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Pirate Hunting:
The Fight Against Pirates, Privateers, and Sea Raiders from Antiquity to the Present

By Benerson Little


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“The trident of Neptune is the scepter of the world.”
Antoine Marin Lemierre, “Commerce.”
(Le trident de Neptune est le sceptre du monde.)


A serious history of pirate hunting, and by definition, of piracy, privateering, and sea raiding as well–but told from the point of view of sea roving’s victims, of those who put to sea to put an end to piracy and other forms of sea roving, and of those of who were at times both pirate and pirate hunter. A book for the general reader, the fan of maritime action, and the modern pirate hunter who seeks to suppress Somali piracy.

In short, a thorough history of piracy and pirate hunting
from antiquity to the present.

In print, hardcover & ebook.
Potomac Books, 2010



“This is Benerson Little’s latest of three books about pirates. In this one he has done a superb job of recounting the violent history that surrounds pirates and raiders and the measures that have been taken to hunt and suppress them.”

—Jack Gottschalk in the Naval War College Review, October 2012


“Little, a former Navy SEAL and maritime practitioner…combines the insight that comes from his real world experience with a rigorous academic research agenda to produce a unique work: an attempt to provide a universal history not simply of piracy, but of the response to piracy…”

—Nikolas K. Gvosdev in History: Reviews of New Books, Vol. 40, Issue 2, 2012


“In the end, Little does a great service by cementing the truism that history provides meaningful context and potentially useful perspectives from which to analyze contemporary problems. Many, if not all, of Little’s observations ring true to the current plague of Somali piracy. Naval leaders and policy makers alike would do well to consider them as contemporary ways, means, and ends are evaluated.”

—John Patch, Parameters, the U.S. Army War College Professional Journal, 2011


“In summary, Benerson Little has produced a good book that readers with an interest in maritime history and affairs will enjoy.”

—Jack Gottschalk, Naval War College Review, October 2011


“An extremely informative, delightful read for anyone interested in the foundations of piracy and the measures taken to guard against the human casualties and loss of property it caused.”

The Northern Mariner, January 2011


“[A] top pick for a range of collections, from those with a general interest in pirates to others covering military and nautical history. The survey analyzes tactics, strategies, and historic battles between pirates and others, covering naval warfare and maritime commerce alike.”

Midwest Book Review & The Bookwatch, January 2011


“[Little] wants the book to be of use not just to general readers, but also to those finding ways to handle the problem of maritime piracy. He succeeds in both endeavors, and does so in a manner that makes the text interesting and compelling to read.”

—Cindy Vallar, of Pirates and Privateers, The History of Maritime Piracy


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“Benerson Little’s fascinating history of piracy and pirate hunting from antiquity to the present is a delightful and informative book that fills an important gap in the field of naval military history. The book is well written, well organized, comprehensive, and supported by excellent maps that ease the reader’s journey. Little deserves high praise for bringing this important subject to the attention of historians and general readers, who will both benefit greatly from this excellent work.”
—Richard A. Gabriel, author of Philip II of Macedonia: Greater than Alexander


“A vast canvas brimming with historical detail and insight. Little manages to steer a steady course through some 2,000 years of piracy on the high seas, providing not just anecdotes but a compelling human narrative of the seesaw struggle between pirates and those who fought against them. It’s a tale that shares many common threads across the ages, straight into the news of today.”

—Clifford Beal, author of Quelch’s Gold: Piracy, Greed, and Betrayal
in Colonial New England


“The author has compiled a wealth of detail based on far-reaching research. The book is well written and comprehensive.”

—Alfred S. Bradford, author of Flying the Black Flag: A Brief History of Piracy


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From the Publisher

To catch a predator—on the high seas.

Describes how merchant vessels, international organizations, and governments have retaliated against pirate attacks over the course of more than four millennia.

Explains the strategies and tactics used by pirate hunters, from the ancient Minoans to modern maritime professionals.

Examines modern piracy and its relationship to terrorism.

For thousands of years pirates, privateers, and sea raiding peoples have terrorized the ocean voyager and coastal inhabitant, plundering ship and shore with impunity. From the victim’s point of view, these attackers were not the rebellious, romantic rulers of Neptune’s Realm, but savage beasts to be excoriated, and those who went to sea to stop them were heroes.

