Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties. Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates. The earliest documented instances of piracy were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. Narrow channels which funnel shipping into predictable routes have long created opportunities for piracy, as well as for privateering and commerce raiding. Historic examples include the waters of Gibraltar, the Strait of Malacca, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden, and the English Channel, whose geographic structures facilitated pirate attacks. A land-based parallel is the ambushing of travelers by bandits and brigands in highways and mountain passes. Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.
In the 3rd century BC, pirate attacks on Olympos (city in Anatolia) brought impoverishment. Among some of the most famous ancient pirateering peoples were the Illyrians, a people populating the western Balkan peninsula. Constantly raiding the Adriatic Sea, the Illyrians caused many conflicts with the Roman Republic. It was not until 229 BC when the Romans finally decisively beat the Illyrian fleets that their threat was ended. During the 1st century BC, there were pirate states along the Anatolian coast, threatening the commerce of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. On one voyage across the Aegean Sea in 75 BC, Julius Caesar was kidnapped and briefly held by Cilician pirates and held prisoner in the Dodecanese islet of Pharmacusa. The Senate finally invested the general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus with powers to deal with piracy in 67 BC (the Lex Gabinia), and Pompey, after three months of naval warfare, managed to suppress the threat.
As early as Byzantine times, the Maniots (one of Greece's toughest populations) were known as pirates. The Maniots considered piracy as a legitimate response to the fact that their land was poor and it became their main source of income. The main victims of Maniot pirates were the Ottomans but the Maniots also targeted ships of European countries.
The Barbary pirates had a direct Christian counterpart in the military order of the Knights of Saint John that operated out first out of Rhodes and after 1530 Malta), though they were less numerous and took fewer slaves. Both sides waged war against the respective enemies of their faith, and both used galleys as their primary weapons. Both sides also used captured or bought galley slaves to man the oars of their ships; the Muslims relying mostly on captured Christians, the Christians using a mix of Muslim slaves, Christian convicts and a small contingency of buonavoglie, free men who out of desperation or poverty had taken to rowing.
However, securing uniform compliance with a total prohibition of slave-raiding, which was traditionally of central importance to the North African economy, presented difficulties beyond those faced in ending attacks on ships of individual nations, which had left slavers able to continue their accustomed way of life by preying on less well-protected peoples. Algiers subsequently renewed its slave-raiding, though on a smaller scale. Measures to be taken against the city's government were discussed at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818. In 1820 another British fleet under Admiral Sir Harry Neal again bombarded Algiers. Corsair activity based in Algiers did not entirely cease until its conquest by France in 1830.
Pirates also projected local political authority. Larger pirate bands could act as local governing bodies for coastal communities, collecting taxes and engaging in ãprotectionä schemes. In addition to illegal goods, pirates ostensibly offered security to communities on land in exchange for a tax. These bands also wrote and codified laws that redistributed wealth, punished crimes, and provided protection for the taxed community. These laws were strictly followed by the pirates, as well. The political structures tended to look similar to the Ming structures.
The growth of buccaneering on Tortuga was augmented by the English capture of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. The early English governors of Jamaica freely granted letters of marque to Tortuga buccaneers and to their own countrymen, while the growth of Port Royal provided these raiders with a far more profitable and enjoyable place to sell their booty. In the 1660s, the new French governor of Tortuga, Bertrand d'Ogeron, similarly provided privateering commissions both to his own colonists and to English cutthroats from Port Royal. These conditions brought Caribbean buccaneering to its zenith.
After 1720, piracy in the classic sense became extremely rare as increasingly effective anti-piracy measures were taken by the Royal Navy making it impossible for any pirate to pursue an effective career for long. By 1718, the British Royal Navy had approximately 124 vessels and 214 by 1815; a big increase from the two vessels England had possessed in 1670. British Royal Navy warships tirelessly hunted down pirate vessels, and almost always won these engagements.