A thalassocracy or thalattocracy (from Classical Greek: θάλασσα, romanized: thalassa (Attic Greek: θάλαττα, romanized: thalatta) transl. 'sea', and Ancient Greek: κρατεῖν, romanized: kratein, lit. 'power'; giving Koinē Greek: θαλασσοκρατία, romanized: thalassokratia, lit. 'sea power') is a state with primarily maritime realms, an empire at sea, or a seaborne empire. Traditional thalassocracies seldom dominate interiors, even in their home territories. Examples of this are the Phoenician states of Tyre, Sidon, and Carthage of the Mediterranean; and the Austronesian states of Srivijaya and Majapahit of Island Southeast Asia. One can distinguish this traditional sense of thalassocracy from an "empire", where the state's territories, though possibly linked principally or solely by the sea lanes, generally extend into mainland interiors. Compare to tellurocracy ("land-based hegemony").
The term thalassocracy can also simply refer to naval supremacy, in either military or commercial senses. The Ancient Greeks first used the word thalassocracy to describe the government of the Minoan civilization, whose power depended on its navy. Herodotus distinguishes sea-power from land-power and spoke of the need to counter the Phoenician thalassocracy by developing a Greek "empire of the sea".
History and examples of thalassocracies
The first true maritime trade network in the Indian Ocean was by the Austronesian peoples of Island Southeast Asia, who built the first ocean-going ships. They established trade routes with Southern India and Sri Lanka as early as 1500 BC, ushering an exchange of material culture (like catamarans, outrigger boats, lashed-lug and sewn-plank boats, and paan) and cultigens (like coconuts, sandalwood, bananas, and sugarcane); as well as connecting the material cultures of India and China. Indonesians, in particular were trading in spices (mainly cinnamon and cassia) with East Africa using catamaran and outrigger boats and sailing with the help of the Westerlies in the Indian Ocean. This trade network expanded to reach as far as Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, resulting in the Austronesian colonization of Madagascar by the first half of the first millennium AD. It continued up to historic times, later becoming the Maritime Silk Road.
The first thalassocracies in the Indo-Pacific began to emerge at around the 2nd century AD, through the rise of emporia exploiting the prosperous trade routes between Funan and India through the Malacca Strait using advanced Austronesian sailing technologies. Numerous coastal city-states emerged, centered on trading ports built near or around river mouths which allowed easy access to goods from inland for maritime trade. These city-states established business networks with other trading centers within Southeast Asia and beyond. Their rulers also gradually Indianized by adopting the social structures and religions of India to consolidate their power internally and externally.
The thalassocratic empire of Srivijaya emerged by the 7th century through conquest and subjugation of neighboring thalassocracies. These included Melayu, Kedah, Tarumanagara, and Medang, among others. They controlled the sea lanes in Southeast Asia and exploited the spice trade of the Spice Islands, as well as maritime trade routes between India and China. It was in turn subjugated by Singhasari at around 1275, before finally being absorbed by the successor thalassocracy of Majapahit.
Europe and the Mediterranean
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There are many ancient examples besides those mentioned above, such as the Delian League. The Middle Ages contained multiple thalassocracies, often land-based empires which controlled the sea. Among the most famous is the Republic of Venice, conventionally divided in the fifteenth century into the Dogado of Venice and the Lagoon, the Stato di Terraferma of Venetian holdings in northern Italy, and the Stato da Màr of the Venetian outlands bound by the sea:
This was a scattered empire, similar to, though on a very different scale, of the Portuguese and later the Dutch empires in the Indian Ocean, a trading-post empire forming a long capitalist antenna; an empire 'on the Phoenician model', to use a more ancient parallel.
Nearly contemporaneous, the Republic of Ragusa can be seen as a "thalassocracy", a competitor to Venice.
The Early Middle Ages (c. 500 – 1000 AD) saw many of the coastal cities of the Mezzogiorno develop into minor thalassocracies whose chief powers lay in their ports and their ability to sail navies to defend friendly coasts and ravage enemy ones. These include the variously Greek and Lombard duchies of Gaeta, Naples, Salerno and Amalfi. Later, northern Italy developed its own trade empires based on Pisa and especially the powerful Republic of Genoa, that rivaled with Venice (these three, along with Amalfi, were to be called the Repubbliche marinare, i.e. Maritime Republics).
It was with the modern age, the Age of Exploration, that some of the most formidable thalassocracies emerged. Anchored in their European territories, several nations established colonial empires held together by naval supremacy. First among them was the Portuguese Empire, followed soon by the Spanish Empire, which was challenged by the Dutch Empire, itself replaced on the high seas by the British Empire, whose landed possessions were immense and held together by the greatest navy of its time. With naval arms races (especially between Germany and Britain) and the end of colonialism and the granting of independence to these colonies, European thalassocracies, which had controlled the world's oceans for centuries, ceased to be.
