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Piracy in the Ancient World

Piracy in the Ancient World

Seaborne brigands were greatly feared in the ancient world. Pirates not only preyed on merchant ships and fishing craft in the Mediterranean but also wreaked havoc on coastal townstaking men, women, and children to ransom or sell as slaves; raiding treasures; and exacting tribute from fearful town leaders.

Responding to the threat of piracy, the Greeks established their primary cities inland for protection and even in their North African and Sicilian outposts they left coastal land uncultivated. Mariners feared pirate ships around every promontory and sought protection from the navies of such states as Rhodes and Crete. The Romans were beset in the time of their early Republic by "Tyrreanean" pirates based in the south of Italy and during the last years of the Empire by the Cilician pirates of Asia Minor. When one great pirate, Sextus Pompeiius, was finally suppressed, rather than being punished he was charged with ridding the seas of his former followers. His attempts failed.

Now available in paperback, Ormerod's classic Piracy in the Ancient World brings the treachery of the ancient high seas alive. Drawing on the works of Homer and Thucydides and the historical records that have survived from ancient Greece and Rome, Ormerod reconstructs the dangers of coastal living and seafaring and the attempts to protect against the threat of invasion from the seas. He describes the general nature of early piracy, ancient navigation, and the pirate's routines and tactics.