Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cilician Pirates

Alanya in Turkey on the Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book ...Image via Wikipedia
This here is a partial map of the coast near Alanya, drawn by Ottoman cartographer, Piri Reis, sometime between 1465 and 1555. As you can see, besides the two castles at the points, there is little in between. It's still pretty much the same today, and if we go back to the first century BC, the only major difference is that the castles were smaller. An extremely craggy coastline is apparently deterent to urban sprawl. (Yay for that!) 

The Taurus mountains (pictured on the right edge) cut the area off from Anatolia on the one side and come sprawling down to the sea on the other. Spectacular coves and views result, but as I learned, the zigzag on the map means the distance from A to B is increased exponentially.

(Please don't ask me about the hours I spent, white-knuckled, on a two lane road which barely hugged the mountain, watching the locals zip past at light speed before they whipped around the hairpin turns in a scene reminscent of a mad rally car race. Just don't.)

Anyway, back to the purpose of the post - Roman era PIRATES!

Take a look at Cilicia Trachea (rocky Cilicia) in the photo on the left. Gorgeous, isn't it? I'm not the only one who saw possibilities here.

Coves for hideouts + plentiful supplies for ship building = heaven for rogue Seleucid, Diodotus Tryphon, and lots of his pals. (Strabo called him the first Cilician pirate.)

Back to the map...
  1. Point A :Coracesium (modern Alanya), the big castle and the impenetrable main fortress of the pirates. (Separate post, I promise.)
  2. Smooth curve (which we know is actually quite jagged. Piri Reis probably didn't want to get snagged by the rocks, hence no detail.) 
  3. Point B:Mamure castle, (the whimpy one at the bottom), built by the Romans to fight them.
No wonder the Romans weren't very successful, but then their heart wasn't in it either. Pirates were useful to the Roman slave trade, even if they did screw up the grain markets with their continuous pilfering. Cilician pirates especially were living the high life. They mocked Rome, offering protection and seeking welcome in every port of call as they inched toward the Apennine peninsula.
This via wikipedia: Plutarch recounts a particular custom of the Cilician pirates. When a prisoner of theirs called out he was Roman, the pirates would pretend to be scared and beg for mercy. If the prisoner took the pirate's mockery in earnest, they would dress him in Greek athletic shoes and a toga, that they might not repeat the mistake. After they were satisfied mocking him, they would lower a ladder into the sea, and, wishing him a fortuitous journey, invite him to step off. If the man wouldn't go of his own accord, they would push him overboard.

However, some (stupid) pirates got a little ambitious when they kidnapped Julius Caesar - twice.
The first time the pirates ransomed him for 500 kilos of silver, the second time they got a thousand. Julius Caeser didn't like the pattern he was seeing. He hopped on a war ship, defeated the responsible parties and crucified them. (We're probably being literal with that term.) Eventually, the Cilician menace pissed off enough Romans to warrant a true fight. The pirates tried not to engage, but they were disbanded and shipped off to farm the lands of inner Anatolia, as far from their beloved sea as possible. 

So...why am I interested in this right now? Alanya/Mamure/and the Cilician coast, are my next story stop. Guess who I need to work in? The character is already coming together in my head - if I just give him a name, I'm sure he'll show himself. I think I'm really going to like him. :)

Any ideas on a good modern name for Tryphon?
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Sarah said...

A pirate story!!! My son and daughter are obsessed with pirates, but I hear too much about the horrors of modern day pirates to be much enchanted with them. Still, your pictures and stories have put me in the mood again. I mean, who doesn't love a good pirate tale?

Matthew MacNish said...

Wow. This is fascinating. That map is awesome. I agree, it sounds like there's a great story in there.

Creepy Query Girl said...

God I love history. I need to read a book on the life of Julius Ceasar. Guy lived through some mad crap before being betrayed and killed. LOL

Jules said...

I miss these kind of maps, little pictures representing a not so remarkable landmark (US Landmark) :)

How about Ty, for the name? or maybe Fred? (Just giggling here)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Carolyn V said...

That is so cool. It will make such a great story!

Old Kitty said...

Your book is gonna be EPIC!!!!! Grand and EPIC!!! WOW!

Erm... modern name for Tryphon? It'll have to be something so manly like erm.. Lance! Take care

Laura Pauling said...

isn't research great? There is something about pirates that is fascinating even though I never would have wanted to be one.

Southpaw said...

Cool stuff. Is Mamure castle wimpy? I can't imagine what Coracesium looks like.

Golden Eagle said...

That's a fascinating map!

It sounds like you're story will be awesome! As for names . . . Taylor? Tyler?

Unknown said...

I'm horrible with names so I can't help you there but I love the story of the Pirates and the Romans. Also, I think I would have had a heart attack on that road. I would have got out and walked.

LTM said...

omg omg omg! Now I'm DYING to get started. Must focus... must do work stuff first... ! :D

This is an awesome post, though. And I could tell you some tales about JRM and the "shortcuts" on the map that turned out to be hair-pin long cuts. One almost ended us up dead in the mtns of northern Cali... but I already shared that one, didn't I? ((hugs)) <3

Missed Periods said...

Gosh. Pirates really take it personally if you don't get their jokes.

nick said...

Those dang pirates again!


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