Pirates of different origin were always there on the Adriatic. This used to be something like a habit, something which was normally done on the sea, usanza del mare. Piracy combined with trading used to be considered as a good source of earnings and a way to get rich, so that it used to be practiced everywhere like some standard. The maritime trade insured certain prosperity, whereas only the privileged and smuggling trade could insure a big accumulation and wealth.
By the XVII century piracy in Europe had had a status of an occupation like any other; this could have been practiced by everybody, especially as his reputation had not been harmed by it. Sometimes did even the navies of big countries take up piracy. Everybody was authorized to reave from others.Piracy reached its swing in 1417 when the Ottomans conquered Valona. The pirates were attracted by the bustling trading on the Adriatic: grains, oil from Apulia and Romagna, meat, Dalmatian cheese, not to mention all those ships managing the distant and wealthy import and export of Venice. Venice actually never had any hesitation about getting rich by smuggled goods.
After the battle at Lepanto Uludz Alija (Kilich Ali) became the kapudan-pasha of the Empire, the biggest maritime captain of Algere and the Ottoman Empire after Hayreddin – pasha Barbarossa. He recognized the quality of the Ulcinj seamen, so that, after Ulcinj had been conquered by the Ottomans in 1571, he helped them organize themselves, to provide ships and to begin with the piracy, and lastly, he even supported them by enforcement with several hundred of his own hardened fighters. Since the Ulcinj people were aware of their possibilities, at the beginning they only had a light fleet which could be run on the Adriatic and at the same time they avoided fights with heaviliy armed ships of bigger countries.
Those brave pirates used to sail from the port of Ulcinj under the Barbarian flag, so that for a long time the neighbours thought that they were Berberians. There was no port or a a coast of a Catholic country which was not lurked by the Barbarian pirates. In the end of the XVI century if someone wanted to set off to sea from Italy, he was told:“May our Lord take care of you against the Tripolian galleons“.Porta was satisfied with this. Namely, the pirates were not paid from the state budget, but they took care of themselves by plundering and selling slaves. Their bravery was great and it was many times that they brought astonishing victories to the sultan.
Although the Venetain galleons were stronger ships, equipped with good canons, the pirates were still able to come close to Venice with no troubles at all, since they kept the Italian coastline under control, as it did not have many convenient piers for such Venetians galleons. However, it was not easy to sail on the eastern Adriatic coast either: in autumn 1580 Venice counted that about 25 ships were taken by the Berberians in just one month, all of them around Kotor! In 1580 one Venetian agent said that the whole kingdom was intruded by robbers, and that their roads had been controlled by the masters of Apulia and especially Calabria. Those who wanted to avoid these dangerous roads had to take the risk to fall into the hands of the pirates who pillaged all the way to the Roman coastline on the Adriatic. However, the French and the Maltese knights did that too.
A report done by the Venetians in 1583 indicated an even worse situation on the Adriatic: „Since recently, due to the fact that the Apulian coastline had been supported by watchtowers and artillery which protected it, and for some time even by ships which succeeded to get under their gun protection, the pirates have moved their attacks towards the North and thus they managed to fill up the bay. They executed short and frequent attacks there, which enabled them to bluff the supervision of galleons“.
The Venetians had to do their trading business in Durres, Valona, Apulia and Alexandria under soldiers’ protection and with weapons on board. The people of Dubrovnik had to pay for their safety at sea by sending presents to the kapudan-pashas and the Albanian reis-leaderds. However, this could not be a firm guarantee. Therefore, in the Dubrovnik contracts the risk involvement had always been emphasized, and sometimes even the damage was mentioned, which might have appeared because of the people from Ulcinj or the Berberians from Ulcinj.
It must be confessed that the people from Dubrovnik actually never had a strong military navy which might have insured a safe sail for their trading ships, however, they had special laws by which it was ordered that the trading ships were to sail together in a so-called can, so that they could better use the ship artillery in case of a pirate attack. Since the sailing on the southern Adriatic was very insecure, especially after the pirates appeared, who had been organized by the Maltese knights, the Venetians decided to invest a lot of money into building the Split boardwalk in 1588.
Piracy was more like a consequence of trading; if there were no trading ships, then there were no pirates either. And then, at the end of the XVI century, both Venice and Dubrovnik withdrew to Adriatic routes. Venice was forced to lead a scattered war against the pirates, always a new one, but it also used them. In a Venetian study it was stated that the damage from piracy reached 36 percent of the cargo value, which had been transported. After 1600 the Algerian piracy, having been completely technically renewed, moved to the Atlantic Ocean. The pirates from Ulcinj stayed on the Adriatic and part of the Mediterranean.
The Venetian providur Molin wrote in 1602 that „it can certainly be steted that the pirates from Ulcinj have become unbearable“. A year later we can find them on the north of the Adriatic where they were plundering the Brion islands. In 1605 the commander in charge for the Adriatic Bernardo Venier got a assignment to sail with four galleons into Albanian water and disable some of the Barbarian ships „as they were significatnly disturbing the ship traffic on the sea“.
