AskDefine | Define thalassocracy

User Contributed Dictionary



(thalassa), sea + (kratos), rule


  1. a state whose power derives from its naval or commercial supremacy on the seas
  2. maritime supremacy

Extensive Definition

The term thalassocracy (from the Greek Θαλασσα, meaning sea, and κρατία, meaning rule) refers to a state with primarily maritime realms—an empire at sea, such as the Phoenician network of merchant cities. Traditional thalassocracies seldom dominate interiors, even in their home territories (for example: Tyre, Sidon, or Carthage). 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. Therefore, empires such as the British Empire were not thalassocracies.
The term can also simply refer to naval supremacy, in either military or commercial senses of the word "supremacy."
The word thalassocracy itself, deriving from the Greek thalassokratiā—thalassa meaning "sea," and kratiā meaning "rule" or "government"—first occurred amongst the ancient Greeks describing the government of the Minoan civilization, whose power depended on its navy. Herodotus spoke of the need to counter the Phoenician thalassocracy by developing a Greek "empire of the sea."


There are many ancient examples besides those mentioned above, such as the Sea Peoples and the Delian League. Aside from these, which were empires based primarily on naval power and control of waterways and not on any land possessions, the Middle Ages saw its fair share of 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 Mar of the Venetian outlands bound by the sea. Near-contemporaneously, the Dubrovnik Republic can be seen as a "thalassocracy," a protégé of Venice.
The Dark Ages (c.500–c.1000) saw much 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, Lombard, Angevin, and Saracen duchies of Gaeta, Sicily, Naples, Pisa, Salerno, Amalfi, Bari, and Sorrento. 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. Sea Republics).
It was with the modern age, the Age of Exploration, that some of the most remarkable thalassocracies emerged. Anchored in their European territories, several nations establish 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 other examples

thalassocracy in Catalan: Talassocràcia
thalassocracy in Danish: Thalassokrati
thalassocracy in German: Thalassokratie
thalassocracy in Spanish: Talasocracia
thalassocracy in French: Thalassocratie
thalassocracy in Galician: Talasocracia
thalassocracy in Italian: Talassocrazia
thalassocracy in Dutch: Thalassocratie
thalassocracy in Japanese: 制海権
thalassocracy in Polish: Talassokracja
thalassocracy in Portuguese: Talassocracia
thalassocracy in Russian: Талассократия
thalassocracy in Serbian: Таласократија
thalassocracy in Swedish: Thalassokrati
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