15.06.12, Jaspert and Kolditz, eds., Seeraub im Mittelmeerraum

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Emily Sohmer Tai

The Medieval Review 15.06.12

Jaspert, Nikolas and Sebastian Kolditz, eds. Seeraub im Mittelmeerraum: Piraterie, Korsarentum und maritime Gewalt von der Antike bis zur Neuzeit. Mittelmeerstudien. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh/Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2013. pp. 502. ISBN: 978350677897 (Schöningh), 9783770556373 (Fink) (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Emily Sohmer Tai
Queensborough Community College

There are many Mediterraneans, assert Nikolas Jaspert and Sebastian Kolditz, the editors of this volume: the tourist Mediterranean, of sparkling blue seas and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century traveler's accounts; the craggy North African coast of orientalist captivity narratives; the Mediterranean of Greek and Roman antiquity. Weaving through all these Mediterraneans is the figure of the pirate--as old, as Braudel once wrote, as the history of the Mediterranean itself (431). And yet it continues to be the Atlantic, "Golden Age" of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century piracy that commands the lion's share of popular attention (11-12).

In May 2011, the Center for Mediterranean Studies at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, mounted a conference to correct this misconception. Established in 2010, the Center has been dedicated to promoting innovative research in Mediterranean Studies through conferences that have, in turn, yielded exciting essay collections, the recent Cultural Brokers at Mediterranean Courts in the Middle Ages (Paderborn, 2013) being one example. The volume under review, drawn from transactions of a conference originally entitled Gefährdete Konnektivität. Piraterie im Mittelmeerraum (Endangered Connectivity: Piracy in the Mediterranean) is a similarly valuable contribution, both to Mediterranean studies, and to scholarly literature on world piracy.

The collection is prefaced by a lengthy introduction in which Jaspert, a specialist on the Crusades who serves as the Center's director, and Kolditz, a Byzantinist at the Ruhr Universität, identify several broad thematic questions that inform its twenty chapters (11-37). Chief among them is the challenge of distinguishing criminal maritime theft (piracy) from politically sanctioned maritime aggression (corsairing, privateering), or legitimate commerce (15-19; 31-7). If the perils of piracy posed a common danger in the Mediterranean, the editors suggest, isn't piracy better imagined as an instrument of "connectivity" than as a disruptive activity, antithetical to trade (22)? Is maritime theft always best understood within the political parameters that divisions between "pirates" and "corsairs" would imply, or is piracy more productively situated within the Mediterranean ecosystem invoked by Horden and Purcell in their seminal study The Corrupting Sea (25-6)? To what extent are all these analytical frameworks inherently reductive and deterministic (27)? A brief chapter by Salvatore Bono, follows (39-46), which also considers the pirate/corsair divide, but introduces a major secondary focus for which Bono's own research has laid a substantial foundation: slavery.

Remaining essays are grouped into four sections. Five chapters are included in the first, entitled Akteure und ihre Wahrnehmung (Actors and their Perception): Amir Gilan discusses sources for the Bronze age "Sea Peoples," presenting a nuanced analysis of the mural in the mortuary temple of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III at Medinet Habu (59-61). Gilan argues that the Sea Peoples were a diverse group, comprised not only of Mycenaeans, but also of the Lukki of Western Anatolia (54-6). Deplored as they might be for destroying the "connectivity" of the Bronze Age Mediterranean, Gilan suggests that the Sea Peoples were also agents of connectivity, opening "the Mediterranean to new markets, trade networks, and commodities (65)." Ruthy Gertwagen argues that the actual distinction between corsair (a term she traces, as Hélène Ahrweiler, to the Greek kurson) (68-9), and pirate in the medieval Mediterranean was often as narrow as circumstance, given that "piracy was a customary mode of living for those directly or indirectly involved with the sea" (67). Drawing her evidence from a rich mix of archival, literary, and narrative sources, Gertwagen contends that piracy was essentially a crime of opportunity, taken up most frequently by those appointed as corsairs and merchants, but also by members of religious orders, and "even entities with no original marine inheritance like the Bedouins" (79). Mohamed Cherif discusses perceptions of Christian piracy in a series of medieval Muslim hagiographical texts in which Muslim holy men intervene to miraculously rescue mariners and travelers from capture by Christian pirates (83-103). Michael Kempe, whose recent book, Fluch der Weltmeere: Piraterie, Völkerrecht und international Beziehungen, 1500-1900 (Frankfurt am Main, 2010), has studied the problem of piracy and international law on a world scale, explores the challenge of assessing the actual role of confessional loyalties in early modern Mediterranean piracy, given that interaction between Christian and Muslim was alternately characterized by confrontation, commerce, and even renegade conversion (105-14). Manfred Schneider shows that depictions of corsairs as transgressive, romantic heroes, such as Conrad, The Corsair of Byron's epic poem, actually gained traction as real-life corsairs became less of a credible threat at sea (114-29). By the mid-nineteenth century, Byron's protagonist, created to voice the poet's support for Greek independence, had inspired a ballet and three operas, but, more generally, become the model for a new, universalist, cosmopolitan, image that actually reinforced the criminalization of piracy ratified with the 1856 treaty of Paris (127-8).

