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Corsairs : The Golden Ages of Algiers 
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Old 09-04-2010, 06:42 AM   Post #1
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Default Corsairs : The Golden Ages of Algiers

The first brilliant age of Algiers (excerpts are taken from Fernand Braudel's The Mediterranean & the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II - as translated into English from the French by Siân Reynolds) :

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In the western waters of the sea, Moslem privateering was equally prosperous and had been so for many years. It had several headquarters, but its fortunes are epitomized in the extraordinary career of Algiers.

Between 1560 and 1570, the western Mediterranean was infested with Barbary pirates, mostly from Algiers; some made their way to the Adriatic or to the coasts of Crete. The characteristic method of attack during these years was the regular assault in large groups if not in actual battle formation. In July 1559, fourteen pirate vessels and galliots were sighted off Niebla in Andalusia; two years later, fourteen galleys and galliots again appeared near Santi Pietri, off Seville.

In August, Jean Nicot reported '17 galères turquinesque' on the Portuguese Algarve. At the same period, Dragut was operating off Sicily and in a single raid captured eight Sicilian galleys off Naples. With a fleet of thirty-five sail, he blockaded Naples in midsummer. Two years later, in September, 1563 (that is after the harvest) he was prowling off the coast of Sicily and was twice sighted at the Fossa di San Giovanni near Messina with twenty-eight ships. In May 1563, twelve ships, four of them galleys, were reported off Gaeta. In August, nine Algerine ships were sighted between Genoa and Savona; in September there were thirteen of them off the Corsican coast. Thirty-two appeared at the beginning of September on the Calabrian coast, probably the same ships which were reported as a fleet of about thirty sail arriving off Naples one night and taking shelter near the island of Ponza. Still in September, eight ships sailed past Pozzuoli, making for Gaeta and twenty-five sails were sighted sopra Santo Angelo in Ischia. In May, 1564, a fleet of forty-two sail appeared off Elba (forty-five according to a French report). Forty sails, this time off the coast of Languedoc on the track of the galleys bound for Italy, were reported by Fourquevaux in April, 1569. A month later, twenty-five corsairs were seen sailing past the shores of Sicily, which they hardly bothered to trouble, being utterly engrossed in the pursuit of ships and boats.

Such numbers explain the severe blows dealt by the corsairs, who on one occasion seized eight galleys and another time, off Málaga, captured twenty-eight Biscay ships (June, 1566). In a single season they accounted for fifty ships in the Straits of Gibraltar and on the Atlantic coasts of Andalusia and the Algarve; a raid into the kingdom of Granada furnished them with 4000 prisoners. During this period, according to the Christians, the audacity of the corsairs knew no bounds. Where once they had operated only by night, they now showed themselves in broad daylight. Their raids reached as far as the Percheles, the criminal quarter of Málaga. The Cortes of Castile refer, in 1560, to the desolation and emptiness of the Peninsular coasts. In 1563, when Philip II was at Valencia, 'all the talk', writes Saint-Sulpice, 'is of tournaments, jousting, balls and other noble pastimes, while the Moors waste no time and even dare to capture vessels within a league of the city, stealing as much as they can carry'.

Valencia threatened, Naples under a blockade (in July, 1561, 500 men were unable to cross from Naples to Salerno because of corsairs), Sicily and the Balearics surrounded - all these can be explained by geography, given the proximity of North Africa. But the corsairs were active as far north as the coasts of Languedoc, Provence and Liguria, which had until then seen little disturbance. Near Villefranche, in June, 1560, the Duke of Savoy himself barely escaped falling into their hands. In the same month, June, 1560, Genoa's stocks of grain and wine ran low and prices rose: the boats which usually brought wines from Provence and Corsica dared not put to sea, for fear of the twenty-three pirate ships prowling the coast. Nor were these isolated incidents: every summer the Genoese coast was plundered. In August, 1563, it was the turn of Celle and Albissola on the western riviera. All 'this trouble', wrote the Republic of Sauli, its ambassador to Spain, 'comes from the sea's being empty of galleys, there is not a single Christian ship to be seen'. As a result, no shipping dared put out. In May of the following year, a memorandum from Marseilles, annotated by Philip II himself, reports that fifty corsairs have put out from Algiers, thirty from Tripoli, sixteen from Bône and four from Velez (the Peñon which blocked the entry to this port was not captured by the Spanish until September, 1564). If this is to be taken literally, a hundred ships, galleys, galliots and foists were at large in the Mediterranean. The same source adds: 'It is raining Christians in Algiers.'

