Barbary slave trade

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The redemption (buying back) of Christian captives by Mercedarian friars in the Barbary states. Purchase of Christian captives from the Barbary States.jpg
The redemption (buying back) of Christian captives by Mercedarian friars in the Barbary states.
The Barbary Coast Barbary coast3.jpg
The Barbary Coast

The Barbary slave trade refers to slave markets on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman states of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and 19th century. The Ottoman states in North Africa were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were quasi-independent.


European slaves were acquired by Barbary pirates in slave raids on ships and by raids on coastal towns from Italy to the Netherlands, Ireland and the southwest of Britain, as far north as Iceland and into the eastern Mediterranean.

The Ottoman eastern Mediterranean was the scene of intense piracy. [1] As late as the 18th century, piracy continued to be a "consistent threat to maritime traffic in the Aegean". [2]


Turk and clergyman with Christian slaves, Jan Luyken, 1684 Turk en geestelijke met christenslaven, Jan Luyken, 1684.jpg
Turk and clergyman with Christian slaves, Jan Luyken, 1684

In his 2003 book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800, Ohio State University history professor Robert Davis states that most modern historians minimize the white slave trade. Davis estimates that slave traders from Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli alone enslaved 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans in North Africa, from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th (these numbers do not include the European people who were enslaved by Morocco and by other raiders and traders of the Mediterranean Sea coast). [3] [ page needed ] Roughly 700 Americans were held captive in this region as slaves between 1785 and 1815. [4] However, to extrapolate his numbers, Davis assumes the number of European slaves captured by Barbary pirates remained roughly constant for a 250-year period, stating:

There are no records of how many men, women and children were enslaved, but it is possible to calculate roughly the number of fresh captives that would have been needed to keep populations steady and replace those slaves who died, escaped, were ransomed, or converted to Islam. On this basis it is thought that around 8,500 new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers - about 850,000 captives over the century from 1580 to 1680. By extension, for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000. [5]

Other historians have challenged Davis' numbers. Peter Earle cautions that the picture of Europeans slaves is clouded by the fact the corsairs also seized non-Christian whites from eastern Europe and black people from western Africa. [5]

Christian prisoners are sold as slaves on a square in Algiers, Jan Luyken, 1684 Christelijke gevangenen worden op een plein te Algiers als slaaf verkocht, Jan Luyken, 1684.jpg
Christian prisoners are sold as slaves on a square in Algiers, Jan Luyken, 1684

Middle East expert and researcher John Wright cautions that modern estimates are based on back-calculations from human observation. [6] A second book by Davis, Holy War and Human Bondage: Tales of Christian-Muslim Slavery in the Early-Modern Mediterranean, widened its focus to related slavery. [7]

The authorities of Ottoman and pre-Ottoman times kept no relevant official records, but observers in the late 1500s and early 1600s estimated that around 35,000 European slaves were held throughout this period on the Barbary Coast, across Tripoli and Tunis, but mostly in Algiers. The majority were sailors (particularly those who were English), taken with their ships, but others were fishermen and coastal villagers. However, most of these captives were people from lands close to Africa, particularly Italy. [8]

From bases on the Barbary coast, North Africa, the Barbary pirates raided ships traveling through the Mediterranean and along the northern and western coasts of Africa, plundering their cargo and enslaving the people they captured. From at least 1500, the pirates also conducted raids on seaside towns of Italy, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands and as far away as Iceland, capturing men, women and children. In 1544, Hayreddin Barbarossa captured the island of Ischia, taking 4,000 prisoners, and enslaved some 2,000–7,000 inhabitants of Lipari. [9] [10] 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. [11] The Balearic Islands were invaded in 1558, and 4,000 people were taken into slavery. [12] In 1618 the Algerian pirates attacked the Canary Islands taking 1000 captives to be sold as slaves. [13] 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. [14]

1816 illustration of Christian slaves in Algiers Captain walter croker horror stricken at algiers 1815.jpg
1816 illustration of Christian slaves in Algiers

While Barbary corsairs looted the cargo of ships they captured, their primary goal was to capture non-Muslim people for sale as slaves or for ransom. Those who had family or friends who might ransom them were held captive; the most famous of these was the author Miguel de Cervantes, who was held for almost five years - from 1575 to 1580. Others were sold into various types of servitude. Captives who converted to Islam were generally freed, since enslavement of Muslims was prohibited; but this meant that they could never return to their native countries. [15] [16] [ need quotation to verify ]

Sixteenth- and 17th-century customs statistics suggest that Istanbul's additional slave imports from the Black Sea may have totaled around 2.5 million from 1450 to 1700. [17] The markets declined after Sweden and the United States defeated the Barbary States in the Barbary Wars (1800–1815). A US Navy expedition under Commodore Edward Preble engaged gunboats and fortifications in Tripoli in 1804. A British diplomatic mission to Algiers led to the Dey to agree to release some Sardinian slaves. However, the moment the British left, the Dey ordered the Sardinians massacred; the same fleet joined by some Dutch warships returned and delivered a nine-hour bombardment of Algiers in 1816 leading to the Dey accepting a new agreement in which he promised to end his slavery operations. Despite this, the trade continued, only ending with the French conquest of Algeria (1830–1847). The Kingdom of Morocco had already suppressed piracy and recognized the United States as an independent country in 1776.