Six chapters are grouped under a second heading, Herrschaft, Landschaft und Piraterie (Dominion, Landscape, and Piracy). Vincent Gabrielsen argues that, however "entrenched" distinctions between legal and illegal force at sea have "become...in modern historiography," "opposition between market economy (defended by the state) and predatory economy (represented by piracy)" could not be discerned in classical Greece (133, 136). An individual pirate might well be called a leistês (literally, "booty chaser"); Aristotle had, nevertheless, defined "the art of war" as "an art of acquisition" (146). Far better, then, Gabrielsen concludes, to evaluate maritime raiding as a key strategy for thalassocracy in the classical Mediterranean; not just a form of aggression, but a means to commodify the "protection services" that would establish Athenian, and later, Roman, sea power (150-53). Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio Rivas draws upon classical texts to consider the role of geography in promoting the practice of maritime theft among the Cilicians, whose piracy became the bane of the expanding Roman Republic as Cilicians enlisted in the service of Mithradates of Pontus (134-63 B.C.E.) (155-73). Albrecht Fuess draws upon Islamic sources to trace the history of Muslim maritime aggression in the Mediterranean from the seventh to sixteenth centuries (175-98). Fuess identifies two key periods of Muslim activity: the seventh through eleventh centuries; and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (176). Muslim polities, Fuess contends, were no less oriented toward the sea than their Byzantine or western European contemporaries during these periods; they, too, sponsored rational, strategic, maritime aggression (186-7). Vassilios Christides utilizes Islamic and Byzantine sources to nonetheless argue for distinctions between simple maritime raids, such as those launched by the eleventh-century Taifa of Denia from al-Andalus; and the more strategic maritime campaigns conducted between warring Arabs and Byzantines between the seventh and eleventh centuries (199-208). Enrico Basso studies medieval Genoese corsairs who were enabled by Genoa's unstable political environment to enlist in the service of foreign rulers (209-50). Maritime theft, argues Basso, could become a "social climbing strategy," for men who might well propel themselves into more distinguished positions as admirals for the Hohenstaufen kings of Sicily, or Mediterranean island lords. Yet corsairs such as Francesco Gattilusio (d. 1384), who ruled Lesbos, and enjoyed the favor of the Byzantine Paleologian dynasty (239-46), nevertheless retained ties to Genoa, and actively promoted the interests of their native city. Theresa Vann, who has written extensively on the Order of the Knights of Saint John, discusses measures taken by Grand Master Raimondo Zacosta (1461-7), to impose oversight upon the Order's conduct of corsairing from Rhodes (251-61). Famine and grain shortages, such as the Levant experienced between 1503 and 1510, could, nevertheless, become a significant stimulus for maritime raiding.

In a third section, Reaktionen: Krieg, Diplomatie und Recht (Responses: War, Diplomacy, and Law), Bernhard Linke also considers the Cilicians, but complements Álvarez-Ossorio Rivas's findings in arguing that, however formidable the Romans became at sea, sea-power itself never enjoyed the same priority in Roman policy as territorial dominion (265-80). Rowing in the galleys was a slave's task, never facilitating the upward social mobility that soldiering in the Roman army conferred. The unifying force of Roman power was, thus, a "destructive connectivity," of enslavement and conquest (274-80). Marie Luise Favreau-Lilie, whose work on Levantine piracy in the Crusading era remains foundational, discusses the settlement of disputes over maritime theft in medieval Pisa (281-305). By the twelfth century, a legal and diplomatic process, although incompletely documented, could be discerned in which merchants and captains, Christian and Muslim alike, who claimed damages due to corsair interruption, might appeal to the monarch or urban polity said to have authorized that corsair for the return of any seized goods, on the grounds that these plaintiffs were subject to a polity allied with that of the corsair's. Failure to satisfy these claims could lead to the authorization of reprisals, which allowed plaintiffs, or their authorizing polity, to seize goods belonging to the corsair's compatriots. In addition to a useful discussion of the legal writing about reprisal, which was alternately deplored and justified by the glossators as a necessary evil (295-9), Favreau-Lilie furnishes a valuable appendix list of Pisan, Genoese, and Venetian ambassadors to Muslim polities between 1149 and 1456, culled from extensive archival research (302-5). Christoph Krampe discusses the enduring influence of the Rhodian Sea-law, partially incorporated into the fourteenth chapter of Justinian's Digest, in establishing conventions for the distribution of losses imposed by piracy that endured in medieval, early modern, and even contemporary insurance and international law (307-26). The late Daniel Panzac, a specialist in Ottoman history to whom the volume is dedicated, provides a statistical analysis that documents a "paradigm shift" in Mediterranean piracy over the eighteenth century: However many captivity narratives may have been authored during this period, it was Christian, rather than Muslim, corsairs who were most active after 1700, while trade in commodities supplanted the slave trade between Christian north and Muslim south (327-46).