The second brilliant age of Algiers :

Quote:
Between 1580 and 1620, Algiers entered upon a second age of prosperity, as spectacular as the first and certainly more far-reaching. The corsair capital benefited both from the concentration of piracy and also from a technical revolution of decisive importance.

As it had toward the middle of the century, privateering was once again replacing fleet warfare. The southern islands were besieged for weeks, even months on end. 'The corsairs do much harm in this island', writes Marcantonio Colonna, viceroy of Sicily, in June, 1578, 'in the many coastal regions which are without towers.' In 1579, some Barbary foists captured two of the galleys of the Sicilian fleet off Capri and the galleys of Naples were alerted in vain. As usual they were in dock, disarmed, without troops, their crew occupied in unloading goods from merchant vessels and other peaceful labours. In 1582, the viceroy of Sicily was gloomy: 'the sea is crawling with pirates'. The danger did not decrease as years went by. The fact that piracy was commonplace off the northern coasts of the sea is revealing. Not even far-away Catalonia (indeed it was particularly harassed), Provence or Marseilles was spared. On 11th February, 1584, the municipal council is found discussing the ransoming of citizens of Marseilles who were prisoners in Algiers; on 17th March, 1585, the council decided to ' inquire into the speediest means of ending the ravages wrought by the Barbary pirates on the Provençal coast'. Years went by without bringing any relief. During the winter of 1590, Marseilles decided to send an envoy to the king of Algiers to negotiate ransoms. In Venice, which one would have suspected to be protected by its position, the procuratori sopra I capitoli, on 3rd June, 1588, elected a consul for Algiers with particular responsibility for the interests of Venetian slaves.

The corsairs were everywhere in these grim times. They had to be reckoned with in the Straits of Gibraltar and were to be met almost daily along the coast of Catalonia and the Roman shores; they plundered the madragues of Andalusia as well as those of Sardinia. As early as 1579, Haëdo notes with surprise: 'sixty-two ecclesiastics imprisoned in Algiers at one time - such a thing has never been seen before in Barbary'. But it was to become a familiar enough sight in later years.

There is no shortage of explanations for this revival of prosperity in Algiers: in the first place it was a natural consequence of the general prosperity in the Mediterranean. As has already been remarked, when there were no merchant vessels, there were no pirates. This is one of the recurrent themes of Godfrey Fisher's book: the Mediterranean continued to experience commercial prosperity throughout and in spite of everything, until at least 1648. One is bound to conclude that piracy cannot have had the disastrous results described or suggested by the chorus of contemporary accounts and complaints, since this prosperity endured despite the increased threat from corsairs. There was in fact a close connection between trade and piracy: when the former prospered, privateering paid off correspondingly. In short, privateering was a means of forcible exchange throughout the Mediterranean. Another explanation is the evident and growing lassitude of the major states. The Turks relinquished their hold on the seas of the Levant as Spain withdrew from those of the west. Gian Andrea Doria's expedition against Algiers in 1601 was to be a mere gesture, no more. Above all, the dynamism of Algiers proved to be that of a new and rapidly growing city. With Leghorn, Smyrna and Marseilles it was one of the young powers of the sea. In Algiers, all life depended, needless to say, on the volume and success of pirate shipping, down to the pittance of the poorest muleteer in the city or the cleanliness of the streets which was maintained by an army of slaves, even more of course the buildings under construction, costly mosques, rich men's villas, and aqueducts, the work apparently of Andalusian refugees. But the general standard of living was modest. Not all the janissaries made a fortune in commerce, although they often had engaged in it. Privateering, the major industry, was the cohesive force of the city, creating a remarkable unaminity whether for the defence of the port or the exploitation of the sea, the hinterland or the masses of slaves. It was a disciplined city and the discipline was that of a rigorous judicial system, established and maintained by what was in effect an army quartered in urban barracks. All his life, Haëdo must have remembered the iron-studded shoes of the janissaries echoing through the streets of Algiers. The activities of the corsairs undoubtedly stimulated other sectors, revivifying and organizing them, drawing food and merchandise towards Algiers. Over a wide radius around the white city, as far as the mountains and distant plateaux, peace reigned. There followed for the town a period of rapid and abnormal growth, bringing both inward and outward changes to its social fabric.

