History of piracy

The first recorded incidence of piracy dates back to as early as the 14th century BC when Sea Peoples threatened the Aegean and Mediterranean voyages. In Classical Antiquity (starting in 8th century BC), the Illyrians, Tyrrhenians, Greeks, Romans, as well as the Phoenicians had been involved in acts of piracies. In the 3rd century BC, Illyrians were most popular pirates who were constantly raiding the Adriatic Sea, and thus conflicting with the mighty Roman Republic. Their threat was finally crushed after the Romans conquered Illyria in 168 BC.

During the 1st century BC, pirates set up a large nation in Cilicia (now in Turkey) along the Anatolian Coast, threatening the trade of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean.  The great Roman emperor Julius Caesar is said to be captured by Cilician pirates on a voyage across the Aegean Sea in 75 BC. He was released only after the payment of huge ransom amounting to fifty talents of gold. It’s said that after his release, he raised a fleet, captured the pirates and put them to death.

During the period of 258-264 AD, the Gothic pirates looted the towns along the Black Sea coast and Aegean coast, and reached to Cyprus and Crete. In 286 AD, Romans appointed a military commander to eliminate the Frankish and Saxon pirates. The Irish pirates captured and enslaved the famous Irish saint St. Patrick around 450 AD.

Viking warship

Middle Ages to 19th Century

Vikings, which translates to sea raiders, were the most popular pirates during the medieval age. Considered as very brave and strong pirates, Vikings were active in a wide area from Western Europe to Eastern Europe to coasts of North Africa.  They were mainly active during 8th to 12th century AD.  Moor pirates were also active in this period along the Mediterranean coast. The Novgorodian pirates looted the cities on the Volga and Kama Rivers in the 14th century AD.


Other famous pirates during the middle ages were the Arab pirates, privateers, and the Barbary corsairs. They later sailed to the West Indies and became members of buccaneers pirates who looted ships along the Caribbean Sea.  Buccaneers are considered the most powerful pirates who flourished during the golden period of piracy between 1620 and 1720.

In the early 19th century, the Chinese pirates emerged on the scene. They were active in the waters of Straight of Malacca, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia. Their threat was eliminated by the joint forces of the US Navy and Royal Navy during 1860-70 AD. 

Chinese pirate junk

Piracy in recent times

The problem of piracy didn’t end with the demise of the golden age of piracy. It existed in one form or another somewhere in the world. But it grew rapidly during the last decade of the 20th century, and became a major problem for international commerce in the first decade of the 21st century. Today, there are several hot spots for modern piracy including the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali and Nigerian coasts, Strait of Malacca, and the Indian Ocean.

Modern pirates