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.