Barbary pirate

Barbary pirate

The Barbary pirates, also sometimes called Ottoman corsairs, were Muslim pirates and privateers that operated from North Africa, from the time of the Crusades until the early 19th century. Based in North African ports such as Tunis in Tunisia, Tripoli in Libya, Algiers in Algeria, Salé and other ports in Morocco, they primarily commandeered western-european ships in the western Mediterranean Sea. Their stronghold was along the stretch of northern Africa known as the Barbary Coast (a medieval term for the Maghreb after its Berber inhabitants), but their predation was said to extend throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard, and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland. They often made raids, called "Razzias", on European coastal towns to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in places such as Algeria and Morocco. [cite web |url= |title=British Slaves on the Barbary Coast] [cite web |url= |title=Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates by Christopher Hitchens, City Journal Spring 2007] According to Robert Davis, from the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves. These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and from farther places like France or England, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Iceland and North America.

The impact of these attacks was devastating – France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants. Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century.

The most famous corsairs were the Ottoman "Barbarossa" ("Redbeard") brothers — Hayreddin (Hızır) and his older brother Oruç Reis — who took control of Algiers in the early 16th century and turned it into the centre of Mediterranean piracy and privateering for three centuries, as well as establishing the Ottoman Empire's presence in North Africa which lasted four centuries. Other famous Ottoman privateer-admirals included Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West), Kurtoğlu (known as Curtogoli in the West), Kemal Reis, Salih Reis and Koca Murat Reis.

In 1544, Hayreddin captured the island of Ischia, taking 4,000 prisoners, and enslaved some 9,000 inhabitants of Lipari, almost the entire population. [cite web |url= |title=The mysteries and majesties of the Aeolian Islands] In 1551, Turgut Reis enslaved the entire population of the Maltese island Gozo, between 5,000 and 6,000, sending them to Libya. In 1554, pirates sacked Vieste in southern Italy and took an estimated 7,000 slaves. [cite web |url= |title=Vieste] In 1555, Turgut Reis sacked Bastia, Corsica, taking 6000 prisoners. In 1558, Barbary corsairs captured the town of Ciutadella (Minorca), destroyed it, slaughtered the inhabitants and took 3,000 survivors to Istanbul as slaves. [cite web |url= |title=History of Menorca] In 1563, Turgut Reis landed on the shores of the province of Granada, Spain, and captured coastal settlements in the area, such as Almuñécar, along with 4,000 prisoners. Barbary pirates often attacked the Balearic Islands, and in response many coastal watchtowers and fortified churches were erected. The threat was so severe that the island of Formentera became uninhabited. [cite web |url= |title="When Europeans were slaves: Research suggests white slavery was much more common than previously believed"] [cite web |url= |title=Watch-towers and fortified towns]

From 1609 to 1616, England lost 466 merchant ships to Barbary pirates. [Rees Davies, [ British Slaves on the Barbary Coast] , BBC, 1 July, 2003] In the 19th century, Barbary pirates would capture ships and enslave the crew. Latterly American ships were attacked. During this period, the pirates forged affiliations with Caribbean powers, paying a "license tax" in exchange for safe harbor of their vessels. [Mackie, Erin Skye, Welcome the Outlaw: Pirates, Maroons, and Caribbean Countercultures Cultural Critique - 59, Winter 2005, pp. 24-62] One American slave reported that the Algerians had enslaved 130 American seamen in the Mediterranean and Atlantic from 1785 to 1793. Isolated cases of piracy occurred on the Rif coast of Morocco even at the beginning of the 20th century, but the pirate communities which could only live by plunder vanished with the French conquest of Algiers in 1830. [cite web |url=*.html |title=Barbary Pirates - Encyclopedia Britannica]


Although piracy had existed in the region throughout the decline of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasions, the Golden Age of Piracy and the Middle Ages, piracy became particularly flagrant in the 14th century with the decline of European naval power in relation to the Islamic powers, particularly the Ottomans. The town of Bougie was then the most notorious pirate base.

After Spain conquered Granada and expelled the Moors in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, many Muslims from Spain emigrated to the coastal cities of North Africa. Under the tutelage of first the Islamic Mamelukes of Egypt and later the Muslim Ottomans, they, together with local Arab and Berber tribes, mounted expeditions called razzias to disrupt Christian sovereigns. Under the power of the Ottomans in the 16th century, who organized the privateers, the Barbary pirates became most powerful in the 17th century. They declined in the face of European power throughout the 18th century and were finally extinguished about 1830, when the French conquered Algiers.

