US historian Molly Greene tackles pirates

As American historian Molly Greene waxes lyrical about the subject of her latest book, one wonders what prompted this talented young woman from the other side of the Atlantic to study the Eastern Mediterranean. Enjoying the sunshine in the forecourt of the Numismatic Museum in Athens, Greene, who got to know Greece 20 years ago, comments on «how much this city has changed.» A professor at Princeton University, teaching in the Department of History and the Program in Hellenic Studies, Greene observes how things have changed. «Twenty years ago, there was relatively little interest in Ottoman Greece. Now we have lots of people and high-flying students.» Her book, «Crete – A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean,» published by Princeton University Press in 2000, has been translated into Greek by Eleni Gara and Themis Gekou of Eikostos Protos publications. She talks enthusiastically about her second book, on which she is working feverishly. «The topic is pirates in the Mediterranean in the 17th century.» Among the facts she has discovered was what happened at the court of the Knights of St John set up in Malta (after they left Rhodes, which they always missed). Greene has the gift of presenting the distillation of her research like a fairy tale that touches on everyday life. «At that time, trading in the Mediterranean was conducted in chaotic conditions. Nobody was in control, not the Venetians or the Turks. The British and French were not yet there in force. Cargoes were pillaged by pirates from the West.» In a setting of legality and illegality, the cross and the crescent, Orthodoxy and Catholicism during the Counter-Reformation, Greene highlights issues of identity and day-to-day life. She looks at Greek merchants who transported cargoes between Constantinople and Egypt, and often had multiethnic crews. «Greeks went to the court in Malta to show that their cargoes had been wrongly confiscated and to demand them back.» Originally Greene studied political science, and went on to the Greek Civil War. «I was very interested in the Middle East and I studied Arabic, but I wanted to find a field that included Greece. When I ‘discovered’ the Ottoman Empire, I was pleased to see that I could study the Greek world in a much broader context. There is still much more that we don’t know. I’m looking forward to when scholars can study the archives of the monasteries that are still inaccessible.»