I have found that Vikings used sails made from wool; can anyone tell me what the sails of ancient Greece and Rome would have been made from?

  • 3
    I cannot, but I thought you might be interested to know that very, very early boats, even ones that had sails, were used by Egyptians, Sumerians, and I believe Southeast Asian societies, were made of reeds. I'm not sure what the sail itself was made of--possibly reeds as well. The Egyptians used them to sail the Nile, and the leading theory that I've heard is that the Sumerians used them to sail the seas.
    – Addem
    Aug 12, 2015 at 14:07
  • 2
    They were made of flax.
    – Alex
    Aug 12, 2015 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


Ancient Mediterranean sailcloth was made of a fine linen, which was written "linon" in Greek and "lintea" in Latin. Many ancient literary sources mention this, for example, Aeschylus, Virgil, Homer, etc. There is a book, "Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World" (1995) by Lionel Casson that goes into detail about ancient ship technology.

  • Spot on. Still needed oarman though. Galley's were used in the Western World up until the 1700's incredibly. The English and Scots perfected Sail and the requisite control mechanisms and surfaces to dramatic not starting until Henry VIIIth. Greek Triremes were used for almost 2000 years still though. Good luck beating that record. Nov 10, 2016 at 2:41
  • @user14394 - The Russians were still using galleys in the Crimean War! Nov 15, 2016 at 14:00
  • 1
    user14394, oars for combat speed, to ram enemy ships. Medieval sails were no better but ships were armed with cannons, didn't need much acceleration in battle.
    – Tsayper
    Oct 13, 2018 at 10:57

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.