Several events influenced the growth of the pirates. The conquest of Granada by the Catholic sovereigns of Spain in 1492 drove many Moors into exile. They retaliated by piratical attacks on the Spanish coast, with help from Muslim adventurers from the Levant, of whom the most successful were Hızır and Oruç, natives of Mitylene. In response, Spain began to conquer the coast towns of Oran, Algiers and Tunis. But after Oruç was killed in battle with the Spaniards in 1518, his brother Hızır appealed to Selim I, the Ottoman Sultan, who sent him troops. In 1529, Hızır drove the Spaniards from the rocky, fortified island in front of Algiers, and founded the Ottoman power in the region. From about 1518 till the death of Uluch Ali in 1587, Algiers was the main seat of government of the beylerbeys of northern Africa, who ruled over Tripoli, Tunisia and Algeria. From 1587 to 1659, they were ruled by Ottoman pashas, sent from Constantinople to govern for three years; but in the latter year a military revolt in Algiers reduced the pashas to nonentities. From 1659, these African cities, although nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, were in fact military republics which chose their own rulers and lived by plunder.

During the first period (1518-1587), the beylerbeys were admirals of the sultan, commanding great fleets and conducting war operations for political ends. They were slave-hunters and their methods were ferocious. After 1587, the sole object of their successors became plunder, on land and sea. The maritime operations were conducted by the captains, or "reises", who formed a class or even a corporation. Cruisers were fitted out by capitalists and commanded by the "reises". Ten percent of the value of the prizes was paid to the pasha or his successors, who bore the titles of "agha" or "dey" or "bey".1911|article=Barbary Pirates]

Era of the pirates

The first half of the 17th century may be described as the flowering time of the Barbary pirates. More than 20,000 captives were said to be imprisoned in Algiers alone. The rich were allowed to redeem themselves, but the poor were condemned to slavery. Their masters would on occasion allow them to secure freedom by professing Islam. A long list might be given of people of good social position, not only Italians or Spaniards, but German or English travelers in the south, who were captives for a time.

In Iceland, Murat Reis (Jan Janszoon) is said to have taken 400 prisoners; he later raided the nearby island of Vestmannaeyjar. Among those captured in Vestmannaeyjar was Ólafur Egilsson, who was released with a ransom the next year and, upon returning to Iceland, wrote a detailed book in 1628 about his experience. The sack of Vestmannaeyjar is known in The History of Iceland as "Tyrkjaránið" (The Turkish abductions) and is arguably the most horrible event in the history of Vestmannaeyjar [Reference needed] .

In June 1631 Murat Reis, with pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Ottoman Empire, stormed ashore at the little harbor village of Baltimore, County Cork. They captured almost all the villagers and took them away to a life of slavery in North Africa. The prisoners were destined for a variety of fates -- some lived out their days chained to the oars as galley slaves, while others would spend long years in the scented seclusion of the harem or within the walls of the Sultan's palace. The old city of Algiers, with its narrow streets, intense heat and lively trade, was a melting pot where the villagers would join slaves and freemen of many nationalities. Only two of them ever saw Ireland again.

Barbary pirate attacks were common in southern Portugal, south and east Spain, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Corsica, Elba, the Italian Peninsula (especially the coasts of Liguria, Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Calabria and Apulia), Sicily and Malta. They also occurred on the Atlantic northwest coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In 1617, the African corsairs launched their major attack in the region when they destroyed and sacked Bouzas, Cangas and the churches of Moaña and Darbo.

The chief victims were the inhabitants of the coasts of Sicily, Naples and Spain. But all traders of nations which did not pay tribute for immunity were liable to be taken at sea. This tribute, disguised as presents or ransoms, did not always ensure safety. The most powerful states in Europe condescended to pay the pirates and tolerate their insults. Religious orders—the Redemptorists and Lazarists — worked for the redemption of captives, and large legacies were left for that purpose in many countries.

The continued piracy was due to competition among European powers. France encouraged the pirates against Spain, and later Britain and Holland supported them against France. In the 18th century, British public men were not ashamed to say that Barbary piracy was a useful check on the competition of the weaker Mediterranean nations in the carrying trade. When Lord Exmouth sailed to coerce Algiers in 1816, he expressed doubts in a private letter whether the suppression of piracy would be acceptable to the trading community. Every power wanted to secure immunity for itself and more or less ready to compel Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, Sale and the rest to respect its trade and subjects. In 1655, British admiral Robert Blake was sent to punish the Tunisians, and he gave them a severe beating. During the reign of Charles II, the British fleet made many expeditions, sometimes together with the Dutch. In 1682 and 1683, the French bombarded Algiers. On the second occasion the Algerines blew the French consul from a gun during the action. The long list of such punitive expeditions ends with the American operations of 1801-05 and 1815. But the attack was never pushed home, and the aggrieved European state almost always agreed in the end to pay money to secure peace. The frequent wars among European states gave the pirates many opportunities of breaking their engagements, and they always took advantage of that.

