“There was a single blue line of crayon drawn across every wall in the house. What does it mean? I asked. A pirate needs the sight of the sea, he said and then he pulled his eye patch down and turned and sailed away.”
Hear the word “pirates,” and you probably think of the Pirates of the Caribbean in the 17th century’s Golden Age of Piracy. Swashbuckling freebooters plundering the Spanish Main, swinging on ropes and burying chests of doubloons.
While Hollywood and adventure novels have given these buccaneers most of the press, they were hardly the only pirates to ravage the seas. One of the stranger, and most dangerous, bands of pirates were the Uskoks who terrorized the Adriatic Sea in the 16th and early 17th centuries.
The northeast coastline of the Adriatic Sea had been inhabited by several peoples engaging in piracy from the earliest time. These groups varied in size and ferocity depending on the age and the economic situation. The pirates of Adriatic mainly seized goods from the merchant vessels passing their settlements, though they also made some rare incursionos inland, to pillage settlements and grab inhabitants to turn into slaves fro ransom. Pirates activities were first documented in the early 1 st Century ad and continued until the mid 17th Century. Regular sea traffic (Dalmatian coast was obligatory route for the rich merchant ships sailing between the Levant and the vast lands of Europe), morphology of the land (easy to escape and hide due to many islands and narrow channels), easy ambushes and support of local population made piracy a profitable business for Dalmatians.
Pirates of Adriatic Sea preffered more than anything Venetian Ships. South of Istria, along the Dalmatia coast, Slavic invaders had seized control of the area where the Narenta (Neretva) River enters the Adriatic. From the stronghold the Slavs launched incessant pirate raids on Venetian merchant ships that attempted to run their gauntlet and reach the Mediterranean. Sometimes the Slavs were joined by marauding vessels from cities of the upper Dalmatia coast, such as Zara (Zadar) and Spalato (Split); at other times the Narenta Pirates (Neretljanski gusari hrv.) preyed on those other Dalmatians as well.
It is interesting that the last refuge for pirates in the ancient time period was in the Adriatic. Dalmatia’s coast made it difficult for pursuers to hunt down the pirates. When Rome annexed Dalmatia in CE 9, it ceased to be a heaven for pirates.
Mediterranean pirates sailed in galleys of various sizes with sleek, narrow hulls. (Although such a vessel often had a single sail, her primary means of propulsion came from oars. This meant men were needed to row, thus raids on villages provided slaves to do this job. Painted eyes adorned the prows so those aboard could “see” their prey.
The Uskoci were Croatian soldiers that inhabited the areas of the eastern Adriatic and the surrounding territories during the Ottoman wars in Europe. Etymologically, the word uskok itself means “the ones who jumped in” (“the ones who ambushed”) in Croatian. Bands of Uskoks fought a fairly successful guerrilla war against the Ottomans, and they formed small units and rowed swift boat.
During the early years of the 16th century, the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia and Herzegovina drove large numbers of Croats from their homes. A body of these “uskoks” established itself in the fortress of Klis near Split, and from there waged war against the Ottomans. Klis, however, became untenable, and the uskoks withdrew to Senj, on the Croatian coast. Their new stronghold, screened by mountains and forests, was unassailable by cavalry or artillery. Large galleys could not anchor in the bay of Senj, which is shallow and exposed to sudden gales. So, the uskoks fitted out a fleet of swift boats, which were light enough to navigate the smallest creeks and inlets of the shores of Illyria.
Moreover, these boats were helpful in providing the uskoks a temporary landing on shore. With these they were able to attack numerous commercial areas on the Adriatic. Eventually, the uskoks saw their ranks swell as outlaws from all nations joined them. These outlaws also included people from areas such as Novi Vinodolski, Otočac and other towns in what is today Croatia. The uskoks would conduct such acts up until 1615 when their piracy went so far as creating an open war between Venice and Austria.
Pirate battle Omiš
This unique event which reconstructs the original Pirate battle that occurred in the 13th century between the Venetians and Omis pirates, which were one of the most powerful maritime forces on Adriatic from 11th to 13th century. In this way town’s tradition and history are being relived again, and tourist offer is being broadened, giving Omis visitors something new and interesting. Stories of Omis pirate past, of pirates who were feared by many greater maritime forces, of battle fought against Venetians and crusaders, have always attracted large audience.