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Historically a class of fast warships of medium tonnage and a long cruising range. During the Age of Sail this role was performed by frigates - small, fast, long range ships used for scouting and carrying dispatches. The first steam warships also only had a single gundeck and were also referred to as frigates - the definition of frigate changed so that these smaller ships were now “cruising ships”, later abbreviated to cruiser.

In the Imperial Méxica Navy the term cruiser is still used to denote the largest type of ship used generally in an independent role.

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