Piracy as Statecraft: The Mediterranean Policies of the Fifth/Eleventh-Century Taifa of Denia
Al-Masa ̄q, Vol. 22, No. 3, December (2010)
The taifa of Denia on the Iberian eastern seaboard was one of the most dynamic of the regional polities that emerged from the disintegrated Cordovan caliphate. Muja ̄hid al-‘A ̄mir ̄ı based his state not only on its continental territories, but especially on the maritime networks that linked it with the Mediterranean. Commerce with Muslim and Christian ports played a role in Denia’s success, but both Latin and Arabic sources emphasise its practice of piracy on a grand scale. In fact, Muja ̄hid al-‘A ̄mir ̄ı built his state as a continuation of the maritime policies of the Cordovan caliphate under which the piracy of independent coastal communities was adopted and expanded into a state- sponsored guerre de course. Muja ̄hid’s pursuance of this policy stemmed from his role in the erstwhile caliphate, but was also motivated by a combination of religious, political and economic factors. The legitimacy provided by his ‘‘jiha ̄d on the sea’’ helped to shore up his power at a time of political instability. This policy also provided the taifa’s economic foundation for much of its history. In fact, the Mediterranean maritime lanes became as much an extension of Denia as its continental territories. Denia’s piracy thus reflects a coherent form of statecraft, informing definitions of the medieval state and territoriality.