Piracy and corsairs in the Mediterranean Sea – First step

Reminder of the initial project

The project was supposed to provide a GIS map showing the level of “piracy-danger” in the Mediterranean Sea. The plan was to use both information about maritimes routes and stories about piracy in Mediterranean Sea. Based on these potentially collected data, the final map should be built using a statistical interpolation. In order to be able to use GIS tools to build this map, the database has to be a minimum solid.

First researches

After a first investigation of these information, we quickly become aware that these kind of data is not so easy to find, in particular those concerning the piracy in the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, a lot of these information may be found in books which could be long (very long), in different languages, manuscripts, etc. However, a quick research in this documentation provides some names of pirates, which may allow to scrutinize more about them and eventually get some places where they have attacked. Some of them are, for example:

  • Uscoks, Croatian pirates in the areas on the eastern Adriatic coast (Wikipedia & other source);
  • Dalmatian piracy, interesting web site describing the strategies of pirates to “find a place to attack” (source);
  • Gafforio, Genoese merchant who “inflicted great damage on Byzantine coasts and shipping in the Sea of Marmara and the upper Aegean.

The previous points are just few examples among what we found, but it is anyway impossible to get an exhaustive lists.

Finally, with respect to this first experience of research, one could ask “how to find this knowledge in a systematic and efficient way ?” Is there a fast way to find a place in an electronic version of a book ? Solutions to these questions may be interesting to seek and may be the subject of an other project.

 New orientation of the project

Then, a new project’s orientation is needed. After discussions with two specialists of the Digital Humanities, the Venetian Incanti are clearly a good start point to begin a new brainstorming.

 What are the Venetian Incanti?

During the Middle Age, and especially between 1283 and 1453 (fall of Constantinople), the Republic of Venice introduced new regular maritime routes to connect the city with the rest of the Europe, through the Mediterranean and Black seas to England and Flanders. In total, the Venetian authority built seven precise shipping routes.

Moreover, a new system of shareholding permitted to share the risks between different acquirers. This system promised a proportional part of the freight for each share and its name is precisely Incanto. All this system involved the logical development of the guarding weaponry of each galley (specific ships used for the Incanti).

Example of Venetian galley – source

Furthermore, the galleys started to travel in small groups to increase their protection. Protected maritime routes were born. Pirates and corsairs started to quake! All details about the routes are recorded in historical archives. One famous researcher about this subject is Doris Stöckly. Based on her researches, the EPFL’s Digital Humanities lab has developed a complete web-SIG interface to precisely represent these seven routes with some additional information. We also have access to a huge database built by Mrs. Stöckly to analyze the Incanti. The database contains a lot of information about different ships that traveled under the Incanto-system.

Example of one part of this huge database and the map of the Incanti routes that was created from this database. (source)

List of the seven routes (source):

Routes’ name Color on the map Epoch of use
1 Romania – Black Sea Red 1283-1453
2 Armenia – Cyprus Dark purple 1294-1453
3 Alexandria Yellow 1301-1453
4 Beirut Green 1374-1453
5 Flanders Pink 1310-1453
6 Aigues-Mortes Purple 1412-1453
7 Maghreb Orange 1437-1464

In fact, we will try to refocus the problematic based on these Incanti to show if the opening of a new protected maritime route is correlated with the abdication of the pirates on the trajectory of this route. In order to do that, it will be necessary to create a database compiling information about 20-30 great famous pirates of this period. This database will record the name, the years and the harbors of activity of each pirate as attributes of a table.

The database will be used afterward in a GIS software (e.g. QGIS) to geo-localize these pirated harbors with points, at different periods. Subsequently, a comparison of these points with the Venetian routes will maybe permit to come to an interesting conclusion.


[Featured image] City of Tunis, 1535. Source. It’s one of the cities visited through the 7th route.

[1] Rochat Yannick, Fournier Mélanie, Mazzei Andrea, Kaplan Frédéric, A network analysis approach of the Venetian Incanto system, long paper at Digital Humanities 2014, EPFL, Lausanne, 10.07.2014.

[2] Web-SIG of the EPFL Digital Humanities Lab, http://incanti.dhlab.ch/