Monday, May 29, 2017

Piracy | Reprinted from Neos Kosmos

In the ancient Greek world, however, piracy was, much more than just an occasional headline, it was an endemic part of how the ancient world operated. Alongside the continual military campaigns that crisscrossed the Aegean sea, a citizen of any city was perfectly free to fit out a private ship, capture enemy vessels and keep the spoils for themselves.

Often these ‘pirate’ ships would band together into their own pirate fleets to increase their chances of success. Certain islands in the Aegean were renown for providing safe harbour for pirates, like the island of Melos, and others were well known as places in which to trade stolen goods and slaves, like the island of Aegina just off the coast of Athens.

Outside the Aegean was no safer. The Adriatic sea, between Italy and Greece, had an even more cosmopolitan mix with Greek and Etruscan (the native inhabitants of Italy before the Romans) pirates sharing the waters. Indeed the city of Zankle (modern day Messina) on the coast of Sicily was well known for producing some of the most ferocious and successful pirates in the whole of the ancient world.

But what is even more interesting is the reaction of the city and state authorities of ancient Greece to the problem of piracy. There were occasional attempts to attack pirate vessels and ransoming captured individuals was not unheard of. But much more often, city authorities chose to work with the pirates.

Generals would sometimes employ pirate ‘fleets’ as a ‘shock and awe’ first wave of attack before sending in their own troops. Conversely the admirals of large city fleets would often extract protection money from islands in the Aegean to keep them safe from pirates.

But perhaps the most outrageous case is this. In 355 BC, according to the orator Demosthenes, Athenian ambassadors were on their way to Karia in Turkey on state business when they made a detour to capture a ship sailing from Egypt and pocketed for themselves the wealth on board!

Reprinted from Neos Kosmos

Notorious Pirate Havens

Notorious Pirate Havens -- Part 1 The Ancient World By Cindy Vallar Ancient Greek pirates used the Lipari Islands as their base for over 2500 years.  Istria offered Illyrian pirates sanctuary until they attacked a convoy of Roman ships laden with grain in the Adriatic Sea.  Rome launched two punitive strikes against the pirates that destroyed their bases in Istria.  For over eight hundred years, beginning in the tenth century BC, Dorian Greek pirates operated from Crete, which was located along busy shipping lanes.  Not until the second century BC, when the Rhodeans began patrolling the eastern Mediterranean with the express purpose of stamping out piracy, did Crete cease to be a pirate haven.

In the Antalya Province of present-day Turkey was the ancient land of Lycia.  Independence was so important to the Lycians that when Persians attacked in 546 BC, the Lycians went to extreme measures to remain free.  According to Herodotus, they were defeated and forced to retire within their walls, whereupon they collected their women, children, slaves and other property and shut them up in the citadel, set fire to it and burnt it to the ground.  Then…they marched out to meet the enemy and were killed to a man.  They repeated this supreme gesture of freedom when Rome attempted to incorporate Lycia into its empire.

Some Lycians were also pirates.  Their coastline contained many coves and inlets where they could lie in wait for heavily laden merchant ships that sailed passed Lycia on a regular basis.  The Lycians swooped down on their prey, plundered the ship, and returned from whence they had come.  In 1194 BC, Ramses the Third managed to destroy these havens for a time, but eventually the pirates returned.  They played an instrumental role in helping Xerxes invade Greece in 480 BC.  Several times the Romans also tried to suppress these pirates before finally succeeding in 67 BC.  Yet, once the Roman Empire fell, Lycia again became a haven for pirates, and this time they attacked passing ships into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when British warships began to patrol the coast.

Another area rife with pirates was Cilicia, located on the southern shore of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) near the trade route that connected Syria to Italy and Greece.  In addition, its nearness to Egyptian and Palestinian sea lanes, numerous rocky inlets, jutting headlands, and hidden anchorages proved ideal for pirates.  Cilicia became the most notorious pirate haven of ancient times and was home to one of the largest enclaves of pirates in history.

Cilicians captured Julius Caesar in 78 BC and imprisoned him on Pharmacusa until someone paid his ransom.  At the height of their power, these pirates almost crippled the maritime trade of Ancient Rome.  Such dominance could well have destroyed the empire.  To counter this, Pompey the Great attacked Cilicia in 67 BC so fiercely that the pirates were almost annihilated.

The last refuge for pirates of the Ancient World was in the Adriatic.  Dalmatia’s coastal region made it difficult for pursuers to hunt down pirates.  When Rome annexed Dalmatia in AD 9, it ceased to be a haven for pirates.



The roots of the word "piracy" come from the ancient Greek πειράομαι, or peiráomai, meaning "attempt;" i.e., an attempt to rob for personal gain. This morphed into πειρατής, or peiratēs, meaning "brigand," and from that to the Latin pirata, where we get the modern English word pirate.However, they were frequently referred to by ancient Greeks as "leistes", the same word used for land-based thieves.