„The Ulcinj people are disturbing the seafaring with unbearable daring“, wrote the Venetian providurs during the Candian war. The Ulcinj people made the Italian coastal towns fear a lot; therefore, they were called „the whip of Apulia and Sicily“. They used to plunder rich mansions there , take their owners and sell them as slaves to the Turks. Thus they would get a large amount of goods and a lot of slaves, and later they would ask for a big ransom. The biggest action against the Ulcinj pirates was organised in 1665 and 1666 when the whole coast from Boka to Kvarner was mobilized to defeat their fleet.The pirates got rich through their actions, so that all the wealth was actually in their hands. The Sanjak-bey even sent them money to cover their expenses for piracy. In their port the pirates distributed the plundered cloth using the oar as a measure for the length.
During almost the whole time of the Venetian rule there were fights, real small wars, between the Ulcinj and Perast people, sometimes initiated by the former and sometimes by the latter. Even the Porta itself discussed those fights. The people from Perast did not want the Ulcinj seamen and traders to take over the monopoly over the Albanian export market, which had brought them good earnings since 1540. The people from Perast as born seamen were excluded from tax payment in exchange for fighting against the Ulcinj pirates and they also had to supervise the Boka Kotorska Bay. The Venetian authorities supported sudden actions of outlaws, armed them and provided with necessary logistics, so that most of their violations were just mildly punished.
With the loss of Herceg-Novi in 1687 the military-strategic importance of Ulcinj and the neighbouring Bar became even bigger for the Ottoman Empire. Both the regional and central authorities did a lot to strengthen the position of these towns and to make their influence bigger especially since the Venetians wanted to grab those „pirate shelters“ by all means.
It is a fact that the losses caused by the Ulcinj pirates played an undoubtedly big part in gradually weakening the power of Venice, so that after the Candian and especially Morean war it firmly demanded from Porta to prevent piracy of the Ulcinj people.
Due to the constant losses in middle Europe in the XVII century the Ottomans left the invading policy. Wars became expensive which resulted in a tax rise, deliveries could not be paid, many finished with bankruptcy and recession. The Empire learnt something from Venice: they appreciated the skill of keeping peace as pure existence, whereas war efforts demonstrated the poison which caused annihilation. Therefore in December 1706 the High Porta ordered to the judges in Ulcinj, Durres and Valona not to let the commanders of the fortresses to support the pirates of Algere, Tunis and Tripoli. „If they fail to do so, then they have to be not only removed from their functions, but severly punished too“, as it was oredered in the decree of the sultan Ahmed III.
By the beginning of the Morean War II there had been general insecurity on the Adriatic Sea. In 1710 Venice intervened again in Istanbul because of the Ulcinj piracy, however, Porta answered that the Ulcinj ships should not be burned, as they were its bordering armed forces.
„They keep terrorizing across the Adriatic“, wrote in 1718 the French consul in Durres Jose Isnar and he mentioned that the Ulcinj pirates did not respect the sultan nor any other authority in the world! Their actions were of such dimensions that they influenced not only the trade across the Adriatic Sea, but the Mediterranean too, as the diplomatic representatives of France mentioned. However, after the treaty from Pozharevac, the Ottomans did not regard the Venetians as a force or danger. On the contrary, they needed them and they were devoted to respecting the signed treaty in which it was stated that piracy was forbidden for the Algerians, Tunisians, Tripolitians and Ulcinjians, as well as the construction of ships which would have been used for piracy.
Therefore Porta was inexorable: at the end of 1719 the sultan Ahmed III oredered to the Skadar- pasha to burn some of the Ulcinj pirate ships because they prevented the free trade of the French, English, German, Venetian, Dutch and Dubrovnik ships on the pier of Durres.In the thirties of the XVIII century a series of fermans –decrees was issued, which were based on the Ottoman-Venitian contract of 1718 by which it was oredered that ships could be taken from the Ulcinjians, compensations had to be paid for caused damage, punishments were foreseen and similar. Still it was not easy to deter the Ulcinj agas from their old way of living and behaving. During the whole century sporadic joint activities of the pirates from Ulcinj and Tripoli were registered, but also strict measures of the central authorities.
The last big action of international importance was done in 1798 by the Ulcinj pirates under the commander Uruchi. They captured a French ship with respected persons on board: the brigadier general Poitve and the artillery colonel Charbonell. They exchanged them for a reward with Ali-pasha Tepeleni, who then released them. Since the beginning of 1808 across the Adriatic African pirates became active again and they plundered several ships under the Austrian flag together with their cargo, while similar activities were executed by the French too. Napoleon wanted to strengthen his position on the Adriatic, which was not approved by Russia, England and Austria. Piracy developed again, supported by these countries, which led to a general insecurity of any kind of trade across the Adriatic. It was not unitl the military defeat of the Napoleon France, as well as the Vienna Congress in 1815 and the English leaving the island Vis in July that year, that piracy saw its definite end on this sea.