Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean 1521–1580 by Roger Crowley - review by Jason Goodwin

Jason Goodwin

Pirate of the Middle Sea

Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean 1521–1580


Faber & Faber 341pp £20 order from our bookshop

Three years ago, Roger Crowley published an account of the siege of Constantinople that gave Runciman’s classic on the subject a run for its money. A superb summary of the forces that met in that fateful year of 1453, it established Crowley’s gift for narrative history, the history of dates and kings and sultans and jealous courts, of accidents and strokes of fortune.

Now he has done it again. Empires of the Sea confirms Crowley as master of the Mediterranean between 1521 and 1580, marshalling his understanding of men and tides as brilliantly as any of the Ottoman corsairs or crusading sea-dogs he writes about so knowledgeably and enjoyably. At stake, in those years, was the faith and security of the whole Mediterranean world.

Now that the Mediterranean is, for the most part, a horrible place, Empires reminds you how completely horrible it must have been in the sixteenth century. Farming was on subsistence level. Coastal towns and villages were subject to brutal and terrifying pirate raids, which escalated in violence as the century

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