The towns on the North African coast were recorded in Roman times for their slave markets, and this trend continued into the medieval age. The Barbary Coast increased in influence in the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire took over as rulers of the area. Coupled with this was an influx of Sephardi Jews [18] and Moorish refugees, newly expelled from Spain after the Reconquista.

With Ottoman protection and a host of destitute immigrants, the coastline soon became reputed for piracy. Crews from the seized ships were either enslaved or ransomed. Between 1580 and 1680, there were in Barbary around 15,000 renegades, Christian Europeans who converted to Islam, and half of the corsair captains were in fact renegades. Some of them were slaves that converted to Islam but most had probably never been slaves and had come to North Africa looking for opportunity. [19]

Rise of the Barbary pirates

The bombardment of Algiers in 1682, by Abraham Duquesne. Bombardement d'Alger.1682.jpg
The bombardment of Algiers in 1682, by Abraham Duquesne.

After a revolt in the mid-17th century reduced the ruling Ottoman Pashas to little more than figureheads in the region, the towns of Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and others became independent in all but name. Without a large central authority and its laws, the pirates themselves started to gain much influence.

In 1785 when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, they asked him what right he had to take slaves in this way. He replied that the "right" was "founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise". [20]

Pirate raids for the acquisition of slaves occurred in towns and villages on the African Atlantic seaboard, as well as in Europe. Reports of Barbary raids and kidnappings of those in Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, England, Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and as far north as Iceland exist from between the 16th to the 19th centuries. It is estimated that between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by pirates and sold as slaves in Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli during this time period. The slave trade in Europeans in other parts of the Mediterranean is not included in this estimation. [21]

Famous accounts of Barbary slave raids include a mention in the diary of Samuel Pepys and a raid on the coastal village of Baltimore, Ireland, during which pirates left with the entire populace of the settlement. The attack was led by a Dutch captain, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger. Janszoon also led the 1627 raid on Iceland. Such raids in the Mediterranean were so frequent and devastating that the coastline between Venice and Málaga [22] suffered widespread depopulation, and settlement there was discouraged. In fact, it was said that "there was no one left to capture any longer." [19]

The power and influence of these pirates during this time was such that nations including the United States paid tribute in order to stave off their attacks. [23] Supplies from the Black Sea appear to have been even larger. A compilation of partial statistics and patchy estimates indicates that almost 2 million Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles were seized from 1468 to 1694. Additionally, there were slaves from the Caucasus obtained by a mixture of raiding and trading. 16th- and 17th-century customs statistics suggest that Istanbul's slave import from the Black Sea may have totaled around 2.5 million from 1450 to 1700. [17]


A US Navy expedition under Commodore Edward Preble engaging gunboats and fortifications in Tripoli, 1804. NH 65536-KN.jpg
A US Navy expedition under Commodore Edward Preble engaging gunboats and fortifications in Tripoli, 1804.

In the first years of the 19th century, the United States, allied with European nations, fought and won the First and the Second Barbary Wars against the pirates. The wars were a direct response of the American, British, French and the Dutch states to the raids and the slave trade by the Barbary pirates against them, which ended in the 1830s when the region was conquered by France. The Barbary slave trade and slave markets in the Mediterranean declined and eventually disappeared after the European occupations. [17]

After an Anglo-Dutch bombardment in 1816 of Algiers on 27 August, led by Admiral Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth, disabled most of the Pirate fleet, the Dey of Algiers was forced to agree to terms which included the release of the surviving 1,200 slaves (mostly from Sardinia) and the cessation of their practice of enslaving Europeans. After being defeated in this period of formal hostilities with European and American powers, the Barbary states went into decline. [17]

The Barbary pirates refused to cease their slaving operations, resulting in another bombardment by a Royal Navy fleet against Algiers in 1824. France invaded Algiers in 1830, placing it under colonial rule. Tunis was similarly invaded by France in 1881. Tripoli returned to direct Ottoman control in 1835, before falling into Italian hands in the 1911 Italo-Turkish War. As such, the slave traders now found that they had to work in accordance with the laws of their governors, and could no longer look to self-regulation. The slave trade ceased on the Barbary coast in the 19th and 20th centuries or when European governments passed laws granting emancipation to slaves. [17]

The word razzia was borrowed via Italian and French from Maghrebi Arabic ghaziya (Arabic : غزية, lit. 'raiding'), originally referring to slave raids conducted by Barbary pirates.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable goods. Those who conduct acts of piracy are called pirates, while the dedicated ships that pirates use are called pirate ships. The earliest documented instances of piracy were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. Narrow channels which funnel shipping into predictable routes have long created opportunities for piracy, as well as for privateering and commerce raiding. Historic examples include the waters of Gibraltar, the Strait of Malacca, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden, and the English Channel, whose geographic structures facilitated pirate attacks. A land-based parallel is the ambushing of travelers by bandits and brigands in highways and mountain passes. Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

First Barbary War War between United States and the Barbary states, 1801–1806

The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Tripolitan War and the Barbary Coast War, was the first of two Barbary Wars, in which the United States and Sweden fought against the four North African states known collectively as the "Barbary States". Three of these were autonomous, but nominally provinces of the Ottoman Empire: Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis. The fourth was the independent Sultanate of Morocco.

