Barbary pirates

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(Redirected from Barbary corsairs)

Though at least a proportion of them are better described as privateers, the Barbary pirates operated out of Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, Salč and ports in Morocco, preying on shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea from the time of the Crusades as well as on ships on their way to Asia around Africa until the early 19th century. Their stronghold was along the stretch of northern Africa known as the Barbary Coast (a medieval term for the Maghreb after its Berber inhabitants), although their predation was said to extend as far north as Iceland, and south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard.

Perhaps the best-known was Barbarossa (meaning red beard) the nickname of Khair ad Din, who after having been invited to defend the city of Algiers from the Spaniards killed its ruler and seized it in 1510, making it into a major base for privateering, as well as a regent for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Some of them were renegades or Moriscos. Their usual ship was the galley with slaves or prisoners at the oars. Two examples of these renegadoes are Süleyman Reis "De Veenboer" who became admiral of the Algerian corsair fleet in 1617, and his quartermaster Murad Reis, born Jan Janszoon van Haarlem. Both worked for the notorious corsair (privateer) 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.

Barbary pirates and the U.S. Navy

When the U.S. became a separate country it had little Navy to protect its merchant ships, so in 1784, Congress appropriated $80,000 as tribute, or bribe, to the Barbary states. But continued attacks prompted the building of the United States Navy, including one of America's most famous ships, the USS Constitution, leading to a series of wars along the North African coast, starting in 1801. 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".

Barbary pirates in literature

Barbary pirates appear in a number of famous novels, including Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Algerine Captive by Royall Tyler, Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian and the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson.

Miguel de Cervantes was captive in the bagnio of Algiers, and reflected his experience in some of his books, including Don Quixote.

See also

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