Friday, June 14, 2024

Barbary pirates

It takes an awful lot of shipping to pull out several thousand new slaves and all those sailors were armed as well.

the actual scale of European navies was small not including the Spanish fleet and they were heavily engaged fighting the pirates.  so the fight was on, but real naval tech took time to improve and underwrite.

And why bother when they actually had nothing Europe wanted Because Europeans got slaves from Africa  and spices by rounding  the Cape.  Those Muslims had just been cut out of their best and only business and were left with suppling slaves on the coast..

In practice, they could only get weaker in the face of an expanding eurosphere including the Americas.

European powers such as France, Spain and Britian already had powerful navies in the 16th century. Why did it take so long to put an end to the barbary Corsair pirates in the early 19th century?

People talking about “piracy exists even today” miss the point. The Barbary corsairs were not a few Somalian punks on a coast guard boat.

In 1544, Hayreddin Barbarossa captured the island of Ischia, taking 4,000 prisoners, and enslaved some 2,000–7,000 inhabitants of Lipari. In 1551, Ottoman corsair Dragut enslaved the entire population of the Maltese island of Gozo, between 5,000 and 6,000, sending them to Ottoman Tripolitania. In 1554 corsairs under Dragut sacked Vieste, beheaded 5,000 of its inhabitants, and abducted another 6,000. The Balearic Islands were invaded in 1558, and 4,000 people were taken into slavery. In 1618 the Algerian pirates attacked the Canary Islands taking 1000 captives to be sold as slaves. On some occasions, settlements such as Baltimore in Ireland were abandoned following a raid, only being resettled many years later.

Between 1609 and 1616, England alone lost 466 merchant ships to Barbary pirates….

…payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual revenues in 1800.

—archived Wikipedia article

For most of the 16th to early 18th centuries the entire northern coast of the Mediterranean was deserted in the conventional sense: having any kind of “normal” township within a few hours’ travel from the sea was unthinkable.

Places mentioned above as having their population carried off to slavery—like Ischia, today a densely populated little island of 60,000 people, which in the middle ages had been a vibrant cultural centre of Italy, whose 15th c. duchess was a likely model for the Mona Lisa and her daughter-in-law a muse of Michelangelo—became empty “brigand country” overnight, and remained so for a good two centuries or more, despite being within sight of Naples.

The survivors huddled in cramped fortresses (the castella aragonese in Ischia):

The gigantic fortifications in Malta—basically four or five star forts around four walled cities, all packed together in a naturally defensible harbour—which repelled the invasion of Suleyman in 1565, are indicative of the scale of defense necessary to survive close to the sea.

The “martyrs of Otranto” are 813 people killed (allegedly for not converting to Islam; realistically, they were the inhabitants of the town too poor to fetch a sizeable ransom for their release) after the Ottoman siege of Otranto and the slaughter or carrying off of its population in 1480 by the then-governor of Albania, Gedik Ahmed Pasha.

This is often written as the “failed Ottoman invasion of Italy”, and it could have been [if Gedik Ahmed’s stay-behind garrison had managed to hold Otranto castle], but realistically it was more like the constant piratical raids and attacks occurring all along the frontier in the 15th-17th centuries, of which the Barbary corsairs were the most impressive portion.

The Greek islands—basically dozens of independent maritime communities—still furnish a look into that time. In every island, there is a “gap” of a couple centuries, in which the people left the “town” and went into the “castle”. The castle is generally less classy than these Franco-Italian bastions—the one I visited was an extremely steep-sided, mountainous tiny islet linked to the island’s mainland by a tiny causeway. The top of the island was a squished series of gorges with a couple of stone buildings in them (including two churches and a small mosque, home to the island’s only Muslim, representative of the sultan’s authority). The outer edges of the cliffs had natural paths on them, creating a very castle-like sensation—the entire population lived inside that thing for generations, until the corsair raids gradually started to abate in the early 18th century.

As European powers gained in naval power relative to the Ottomans, the Barbary corsair activity did diminish to a shadow of its former self—the Mediterranean again began to see trade, which had almost entirely been cut off. There were still corsairs active, with brief resurgences of serious activity, but the last century was nothing like the peak of the corso in the 16th.

Powerful navies like France, the Netherlands, and England, started bombarding the ports of Barbary to force local rulers (the Dey of Algiers, the sultan of Morocco, the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli) to release their captives and promise a halt to pirate activity. This would have a limited effect until piracy resumed, and the cities were bombarded again, etc. Paying protection money to these rulers was another way to buy safety (in practice, protection money was cheaper than the huge loss to trade brought on by war, though of course it was seen as humiliating).

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