Piracy/Privateering/Letters of Marque/Prizes

Pierson, Peter O'M.
January 1996
Reader's Companion to Military History;1996, p363
Book Chapter
The article explores the history of piracy, privateering, letters of marque and prizes. Piracy--robbery at sea--dates from the beginnings of maritime commerce and is a global phenomenon. In the recovery of seaborne commerce during the Middle Ages, European merchants overcame Muslim pirates but sparked new maritime conflicts. Nascent international law recognized licensed commerce raiders, who came to be known in English as privateers, and outlawed unlicensed commerce raiders as pirates. In the American Civil War, the Confederacy licensed privateers, but they found more profit in blockade running and left the hounding of Union shipping to the tiny Confederate navy, whose Alabama captured over eighty merchantmen before being sunk off Cherbourg in 1864 by the USS Kearsarge. The Hague Convention of 1907 refined the prohibition of privateering and set rules for taking prizes by warships.


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