Alexandria Digital Research Library

Merchants and marauders : Genoese maritime predation in the twelfth-century Mediterranean

Malain, Nikki Marie
Degree Supervisor:
Carol Lansing
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
European history, Medieval history, and Military history
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. History
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2016

In this dissertation, I examine maritime predation conducted by and against the people of Genoa, Italy during the long twelfth century: 1100-1215 CE. Maritime predation, or piracy, was an endemic phenomenon in the medieval Mediterranean, but very little scholarship exists on the subject. In this study I demonstrate that rich documentation on virtually every aspect of maritime predation exist, both in narrative sources, and in notarial and diplomatic records housed in the Archivio di Stato in Genoa, and that maritime predation was a licit, and even celebrated activity in the period under investigation that involved a wide array of actors, both on the land and sea. I show that Maritime predation in twelfth-century Genoa was both an industry in its own right, and an integral part of the fabric of Genoese society. The importance of this activity to the cities that practiced and were victimized by it has been greatly underestimated by scholars. My study aims to rectify that, and to suggest new avenues for the study of maritime violence and predation.

In Chapter One, I investigate the context of maritime predation in twelfth-century Genoa. I first describe the nature of the sources that are available for studying Genoese life in this period, and discuss both the interpretive limitations and possibilities that these sources offer. I also investigate the emergence, structure, and evolution of Genoa's communal government, which began to take shape at the beginning of the twelfth century. I argue that the precocious documentary culture emerged in Genoa, with its strong emphasis on record-keeping, served to meet the unique needs of a society heavily engaged in long-term collaborative investments and overseas trade. As a result, a wealth of documentation exists from this period, which makes the study of maritime predation, commerce, and many other aspects of daily life in the city possible.

In Chapter Two, I investigate how normal commerce functioned in Genoa, and focus on the activities along Genoa's waterfront district, the Ripa Maris. I show that commerce was not just the activity of handful of travelling merchants, but that it involved men and women from all walks of life, working together as investors, harvesters, manufacturers, shop-owners, ship-builders and so forth. I also discuss the various regions with which the Genoese traded, and demonstrate that Genoa played a special role in commerce between various Muslim regions of the Mediterranean. Finally, I investigate both the Genoese participation in the Crusades, and their long-held hostility towards the neighboring Pisans, and argue that the Genoese sense of enmity was very different from what traditional narratives of faith relations in the medieval Mediterranean might lead one to expect.

In Chapter Three, I discuss the historiography of piracy/maritime predation in the medieval Mediterranean, and examine exactly what kinds of documentation exist on the subject. I argue that it is actually inaccurate to use the term "piracy" in this context, as maritime predation was a licit activity, regulated by the government, and taxed by the archbishop, traditional commerce was. I also demonstrate that the vocabulary used in Genoese sources to discuss predation was the same terminology that was used for the terrestrial hunt. I finally investigate the kinds of ships that records indicate were used in maritime predation, and argue that the medieval Genoese boasted a far more varied arsenal of tools for predation than the scholarship has previously indicated. In Chapter Four, I examine a series of notarial contracts for the outfitting of predatory voyages, and break down the many steps that the process entailed.

Through these contracts, I demonstrate that maritime predation was conducted as a highly-collaborative business venture that involved numerous investors, contractors, and other personnel, and that the contracts used to orchestrate these voyages were the same as those used to organize traditional commerce. I also identify many of the individuals who were engaged in maritime predation, and show that both members of the laboring classes and Genoa's elite frequently engaged in this activity, and that it was, in fact, members of the elite who were most often found organizing major predatory voyages. In Chapter Five, I discuss the targets of maritime predation, and the various methods that were used to try and prevent predation. I analyze the locations where maritime predation frequently took place, and argue that local knowledge and the ongoing collection of intelligence by sea captains were both integral to keeping ships safe.

I also explore some of the methods that the commune used to prevent the capture of Genoese ships, and argue that just as Genoa's elites were often responsible for organizing and engaging in predation, they were also obliged to provide for the protection of merchant vessels. I also show that it is virtually impossible to draw a line between where defensive patrolling ended and offensive predation began. In Chapter Six, I discuss the tactics utilized by maritime predators, themselves, which is a topic that has not been addressed for this period. I demonstrate that predators had a wide variety of tactics at their disposal, and that elaborate networks existed for relaying information about the movement of ships. I discuss the identification of ships at sea through the use of flags and other signals, and the dangers of false identifications.

I finally discuss a number of less common forms of maritime predation, including the commandeering of ships and cargoes from ports, which were considered predatory by contemporaries. Throughout this chapter, I demonstrate that a vast array of actors, working on both land and sea, were involved in maritime predation, and that it was a highly collaborative activity that linked people together, even as it divided them. In Chapter Seven, I conclude my investigation with an epilogue that analyzes changes in maritime predation around the turn of the thirteenth century. I demonstrate that the advent of a new kind of armed sailing ship revolutionized both normal commerce and maritime predation, resulting in a kind of medieval arms race at sea.

I argue that this kind of advance shows that, while many aspects of seafaring may have remained constant throughout the Age of Sail, maritime predation was a highly contextual phenomenon that varied greatly depending on the political, social, and technological context. This, maritime predation it is a subject that must be studied carefully, and in context.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (293 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Nikki Malain
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