Some pirates were renegades or moriscos. They usually used galley ships with slaves or prisoners at the oars. Two examples are Süleyman Reis, "De Veenboer", who became admiral of the Algerian corsair fleet in 1617, and his quartermaster Murat Reis, born Jan Janszoon van Haarlem. Both worked for the notorious corsair Simon the Dancer, who owned a palace. These pirates were all originally Dutch. The Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter unsuccessfully tried to end their piracy.

United States and the Barbary Wars

In 1783 the United States made peace with, and gained recognition from, the British monarchy, and in 1784 the first American ship was seized by pirates from Morocco, which in 1777 had been the first independent nation to recognize the United States. After six months of negotiation, a treaty was signed, $60,000 cash was paid, and trade began. [cite book |last=Fremont-Barnes |first=Gregory |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=The Wars of the Barbary Pirates: To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the US Navy and Marines |origdate= |origyear=2006 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher=Osprey Publishing |location= |language= |isbn=1-8460-3030-7 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=32 |chapter=Outbreak |chapterurl= |quote= ] But Algeria was different. In 1785 two ships (the Maria of Boston and the Dauphin of Philadelphia) were seized, everything sold and their crews ordered to build port fortifications.

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, then the ambassador to France, and John Adams, then the ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the ambassador to Britain from Tripoli. The Americans asked Adja why his government was hostile to American ships, even though there had been no provocation. The ambassador's response was reported to the Continental Congress:

It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy's ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.

[cite web|last=The Atlantic Monthly|title=Jefferson, American Minister in France|date=Volume 30, Issue 180, October 1872|url=| accessdate=2008-03-17]

American ships sailing in the Mediterranean chose to travel close to larger convoys of other European powers who had bribed the pirates. Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual revenues in 1800. [cite web|last=Oren|first=Michael B.|title=The Middle East and the Making of the United States, 1776 to 1815|date=2005-11-03|url=| accessdate=2007-02-18] In the early 1800s, President Thomas Jefferson proposed a league of smaller nations to patrol the area, but the United States could not contribute. For the prisoners, Algeria wanted $60,000, while America offered only $4,000. Jefferson said a million dollars would buy them off, but Congress would only appropriate $80,000. For eleven years, Americans who lived in Algeria lived as slaves to Algerian Moors. For a while, Portugal was patrolling the Straits of Gibraltar and preventing Barbary Pirates from entering the Atlantic. But they made a cash deal with the pirates, and they were again sailing into the Atlantic and engaging in piracy. By late 1793, a dozen American ships had been captured, goods stripped and everyone enslaved. Portugal had offered some armed patrols, but American merchants needed an armed American presence to sail near Europe. After some serious debate, the United States Navy was born in March 1794. Six frigates were authorized, and so began the construction of the "United States", the "Constellation", the "Constitution" and three other frigates.

This new military presence helped to stiffen American resolve to resist the continuation of tribute payments, leading to the two Barbary Wars along the North African coast: the First Barbary War from 1801 to 1805 [ [ The Mariners' Museum : The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805] ] and the Second Barbary War in 1815. It was not until 1815 that naval victories ended tribute payments by the U.S., although some European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s.

The United States Marine Corps actions in these wars led to the line "to the shores of Tripoli" in the opening of the Marine Hymn. Due to the hazards of boarding hostile ships, Marines' uniforms had a leather high collar to protect against cutlass slashes. This led to the nickname "Leatherneck" for U.S. Marines. [cite book | last = Chenoweth, USMCR (Ret.) | first = Col. H. Avery | authorlink = | coauthors = Col. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret) | title = Semper fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines | publisher = Main Street | year = 2005 | location = New York | url = | doi = | id = ISBN 1-4027-3099-3]

