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Piracy along the coasts of Lycia, Pamphylia and Cilicia Tracheia from 188 BC to 67 BC: Reasons and Consequenses

The purpose of this paper is to discuss why piracy grew along the coasts of Lycia, Pamphylia and Cilicia Tracheia during the second century B.C. onwards and what kinds of measures were taken by the Romans during the first century B.C. in order to gain control of the southern Anatolian coast.

After the peace of Apameia in 188 B.C., the status of the Hellenistic Kingdoms changed. The Seleucid Kingdom was compelled to give up its claim to the northern range of the Taurus Mountains and its navy was reduced in the Eastern Mediterranean. This was the primary factor for the rise of piracy along the southern coast of Asia Minor.

Another factor was the fact that the Rhodians, who up until the battle of Pydna had taken effective measures to suppress piracy in the Eastern Mediterranean, had their economy severely damaged when the Roman senate cut their privileges, making Delos a free port and liberating several cities of the Peraia. After 168 B.C., therefore, the Rhodians no longer had the resources to fight against the pirates.

The political chaos that followed as the rival Syrian kings fought each other, combined with the incompetence of the Seleucid rulers, made it easy for pirates to take control over stretches of land along the southern coast of Anatolia, mainly from Rough Cilicia to Phamphylia and Eastern Lycia.

The sea trade route from Syria to the Aegean and the western Mediterranean, which ran along this coast, created plenty of opportunities for piracy. Initially the pirates sailed out in small boats, harassing passing merchant shipping. Eventually they became more numerous and navigated larger ships, and organised themselves under leaders mentioned as "tyrants" or "kings", some of whom were notorious and were powerful enough to leave their mark in the historical record. Soon the pirates raided the rich cities of the Syrian and Phoenician coastline, as well as the trade ships going to the Aegean.

During the second half of the second century B.C. neither the enemies of the Seleucids, principally the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt and Cyprus, nor the Rhodians did much to hinder this development, as they saw it as a means of weakening their respective rivals. Until the end of the second century B.C. the Romans did not consider themselves responsible for the general security of the region either. Busying themselves with a civil war at this period, they were unable to control these developments in Anatolia.

Consequently, the pirates steadily increased in numbers and made a profit from both piracy and trafficking in slaves, the latter of which proved to be most lucrative. Slave markets like Side, Crete, Rhodes and Delos willingly assisted the pirates in this business.

By the end of the 2nd century B.C. piracy had become so widespread that the Romans finally took action. Marcus Antonius lead a military campaign in ca. 102 B.C., and as that proved ineffective, Rome issued a Senatus consultum against piracy around 101-99 B.C., declaring the pirates enemies of the people, the friends and allies of Rome. Rome, however, still could not eliminate the pirates in Southern Anatolia and during the three Mithridatic Wars between 90 and 63 B.C. they continually faced forces of pirates who took the side of Mithridates Eupator.

Publius Servilius Vatia, proconsul of Cilicia, carried out several campaigns against the pirates in the years 78-74 B.C. Through his campaigns Servilius ended up controlling the strategically important regions of Lycia, Pamphylia and parts of Cilicia Tracheia. Still, the menace of the pirates worsened; high-ranking Romans were victims of piracy, islands and cities were either abandoned from fear of the pirates, or had been taken over by them. Numerous cities and islands, such as Cnidus, Colophon, Samos and Delos, had been sacked. The power of the pirates was felt all over the Mediterranean. It was impossible to sail anywhere - trade came to a standistill.

The tribune Aulus Gabinius, therefore, proposed a law in 67 B.C. to clear the seas of piracy. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was appointed commander for three years with supreme command over all of the Mediterranean as well as all its coastlines to a distance of 80 km inland, in order to suppress piracy in the Mediterranean once and for all. This he managed to do in an impressively short period of time, due to great military skill and tactics. A large part of his success stemmed from the fact that pirates who surrendered were offered land to begin a new life as farmers and thus had no incentive to return to the sea.

*Dr. Murat Arslan, Akdeniz Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Eskiçağ Dilleri ve Kültürleri Bölümü, 07058 Kampüs - Antalya

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