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The lateen is believed to have been used in the Eastern Mediterranean as early as the 2nd Century ce (common ear). The effective use by the Arabs caused it's rapid spread through the Mediterranean. The lateen sail was so popular because its ability to sail into the wind. Prior to the lateen a majority of sea vessels used square sails (which one can imagine wouldn't sail into the wind very effectively). The lateen made up a majority of ship sails during the Age of Discovery (When Columbus discovered the Americas). The lateen made it possible to sail faster, farther, and more efficiently. An elite ship during the Age of Discovery was the caravel, its elite status can be attributed to how effectively it utilized the lateen sail.
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The lateen sail was invented around 100.
a trangular sail
Trapezoidal, actually. But the square sails were called square sails. Lateen or square could be referred to as yards.
It cannot be known for sure -probably in many place at roughly the same time. They have been known for more than 5,000 years.
Possibly the middle east. It allowed a boat to tack into the wind
Lateen sails work in much the same way that most other triangular sails work. If the wind is behind the sail it will push the boat/ship/craft/vessel forward. But suppose t…hat the boat is at right angles to the wind. What happens then? The sail is let out on the side of the boat that away from the wind. The wind blows against the surface of the sail. It might strike the surface at an angle of, say 140o. The wind escapes from the side of the sail at its widest point, and the boat slides towards the opposite direction i.e. the direction the boat is facing, its keel preventing it from simply moving/sliding in the water in a path directly away from the wind This is a basic explanation of how a Lateen sail works. Of course, it doesn't fully explain how a boat with Lateen sails can sail almost directly into the wind! For more information, see 'Related links' below.
They were referred to as "four-cornered" sails.
While the Arabs are generally credited with this, their boats were often constructed from the wood found in the forests of India. So far, it's hard to say.
To quote Wikipedia's excellent answer: A triangular sail, extended by a long yard, which is slung at about one fourth of its length from the lower end, to a low mast, this end… being brought down at the tack, while the other end is elevated at an angle or about forty-five degrees; -- used in small boats, feluccas, xebecs, etc., especially in the Mediterranean and adjacent waters. Some lateen sails have also a boom on the lower side.
Triangular-shaped sails helped catch wind from the sides and rear.
The lateen sail looks like a triangle. The point is on one side and the base is on the other side. The base of the sail would be parallel to the main mast. A spar at the top o…f the sail is attached to the mast. It is mainly used on sunfish and other extremely small sailing craft.
I believe it was invented in the Arabian Sea - plying the waters between India and Africa. To narrow it down more than that would be tough.