Thanks to the influence of Hollywood and literature when we think about piracy we mostly picture the swashbuckling buccaneers of the Golden Age. Or, of course, some guy in his parents’ basement copying DVDs illegally. But if, in fact, we take Wikipedia’s definition of piracy literally, that being “an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea”, then we see that piracy has been, and is still, going on for the last 3000 years at least.
According to the “Introduction to Piracy,” written by Krystof Wilczynski on the piratesinfo.com website, the use of the word piracy as known today is fairly modern. The first popular usages seem to have occurred in the seventeenth century. Nonetheless there have been instances of piracy in Egyptian, Roman, and Grecian mythologies. There are also many mentions of it in the works of Shakespeare which supports the theory that this word became popular in the renaissance period.
Still, Wilczynski claims that an early form of the word was used by Polybius in Roman historical writings around about 140 BC, and that pirates were even mentioned by Plutarch in 100 AD. This makes sense as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey contain instances of piracy. Nonetheless fans of the Golden Age, and the swashbuckling buccaneers of that period, might be surprised to learn that the Danes were the first examples of organized, large scale pirate activity. Before even then, though, the Vikings were known as “sea-thieves” and were the reason that anti- piracy laws were brought into effect in many counties.
When Governments and Monarchies began to appoint privateers they created a grey area as far as piracy was concerned; these were pirates given the right to plunder and attack ships of enemy countries during times of war by royal or governmental writ. Privateers, however, would be treated as any other pirate should they be caught by enemy ships.
Today there are still instances of real piracy, we’re not talking about the replica ships you see when you’re on vacation, in certain parts of the world. Attacks have been reported in many places, but the most famous (or infamous) are undoubtedly the Somali pirates found off the coast of certain parts of Africa.