Professor Rhys Townsend and student Ed Connor searched for archaeological evidence of pirates along the Cilician coast in Turkey.
The outlaw trail: evidence for Cilician pirates along the Turkish coast
Professor Rhys Townsend's research
Townsend and undergraduate Ed Connor
'01 are on the outlaw trail. More specifically, as participants in the ongoing
Rough Cilicia Regional Archaeological Survey Project begun in 1996,
they're looking for evidence of Cilician pirates active in the 2nd
century B.C. in the area of Pamphylia on the southern Turkish coast.
Ancient documents named cities around the Bay of Pamphylia as being
associated with pirates from the region of Cilicia (east of the bay)
who raided the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean. Townsend and
Connor are looking for confirming physical evidence in an area where
archaeological exploration is still in its infancy.
Types of evidence
Townsend and his colleagues are collecting data to investigate
three theories that might lend support to the stories of pirate
activity in this region on the periphery of the Roman Empire.
- French archaeologist André Tchernia proposed that, at a market
on the island of Delos, the pirates might have traded slaves for
amphoras of wine and oil from Italy. Presumably they would have
brought the amphoras back to their bases around Pamphylia where
remnants would be available for discovery.
- Perhaps pirate architecture might still remain which could be
distinguished by reason of its more primitive, locally-styled
nature from that of the Greco-Roman colonists. Also, the Roman-era
writer Plutarch spoke of "castles and fortifications in the
Tauros Mountains" constructed by pirates.
- Perhaps the pirate community exploited local forests to supply
timber for the shipbuilding industry. If so, over time the edge of
the forest would have gradually receded to the interior and been
replaced by agriculture and small villages. Evidence of settlement
becoming progressively younger the farther from the coast would support this
The survey process
A 120 square kilometer region just
north of the ancient town of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southeast
coast of the Bay of Pamphylia was selected for the survey. The
process of surveying a tract of land to look for remains of an ancient
society is painstaking and arduous, particularly in areas of
mountainous terrain such as that around the Bay of Pamphylia. In order
to maximize efficiency, the exploration must be carefully planned in
The survey team has focused so far only on surface artifacts--no
actual digging has taken place. Different survey strategies were used.
In some smaller areas where the presence of a settlement was obvious,
each object and structure was included in the database. In larger
areas that indicated a sparser settlement pattern, sampling techniques
were used to give an overview of a broad region in a relatively short
period of time. Team members would walk along predetermined routes,
photographing, collecting and mapping the location of objects, often
with the use of global positioning units. Later in the lab, materials
were evaluated, dated and cataloged. Objects were evaluated not just
in isolation, but also in the context of where they were found and in
relation to other objects in the vicinity.
Townsend and his colleagues emphasize
that their research is not yet complete. Little survey work had been
done previously in this part of Turkey, and while some information
from earlier archaeologists was available, a picture of the region's
settlement over time is still being constructed. However, a few
conclusions regarding the pirate community have been suggested:
Data collection related to the deforestation theory has
still to be completed.
- No material evidence was found to support
Tchernia's wine for slaves theory. No remnants of amphoras were
found dating to Italy for that time period. In fact, the
discovery of what appears to be ancient kilns, coupled with
knowledge of agriculture at the time suggests that the inhabitants
of the region were able to produce locally what was needed in the
way of oil, wine and amphoras.
- While evidence for settlement during and
prior to the pirate era was found, some structures in the survey
area have proven difficult to date with confidence or to
categorize according to style. So far it has not been possible to
identify any architecture as being "pirate" as distinct
from that of other inhabitants. However, an area along the
southwest portion of the bay provides evidence of hill forts,
which perhaps correspond with those mentioned by Plutarch.
Townsend notes that pirate remains may be
rarer and more difficult to identify than those of legitimate
inhabitants. Because of its outlaw status, a pirate society would
naturally strive to remain hidden from those in authority or others
who might be in a position to betray their whereabouts. The mountainous
and forested terrain would allow the pirates opportunities for
concealment, and the need to move periodically their bases of
operation might preclude the establishment of permanent or
sophisticated structures. Townsend emphasizes that no evidence was
found that would cast doubt on the existence of the Cilician pirates,
but the trail of outlaws is clearly a challenging one to follow,
especially after a lapse of two millennia.
Wine for slaves? Click
Pirate bases? Click
Rough Cilicia. Click
Pirate cove? Click
Cleaning an inscription. Click
Silouette of an amphora.|
Sorting pottery fragments. Click to
Surveying. Click to enlarge.|