Nef (ship type)

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Model of a Nef in the National Maritime Museum, Israel

The Nef , anciently also Naves , Cinque-Port-Schiff or to differentiate it more clearly from the general French name Nef for ship , also called Norman Nef , describes a single-masted merchant ship type, which in the Middle Ages from the 11th to the 13th century was mainly used in Western Europe Coasts and with the southern English city union, the Cinque Ports , was very common. The Nef is generally known for its depictions on city seals, the depiction of cruise fleets and the possible depiction of early Nef types on the Bayeux Tapestry .

In medieval illustrations, the type of ship as a pure sailing ship is relatively easy to distinguish from Viking ships such as the Knorr or the longship due to the lack of straps .

Spread and use

Originally from Western Europe , the Nefs type of ship was widespread throughout Europe as a cargo ship , merchant ship and troop carrier . Due to its similar sailing characteristics, the Nef was also used in the 13th century in naval units together with the emerging cog . Both types, Nef and Kogge, represented heavy cargo ships, the need for which arose from the increasing trade in bulk goods - such as wine from western France - and which were subsequently adopted by all European nations on the Atlantic coast.

The oldest written evidence of this type of ship dates from the conquest of Lisbon in 1147 by a cruise fleet. How widespread this type of ship was in the Middle Ages from the 12th century at the latest is testified by the large number of preserved Nef seals. City seals showing images of Nefs exist, for example, from La Rochelle (1308), Lübeck (1230), Sandwich (1238), Dunwich (1269), Dover (1281), Pool (1315), Yarmouth (1280) and San Sebastian (1335).

William the Conqueror probably also used early ships of this type (still without castles) when he landed in Britain in 1066. It is certain that during the crusades Nefs were often used as cruise ships. For example, Richard the Lionheart's squadron on his crusade to Palestine consisted of thirty-three Nefs. This is how the Mediterranean countries came into contact with this type of ship. In the heyday of the Nefs, these were also built and used by Venetian merchants.

Nefs were widespread in England well into the 13th century. For example, there was the fleet with which King Heinrich III. had brought the royal treasure of England to Bordeaux from England in 1242, consisting of thirteen nefs, two cogs and a ship of unknown type.

Development and characteristics

The Nef probably developed as a mixed type of the Viking ships , in particular the Knorr and the pot-bellied Romanesque ship types. The early type of Nef probably originated in the region around La Rochelle to meet the need for higher freight capacities. However, science is divided on this point, and there are also voices who claim that the type of ship originated in England under the influence of Danish and Norman immigrants.

Although there were temporal and spatial differences in the construction, the Nef was, according to the Scandinavian shipbuilding tradition, a ship with a wide clinker construction on a keel. Compared to the Nordic cog , rounded stems were common, as we know them from Norman ships. In terms of its basic construction, it is similar to the Knorr with its clinker-built hull and rudder on the starboard side, but it is significantly more bulbous than its Scandinavian predecessor. In contrast to these, the Nef was equipped with a continuous deck, but often rose steeply at the ends of the ship to the stems.

The ship type had only one mast with a wide square sail and no oars . The mast was supported by shrouds, some of which were already laid out as ladders.

Influenced by Mediterranean types of ships, from the 12th century onwards, the Nef was given fortified towers at the front and rear, which over time were planked and incorporated into the hull structure. The forts served the better defense of the ship and were mostly armed with archers, slingshots or catapults. In the 13th century, influenced by the cog, the rudder was increasingly replaced by the stern rudder, even with the Nef for steering. Due to the design, the typically rounded stern shape in the stern of the Nef disappeared.

The ratio of length over all to width was about three to one in a Nef, an aspect ratio that we find again in the cog and the ship type the Karracke , which was used much later . This made the Nef a relatively slow ship, the mercantile advantage of which was its high loading capacity.

The length of a nef was usually 18 to 20 m and a tonnage of 60 to 100 tons. However, nefs were also built in Venice, the length of which was up to 40 m and a tonnage of 200 tons.

From the 13th century the Nef was increasingly displaced by the cog. Nevertheless, the construction had a decisive influence on the development of the Nao in the 14th century.

Further use of the name in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In the late 14th and 15th centuries, the name Nef, similar to Nao, was generally used for larger ships with a rounded hull shape. But then mostly bulbous two- and three-masted merchant ships in kraweel design were referred to. Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Nãos up to German Holks were generally referred to as Nef, Nao or Naves due to their similar basic construction.

See also


  • Werner Zimmermann: Nef of the Cinque Ports. The Norman ship of the 13th century. (Architectura navalis; 2 volumes: main volume and plan set). Mosaik-Verlag, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-570-01454-1 .
  • Bernhard Hagedorn: The development of the most important ship types up to the 19th century. (Publications of the Association for Hamburg History). Curtius, Berlin 1914.
  • Jochen von Firks: Norman ships . Hinstorff Verlag, Rostock 2009, ISBN 978-3-356-01350-4 .


  1. Explanatory panel on the Nef in the Deutsches Museum, Munich
  2. Jochen von Firks: Norman ships. Hinstorff Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-356-01350-4 .
  3. ^ Bernhard Hagedorn: The development of the most important types of ships up to the 19th century. (Publications of the Association for Hamburg History). Curtius, Berlin 1914.
  4. Jochen von Firks: Norman ships. Hinstorff Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-356-01350-4 .