Hostis Humani Generis: pirates and empires from antiquity until today

Policante, Amedeo. 2012. Hostis Humani Generis: pirates and empires from antiquity until today. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis has as its subject piracy and its relation to Empire. Through a methodological approach, it investigates the ways in which different discourses, throughout modernity, have contributed to the construction of a ‘pirate legend’ that continue to animate our present. The first part of the dissertation is dedicated to a study of the pirate figure as it appears in the context of various global orders from antiquity until the early eighteenth century. In this context, I argue that the suppression of piracy was a constitutive moment in the early history of the world market. The second part follows the ways in which the spectre of eighteenth century piracy has continued to haunt modern international law, well after the dawn of the classic ‘golden age of piracy’. I argue that the evocation of the ‘pirate analogy’ has played an important role in: the history of nineteenth European imperialism, in the escalation to total war in the twentieth century, and today in the context of the war on terror. The aim is to systematically contextualize how and why particular individuals and groups were perceived and described as ‘piratical’ in a certain historical and geographical context. In this way, it becomes possible to consider the significant historical continuities that underlie different discourses that, throughout history, have made use of the concept of ‘the pirate’; but also, it enables to follow the ways in which the meaning of that same concept changed in passing from one global order to another. There is a sense in which pirates have always been with us and yet, beneath the superficial timelessness of the subject, we discover fundamental discontinuities, sudden turnarounds, discursive shifts that transform the meaning of what a pirate is supposed to be.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Pirates, piracy, empires, imperialism, international law, world market, international security, humanitarian interventions, war on terror

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December 2012

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Date Deposited:

03 May 2013 14:35

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 13:43


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