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The Connection of Eastern and Central Cilicia with Piracy

The geography, where the powerful group of Cilician pirates was positioned during the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., has been an issue of hot debate for some time. The present article aims at re-evaluating the opinions about the extent of the pirates’ area.
Widely accepted today, the pirates were concentrated extensively along the coastline of Lycia and Pamphylia. The western Rough Cilicia, where Coracesium is located, was one important pirate centre. Central and eastern Rough Cilicia have been kept out of this pirate range, however, and various authors underline that piratical activities should not be considered to the east of Pamphylia, Anemurium or Calycadnus. However, some accounts by Strabo suggest the presence of pirates in eastern Rough Cilicia. As a matter of fact, piracy and pirates had a very dynamic structure. In the period of development their area also expands. It is understood that the range of pirates changed and shrank due to the Roman attempts against them. Therefore, it would be misleading to consider the pirates to be contained within the borders of the same region through the years. As seen, there is uncertainty as to whether or not central and eastern Rough Cilicia were ever within the range of piratical activities.
Mihtridatic Wars and ever-growing economic problems due to the pressure policy of Rome brought the people of central and eastern Rough Cilicia to the point of revolting against Rome, as was also the case among many other peoples living in Anatolia. The people of Rough Cilicia, who had served as mercenaries in the Hellenistic period, lost this opportunity with the decline of the Hellenistic kingdoms and had to make a choice between piracy and not joining the pirates when the Romans settled themselves in Anatolia. Thus, in the Late Hellenistic period when there was no real force to resist the pirates, there seems to be no reason left for the people of central and eastern Rough Cilicia not to have collaborated with the pirates. Therefore, the claims for the eastern border of the pirates to be localised around Pamphylia, Anemurium or Calycadnus fall ungrounded.
Excavations at Nagidos, an important city in central Rough Cilicia, have shown that the city was abandoned toward mid-2nd century B.C. About the same time, another extraordinary situation is observed at Kelenderis. Although the depression at Kelenderis is not as dramatic as that in Nagidos, it has been understood that all sorts of archaeological finds decrease considerably. This parallelism observed between Nagidos and Kelenderis points to the presence of a common problem spread over a wide geography.
A similar version of this period of stagnation is observed in the Olba region in the first half of the 1st century B.C. It is understood that a period of chaos was experienced in the Kingdom of Olba and a period of serious stagnation was underway especially in regard to architecture. This stagnation must have risen from the spread of piracy in the East Mediterranean. At this point it must be questioned whether or not any members of the group named as the “Cilician pirates” came from the people of the Olba Kingdom and if they did, in what phase and under what circumstances did they collaborate with the pirates.
It is understood that the Olba region did not have any connection to piracy during the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. when the region was under Seleucid rule. In spite of some clues regarding the spread of piracy from the 90s to 67 B.C., this period has not yet been satisfactorily clarified.
Servilius Vatia conducted his successful campaign into Isauria in 78-75 B.C. The fact that this campaign focused on Isauria suggests that the pirates may have fed on Isauria for their purposes. It is known that the pirates withdrew westward and moved their main base to Crete in this phase. However, during the same phase there a bit of information telling that on the south coastline of Anatolia, especially in the Olba region, power passed into the hands of the pirates. This is highly likely for an atmosphere of settled peace could not yet be achieved and piracy did continue in Rough Cilicia after the campaign of Servilius Vatia. However, the base of the pirates in Rough Cilicia has not yet been identified although Strabo mentions the following interesting anecdote about Olba: Aba’s father Xenophanes possibly waged a coup and usurped the power. The same Xenophanes is described as one of the tyrants and it is also stated that the tyrants also organized the pirates. Following the overthrow of the tyrants and pirates, the official rulers were reinstated and then Aba married into the dynasty.
About the beginning of the previous century some epigraphic evidence was obtained proving the presence of some tyrants who usurped the administration of the Olba’s Priest Dynasts. Thus, it is inferred that the information provided by Strabo is genuine, not a made-up scenario.
Meanwhile, in the first quarter of the 1st century B.C., another development is noteworthy for the Olba Kingdom. Philip I and his son Philip II, among the last rulers from the Seleucid dynasty, took refuge in the Olba region and lived here for a while. A few inscriptions in the Olba region dating to the reign of Philip II contain information supporting the account of Strabo regarding the tyrants. All these evidences start to shed light on the connection of the Olba region with the tyrants and pirates. These inscriptions state that the Olba Kingdom was usurped by tyrants and then these tyrants were overthrown.
It is difficult to consider the cited events happening consecutively merely by accident. Firstly, it is very curious that tyrants and pirates appeared in the Olba region right after the campaign of Servilius Vatia into Lycia, Pamphylia and Isauria against the pirates because, although not a few of the pirates and bandits had run away before Servilius Vatia, he succeeded in annihilating many of them.
This campaign cleared Lycia, Pamphylia and Isauria of the pirates at a serious level. The fleeing pirates moved their principal base to Crete but in the same period the Olba Kingdom fell into the hands of tyrants. Whether or not these events were linked to each other, it is clearly seen from accounts in the ancient sources and the epigraphic materials that the Olba region had a serious potential related with piracy. Furthermore, the fact that power had passed into the hands of tyrants and that the pirates had organised themselves indicates a lack of an authority over the Olba region and vicinity. Thus, this period not only tells about the incapability of the Romans and the Seleucids in the region but also reflects the presence of favourable conditions for the emergence of piracy.
At this time, Rome had the power to easily annihilate the Seleucid State, which had already exhausted its political and military mission, but for the time being preferred not to annex this geography that would bring financial and administrative problems. Understanding the capacity of Philip II that could be exploited against the pirates, Rome preferred establishing collaboration with him pursuing the diplomatic path. This capacity of Philip must be his regional prestige and his administering power over the local powers. Through this collaboration Rome wore her protective and friendly mask and both gave positive messages to her allies and prevented the piratical activities in the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
The developments in the Olba region correspond with the reign of Philip II, thus it can be suggested that the collaboration between Marcius Rex and Philip II also included the piratical activities in the Olba region. Based on these developments, it is possible to suggest that the agreement between Marcius Rex and Philip II was built around “alliance against piratical activities in the Olban and Syrian geography”. The essential element of this alliance was Philip himself, who solved the issue with his own methods. Indeed during the entire period no military invention of Rome in this region is known. Probably this is why the piratical activities in the Olba region did not draw as much attention as it did in the other regions.
As a result, following the campaign of Servilius Vatia, thought to have finished in 75 B.C., it is inferred that some piratical gangs usurped the Olba Kingdom and continued their activities there until the Pompeian campaign in 67 B.C.

*Dr. Murat Durukan
Mersin Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, Mersin
E-mail: mdurukan@mersin.edu.tr

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