Danger from the high seas: Pirates shaped the history of the Mediterranean for 3000 years
Rubin International Edition 2013
Introduction: “Piracy” – what kind of images does this word conjure up? Eye patch, peg leg and hook arm? You might perhaps think of silver-screen buccaneer Jack Sparrow, who pillaged and swashbuckled his way through the film “Pirates of the Caribbean”. What hardly anybody knows: pirates had been a very real threat in the Mediterranean, too. Between 1000 BC and the 19th century – i.e. for a period of nearly 3000 years – had they shaped its history. Multidisciplinary scientist teams research this subject at the RUB’s Centre for Mediterranean Studies.
An inland sea, the Mediterranean Sea fulfils an important role: it connects the three continents Europe, Asia and Africa and has always been used as a trade channel. “In the Mediterranean region, the produce that cannot be obtained locally finds its way to its destinations by sea,” explains Prof Dr Nikolas Jaspert, mediaevalist and head of the Centre for Mediterranean Studies. Compared with other seas, such as the Atlantic, the distances that have to be covered in the Mediterranean are never very long. To all intents and purposes, the Mediterranean Sea offers significant structural advantages. Were it not for the one ever-present danger: pirates.
In the past, pirates in the Mediterranean mainly used small rowing or sailing vessels with which they could make quick escape. They frequently landed on shore and sent out raiding parties into coastal regions. Contrary to what one might expect, their booty did not primarily consist of goods, but rather of people whom they kidnapped and turned into slaves. “Neither Christians nor Muslims were permitted to sell their own kind into slavery, they had to do it to each other,” explains Jaspert. Muslims lived in the South, Christians in the North – the Mediterranean thus was divided into two parts, yet communication and exchange were on-going.