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Ancient Piracy

Author: Krzysztof Wilczynski

One of the oldest documents (inscription on a clay tablet) describing pirates dates back to Pharo Echnaton (1350 BC). The report mentions notorious free lance Mediterranean shipping attacks in North Africa.

Greek merchants who were trading with ports in Phoenicia and Anatolia occasionally allude casually to piracy, a classic by-product of such trading activity. There is epigraphic evidence for piracy as well: in the 340s Athens honored Cleomis, tyrant of Methymna on Lesbos, for ransoming a number of Athenians captured by pirates.

The Aethiopica one of the ancient Greek novels by Heliodorus of Emesa (3rd century AD) tells the story of an Ethiopian princess and a Thessalian prince who undergo a series of perils (battles, voyages, piracy, abductions, robbery, and torture) before their eventual happy marriage in the heroine's homeland.

Polycrates (Greek tyrant) seized control of the city of Samos during a celebration of a festival of Hera outside the city walls. After eliminating his two brothers, who had at first shared his power, he established despotism, and ships from his 100-vessel fleet committed acts of piracy that made him notorious throughout Greece.


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