Fact 17

Ancient sea farers used leather sails to brave the Atlantic

Once upon a time, the Atlantic Ocean was an insurmountable barrier. Its heavy winds and harsh conditions turned back many travelers. The Mediterranean, which was much more temperate, was already seeing busy trading routes and seafaring traffic.


Celtic tribes were constructing impressive ships, but to cross the Atlantic a different type of sail was required. For this purpose, they used leather, which helped the Veneti tribe reach the shores of what we now know as Great Britain. Julius Cesar reported this remarkable application, which was confirmed by Tacitus who observed the Batavian tribes using painted leather sails.


The Romans still managed to defeat the Celts on land and sea, using linen sails. Leather sails are not further mentioned in history, though the material has been used to cover and waterproof boats. The Romans took the idea of the Celts and made tents with leather. On ships, leather remained in use for seating or protection from dampness. The Vikings would also traverse the Atlantic, spending their nights in leather sleeping bags.


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