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História (São Paulo)

Print version ISSN 0101-9074On-line version ISSN 1980-4369


BRUNSMAN, Denver. Pirates vs. Press Gangs: The Battle for the Atlantic. História [online]. 2019, vol.38, e2019004.  Epub Jan 31, 2019. ISSN 1980-4369.

Pirates in the Atlantic Ocean have excited imaginations ever since they stole from merchant ships and battled naval vessels in the Age of Sail. But pirates also illustrate an underappreciated process in the development of modern states and empires: the struggle between state and non-state actors to establish a monopoly of violence on the high seas. This essay traces this contest over violence in three stages: (1) the challenge posed by English pirates to Europe’s dominant imperial power, Spain, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; (2) the threat made by these same pirates to the emerging British Empire in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; and (3) the successful efforts of the British state to exert control over the Atlantic through state-sponsored forms of piracy, privateers and press gangs, in the eighteenth century. The British established naval supremacy and consolidated imperial control over the Atlantic by monopolizing the same violent methods once used by pirates.

Keywords : Pirate; privateer; press gang; impressment; navy; modern state; violence; Max Weber.

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