The pirates called themselves Cilicians; in fact their vessels were the rendezvous of desperadoes and adventurers from all countries--discharged mercenaries from the recruiting-grounds of Crete, burgesses from the destroyed townships of Italy, Spain, and Asia, soldiers and officers from the armies of Fimbria and Sertorius, in a word the ruined men of all nations, the hunted refugees of all vanquished parties, every one that was wretched and daring--and where was there not misery and outrage in this unhappy age? It was no longer a gang of robbers who had flocked together, but a compact soldier- state, in which the freemasonry of exile and crime took the place of nationality, and within which crime redeemed itself, as it so often does in its own eyes, by displaying the most generous public spirit. In an abandoned age, when cowardice and insubordination had relaxed all the bonds of social order, the legitimate commonwealths might have taken a pattern from this state--the mongrel offspring of distress and violence--within which alone the inviolable determination to stand side by side, the sense of comradeship, respect for the pledged word and the self-chosen chiefs, valour and adroitness seemed to have taken refuge. If the banner of this state was inscribed with vengeance against the civil society which, rightly or wrongly, had ejected its members, it might be a question whether this device was much worse than those of the Italian oligarchy and the Oriental sultanship which seemed in the fair way of dividing the world between them. The corsairs at least felt themselves on a level with any legitimate state; their robber-pride, their robber-pomp, and their robber-humour are attested by many a genuine pirate's tale of mad merriment and chivalrous bandittism: they professed, and made it their boast, to live at righteous war with all the world: what they gained in that warfare was designated not as plunder, but as military spoil; and, while the captured corsair was sure of the cross in every Roman seaport, they too claimed the right of executing any of their captives.

Its Military-Political Power

Their military-political organization, especially since the Mithradatic war, was compact. Their ships, for the most part -myopiarones-, that is, small open swift-sailing barks, with a smaller proportion of biremes and triremes, now regularly sailed associated in squadrons and under admirals, whose barges were wont to glitter in gold and purple. To a comrade in peril, though he might be totally unknown, no pirate captain refused the requested aid; an agreement concluded with any one of them was absolutely recognized by the whole society, and any injury inflicted on one was avenged by all. Their true home was the sea from the pillars of Hercules to the Syrian and Egyptian waters; the refuges which they needed for themselves and their floating houses on the mainland were readily furnished to them by the Mauretanian and Dalmatian coasts, by the island of Crete, and, above all, by the southern coast of Asia Minor, which abounded in headlands and lurking-places, commanded the chief thoroughfare of the maritime commerce of that age, and was virtually without a master. The league of Lycian cities there, and the Pamphylian communities, were of little importance; the Roman station, which had existed in Cilicia since 652, was far from adequate to command the extensive coast; the Syrian dominion over Cilicia had always been but nominal, and had recently been superseded by the Armenian, the holder of which, as a true great-king, gave himself no concern at all about the sea and readily abandoned it to the pillage of the Cilicians. It was nothing wonderful, therefore, that the corsairs flourished there as they had never done anywhere else. Not only did they possess everywhere along the coast signal-places and stations, but further inland--in the most remote recesses of the impassable and mountainous interior of Lycia, Pamphylia, and Cilicia--they had built their rock-castles, in which they concealed their wives, children, and treasures during their own absence at sea, and, doubtless, in times of danger found an asylum themselves. Great numbers of such corsair-castles existed especially in the Rough Cilicia, the forests of which at the same time furnished the pirates with the most excellent timber for shipbuilding; and there, accordingly, their principal dockyards and arsenals were situated. It was not to be wondered at that this organized military state gained a firm body of clients among the Greek maritime cities, which were more or less left to themselves and managed their own affairs: these cities entered into traffic with the pirates as with a friendly power on the basis of definite treaties, and did not comply with the summons of the Roman governors to furnish vessels against them. The not inconsiderable town of Side in Pamphylia, for instance, allowed the pirates to build ships on its quays, and to sell the free men whom they had captured in its market.

Such a society of pirates was a political power; and as a political power it gave itself out and was accepted from the time when the Syrian king Tryphon first employed it as such and rested his throne on its support.(4) We find the pirates as allies of king Mithradates of Pontus as well as of the Roman democratic emigrants; we find them giving battle to the fleets of Sulla in the eastern and in the western waters; we find individual pirate princes ruling over a series of considerable coast towns. We cannot tell how far the internal political development of this floating state had already advanced; but its arrangements undeniably contained the germ of a sea-kingdom, which was already beginning to establish itself, and out of which, under favourable circumstances, a permanent state might have been developed.

Nullity Of The Roman Marine Police

This state of matters clearly shows, as we have partly indicated already,(5) how the Romans kept--or rather did not keep--order on "their sea." The protectorate of Rome over the provinces consisted essentially in military guardianship; the provincials paid tax or tribute to the Romans for their defence by sea and land, which was concentrated in Roman hands.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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