There are pirates in this world, here and there across the vast oceans. Yet in the Mediterranean, piracy is more than just a means to an end. Around the world, various beings raid at sea, but it can’t be said that there is a lot of traffic for them to prey on. In the Mediterranean, commerce is ongoing, flourishing in recent times, and pirates have been around for decades now. They have havens and hideouts, they have their own culture and hierarchy, so here I’ll discuss all of that.
To understand the pirates of this enclosed sea, you have to understand the land around it and those who live there. Across the north of Africa we have several cities, surrounded by numerous villages. This network is known as the Northern Federation. It has been a long struggle, yet these Africans have managed to raise their level of technology and civilisation to a point where they have ships ready to expand their influence. Many of these ships are steam powered, this has been their level for some time, but better craft have been made recently. Mainly warships.
To the east are the mutants. In Eastern Europe they are mostly mutts – the lesser, deformed types – but there are many super-soldiers who have organised the rest. An army is in charge, centralised at Constantinople. Villages and towns are scattered across this end of the Mediterranean, with military camps and bases among them, keeping everyone in check. The mutants don’t go out to sea, their objectives are all on land, but a good number of them are open to trade, as long as the soldiers don’t find out.
I should add when I say mutants, I don’t include the aquatics. These reside in the sea and are part of the reason why the mutant army don’t intrude on the water – the two groups have an understanding to not interfere with each other. But the aquatics here aren’t exactly the same as those elsewhere. Aquatics swim around the world, sharing everything with their own and supporting each other, while keeping the land races at a distance. But a certain number of them reside solely in the Mediterranean, and they have more contact with the land, and are more influenced by the people there.
Finally, across the European coast line, are human settlements, which have been trading with one another for a long time. A number of these have grown to be known as market towns. Trade has brought many things, including new resources, and also ambition and greed. Wooden ships sail along the coast, transporting goods and spreading the wealth. Everyone wants in on the action. Which returns us to the pirates.
They began as European humans. As trade spread along that coast, many who couldn’t afford to get involved found alternative methods. Grab a ship, bring some ruffians together, try and ambush a trade ship. Simple enough. Of course, this caused a reaction, and soon secrecy became more important to hide the whereabouts of the trading vessels, while fighters were hired to be onboard. Trading was never hindered enough to stop progress, which was good for the pirates as well. As the humans of the Iberian Peninsular got to know those of the Italian Peninsular, and in turn they began to deal with those from the Aegean Peninsular, word spread even further. The Northern Federation wanted to trade – sparsely at first but more as contacts and routes became established. They were also able to provide better ships to combat the pirates, although those kept to African waters unless provoked. Aquatics began helping out, usually for a fee, sometimes for knowledge. The mutants of Eastern Europe, who were under less restriction by the army than in other places, started to trade, and so word spread again, leading to certain mutt settlements becoming part of the network, able to sell military equipment their unknowing overlords had stored away.
To be honest, this post has become more about the Mediterranean region than just the pirates, but they are an important ingredient and reflect the various parts of the region. Pirates are now of many types of being. Mostly they remain humans from Europe, but Africans are not unusual, nor are mutants. In fact, mutants from Normandy are known to travel down and adventure at sea because of the fame of pirates. They sail in wooden ships, yet other tech and types of equipment will usually be found with them too. Pirates raid to sell on, but also to better themselves. The more the market towns of Europe and the Northern Federation try to protect their trade, the further the pirates go to overcome them.
Pirates vary as well in nature, although they are all pretty much criminals aiming to steal. Some are bloodthirsty. Some act according to cunning as opposed to brute force. Some are looking for financial gain. Some want glory and action. Some crews are well organised and well led. Some are little more than vicious gangs. Some are there by choice, others enslaved.
As expected, a captain leads each crew on each ship. In order to be one, you had better either be the scariest bastard on the ship or have some kind of usefulness that makes the crew want you in charge. If you are of the latter, even with popular support, it is best to have a few strong lieutenants to back you up. These could include first mate, bosun, helmsman, quartermaster, navigator, etc. All roles on a normal ship are just as vital on a pirate one. The difference is any failure could meet disposal rather than demotion.
