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date: 02 December 2022

Adriatic Seafree

Adriatic Seafree

  • Max Cary
  •  and W. M. Murray


  • Ancient Geography

Adriatic Sea (Gk. ὁ Ἀδρίας‎; Lat. Mare adriaticum or superum), used as an alternative to ‘Ionian Sea’ for the waters between the Balkan peninsula and Italy, and like ‘Ionian’, sometimes extended to include the sea east of Sicily. In neolithic times seafarers from the south settled around the gulf of Valona at the entrance to the Adriatic (c.80 km. (50 mi.) north of Corcyra). In the bronze age there is evidence for trade in Baltic amber and perhaps in Bohemian tin while weapons apparently came by sea from the north to Italy and to Greece, with ports of call in between. Seafarers from the Adriatic occupied the Nidhri plain in Leucas, where they built tumulus burials like those known from Albania in the Middle Helladic period. In historical times, Greek exploration of the Adriatic was said to be the work of the Phocaeans (see phocaea), who penetrated to its upper end by 600 bce (Hdt. 1. 163).

Greek colonization was directed from Corinth and Corcyra in the late 7th and the 6th cent., their major foundations being Apollonia and Epidamnus. Further north, off the Dalmatian coast, emigrants from Cnidus occupied Corcyra Nigra (mod. Curzola), and the Syracusans (probably refugees from Dionysius I) took possession of Issa (modern Lissa). In Italy, Rhodes and Cos founded Elpiae among the Apulian Daunians (Strabo 14.2.10) and, in central Italy, refugees from Dionysius I settled Ancona. At ports like Adria and Spina at the Po estuary (see padus), Greeks and Etruscans exchanged goods from the late 6th cent. onwards. Coin finds from the Po valley indicate Tarentine trade up the Adriatic during the 4th cent. (See tarentum.)

Although Adriatic commerce and colonization were harassed by Illyrian pirates who inhabited the South Dalmatian coast, a growing number of shipwrecks (over 150) reveals a continuing trade (see archaeology, underwater), even during periods of piracy. Piracy was nevertheless a serious nuisance that the Romans repeatedly tried to suppress, finally succeeding when Pompey tackled the problem in 67 bce. From the time of Augustus, the Adriatic was patrolled by a regular police flotilla. (See navies.) To judge from shipwrecks, the Adriatic experienced an increase of trade during these peaceful years.


  • R. L. Beaumont, Journal of Hellenic Studies 1936, 159 ff..
  • N.G. L. Hammond, Epirus (1967) 326–31.
  • H. Dell, ‘The Origin and Nature of Illyrian Piracy’ inHistoria, Zeitschrift für alte Geschichte 1967, 344–58.
  • An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, pp. 321–37.