Barbary Wars conflicts fought over the issue of Barbary piracy

The Barbary Wars were a series of two wars fought by the United States, Sweden, and the Kingdom of Sicily against the Barbary states of North Africa in the early 19th century. Sweden had been at war with the Tripolitans since 1800 and was joined by the newly-independent US. The First Barbary War extended from 10 May 1801 to 10 June 1805, with the Second Barbary War lasting only three days, ending on 19 June 1815.

Second Barbary War 1815 war between Algiers and the United States

The Second Barbary War (1815) or the U.S.–Algerian War was fought between the United States and the North African Barbary Coast states of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers. The war ended when the United States Senate ratified Commodore Stephen Decatur’s Algerian treaty on December 5, 1815. However, Dey Omar Agha of Algeria repudiated the US treaty, refused to accept the terms of peace that had been ratified by the Congress of Vienna, and threatened the lives of all Christian inhabitants of Algiers. William Shaler was the US commissioner in Algiers who had negotiated alongside Decatur, but he fled aboard British vessels during the Bombardment of Algiers (1816). He negotiated a new treaty in 1816 which was not ratified by the Senate until February 11, 1822, because of an oversight.

Barbary Coast Coastal region of North Africa inhabited by Berber people

The terms Barbary Coast, Barbary, Berbery or Berber Coast were used in English-language sources from the 16th century to the early 19th to refer to the coastal regions of North Africa or Maghreb, specifically the Ottoman borderlands consisting of the regencies in Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis as well as, sometimes, Morocco. The term was coined in reference to the Berbers.

Barbary pirates Pirates based in North Africa

The Barbary pirates, or Barbary corsairs or Ottoman corsairs, were Muslim pirates and privateers who operated from North Africa, based primarily in the ports of Salé, Rabat, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. This area was known in Europe as the Barbary Coast, in reference to the Berbers. Their predation extended throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland, but they primarily operated in the western Mediterranean. In addition to seizing merchant ships, they engaged in Razzias, raids on European coastal towns and villages, mainly in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, but also in the British Isles, the Netherlands, and Iceland. The main purpose of their attacks was slaves for the Ottoman slave trade as well as the general Arab slavery market in North Africa and the Middle East. Slaves in Barbary could be of many ethnicities, and of many different religions, such as Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.

Occhiali Ottoman commander

Occhiali was an Italian farmer, then Ottoman privateer and admiral, who later became beylerbey of the Regency of Algiers, and finally Grand Admiral of the Ottoman fleet in the 16th century.

Oruç Reis Native of Mitylene; turned corsair; became sovereign of Algiers

Oruç Reis was an Ottoman seaman, who became bey (governor) of Algiers, beylerbey of the West Mediterranean, and admiral of the Ottoman Empire. The elder brother of the famous Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa, he was born on the Ottoman island of Midilli and died in battle against the Spanish at Tlemcen in the Ottoman Eyalet of Algeria.

White slavery Enslavement of people of European descent

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Golden Age of Piracy Maritime piracy from the 1650s to the 1730s

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Hayreddin Barbarossa Turkish admiral

Hayreddin Barbarossa, also known as Hızır Hayrettin Pasha, and simply Hızır Reis , was an Ottoman corsair and later admiral of the Ottoman Navy. Barbarossa's naval victories secured Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean during the mid 16th century.

History of slavery Aspect of history

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Turkish Abductions

The Turkish Abductions were a series of slave raids by pirates from Northwest Africa that took place in Iceland in the summer of 1627. The pirates came from the cities of Algiers and Salé. They raided Grindavík, the East Fjords, and Vestmannaeyjar. About 50 people were killed and close to 400 people were captured and sold in the African slave market. A ransom was eventually paid, 9 to 18 years later, for the return of 50 individuals.

Anglo-Turkish piracy Collaboration between Barbary pirates and English and Dutch pirates against Catholic shipping during the 17th century

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Ottoman Tunisia 16th-18th Century Ottoman Territory

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William Okeley was a Puritan who was taken into slavery in Algeria between the years 1639-44, and who wrote a captivity narrative of the 17th century, entitled Ebenezer; or, a Small Monument of Great Mercy, Appearing in the Miraculous Deliverance of William Okeley, John Anthony, William Adams, John Jephs, John --, Carpenter, from the Miserable Slavery of Algiers with the Wonderful Means of Their Escape in a Boat of Canvas; the Great Distress and Utmost Extremeties Which They Endured at Sea for Six Days and Nights; [and] Their Safe Arrival at Mayork, with Several Matters of Remark During Their Long Captivity and the Following Providences of God Which Brought Them Safe to England.. Okeley published his narrative in 1675, nearly 30 years after his escape from Algiers.

Tunisian navy (1705–1881)

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Further reading