Pirating in the ancient world was more a way of life than an occasional occurrence. Anyone with the means and the resourced could build a ship, take it out to see, capture an enemy vessel, and keep whatever spoils the find onboard for themselves. It was typical for various people to come together and form a fleet for their pirating endeavors to increase their chances of success
When they were not at sea, pirates needed a haven too. That’s why they would end up at the Aegean Sea in islands such as Melos. From there, they would trade whatever they’ve stolen, slaves included, and then proceed on another hut. For them, pirating is how they earned a living and could make money. Pirating was not limited to looting. There were cases where private ships were attacked, and the individuals captured for ransom. In areas where pirating was rampant, individuals would band together to form a fleet and protect the waters. For their service, they would collect money from the island they were protecting.
What was curious about that era was there were instances where the authority, instead of cracking down on pirates, they would choose to work with them for various expeditions. An example would be the pirates would be sent as the first wave of attack on the enemy. After, the naval fleet would come and do the rest of the fighting. For that, they would get paid handsomely for their service.
Greek pirates’ history
Pirates have been around for centuries, with the earlier recording of the same being in 1350 BC. It was a clay tablet that documented a pirates’ ship attacking an area in North Africa. During ancient Greek and Roman times, piracy was commonplace. Ships during that time were not as sophisticated and would sail near the coast, which made them an easy target for pirates.
During that time, pirates had their own base. For the Greeks, they would settle in the Lipari Islands and later Crete, while for the Romans, their haven was Istria. These remained their bases for centuries, some spanning to about 2500 years. However, the pirates were not living peacefully. Various authorities wanted to put an end to piracy, given the economic burden it had on them. An example of a ruler who put his foot down about pirates was Ramses the Third, the second Pharaoh under the Twentieth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt between 1186 and 1155 BC.
By far, the most bothersome pirates that ruled the sea was Lycian pirates, now of modern-day Turkey. They resided on the Lycian coast with the area gaining the name “Pirate Coast.” It was a strategic place for pirates to hide since there were many coves and islands where they could hide and pounce on unsuspecting merchant ships. From 1194 BC to the 19th century, pirates ruled that area. It was the British warships that finally put a stop to pirating in the area.
Other notable pirates are the Cilicia pirates as well, who also come from now Turkey. They have gone down in history for attacking and kidnapping Julius Caesar. Pirating during that time was a massive problem to the point that even the Romans were terrified of the Cilicia pirates. In 75 BCE, they captured the then 25-year old Julius Caesar; the pirates did not know who he was. The narrative goes that Julius Caesar told the pirates to ask for 50 talents for his release instead of the 20 they had initially asked for.
While his entourage was sent off to get the ransom, Julius made himself at home with the pirates. He would engage with them in exercise and games, and he would boss the pirates around. Julius would make them listen to his poems and speeches and would insult them when they were unimpressed. He would also make a “joke” that he would crucify them all. The pirates did not think much of it; they thought he was just an overconfident young man.
Once he was released, Julius used his resources to come up with a large fleet and went to pursue the pirates. He found them where they had captured him and took them to the governor of the Asian Minor. When the governor seemed undecided on how to punish the pirates, Julius went to the prison where the pirates were held and crucified them. The pirates thought he was joking, but they met their end just as Julius had said they would.
Pirates in Greek mythology
In Greek mythology, there is a narrative about how pirates kidnapped Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry in ancient Greece. From time to time, he would disguise himself as human and wander the world. During one time, some pirates saw him walking the beach, and from Dionysus’s appearance, they thought him to be a prince. They then opted to capture him for ransom.
Once upon the ship, the men tried to restrain him using ropes, but they were unable to. One of the men, a pilot, realized that he must be a god, urging the rest to beg for forgiveness and worship him instead. The captain would not hear of it and ordered his men to try and restrain Dionysus again. This time, the god turned into a lion, and after conjuring up a bear, they attacked everyone on board, killing the captain.
When the other pirates jumped overboard, they turned into dolphins when they hit the water. After, Dionysus turned to the pilot and reveled his identity. The man worshiped him and remained a faithful follower for the rest of his life. It is his wisdom to know a god when he saw one that kept him alive while the other pirates met their end.
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