After 1815

After the general pacification of 1815, the European powers agreed upon the need to suppress the Barbary pirates. The sacking of Palma on the island of Sardinia by a Tunisian squadron, which carried off 158 inhabitants, roused widespread indignation. Other influences were at work to bring about their extinction. The United Kingdom had acquired Malta and the Ionian Islands and now had many Mediterranean subjects. It was also engaged in pressing the other European powers to join with it in the suppression of the slave trade which the Barbary states practiced on a large scale and at the expense of Europe. The suppression of the trade was one of the objects of the Congress of Vienna. The United Kingdom was called on to act for Europe, and in 1816 Lord Exmouth was sent to obtain treaties from Tunis and Algiers. His first visit produced diplomatic documents and promises and he sailed for England. While he was negotiating, a number of British subjects had been brutally ill-treated at Bona, without his knowledge. The British government sent him back to secure reparation, and on the 17th of August, in combination with a Dutch squadron under Admiral Van de Capellen, he administered a significant bombardment to Algiers. The lesson terrified the pirates both of that city and of Tunis into giving up over 3,000 prisoners and making fresh promises. Within a short time, however, Algiers renewed its piracies and slave-taking, though on a smaller scale, and the measures to be taken with the city's government were discussed at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818. In 1824 another British fleet under Admiral Sir Harry Neal again bombarded Algiers. The city remained a haven for and source of pirates until its conquest by France in 1830.

Barbary pirates in literature

Barbary pirates appear in a number of famous novels, including "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe, "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas, père, "The Sea Hawk" and the "Sword of Islam" by Rafael Sabatini, "The Algerine Captive" by Royall Tyler, "Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian, the "Baroque Cycle" by Neal Stephenson, "The Walking Drum" by Louis Lamour and "Doctor Doolittle" by Hugh Lofting. Miguel de Cervantes was captive in the "bagnio" of Algiers, and reflected his experience in some of his books, including "Don Quixote".


In an interesting recent development, an elderly trawler, TS "Pelican", was fitted with what are thought to have been the unorthodox riggings used by the Barbary pirates in the 16th century. The resultant performance has been remarkable, with the Pelican sailing, at speed, over 20 degrees nearer the wind than any square rigger.cite web|publisher="The Times"|date=28 February 2007|title=Pirates who got away with it by sailing closer to the wind|author=Simon de Bruxelles|url=|accessdate=2008-09-10]

Famous Barbary Corsairs

*Barbarossa Hayreddin Paşa
*Turgut Reis
*Piyale Paşa
*Kemal Reis
*Seydi Ali Reis
*Salih Reis
*Kurtoğlu Muslihiddin Reis
*Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis
*Oruç Reis
*Gedik Ahmed Paşa
*Uluç Ali Reis
*Murat Reis the Elder
*Çaka Bey
*Murat Reis the Younger
*Yusuf Reis

ee also

* Islamic Raids
* Knights of Rhodes
* First Barbary War
* Second Barbary War
* Barbary treaties
* List of Ottoman & Barbary raids
* Stephen Decatur
* USS "Hornet"
* Dey of Algiers
* Lundy - captured by Barbary pirates.
* Miguel de Cervantes - spent five years as a slave in Algiers.
* Barbary Slave Trade
* Islam and slavery
* Spanish Empire
* Ottoman Empire
* Ottoman-Habsburg wars
* History of the Ottoman Navy
* Mathurin d’Aux de Lescout

Further reading

*London, Joshua E. "Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation" New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. ISBN 978-0471444152
* [ The Stolen Village Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin] ISBN 978-0862789558
* [ Knights Hospitaller of St. John - Order of St John of Jerusalem Malta]
* [ Pirates of the Mediterranean]
*cite news | first=Christopher | last=Hitchens | coauthors= | title=Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates | date=Spring 2007 | publisher= | url = | work =City Journal | pages = | accessdate = 2007-04-28 | language =
* Lafi (Nora), Une ville du Maghreb entre ancien régime et réformes ottomanes. Genèse des institutions municipales à Tripoli de Barbarie (1795–1911), Paris: L'Harmattan, 2002, 305 pp.
* Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King, ISBN-10: 0316159352
* The Pirate Coast: by Richard Zacks Publisher: HYPERION ISBN 1-4013-0849-X



*A History of Pirates by Angus Konstam
*Earle, Peter. "The Pirate Wars". Thomas Dunne, 2003
*Forester, C. S. "The Barbary Pirates". Random House, 1953
*Leiner, Frederick C. "The End of Barbary Terror: America's 1815 War against the Pirates of North Africa". Oxford University Press, 2006
*Lambert, Frank. "The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World". Hill & Wang, 2005
* [ World Navies]

Icelandic sources

Barbary To and Fro by Jens Riise Kristensen, Ørby publishing 2005. (
* []
* []
* []
* []
* []
* [ Heimaslóð] ("In Icelandic")

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