The word lateen (derived from latin, meaning Mediterranean) describes a ship rigging that is one of the oldest of all. It is a triangular sail carried on a particularly long “yard” (frequently longer than the vessel itself), historically attached to a well “raked” (slanted”) mast by an easily released slip-knot. The yard (which is constructed somewhat like some archery bows so that the ends are more flexible than the middle) is well angled upward from the leading end, where the sail in some Arab versions can have a short “luff” or leading edge, making it four-sided (called seltee-lateen or settee).
It was the rigging of the early caravels and many other craft of the Mediterranean. Even when exploration and trade across the oceans necessitated the later development of larger multi-sail square rigged vessels such as the carrack and then the galleon the lateen on the mizzen (aft-mast) was almost standard until the development of the gaff-rigged “spanker” during the 18th century.
Lateen rigged vessels (feluccas and dhows) still ply the upper Nile and coastal parts of the Mediterraean and north Indian Ocean. It is an extremely efficient sail for a small crew, but hazardous in rough weather.