Empires of the Sea: Maritime Power Networks in World History brings together studies of maritime empires from the Bronze Age to the Eighteenth Century. The volume aims to establish maritime empires as a category for the (comparative) study of premodern empires, and from a partly ‘non-western’ perspective. The book includes contributions on Mycenaean Sea power, Classical Athens, the ancient Thebans, Ptolemaic Egypt, The Genoese Empire, power networks of the Vikings, the medieval Danish Empire, the Baltic empire of Ancien Régime Sweden, the early modern Indian Ocean, the Melaka Empire, the (non-European aspects of the) Portuguese Empire and Dutch East India Company, and the Pirates of Caribbean.
The volume Empires of the Sea seeks to rethink preindustrial maritime empires by understanding them as dynamic, multilayered networks connecting several interest groups and brokers located on these networks’ coastal and insular nodes, viz. in port cities, emporia or naval bases. Particularly in Medi-terranean studies, network approaches have opened up new research avenues for the study of transregional economic exchange, cultural interactions, and religious change; these approaches are now themselves in need of new objectives and directions. One of our aims is to foreground the element of power politics and coercion to the existing focus on culture and economy. The emphasis that current empire studies place on cultural and political diversity as a principal characteristic of empire has made one historical question increasingly urgent: how were these heterogeneous sociopolitical patchworks controlled and integrated over large distances and in the face of changing historical circumstances?
Past empire studies often departed from the model of the modern colonial empire linked to the European nation state. The last decades, however, have seen the publication of a number of volumes dealing with a much wider variety of empires, often in a comparative perspective in order to recognize common characteristics and trends. This interest springs from the relatively recent realization that empires, together with city states, were the most common forms of political organization, and that most empires in world history were not European. These comparative empire studies have focused either on land empires or bundled together various types of empire. By contrast, this volume will examine one specific form of imperial domination, and one that has hitherto received little attention.