Challenging empires: pirates, privateers and the Europeanisation of ocean spaces (c. 1500-1650)

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Throughout the Middle Ages, piracy and hybrid warfare (public/private) remained endemic across the seas surrounding the European continent. Once Spain and Portugal opened new sailing routes towards the Americas and East Asia, these phenomena rapidly assumed an all-new geographical scale. With the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), Spain and Portugal divided the Atlantic Ocean into two exclusive spheres of influence. In reaction, the French, the English and later the Dutch resorted to piracy and privateering to undermine Iberian mare clausum claims, waging guerrilla warfare against the «lords of the oceans». In the process, pirates and privateers, figures par excellence of contested legal subjectivity, demonstrated the impossibility of claiming the oceans, which were bound to become a global arena between European seafaring nations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSoggettività contestate e diritto internazionale in età moderna
EditorsGiuseppina de Giudici, Dante Fedele, Elisabetta Fiocchi Malaspina
Place of PublicationRome
PublisherHistoria et ius
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)ISBN 978-88-946376-9-4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • history of international law
  • Legal History
  • history of international relations
  • early modern diplomacy
  • early modernity
  • Piracy
  • privateering
  • mare liberum


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