Piracy has been an issue for seagoing ships and nations since antiquity. The ancient Greeks and Romans had a flourishing sea trade that was constantly threatened by the nearby Illyrians and Tyrrhenian peoples. This led to the conquest of those lands, effectively ending the pirate threat. Later in history, the Vikings were feared pirates of the entire European coast, going as far as North Africa and, by some accounts, even crossing the Atlantic Ocean into North America. East Asian piracy was common beginning in the 9th century among wealthy aristocrats who wanted to disturb the sea-based trade of the region.
The golden age of piracy officially begun with the discovery of the New World and the resulting rush of the European powers to control the colonization of the Americas and Caribbean. The great amount of money to be made from the trade of spices and goods coming from this part of the world encouraged militant vessels that swore allegiance to no particular nationality to raid and plunder the rich ships that traveled unescorted through vast and lawless waters. The Caribbean islands were a hotbed of pirate activity from the 17th century to the 19th, until modern advances in mobility managed to curb the threat of piracy in the area.
Soon after the beginning of the golden age of sail and the development of pirate communities in the Caribbean, new pirate enclaves began to appear in other parts of the world. In the United States, river piracy was a major obstacle for steamboat trade in the 19th century, and Chinese junks often battled for supremacy with colonial powers at the same time. The hiring of privateers and development of modern navies and coast guards largely eradicated pirate activity in these regions.
Piracy remains a very real problem in certain parts of the world today. The most troublesome area for commercial shipping right now is in the waters off the coast of Somalia, where billions of dollars of cargo are seized by pirates every year. Modern pirates tend to take small motorboats up to larger cargo ships that they then hijack in order to sell the contents on the black market. It is also common for modern pirates to extort money from captured passengers and personnel, leading to hostage crises.