A number of geographic and economic characteristics of the classical world produced an environment that encouraged piracy. First of all, "The coasts of the Mediterranean are particularly favorable to the development of piracy." The barren, rocky shoreline was not suitable for large scale agriculture and could not support a large population. Therefore, most villages were small and of humble means. Being coastal villages, the primary method of support came from fishing, so most of the able-bodied men had boats, seafaring skills, and navigational knowledge. When fishing wasn’t enough, many men turned to highway robbery and raids of nearby territories to support themselves. However, land trade routes were few and far between, given mountainous obstacles and few rivers. Therefore, most nations deemed "the principal lines of communication should be by sea, and the bulk of commerce should be carried by the same routes."

In the early days of maritime navigation, most trade vessels hugged the coasts. "Traffic was restricted to fixed lanes in a way impossible on the open ocean." The naukleroi, or ship-owning merchantmen, moved slowly along established trade routes with their heavy burdens weighing them down. Imagine a fisherman-raider seeing treasure-laden trade ships passing the shores he knows like no one else, day after day. With the motivation and the means to do so, it wasn’t hard for coastal natives to apply themselves to sea-robbery. They brought a thief's mindset to the sea and simply changing their method of thievery. "The pirate was the robber of the sea highways: and the highways of the Mediterranean were well-defined and well-traveled."

The rocky coast that had been unsuitable for agriculture was perfectly suited to piracy, outfitted with hidden inlets that allowed quick access points to trade routes. "Pirate enclaves grew up along rocky shores that provided shelter and kept them hidden from view until it was too late for their victims to escape."

These early maritime raiders were at the same time the first true pirates, attacking anyone of any nationality, owing loyalty to no one, but also quite unique. Because of their roots in land raiding, they were known not only to attack ships and coastal towns but also to venture further inland. This caused even the earliest large cities to relocate anywhere from 2 to 10 miles away from shore. Pirates tended not to go any farther inland due to difficulties escaping. Speed was one of the most important elements of piracy. This relocation gave a relatively effective cushion of safety to major cities such as Athens, Tiryns, Mycenae and others. It protected them from the sea's dangers, although it also cut them off from its benefits. The sea was still the primary, and practically only, area of major commerce. This caused twin cities to be built, one inland city paired with a coastal port, such as Rome and Ostia, Athens and Piraeus, etc. To protect their connection they built "‘long walls’ like those that enclosed the thoroughfare between Athens and Piraeus." The maritime historian Henry Ormerod said, "If we remember that piracy was, for centuries, a normal feature of Mediterranean life, it will be realized how great has been the influence which it exercised on the life of the ancient world."

Despite these efforts, they couldn’t completely remove contact between the pirates and the ports. Since they couldn’t effectively disrupt the pirates "business," it only continued to grow. Men often joined the very pirate ships that attacked their own towns. Even the sailors on merchant ships attacked by pirates turned to piracy themselves when they were out of work. Piracy offered a free and lucrative career, a chance for those who were interested to try to change their lives and better their livelihood a hundredfold in a very short time. For example, the area around Crete, famous for its slave markets, was known as "the Golden Sea" because of how profitable the slave trade was Unsurprisingly, Crete was also notable for its pirates. In point of fact, if a city had a successful slave market it was most likely a pirate port. Notorious pirate havens like Cilicia and Delos had thriving slave markets. "According to Strabo, as many as ten thousand slaves were sold in Delos in just one day." Being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery was so common that it was a favorite theme of ancient Greek dramatists.

Piracy had become something of a bogeyman, and defence from pirates is frequently given as one of the reasons for cities to set up honorific decrees for individuals, as with the c. 166 BC decree from Imbros: ""Lysanias is benevolent towards the people […] he stood firm and brought news of the descent of pirates" 

The phenomenon was particularly endemic in certain areas, notably Cilicia (southeastern Turkey) and Illyria (western Balkans) There is evidence that "the coastal Illyrian tribes had created their own type of vessel, the lembus, in which to carry out their depredations." It was a small, fast ship built to serve the purpose of quickly emerging from or retreating to hidden inlets to attack heavier vessels.

Illyrian piracy could be more correctly termed privateering, as it was endorsed by the state. In Polybius’ Histories, which covers the period of 220–146 BC, his description of Teuta, Queen of the Illyrians states "Her first measure was to grant letters of marque to privateers, authorizing them to plunder all whom they fell in with."

"So powerful did the Illyrians become that by 230 BC no honest traders wished to participate in maritime commerce."  Rome's attention was on land based conquests, and they did not initially seek to become the naval police that Rhodes and previously Athens had been for the Greek islands. However, when Illyrian forces attacked a convoy of ships with grain intended for the military, the Senate decided to send two envoys to Queen Teuta, who promptly had one killed. Outraged, "Consul Gnaeus Fulvius sailed for Illyria with two hundred ships, while Consul Aulus Postumius and 20,000 soldiers marched overland." By 228 BC, Teuta had surrendered, and the Romans had decimated the forces of one of the most notorious pirate havens in the Mediterranean.

