A Complete Guide To The Xebec

Key Point: A Xebec was a sailing ship, 40-60 meters long, commonly used in the Mediterranean during the 18th century.

So, what is the Xebec warship? Here we aim to answer just that. You will see what a Xebec is and how it was used. So, by the time you finish this article, you will know everything there is to know about the warship that wreaked havoc in the Mediterranean.

Now, before we go into detail, let’s first establish a clear fact. What is a Xebec ship?

A Xebec is a type of Mediterranean sailing ship characterized by its sharp bow, low freeboard, and lateen sails. It was primarily used by Barbary pirates and Ottoman Navy during the 18th and 19th centuries, but it saw use by other Mediterranean naval powers such as France and Spain as well. Xebecs were fast and maneuverable, making them ideal for piracy and raiding, and they were often armed with guns and carried large crews.

That’s the key summary of the article. Let’s take a look at the Xebex warship in a little more detail. Starting with its origin.

Origin Of The Xebec

It is generally believed that the Xebec developed in the Mediterranean region. Likely a result of influences from various cultures that were involved in trade and maritime activities in the area. The Xebec is characterized by its unique features, among them: its sharp bow, low freeboard, and lateen sails.

All were designed to make the ship fast and maneuverable in the often-choppy waters of the Mediterranean. Despite its uncertain origins, the Xebec became a popular and iconic ship in the region, and it was used for a variety of purposes, most famously piracy but also trade and occasionally naval engagements.

Its History Of Use

The Xebec saw its greatest use during the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, the Xebec was used by a variety of Mediterranean naval powers, including the Barbary Pirates, the Ottoman Navy, France, and Spain. Xebecs were actually well-suited for piracy and raiding due to their speed and maneuverability. Which allowed them to easily overtake slower vessels. However, they were also used for trade and naval warfare, since they often carried guns and large crews.

One of the key advantages of the Xebec is that it had a shallow draft and was able to navigate shallow waters, making it suitable for operations close to shore.

The Xebecs Downfall

Despite its popularity, the Xebec ultimately fell out of use as steam power and other technological innovations began to replace sail power in naval warfare. By the mid-19th century, the Xebec had largely disappeared from the Mediterranean, and it was replaced by more modern and advanced ship designs.

That was the history part. Now let’s look at its stats. Mainly the average size and what kinds of speeds could it achieve.

Xebec Size And Speed

On average, Xebecs were relatively small, measuring between 50 and 100 feet in length. This made them highly maneuverable, which was essential for piracy and raiding. Their small size was actually an advantage here.

In terms of speed, Xebecs were among the fastest ships of their time. They were typically equipped with lateen sails, which are triangular sails that allowed the ship to sail close to the wind and achieve high speeds. Xebecs were often able to achieve speeds of up to 12 knots, which was quite fast for a sailing ship.

The size and speed of the Xebec stayed relatively the same across the years since it did its job well. Although there were certainly variations in specific designs and modifications made to individual ships. But the variations were slight.

Now, for the fun stuff … the guns!

The Weapons It Had On Board

One of the most common weapons used on the Xebec was the long gun, which was typically mounted on the ship’s bow or stern. These guns were often quite large and could fire a heavy shot, making them highly effective in naval warfare. The reason why they placed them on the front of the ship was mainly that it was easier to aim them at a ship they were pursuing.

It’s harder to fire at a ship you are chasing if your guns are at a side.

In addition to these guns, the Xebec was also often equipped with smaller firearms, such as muskets and pistols. These weapons were typically used by the ship’s crew to repel boarders or to attack enemy crews during boarding actions.

Finally, the Xebec was sometimes equipped with blades such as swords or daggers. These were used in close combat situations. These weapons were often carried by the ship’s captain and other officers, and they were used to fend off attackers who had boarded the ship.

Now, let’s move on to the Xebec tactics. How were they used and deployed? And what is it that made these small ships so effective? Let’s see …

Xebec Naval Tactics

The Xebec was a versatile and highly maneuverable ship. Hence why it was often used for piracy and raiding along the Mediterranean coast. They were particularly well-suited for this type of warfare because of their speed and agility. This of course allowed them to quickly approach and attack enemy vessels.

A common tactic employed by Xebec crews was to approach an enemy ship under the cover of darkness or a fog bank, and then board the ship using grappling hooks and ropes. Once aboard the enemy ship, the Xebec crew would engage in close combat with the enemy crew, using swords, daggers, and firearms to gain control of the ship.

In addition to these boarding tactics, Xebecs were also used in naval battles. There they were often deployed as part of a larger fleet. In these battles, Xebecs were typically used to harass enemy vessels, firing long guns and small arms at them from a distance, and then retreating to avoid return fire. Basic hit-and-run tactics. And they leaned heavily into their advantage in speed to increase their effectiveness.

Overall, the Xebec’s speed, agility, and versatility made it a valuable asset in naval warfare.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article on the Xebec warship. I hope you learned a thing or two. And if you wish to continue learning about naval weapons from the Age of Sail, I suggest you take a look here. It’s an article on the Brigantine warship. Or go here for a discussion on the gunboat.

Take care!


Finally, the Xebec was sometimes equipped with blades such as swords or daggers, which were used in close combat situations. These weapons were often carried by the ship’s captain and other officers, and they were used to fend off attackers who had boarded the ship.