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Piracy and the Late Bronze Age Collapse

Wednesday, August 14, 2024 at 8 PM Eastern via Zoom

Piracy and the Late Bronze Age Collapse

Louise Hitchcock

The Sea Peoples were emblematic of the mixed ethnic identities that typified pirates of the Mediterranean world near the end of the Bronze Age. These mixed identities, generally drawn from non-elite classes, seem to have coalesced into cultural groupings whose members split their booty equally.

Experienced sailors from many countries also “jumped ship” to join the pirates, looking for an easier life-style and greater, shared economic opportunity. Their egalitarianism is also reflected in evidence of communal feasting, and settling into common quarters during winter months when sailing conditions were most dangerous.

Pirates played a role in frustrating transnational trade in the Late Bronze Age, which challenged the economies of even the major nations. Surviving iconography displays pirate ships and booty, evidencing their successful “hit-and-run” surprise tactics.

The end of the Bronze Age involved a collapse of international trade. This disintegration likely spelled the end of piracy during these years, too, as without seaborne cargoes to plunder, the rewards for enduring piracy disappeared.

Louise Hitchcock is Professor Emerita of Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology in the Classics and Archaeology Program at the University of Melbourne.