Friday, June 24, 2011

History Of Rome Update

FLG is still listening to The History of Rome podcast. He's arrived at the First Triumvirate, and this brings up a subject near and dear to FLG's heart -- yes, pirates. You see, Pompey cleared the Mediterranean of pirates in three months and Caesar was captured by pirates. He was held for ransom, during which time he told the pirates 1) that he was worth more than they were asking for and 2) upon release he'd get a fleet and fucking crucify them. Sure enough, that's precisely what he did.

Now, the podcast claims that Caesar was on the way to Rhodes at the time of his capture, but FLG doesn't remember that being the case. In any case, it makes the story more interesting for FLG because Rhodes figures prominently in the Ancient piracy.

Rhodes remained independent throughout Alexander's conquest and even from the successor empires. Each had some interest in keeping Rhodes independent and probably just as important Rhodes was circumspect in its actions always wary of drawing the ire of the much stronger empires.

It wasn't all that difficult because Rhodes was primarily concerned with trade. Since it's an island, even more specifically, concerned with maritime trade. Pirates sort of gunk up the works when it comes to maritime trade. Thus, Rhodes was very interested in keeping the piratical menace at bay. So, Rhodes, out of both self-interest and in no small measure to ingratiate itself to the wider Mediterranean world, took up the mantle of the Hellenistic world's chief anti-piracy police.

But see, here's where things get complicated and for FLG even more fascinating. Rhodes housed one of the three slave markets of the Hellenistic world, and arguably the premier market of the lot. Given that pirates were probably the most consistent source of slave supply, some people didn't or couldn't pay the ransom, this creates a strange dynamic, one which FLG still doesn't fully understand and probably never will. Throughout history people have been capable of cognitive dissonance when there's money to be made, but there's still the question in FLG's mind about how this worked in practice.


Andrew Stevens said...

My understanding, which could easily be deficient, is that Rhodes really was opposed to piracy. While it may have been good for business in some ways, it was on net very bad for business. The powers-that-be in Rome, though, were generally not too fussed about piracy (as you say, slaves) and so, with the ascension of Rome and the corresponding decline of Rhodes, piracy began to flourish in the eastern Mediterranean until Pompey cleaned them up.

FLG said...


You're understanding is correct. Rhodes was adamantly anti-pirate and Rome didn't really care all that much because by and large they weren't a naval power. They'd raise a fleet when they needed to. Punic Wars, etc. But overall, they stuck to land.

What vexes me is that Rhodes was anti-pirate while also home to the largest slave market. Given that pirates were intimately involved in the slave trade, how did they square that circle?

Again, I get that cognitive dissonance can occur when there's lots of money to be made. But there must have been some sort of rationale covering whether a pirate could come to the market as long as he wasn't pirating at the time. I've just never been able to find it.

Andrew Stevens said...

I've always assumed that the slavers were different people from the anti-piracy forces. Presumably the pirates dealt with slavers outside of Rhodes and the slaves were brought into Rhodes to be sold.

Alpheus said...

I would question the claim that Rhodes was the region's biggest slave market during the period in question. From the mid- to late second century B.C., the big slave market was at the free port of Delos. (The Romans had allowed it to be a free port in part to punish Rhodes for its dubious allegiance in the Macedonian Wars). Certainly Delos was where pirates preferred to sell their slaves. So Rhodes never had much of an economic interest in piracy.

FLG said...


Well, I am conflating time periods here, but Pompey only had to have his little war on pirates because Rhodes' power and wealth had waned by then.

So, it wouldn't surprise me if by that point Delos was the bigger. But I think Strabo did say Rhodes was the biggest at one point during the Hellenistic period, but it certainly was one of the big three.

Nevertheless, it's still weird to have a top 3 market for a product largely traded by your mortal enemy.

arethusa said...

But I'm not sure it's so weird, given how much any state after the late 3rd century BC that wasn't suicidal would want to stay on good terms with Rome - and the Romans were highly dependent on slave labor. Why not offer them a market for what they wanted? That seems like a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy in attitude you note.

I would also imagine that Rhodes got a good number of its slaves from the almost-eternal state of war over in Seleucid Asia, Egypt, and (later) Bithynia and Pontus during the Hellenistic Age.

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