Engaging and meticulously detailed, Pirate Hunting chronicles the fight against these plunderers from antiquity to the present and illustrates the array of tactics and strategies people and governments have employed to secure the seas. Benerson Little lends further dimension to this unending battle by including the history of piracy and privateering, ranging from the Mycenaean rovers to the modern pirates of Somalia. Associated naval warfare, maritime commerce and transportation, the development of speed under oar, sail, and steam, and the evolution of weaponry are also described.

More than just a vivid account of the war seafarers and pirates have waged, Pirate Hunting is invaluable reading in a world where acts of piracy are once more a significant threat to maritime commerce and voyagers. It will appeal to readers interested in the history of piracy, anti-piracy operations, and in maritime, naval, and military history worldwide.


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From the Author’s Preface

In writing this book, I have tried not to forget Alfred Korzybski’s dictum: the map is not the territory. Although Korzybski was never mentioned, this concept was drilled into me decades ago as a Navy SEAL. We understood that acting on facts, on reality, and not on wishful thinking or tenuous hypothesis, would help keep us alive in a very hazardous profession. The captain of a ship vitally relies on his or her charts yet he or she is constantly verifying them, and ultimately they are not the most vital navigation tool. The depth finder is. The theory of depth beneath the keel is subordinate to the fact of depth beneath the keel, at least if the captain hopes to keep his or her vessel from running aground. And so it was with us, for the ignorance or distortion of facts often had fatal consequences.

I have tried to avoid the trap of forcing or cherry-picking facts to fit a hypothesis or theory, and I have especially tried to avoid theory as ideology or faith, a common trap that too many scholars step into, and which invariably leads to the belief that all opposing ideas are more or less blasphemy and thus must be rooted out with the very tools of misdirection scholars are supposed to decry: obfuscation, distraction, distortion, blind eyes, and deliberate misinterpretation. My goal has been, as far as a hypothesis is even necessary, to let one build itself from the facts and not the other way around.

The rest is very much a descriptive and democratic history and analysis applied in the end to the present circumstances of piracy. I understand that descriptive history is not in vogue with some scholars, notwithstanding its practical value. In the case of pirate hunting, description is vital, for the history of pirate hunting is a grand “post op” which we today can look to in order to deal with current piracy and that which is likely to crop up again. This condition is especially important to me, as I intend this book not only for the general reader interested in the subjects of piracy and pirate hunting, but also for those who are working at this moment to solve the problems of modern piracy–violence, robbery, and hostage-taking at sea in the real world.




Table of Contents

1. Of Black Flags and Bloody Banners: The Pursuit of Pirates and Privateers
2. Heroes of the Fantastic: Pirate Hunting in the Age of the Iliad
3. In the Age of Ancient Empires: Pirate Hunting in the Mediterranean, 1450–700 BC
4. Of Laurel Leaves and Pirate Princes: Pirate Hunting in the Mediterranean, 700 BC–AD 476
5. The Scourge from the North: Standing Against the Norsemen, 780–1066
6. A Sea Roving Free-for-All: Pirate Hunting in the Northern Seas, 1066–1492
7. Of Faith, Galleys, and Greed: Defeating the Mediterranean Corsairs, 476–1492
8. Spanish Galleons and Portuguese Carracks: Plunderers Fighting Plunderers, 1492–1654
9. Of Blind Eyes and Opportunity: An Introduction to the “Golden Age,” 1655–1725
10. The Real Pirates of the Caribbean: Pirate Hunting in the “Golden Age,” 1655–1725
11. From the Mediterranean to the North Sea: The War Against Pirates and Corsairs, 1493–1830
12. Of Frigates and Cruisers: In Pursuit of the Commerce Raiders, 1688–1865
13. Pirates, Rebels, and Warriors: Pirate Hunting in the East, 694 BC–AD 1896
14. Death from Beneath the Waves: Combating the Submarine Menace, 1914–1945
15. Ships, SEALs, and Satellites: The Return of the Pirate Hunters
Copyright Benerson Little 2010-2018.
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