The Barbary corsairs first appeared to terrorize shipping at the end of the fifteenth century. These Muslim pirates sailed out of the ports of North Africa, primarily Sal?, Rabat, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. This area was known in Europe as the Barbary Coast, a term derived from the name of its Berber inhabitants. Acting as officers of the sprawling Ottoman Empire, these pirates plundered the trading routes of the Mediterranean and sowed horror in the hearts of Christians everywhere.
The most famous and powerful were the Barbarossa brothers, sons of a renegade Christian. The true founders of the Algiers Regency, they initially preyed on fishing vessels or defenseless merchantmen before growing bolder and embarking upon more brazen expeditions?attacking fortified ports and cities; raiding and kidnapping inhabitants of the African coast; and hunting ships from the Christian nations.
This translation of Jacques Heers?s work follows the extraordinary exploits of the brothers, and those of other corsairs and profiteers, set against the turbulent backdrop of trade, commerce, and conflict throughout the Mediterranean as the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance. It is an enthralling adventure, robustly written, and it brings to life an age when travel and trade were perilous enterprises.
Though this translated volume on Renaissance maritime history is slow to get into, its colorful, well-documented subject ultimately rewards the serious reader. After a brief history of trade and piracy in the medieval Mediterranean, the book focuses on the area's"Golden Age of Piracy." For much of the period between the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the Spanish Armada (1588), the"pirates" of Tunis and Algiers were actually vassals of the Ottoman Sultans who sent to sea regular war fleets numbering in the dozens or hundreds. They had a major strategic impact on the Mediterranean wars of the Renaissance, as they were often allies of the French, fighting against alleged"encirclement" by the Habsburg Empire of Spain. This in turn made the Spanish their implacable foes, and began a French tradition of looking benignly on the Turks that lasted at least two centuries. In addition to the diplomatic background, Heers, a professor at the Sorbonne, sketches in Barbary leaders (like the best known, Khaireddin Barbarossa, many were converts to Islam or the sons of such), slavery, trade negotiations, Spanish settlements in Africa, and the literature spawned by the Barbary wars. One wishes that the notes and bibliography had been translated from the French along with the main text, but otherwise this volume will satisfy those interested in maritime history not often covered in English-language sources. The cover's colorful portrait of galley fleets in action matches Heers's good selection of historical illustrations.