Pirates of Makarska Riviera

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

There is nothing in the world that captures the spirit of freedom and adventure quite as well as pirates. Sailships and swords, storms and treasures, a pirate's life was never a dull experience. But in Makarska Riviera it was so much more. In Makarska Riviera pirates actually fought for freedom of our people against the mighty Venetian navy.


Old sailing ship of East India Company is nothing like Croatian pirate boats
Not all pirate ship looked like they were hijacked from the East India Company
With coast full of hidden coves, bays, caves and beaches accessible only by ships, Makarska Riviera was a pirate heaven. Safe harbors at Mucrum (Makarska), Beroullia (Brela), Ostrog (Zaostrog) and Labinica (Gradac) made Pirates of Makarska Riviera, known as Narentines, the most dangerous sailors of the Adriatic Sea.

During the 9th and 10th century, pirates became more than just a nuisance in the eyes of Venetians. Just like Vikings, Narentines refused to accept Christianity, believing it to be just another type of political and social control, so the area between rivers Cetina and Neretva was called Pagania. And just like Vikings, they used small and fast ships called sagena which made them impossible to catch after raids.


Venetians used Croatian side of Adriatic coast for all of their merchant ships. For Pirates of Makarska Riviera they were an easy prey. Pirates would attack quickly and silently and no one was able to stop their raids. Then they would disappear in the night between many islands of the Adriatic sea.


Old map of Makarska from 1571 shows the town in Ottoman Empire times
Map of Makarska from 1571

Imagine you are a sailor aboard Venetian merchant ship. You are standing night watch in these dangerous waters. The sea is calm and dark, the moon is nowhere to be seen and only the dim starlight shines through this darkness. Small waves gently rolling around the ship are the only sound. Suddenly you are under attack. Narantines successfully sneaked through the night with their ships only 1 meter high, invisible in the dark from the tall merchant ship and boarded your ship. You lost everything.


By 887. this scenario became so common that Venetians had to take action. This small and unconquered tribe on the Dalmatian coast was a thorn in their side and it was time for Venetians to rule whole of the Croatian coast.


Venetian Doge Pietro Candiano I sent in troops against Narentines. Venetians defeated Narentines in August 887. and destroyed five of their ships with axes. But their victory was short lived. Pirates, usually not being the ones to just roll over and give up, mounted a counterattack on the 18th of September 887.

The reenactment of the naval battle in Makarska harbour in Croatia celebrates pirates
The reenactment of the naval battle in Makarska harbour

The Doge Pietro Candiano I himself was on one of the 12 Venetian battle galleons in front of Makarska harbour. He disembarked the ship in pursuit of Narentines on land. Narentines, using their pirate tactics and quick ships attacked Venetians in the night swiftly and viciously. Venetian navy was destroyed completely and the Doge lost his life in the battle. His body was not returned to the Venetians and had to be stolen by Venetian Tribun Andrea to be buried in Venice.


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