Family Sanudo, 1718

Alberto Sanudo to his father on Crete

Dear Father,

The year is 1718 and my name is Alberto Sanudo.  My family resides on the island of Crete where my father is the leader of the local military force designated to protect the island.  Three weeks ago I was sailing in one of my twelve merchant ships around the southern edge of Morea when a corsair from Malta attacked my vessel and captured my ship.  He then left my crew as well as me on a barren rock where we were lucky enough to be rescued by a ship sailing just a few miles behind us.  I have sent a representative to the Tribunale degli Armamenti to plead my case before them.  The Knights of Malta do not know this, but I have enlisted the help of Mario, my Catholic friend, to act in my behalf to gain a better chance of success.  He already has the proper passports and documentation to safely and legally reach the Tribunal.  I have already spoken with the French consul in Venice and made him aware of my case as well as getting the notary public to sign off on the twenty eyewitness accounts of the event.  I even went as far as paying Mario to acquire a letter from the bishop of Morea.  With all the evidence as well as the strong documentation I will present I have faith that I will be compensated in some degree.  Another factor in my favor is that I can argue that the waters in which I was attacked were still in Venetian hands due to the fact that the way, though not in the favor or the previously mentioned, is still ongoing.  I just hope that this endeavor will not land me in debt with all the expenses of paying for the accommodations for my friend as well as for the proper documentation.

Very respectfully,

your son Alberto



Family Barerra, 1718

Recently a ship that our family owned a share of was attacked by the Knights of Malta off the coast of Tinos. They seized the ship and all the goods on it claiming that it was in Ottoman waters even though the war was not yet over. My family along with the captain plan to take our case to the Tribunale degli Armamenti. Since we are Catholic Christians and the captain who is the other owner of the ship is Orthodox Greek, our ship was seized against the Consolato del Mare.[1]

In preparation for going before the tribunal we have been traveling and gathering evidence. We have gathered witnesses’ testimony to take with us to Malta that will show that we are good and devout Catholics and that the captain is also a good and trustworthy Christian. We have done this because the corsairs will almost certainly claim we are not Catholic and that the captain is not Christian. We have also gathered written testimony from witnesses who know that we are the owners of the ship and that the goods that were on board were bought by us with our own money. This we have done because corsairs often try to say goods were bought with Muslim money or that the plaintiff is lying about the amount of goods on board the ship. Additionally, we have found witnesses to the attack that have written a narrative about how they saw the corsairs attack our ship and throw the captain and crew into a raft leaving them at the mercy of the sea. We hope to find legal representation at Malta, but if we cannot find someone we will ask the court to find someone for us. While we have good evidence in our favor we have heard that the corsairs often pay Muslims to claim that plaintiffs are lying and that the word of a Muslim is sometimes taken over a Christian in the court.[2]

The tribunal will likely say that the ship was rightfully seized because it was in Ottoman waters. However, we plan to argue that the war was not yet over and that the ship was in Venetian waters and is owned and captained by good Christians. We will ask that the tribunal return the ship to us along with the goods that were on it.[3]

I pray that we win the case and the ship and goods are returned to us. The loss of the ship and the goods on board has been devastating to our family. When we built the ship and entered in the business arrangement with the Greek merchant we hoped to gain a nice profit. However, now we are spending a considerable amount of money traveling to gather evidence and to appear before the tribunal to get them back. If we do not succeed in winning the case our family will be in very poor shape. If we do not win this case at the tribunal we will have no choice but to turn to the Vatican for justice next.[4]

Adriana Barrera -1718

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2010), 139-200.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Family Ferreira da Fonseca, c. 1715-1718

Today my family and I received a letter from our nephew stating that he was stuck in the city of Aigina due to a court hearing because of an act of piracy. Our nephew is a merchant who just recently sailed to the Eastern Mediterranean with some other merchants, some of whom were Greeks they picked up along the way. My nephew wrote to us stating that he and his crew were on their way to Aigina when their ship was stopped and raided by men that were perceived to be pirates, but one of the merchants on my nephew’s ship noticed the flag on the ship. The flag belonged to the Knights of Malta, who were raiding ships that had Greeks onboard or any evidence of Greeks onboard. My nephew and his crew were abandoned by the Knights of Malta, but found their way into the city of Aigina. There they found a consul who would aid them in getting their goods back by writing up documents that stated what happened at sea. Every member of the crew was a witness so they were included.

The reason for these documents was that my nephew planned to go before the Tribunale degli Armamenti  of the Knights of Malta to recover his cargo.  One of the customs in the Tribunale was that the Greeks could only have a voice if they emphasized their Christian identity. And that is what the Greeks on my nephew’s ship did. In some cases a dragoman’s word was highly important in court as was any other additional documentation written up by Christian authorities, and my nephew relied on the latter. In some cases, the merchants could receive their merchandise back, but they had to prove themselves to be Christian in most scenarios. That is why witnesses and documentation was important to have.[1]

Luis Ferriera da Fonseca

[1] Greene, Molly. Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010), 141.

