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Beginnings of world trade

The Hanseatic Cog

In the Middle Ages development of ships advanced in separate ways in Northern and Southern Europe, although both played an enormous part in expanding trade.

The typical large merchant ship of the north during the 12th to 15th centuries was the cog.  It was often called the Hanseatic cog.  Its abilities to carry a substantial and profitable cargo around the North Sea the Baltic and even into the Mediterranean laid the basis of the fortunes of the city states of the Hansa trading league.  From the remains of a cog found in mud on the banks of the River Weser in Germany it has been possible to reconstruct a sailing replica.

Cogs were larger than Viking ships, and very different in build.  Indeed, it is not clear if there is any connection between the two types.  Cogs were flat-bottomed, and had high, box-like hulls to carry as much cargo as possible.  Aft, the hull was built up to form a ‘castle’, which we would now call a quarterdeck or poop deck.  This was probably to give some protection in heavy seas to those steering the vessel.  An important development in the cog was a centreline rudder, fixed to a tall rudder post right aft.  Compared  to the steering oar of the Viking ship with its (which gave rise to the term ‘starboard’ for the side of the ship over which it was rigged), the rudder was more efficient, and allowed a bigger ship to be steered.  The cog still had just one mast, with a large square sail


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