The running of the ship will vary, depending on the type of captain and the way he or she does things. A brutal tyrant who treats the crew little better than slaves will pretty much keep them together, allowing little time off the ship to relax. Most pirate captains tend to rotate personnel. After a successful raid or adventure, crews tend to want to land and enjoy their gains. If things didn’t go so well, part of the crew might want to get away, or the captain might want them removed before they start trouble. Either way, a captain will tend to have a smaller, select crew who have proven themselves over time, while the rest will come and go depending on timing, the risks, the reputation, etc.
Obviously, a successful captain can attract more and better pirates, so reputation counts for a lot. It can also help where enemies are concerned. As occurred in times past, pirates have flags and emblems to let others know who they face, so if your reputation carries weight, a ship may give in without a fight. Also, as used to be the case in our world, pirates of this time and place have a dreadful reputation, and many people around the Mediterranean have heard horror stories. Not all are true, but there’s certainly enough truth in them. Pirates have havens for a reason – anywhere else and you’re a wanted criminal. Even a suspicion of piracy can get someone hung.
Pirates lead very dangerous lives. The sea can be tough enough, along with diseases, illnesses and ailments any ship on voyage might endure, but the problems they have caused for merchants mean rewards for their heads are high. Pirate hunters roam the Mediterranean. Not nearly enough to stop the pirates, but they tend to be formidable foes, so are best avoided. Of course, other pirates are a danger too, and while at sea, everyone is considered fair game. That’s why the havens were created. Mainly they are very small islands, usually with no one in charge. Everything operates on an understanding that everyone plays nice and so everyone benefits. With a few exceptions, it has always worked, not least because even pirates need a place where they can relax.
While pirates are the criminals of the sea, they aren’t the only ones. Merchants from the market towns, even from the Northern Federation, have found these scum to be useful allies or employees. Trade secrets are jealously guarded, so spies are watching and listening, and gathered information tends to get sold onto pirates or handed out with an agreement for joint reward. Betraying pirates is a bad idea though. Pirates are divided and divisive for the most part, but they also understand the need to stand strong, as all groups do. Pirates will strike back if they have been wronged. Not all, many are selfish and will only act if they are the victim, but if someone mistreats one of their community, enough will react, and others will join in seeing the chance for personal gain. In essence, doing business with a pirate is as dangerous an act as it is unscrupulous.
The pirates of the Mediterranean are a frustrating yet inevitable part of the expanding trade there. While the attempts to prevent them from raiding settlements and stealing ships goes on, many have come to accept their presence, along with storms and human error. When pirates steal, the goods usually end up back in the trade system anyway, so often merchants put more effort into buying their cargo back rather than seeking revenge. In this way, sometimes they even buy it back from those who stole it. Cuts out any middle-men. Pirates can be bought and bribed, same as anyone else. Well, many pirates can. To some, being a pirate is something to maintain. Yes, they are criminals – cutthroats and thieves, raiders and marauders. But merchants and mercenaries are no better. Pirates should keep their word to one another. Pirate captains need to listen to their crews and rewards need to be handed out justly. Havens are to be respected. Fear must be maintained but excessive cruelty only brings down greater repercussions.
Pirates have their place in the ecosystem of the Mediterranean. That is, as long as they don’t push it. Once, someone did. A pirate climbed the ranks and became head of a number of ships and crews, and terrorised the sea and coastlines. He went so far that all sides came together – the Northern Federation, the market towns, and even other pirate captains. They all wanted him gone. After a severe battle, he was chased out, and what was left of his fleet was hunted down. That was twenty years ago. There are those who fear his return, his name is even banned in some places, but for now, pirates know they can keep making this life work as long as they don’t overstep too far. Breaking the law is one thing, but the trade of the Mediterranean has to keep going. For everyone.