Family Zénahat, 1718


I recently had entered into a business arrangement with one of my Venetian friends. My family has, for many years, remained friends with Venetians, even though they are supposed to be our enemy during this war. I had gone against my great-grandfather’s advice by joining this venture. My great-grandfather had entered into a similar business arrangement, but he then lost all the products he had acquired to the dreadful Knights of Malta. However, in the end I should have listened to him because the same thing happened to me. Neither my business partner nor I actually went on the trip, but instead sent someone in our stead. The saica had been traveling back to Constantinople from Alexandria when they made a stop at the Peloponnesus.[1] Then after leaving the Peloponnesus, while still in sight of the land, the ship was attacked by the Knights of Malta. These pirates took all of our merchandise and tortured some of the people aboard.[2] Once the pirates were able to ascertain that one of the owners, me, was a Muslim they then took everything. The sailors were all able to get to the Peloponnesus safely, but I still wanted justice. My partner and I had both decided to take this case to court. Specifically, we decided to take this case to the Tribunale degli Armamenti. Luckily, as soon as the sailors got to back to land, they gave witness statements. So now we need to figure out who we want to represent us in court. They will be biased against both my business partner, because he is Venetian, and they will be biased against me, because I am Muslim.[3] Another problem that we are encountering is the problem with whether or not the Peloponnesus was a Venetian holding. The case happened during the war and so they might claim that the lands and therefore the waters which we were sailing in were no longer Venetian.  However, we are trying to claim that our saica was within Venetian waters since the war was not yet over. With our witness documents and papers from various authorities, such as religious authorities, to help authenticate our claim. We need to do everything we can to try and prove we deserve to be compensated.

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 131.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Ibid., 11.

Family Sanudo, 1690

Mario Sanudo

I was going through our family records last week and came upon an interesting case that happened over 100 years ago in the 1580s.  It was a case where one of my grandfathers was forced to sue a Greek merchant.  It all started when this Greek merchant began to steal from my grandfather’s ships. Though our family has been long known for protecting our island of Crete we acquired a few merchant vessels as a gift for our services in the Janissary Corps.  This gave our family even more power in the region and this caused other competitors to resort to illegal measures to try and keep up.  The added pressure from the Ottomans and the Habsburgs leaving the Mediterranean after the battle of Lepanto in 1571; this allowed for pirates to move in.  The Greek Merchant was Eastern Orthodox and this gave him some respite from the Christian pirates of Malta.  What this merchant would do is tell the Christian pirates when our ships would set off and once captured he would gain a portion of the profit.  As he was operating out of Candia made him subject to our laws as well.

So once my grandfather acquired a number of witnesses he took him to our courts.  As a result of the evidence my grandfather was awarded two of the merchant’s ships.  He then allowed the Greek to continue to run the vessels with the promise to pay an annual percentage from the two vessels.

Now I understand how our family got to become so prominent in the merchant fleet of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Family Puigcérda 1657

Entry by Manuel Puigcérda

Today I was scouring over old family records in my spare time and came across a very interesting note. It was a dispute over one of my ancestors trading partners, a certain Greek merchant named Zykanthos Marmaretos. While transporting a load of salt and wine to Tunis his ship was attacked by Knights of St John from the island of Malta. The ship he was on was flying the flag of Saint Andrew’s Cross, and was boarded for suspecting trade with the Turks. Since he was working with the Turks in a trade deal his goods were taken and he was imprisoned on their ship. He suspected the Captain to possibly be doing a deal with the corsairs, because they did not pay him (nor did he request, as was his right) a sequestro[1] nor did the captain inquire about a compensation for the goods taken by the fancily-named pirates. According to this note our friend was taken to court at his request on the island of Malta. The details of his trial are unknown to us, but he was not released and this loss of a good merchant partner as well as a large chunk of our investment gone upset my great great great grandfather deeply. According to our families financial records the arrest and confiscation of our goods set us back significantly, which my great great great grandfather was never able to recover from. Perhaps it was this inability to rebound is part of the reason why there is no mention of him trying to seek restitution from the church or the local governor.

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants (Princeton NJ:Princeton University Press 2010), 61.

Family Barerra, 1651

Recently I came across some old documents that my great-grandmother Mariona Barrera, had written in 1560. They told of a time when our family fell into misfortune and were involved in around about way in the undertaking of a lawsuit for the recovery of profits that we were cheated out of. My great-grandfather struck a deal with a Greek merchant. He agreed to build him a boat if in return the merchant gave him a share of his profits from his first few voyages as payment. This arrangement was made because the merchant did not have all the capital needed to pay for the boat up front. My grandfather decided to trust him because he was a fellow Christian even though he is eastern orthodox and therefore is separated from the Catholic Church which of course we are members of. The Catholic Church had long tried to bring the Eastern Orthodox Church under its control and unify the churches, but their efforts were met with little success. Everyone told him not to trust the merchant because he was a heretic but my great-grandfather did not listen.[1]

All seemed well with the arrangement that was made at first. However, while at sea the merchant’s boat was attacked by the Knights of Malta. Even though the merchant was Eastern Orthodox and therefore a Christian and a Venetian subject, all the goods on board were seized because the Knights of Malta were angry that Venice willingly traded with the Ottomans. When the knights seized a ship with their enemies’ goods on board they were required to pay the ship’s captain for the goods they took according to the Consolato del Mare. If this would have happened all would have been well for my family. Unfortunately, the Knights of Malta cheated the captain and claimed that they seized much less than they really did. This incident left the captain unable to pay my great-grandfather what he owed on the boat.[2]

According to my great-grandmother the Greek merchant decided to go to the Venetian government for assistance in the matter since he was a Venetian subject. Venice sided with the merchant and imposed a sequestro in an effort to recover some of the profits and goods the merchant lost. The Knights of Malta protested this action but in the end they lost the fight. The merchant received most of the compensation he was due. This in turn allowed him to pay us the debt that he owed us.[3]

As a result of this incident my family no longer takes this type of financial risks. We always ensure we receive payment up front for our services even though other shipbuilders allow payments at a later date. I never understood why we take this approach even though we lose some business because of it but now I know it is due to this almost disastrous event.

-Monserrat, 1650

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2010), 52-77.

[2] Ibid., 57-58,65.

[3] Ibid.