La piraterie atlantique au fondement de la construction des souverainetés coloniales européennes

Translated title of the contribution: Atlantic piracy as a source of European colonial sovereignty

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The pirate is generally considered to be the archetype of resistance to State authority. Alas, this romanticised version of piracy cast a long shadow on our understanding of its pivotal role in the formation of modern States. In this article, the author argues that piracy contributed to the material construction and “criminal organisation” of European colonial States. First, between 1500 and 1713, European sovereigns employed pirates to wage war against each other and plunder the New World at the expense of their political rivals. Then with the establishment of a European balance of power at sea, the repression of piracy progressively became a means for European States to claim the monopoly of violence and commerce over their respective colonies. By 1713 piracy had become the residual legal category allowing European States to repress foreign activities, which were detrimental to their commercial enterprise. While the rise of piracy in early colonial times marked the extension of sovereign power, the fall of piracy later coincided with the concentration of maritime violence in the hands of the State. The article offers a history of the dialectic nature of piracy, which alternatively facilitated and complicated the grip of colonial powers over the high seas.
Translated title of the contributionAtlantic piracy as a source of European colonial sovereignty
Original languageFrench
JournalPenal Field
Issue number2
Early online date29 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • colonialism
  • crime
  • piracy
  • repression
  • sovereignty


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