List of examples
- Ancient Carthage
- British Empire
- Bruneian Empire
- Chola Empire
- Crown of Aragon
- Dál Riata
- Delian League
- Dorian Confederation
- Duchy of Amalfi
- Dutch Empire
- Empire of Japan
- Frisian Kingdom
- Hanseatic League
- Kilwa Sultanate
- Kingdom of the Isles
- Kingdom of Norway (872-1397)
- Kingdom of Sardinia
- Majapahit Empire
- Mataram Kingdom and its successor, Kediri
- Minoan civilization
- Muscat and Oman
- North Sea Empire
- Omani Empire
- Portuguese Empire
- Republic of Genoa
- Republic of Noli
- Republic of Pirates
- Republic of Pisa
- Republic of Ragusa
- Republic of Venice
- Ryūkyū Kingdom
- Sea Peoples Confederation
- Spanish Empire
- Swedish Empire
- Sultanate of Demak
- Sultanate of Sulu
- Sultanate of Maguindanao
- Sultanate of Malacca and its successor, Sultanate of Johor
- Sultanate of Ternate
- Sultanate of Tidore
- Tu'i Tonga Empire
- Archipelagic state
- Nomadic empire
- List of countries spanning more than one continent
- List of historical countries and empires spanning more than one continent
- Alfred Thayer Mahan
- Aleksandr Dugin
- Naval history
- Alpers, Edward A. (2013). The Indian Ocean in World History. New Oxford World History. Oxford University Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780199929948. Retrieved 2016-02-06.
Portugal's was in every sense a seaborne empire or thalassocracy.
- P. M. Holt; Ann K. S. Lambton; Bernard Lewis (21 April 1977). The Cambridge History of Islam. Cambridge University Press. pp. 129–. ISBN 978-0-521-29137-8.
- Barbara Watson Andaya; Leonard Y. Andaya (19 February 2015). A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 1400–1830. Cambridge University Press. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-0-521-88992-6.
- Lukic, Rénéo; Brint, Michael, eds. (2001). Culture, politics, and nationalism in the age of globalization. Ashgate. p. 103. ISBN 9780754614364. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
Dugin defines 'thalassocracy' as 'power exercised thanks to the sea,' opposed to 'tellurocracy' or 'power exercised thanks to the land' [...]. The 'thalassocracy' here is the United States and its allies; the 'tellurocracy' is Eurasia.
- D. Abulafia, "Thalassocracies", in P. Horden – S. Kinoshita (eds.), A Companion to Mediterranean History, Oxford, 2014, pp. 139–153, here 139–140.
- A. Momigliano, "Sea-Power in Greek Thought", The Classical Review, May 1944, 1–7.
- Manguin, Pierre-Yves (2016). "Austronesian Shipping in the Indian Ocean: From Outrigger Boats to Trading Ships". In Campbell, Gwyn (ed.). Early Exchange between Africa and the Wider Indian Ocean World. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 51–76. ISBN 9783319338224.
- Meacham, Steve (11 December 2008). "Austronesians were first to sail the seas". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
- Doran, Edwin, Jr. (1974). "Outrigger Ages". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. 83 (2): 130–140.
- Mahdi, Waruno (1999). "The Dispersal of Austronesian boat forms in the Indian Ocean". In Blench, Roger; Spriggs, Matthew (eds.). Archaeology and Language III: Artefacts languages, and texts (PDF). One World Archaeology. 34. Routledge. pp. 144–179. ISBN 0415100542.
- Doran, Edwin B. (1981). Wangka: Austronesian Canoe Origins. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 9780890961070.
- Blench, Roger (2004). "Fruits and arboriculture in the Indo-Pacific region". Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association. 24 (The Taipei Papers (Volume 2)): 31–50.
- Sulistiyono, Singgih Tri; Masruroh, Noor Naelil; Rochwulaningsih, Yety (2018). "Contest For Seascape: Local Thalassocracies and Sino-Indian Trade Expansion in the Maritime Southeast Asia During the Early Premodern Period". Journal of Marine and Island Cultures. 7 (2). doi:10.21463/jmic.2018.07.2.05.
- Kulke, Hermann (2016). "Śrīvijaya Revisited: Reflections on State Formation of a Southeast Asian Thalassocracy". Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. 102: 45–95.
- Fernand Braudel, The Perspective of the World, vol. III of Civilization and Capitalism (Harper & Row) 1984:119.