los inclusos papeles que trajo el Señor Diego Brochero Anaya tocantes a la nueva ordenanza de navíos. 1607, 1613, 1618,’ AGS. Guerra y Marina, legajo 776 (8-10-1612), f°4.

  23. 23.

    ‘Apuntamientos de Rodrigo de Vargas’. 1588. AGI, Real Patronato, leg. 260, 2°, r° 35.

  24. 24.

    ‘Relación del maestre Domingo de Bustrurria (...) en lo tocante a los arqueamientos de naos que se toman para la armada en esta costa de Biscaya...’ 1568. AGS, G. A., Legajo 347, n° 23.

  25. 25.

    ‘Relación que dio Luis César de las medidas y gálibo que han de llevar los doce galeones a fabricar por Juan de Cardona.’ 1589. AGS, Guerra Antigua, Legajo 245, f°11[CH1], f°72 and 74.

  26. 26.

    ‘Relación de la fábrica de doce galeones de guerra de la Escuadra Yllirica de Pedro de Ivella y Estéfano Dolisti. Carta de Pedro de Ivella al rey, de 17 diciembre 1593.’ AGS, Guerra Antigua, Leg. 380–105, f°27.

  27. 27.

    I am grateful to Divo Basic for communicating me the transcription of this document.

  28. 28.

    By the end of the sixteenth century, for fiscal reasons this factor was officially changed to 5 cantari/salma, but for practical nautical use it remained unchanged.

  29. 29.

    ‘Libro di navigar’, Anonymous, end of the fourteenth century. Manuscript in Civic Library Angelo Mai (Bergamo, Italy), MA334 (Accession Number) ex Σ. VII. 29, f°18R.

  30. 30.

    Measured from the keel .

  31. 31.

    ‘Libro di navigar’, op. cit., f°18R.


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Cazenave de la Roche, A., Ciacchella, F., Hormaechea, C. (2022). An Insight into Mediterranean Naval Architecture in the Sixteenth Century Through the Texts of Nicolò Sagri (1538–1571). A Comparative Perspective with Ibero-Atlantic Shipbuilding. In: Crespo Solana, A., Castro, F., Nayling, N. (eds) Heritage and the Sea . Springer, Cham.

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