Pirates Of The Mediterranean

God NO! This is not some pathetic off-shoot of the wildly popular Caribbean theme…..besides I cannot afford the price of Johnny Depp……

This post is basically about the noble employment as a pirate in the days of yore (ancient times)…….

Mediterranean stretching from the time of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (r. 1353-1336 BCE) and throughout the Middle Ages (c. 476-1500 CE). Piracy in the Mediterranean remains a persistent threat in the present day only with different kinds of ships and more advanced technology.

Historians sometimes telescope the history of piracy for narrative convenience and wind up implying or even claiming that piracy in the Mediterranean began with the decline of the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE and ended when Pompey the Great (l. c. 106-48 BCE) defeated the Cilician pirates at the Battle of Coracesium in 67 BCE when, actually, Egyptian records substantiate piratical activities in the Mediterranean centuries earlier and Roman accounts report its continuance for centuries afterwards.

Piracy was engaged in by governments and was often considered a legitimate act of war. Pirates were not always the “outsiders” flying under their own flag but were frequently employed by governments and were encouraged in their piracy by the slave trade which continued throughout antiquity. Long after Pompey had defeated the Cilician pirates, Rome continued to rely on them for slaves for the empire and, after that empire fell, piracy and the slave trade continued for centuries.


This brings us to the US of 1800….and the presidency of Thomas Jefferson…..

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected president of the United States. As a Democratic-Republican, he was deeply suspicious of a regular military establishment. He worried that professional officers might turn into a new aristocracy (a privileged ruling class) and that professional soldiers could threaten or coerce the people, depriving of them of their inalienable human rights.

Jefferson initially cut back on the armed forces. For maritime security, he felt that America could be protected by a fleet of small coastal gunboats. He sold off or decommissioned most of the Navy’s conventional warships

Thomas Jefferson and the Mediterranean Pirates

Jefferson’s paranoia led to the rise of the Barbary pirates in American history…..

The Barbary pirates (or, more accurately, Barbary privateers) operated out of four North African bases–Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and various ports in Morocco–between the 16th and 19th centuries. They terrorized seafaring traders in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, “sometimes,” in the words of John Biddulph’s 1907 history of piracy, “venturing into the mouth of the [English} channel to make a capture.”

The privateers worked for North African Muslim deys, or rulers, themselves subjects of the Ottoman Empire, which encouraged privateering as long as the empire received its share of tributes. Privateering had two aims: to enslave captives, who were usually Christian, and to ransom hostages for tribute.

The Barbary pirates played a significant role in defining the foreign policy of the United States in its earliest days. The pirates provoked the United States’ first wars in the Middle East, compelled the United States to build a Navy, and set several precedents, including hostage crises involving the ransoming of American captives and military American military interventions in the Middle East that have been relatively frequent and bloody since.


Some historians like to push the narrative that the US brought the Barbary pirates to their knees….it is BS…..Jefferson decided to pay them their ransoms and agreed to a treaty with them.  But the propaganda of the day told it differently.

The mention of pirates brings up romantic illusions of swashbuckling situations and the romance that surrounded these men and women…..but that is what Hollywood sees….reality is far more hard than the fantasies of the movies.

Class Dismissed!

I Read, I Write, You Know

“lego ergo scribo”

9 thoughts on “Pirates Of The Mediterranean

  1. Good history, chuq. Modern day ‘prates’ just use huge armies and air forces to invade countries and steal their oil. Sound familiar?
    Best wishes, Pete.

      1. Sounds much more romantic, Chuq. 😉 Thank you for the interesting history information. However in the US you have the better actors for this genre. 🙂 Michael

  2. Reminds me of one of my fave lines from Burn Notice: “A spy is just a criminal with a government paycheck.” So were these guys–or at least, state-sanctioned as long as they shared the profit.

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