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large ship, 1520s, from Old French galion "little ship" (13c.), from Spanish galeón "galleon, armed merchant ship," from Byzantine Greek galea "galley" (see galley) + augmentative suffix -on. In English use, especially of Spanish ships involved in the American trade.
full-rigged sailing ship that was built primarily for war, and which developed in the 15th and 16th centuries. The name derived from "galley," which had come to be synonymous with "war vessel" and whose characteristic beaked prow the new ship retained. A high, square forecastle rose behind the bow, the three or four masts carried both square and fore-and-aft sails, and one or two tiers of guns were carried broadside. The largest galleons were built by the Spanish and the Portuguese for their profitable overseas trade; the famed "Manila galleons" of Spain made an annual trip between Acapulco, Mex., and the Philippines, carrying silver west and raw silk east, for more than 250 years.