The fourth section, Gefangenschaft und Gefangenenbefreiung (Captivity and Liberation), further explores the Mediterranean slave trade. Roser Salicrú I Lluch draws upon archival material in Valencia to show that slavery in the medieval Mediterranean varied by what Horden and Purcell termed "micro-regions." While the enslavement and ransom of Muslims dominated the markets of Christian Iberia, Mongols and Eastern Orthodox Greeks were more vulnerable to enslavement in the Levant. In contrast to the activities of ancient pirates, slave capture was nevertheless only one of several objectives pursued by medieval sea-raiders (349-62). Georg Christ considers slavery and ransom as factors in Venetian interaction with Mamluk Egypt (363-75). While both Iberians and Venetians relied upon religious orders to furnish ransom for captives (364), Venetians were likelier to embrace pre-emptive strategies, including diplomacy; the disbursement of protection money, and maritime patrol in the Aegean and the Adriatic. Magnus Ressel and Cornel Zwierlein compare the way three Protestant powers--the English, Dutch, and Hansa towns--approached the challenge of ransoming compatriots during a peak period of Barbary corsair activity, the first half of the seventeenth century (377-406). While some scholars identify confessional divisions as critical factors in determining how individual polities responded to this crisis, Ressel and Zwierlein show that "the degree of political centralization" and the strength of captains and sailors as an interest group, could also shape "the institutionalization of risk management in Northern Europe" (403-6). In both the Dutch Republic and in Hansa towns, captive redemption ultimately became a matter for insurance collectives (391-5). On the eve of the English Civil War, the English Parliament, by contrast, actually cooperated with Charles I to impose a tax for the redemption of English sailors (399). By 1650, the English had negotiated a peace with Algiers but maintained the tax as revenue for the English navy (400). The section closes with an exceptionally valuable list of every Tuscan captive held in the Maghreb and the Ottoman Empire between 1565 and 1816, compiled by Marco Lenci from archival research in Florence, Rome, Venice, Pisa and Lucca (407-30).

Taken together, these analyses lend substance to Horden and Purcell's characterization of piracy as a form of "redistributive exchange" integral to the Mediterranean economy--one of several themes revisited in Michel Balard's elegant conclusion (430-37). The thematic organization of the volume underscores piracy's importance as a source of "troubled connections" across the Mediterranean, inviting readers to tease out continuities from a set of studies that, like much of the literature on piracy, tends to concentrate, episodically, upon maritime theft at a particular time and place (17-20). The research presented in Seeraub im Mittelmeerraum is particularly useful for the way in which so many contributors have documented slavery as one such continuity: integral, certainly, to the practice of piracy in the ancient and early modern Mediterranean; but no less important as a stimulus for the monetization of Mediterranean commerce that accelerated over the medieval and early modern periods. And yet, there were times when this reviewer wondered if the thematic organization of this volume might not have subverted the editors' best intentions, obscuring a few connections that merited deeper examination. Depictions of Christian piracy and miraculous rescue in the Islamic hagiographical literature discussed by Cherif, for example, compelled comparisons to depictions of Arab piracy in contemporaneous Byzantine hagiographical texts such as The Vita of Gregory the Dekapolite, The Life of Joseph the Hymnographer, and The Life of Saint Theoktiste. Although Cherif does not address these parallels, they might have been brought into closer focus had Cherif's chapter been paired with Christides', who does discuss several of these Byzantine texts. Given the wealth of literature on the Cilicians, and the historiographical debate concerning whether their "piracy" was actually resistance to Roman expansion, this reviewer similarly wondered at the decision to group Álvarez-Ossorio Rivas's chapter separately from Linke's. Chapters on medieval Mediterranean piracy might likewise have been brought together to better expose parallels between the conduct of maritime theft and dispute-processing in Christian and Muslim polities. A more explicitly chronological organization might, in turn, have furnished more forceful support for the valid claim the editors make in their introduction: that a study of Mediterranean piracy can lend insight into twenty-first century developments, off Somalia and in the south Asian seas (11-14).

It is, nevertheless, a great strength of this book that its wide temporal focus implicitly supports this contention. By ranging over two and a half millennia, the editors and contributors have addressed key problems in the practice, and historiography, of maritime theft, from ancient times to the present, and critically contributed to a growing literature on Mediterranean slavery. Their volume closes with a comprehensive bibliography on these subjects (439-78), that, like Lenci's and Favreau-Lilie's appendices, will be of great use to scholars. In this respect, the Center has produced a conference volume that substantively expands upon the 1975 transactions of the International Commission on Maritime History in San Francisco, edited by the late Michel Mollat, and noted in Balard's conclusion as a point of origin for much modern scholarship on medieval and early modern European piracy (431). Future specialists on the history of piracy will need to consult Seeraub im Mittelmeerraum as well.

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