County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos

County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos 

The County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos existed from 1185 until 1479, as part of the Kingdom of Sicily. The title and the right to rule the Ionian islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos was originally given to Margaritus of Brindisi for his services to William II, king of Sicily, in 1185.[1]

Following Margaritus, the county passed on to a branch of the family of Orsini until 1325, when it passed briefly to Angevins and then, from 1357, to the Toccho family. The Taco used the county as a springboard for their acquisition of lands in the Greek mainland, and were successful in gaining control over the Despotate of Epirus from 1995 on. However, facing the advance of the Ottoman Turks they successively lost their mainland territories and were once again reduced to the County Palatine, which they held until 1479, when it was divided between Venice and the Ottomans. Zakynthos was put under the direct rule of Venice.

The end of the Frankish conquest in the islands of Cephalonia, Zakynthos and Ithaca was linked with the pirate and admiral of the Sicilian fleet Margaritus of Brindisi, known to the chroniclers of the late 12th century. He developed significant activity as the trustee of William II, Norman king of Sicily. In Latin documents of 1192 and 1193 he signed in Greek, as Margaritoni admiral count Melitios. Irrespective of Margaritus’ unclear descent, it is certain that William, after the Norman invasion of 1185 against the Byzantine provinces, granted him the new Norman acquisitions in the Ionian Sea, in exchange for the services he had offered to the Normans.

Ten years later, in 1195, Maio or Matthew Orsini, possibly an offspring of a Sicilian branch of the family of the palatine counts of Rome succeeded Margaritus as the ruler of the Ionian Islands. In order to secure his position, Matthew recognized the dominion of Venice and of the pope and later of the prince of Achaea. That same period the Orthodox bishopric of the islands was abolished, the Episcopal thrones were occupied by Latins and the feudal system was put into force. The successor of Matthew, Richard, the "most noble count of the palace and lord of Cephalonia, Zakynthos and Ithaca", authenticated in 1899 the estates of the Latin bishopric of Cephalonia. During the reign of the latter Frankish ruler, Cephalonia had become a refuge for pirates.

The Orsini family did not only rule the Ionian Islands but also conquered Epirus in early 14th century, thus acquiring the title of 'the despot' as well. Certain members of the family embraced the Orthodox dogma and married Greek women. After the death of John II Orsini in 1335, the islands were occupied by the Anjou, who, as rulers of Achaea had the islands under their suzerainty until then.

The Angevin occupation lasted until 1357, when the said Greek territory was ceded to the Italian family of the Tocchi, who remained in power for over a century and secured unity in the governance of those three Ionian Islands. In 1357, Robert of Taranto ceded Cephalonia, Zakynthos and Ithaca to the governor of Corfu Leonardo I Tocco - as reward for the services he had provided when he was a captive of the king of Hungary.

After the expansion of his dominion to Leukas, Leonardo I Tocco attempted to reinforce his position against Venice, the pope, the Anjou, but mostly against the Albanians of Epirus, by entering into family relations with the Florentine family of the Acciaiuoli.

This policy gave the family of the Tocchi increased power, which reached its peak during the 15th century with its expansion to the continental coast, after Carlo I Tocco had conquered Ioannina (1411) and Arta (1416). He received the title of despot by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and maintained the Byzantine tradition. Seated in the islands of the Ionian Sea or in the acquisitions in Central Greece, the dynasty of the Tocchi attempted to win over the populations by ceding to the seigneurs, according to the Chronicle of the Tocco, "inheritances", "estates", "kratimata" and "pronoias". Following an analogous policy on the religious front, Leonardo III (1448-1481), the last of the Tocchi dynasty, reinstated the Orthodox episcopal throne of Cephalonia that had been abolished by the Orsini.

Venice was not pleased with the increased influence of the Tocchi. The downfall of the duchy of the Tocchi by the Turks (1479) gave the opportunity to the Serenissima to intervene resolutely in the Ionian Sea and succeeded, through the treaty of 1484, in annexing Zakynthos and later, in 1500, Cephalonia and Ithaca.

Counts Palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos
Margaritus of Brindisi
Orsini family
Matthew Orsini, 1195 – A.1238
Richard Orsini, B.1260 – 1304
John I Orsini, 1304–1317
Nicholas Orsini, 1317–1323
John II Orsini, 1323–1325
John of Gravina, 1325–1336
Robert of Taranto, 1336–1357
House of Tocco
Leonardo I Tocco, 1357–1376
Charles I Tocco, 1376–1429
Charles II Tocco, 1429–1448
Leonardo III Tocco, 1448–1479

"GNTO-Greek Islands-Zakynthos-Historic Facts". Retrieved 2017-05-23.