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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2017

‘Piracy’, connectivity and seaborne power in the Middle Ages


ABSTRACT. The author questions the widespread idea that piracy is exclusively a hindrance to maritime communication. He shows that piracy can reinforce connectivity, as defined by Horden and Purcell, by provoking human displacements and increasing ethnic diversity. The repression of piracy is carried out by means of the law, by the creation of institutions such as maritime insurance, or by diplomacy. The author examines the links between political power and piracy, especially in the case of thalassocracies.

RÉSUMÉ. L'auteur s'interroge sur l'idée généralement répandue que la piraterie est exclusivement une entrave à la communication maritime. Il montre que la piraterie peut renforcer la connectivité, au sens de Horden et Purcell, en provoquant des déplacements humains et en accroissant la diversité ethnique. La répression de la piraterie s'effectue par la loi, par la création d'institutions comme l'assurance maritime, ou par la diplomatie. L'auteur s'interroge enfin sur les liens entre le pouvoir politique et la piraterie, surtout dans le cas des thalassocraties.

Maritime history is inextricably connected to seaborne violence, as Fernand Braudel prominently pointed out. This also holds true for the Middle Ages. Just as the sea in its physical dimension had an enormous impact on coastal regions, so did maritime violence. Seaborne attacks changed the shape of urban centres and landscape alike, because they influenced both the defensive layout of settlements and induced the erection of watchtowers or other forms of warning systems. Such measures were generally not so much taken against the effects of state-borne naval warfare, but rather against sporadic, but periodic attacks by maritime marauders, generally referred to as ‘pirates’.