Monday, November 15, 2010

Piracy in Mediterranean

Pirates operated in any remote areas advantageous for them to attack. Piracy was able to operate as a state without immediate reprucussions. In this case it was within the Byzantine Empire. Pirates could find quiet uninhabited areas of an island, build a camp near the water and attack ships as they came by. Or they could go to neighboring islands, surprise attack and return to their hideout. If the attacks were successful, they would probably come back to the same camp. The camp would eventually grow into a village after all the slaves and loot they would bring back.
Arab dynasties from North Africa were known to send out expeditions throughout the Mediterranean. These expeditions were usually preceded by many piratical raids. These expeditions and raids coupled with further expeditions would ultimately result in the complete conquest of certain areas, as was the case of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and coastal areas of France and modern day Italy. Raids by Arabs included raids on Rome during the 800’s and 900’s AD.
In the case of the Arab conquest of Sicily, it was the Sunnite Aghlabids in the 800’s AD based out of Africa Minor (modern day Tunisia) that were responsible for the expeditions. Sicily was an important base for the Moslems, because it brought them closer to the mainland in Europe to conduct further attacks and trade.
Simultaneously, on the other side of the Mediterranean in the east was Crete. Crete was used by the Arab Muslims the same way Sicily was used in the west. The Muslims repeatedly attacked the Greek islands and mainland. Recent archeological findings in Athens have also found a possible Arabic settlement from that era in the 900’s AD.
During the Arab conquest, the islands in the Aegean had turned into pirate lairs for both Arabs and Christian mercenaries. The “profession” of piracy was considered honorable and profitable and was passed from father to son. The word leventes (brave handsome fellow) came from levante, which at the time signified a fearless pirate of the eastern Mediterranean. The east coast of the Mediterranean was also referred to as the Levante (Where the sun rises- from the Latin “levantar” which means to rise) and it included the coasts of Asia Minor, the Middle East and Egypt.
Levante was also what was referred to as the “east wind” in sailing. For educational purposes, here are the other winds and how they were referred to at one time during the middle ages.
Northwest wind: O Maestros
Southwest wind: O Garmbis
West wind: O Pounentes
Southeast wind: O Sorkos
Northeast wind: O Graigos
East wind: O Levantes
As mentioned earlier, a name tied with the people of Arab mixed with North African pirate origin is Sarakinos and all its variants. Sarakinos is a Greek word synonymous with the word Arab. There are many Greek island areas and mainland areas with the variant name of Sarakinos. There are also various other areas in other countries in the Mediterranean like in Italy and France which have either a variant of the name Sarakinos or other similar influences from pirates from North Africa. Most of these areas are located near coastline areas. These names come from North African immigrants (who were usually pirates) that settled those areas during the combined Saracen and North African raids by the various Caliphates throughout the era of the middle ages. Those raids and attacks conceivably started during the 600 AD’s and lasted arguably up till the middle 1800’s. “The town of Parparia also has some fields called “Tou Sarakinou” meaning “belonging to the Saracen”.
Piracy was directly related to the slave trade, which greatly flourished for many centuries, especially during the middle-ages starting from the 600 AD’s. Pirates made a lot of money selling people. The sufferings of the inhabitants of the coastal towns and particularly the Aegean islands at the hands of pirates of every race and origin can hardly be described. In 904 AD Arab pirates led by a Greek named Leo of Tripoli from Crete who had joined the Muslim forces, according to one source, carried off approximately 22,000 inhabitants from Thessalonica. This same Leo from Tripoli along with another Greek pirate who had converted to Islam, named Damianos, defeated the Byzantine navy off the northern coast of Chios during the Byzantine war campaign against the Arabs in an attempt to take back lost Byzantine territories.
Other towns in Chios have similar stories about Algerian (Alidzerini-Berbers) and Saracen pirates. Some of the ones I read about were Thymiana, Kardamyla, Kambia, Mesta and Neochori.
In the late 900’s AD, the island of Lesbos had the same types of attacks from a Saracen pirate chief named Sirhan. Saracens had attacked the bay of Stenacus but were defeated when the town set their ships on fire.
During the early part of the middle ages, pirate attacks on the island on Lesbos from Saracen invasions occurred in the years 821, 881 and 1055 AD. There are places on Lesbos with the name Sarikinou as well, which in all likelihood were pirate lairs at one time.
The island of Paros was also plundered by the Saracen pirate Nissiris between 821 AD and 827 AD. Nissiris as a pirate was active from 821 AD to 827 AD. Nissiris went to the island of Paros and stole all the church treasures. In Paros there are also places with the name Sarakoinou. The encounters with pirates on Paros were documented in the year 905 AD, when Nikitas Magister, a government official during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Leo VI was sent from Constantinople to Crete to negotiate with the Saracens (Crete was captured by the Saracens and Arabs in 823 AD). As they approached the island of Ios, winds drove them to the island of Paros (Which at that time was uninhabited). There he met a monk who told him about the island and their encounters with Saracen pirates.
In 961 AD the Byzantine army under emperor Nicephoros Phocas took back Crete from the Arabs and killed, according to one source 20,000 Arabs in the process. There is a town in Crete called Barbaro or Varvaro. The Byzantine soldiers that took over the town during the re-taking of Crete named it like that because of the people there who were Arabs or Berbers from Barbaria in North Africa. It is in all likelihood, the same way the town of Varvakorso and its people the Varvarousi got their names from the Greeks on the island of Chios.
There are dozens of accounts of Saracen pirates invading and settling areas of the Mediterranean between the 900’s AD and 1000’s AD. These places included
St. Tropez and La Garde Freinet (937 AD) in France
Fontanarossa (935 AD) in Italy
Malta (870 AD)
Sicily (827 AD)
Corsica (754 AD) and others. Corsica even has a pirate head as their symbol on one of their flags.

In some of these places, it was recorded that these pirate settlements once they were re-conquered by the Christians remained in those areas and converted to Christianity.
By paralleling history in other areas with pirate history in the Mediterranean an image starts to emerge for the the history of Parparia. Parparia’s history mimicks the history of dozens of other places in the Aegean that attribute their origins and history to Saracen pirates, especially islands.
The formula one sees is clear, once Christian armies started to push back Muslim forces and settlements, the prisoners or towns left behind were usually forced to convert to Christianity. In the areas of modern France, Spain and Italy, Saracens that converted to Christianity became Catholics. In areas of modern Greece they became Orthodox. The Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and a large part of southern France was under Saracen or Arab rule at one time or another. In parts of Spain, Muslim rule existed for almost 800 years (Granada).
It is written that between 840 AD and 1017 AD the three great nations in existence were the Byzantines (Greeks), the Saracens (Arabs) and the Franks (French).