Algiers in 1516-1538 was a city of Berbers and Andalusians, of renegade Greeks and of Turks, thrown together pell-mell. This was the period that saw the rise of the Barbarossas. Between 1560 and 1587, Algiers under Euldj 'Ali was becoming increasingly more Italian. After 1580-1590 and towards 1600 came the northerners, Englishmen and Dutchmen, one of whom was Simon Danser (Dansa in the French and Italian documents) that is der Tantzer, the dancer - his real name was Simon Simonsen and he was a native of Dortrecht. The English consul of Algiers saw him arrive in 1609 aboard a ship 'of great force' built in Lübeck and manned by a mixed crew of Turkish, English and Dutch sailors, with about thirty prizes already to her credit that year. Little is known with any certainty about his eventful life, his return to Christendom and Marseilles where he had a wife and children, his entry into the service of that city, his capture and probable execution years later in Tunis, on the orders of the Dey in February, 1616. The fair-skinned invaders did not come empty-handed. They brought with them cargoes of sails, timber, pitch, gunpowder and cannon - the best of all their sailing-ships, the same ships which had for many years been sailing the Atlantic, running rings round the unwieldy galleons and carracks of the Iberians. Leghorn also welcomed the new arrivals. But Algiers put them to better use.

Sailing ships now replaced the slim galleys and traditional galliots with their light tapered hulls which had been weighed down not with ballast, baggage and cannon, but with galley-slaves enduring agonies, rowing through rough seas if necessary, to preserve the advantage of speed over the heavy Christian galleys. Unbeatable galley-crews had been the main strength of the re'is. But now Algiers adopted the light sailing ships, which were also capable of speed and surprise.

In 1580, the Algiers fleet amounted to perhaps thirty-five galleys, twenty-five frigates and a certain number of brigantines and barques. Towards 1618, she probably possessed about a hundred sailing vessels of which the smallest had 18 to 20 guns. In 1623 (a rather more reliable figure furnished by Sir Thomas Roe, English commercial representative at the Golden Horn) the fleet consisted of seventy-five sail and several hundred small boats. From now on the Barbary pirates were concentrated almost exclusively at Algiers; once-fearsome Tripoli (in Italy in about 1580, the usual parting words to those putting out to sea had been 'May God preserve you from the galleys of Tripoli') by 1612 possessed only a couple of sailing ships; Tunis seven in 1625. Was the same true of the ports in the West where, in 1610 and 1614, the Spaniards had taken Larache and the Marmora without a struggle? Algiers in any case, was soon overflowing with wealth. A Portuguese prisoner tells us that between 1621 and 1627 there were some twenty thousand captives in Algiers, a good half of whom were people 'of pure Christian stock', Portuguese, Flemish, Scottish, Hungarian, Danish, Irish, Slav, French, Spanish and Italian; the other half were heretics and idolaters - Syrians, Egyptians, even Japanese and Chinese, inhabitants of New Spain, Ethiopians. And every nation of course provided its crop of renegades: even allowing for the lack of precision in the account, it seems clear that the fabric of Algiers was now of many colours. In 1624, the Algerines plundered Alexandretta, capturing two ships, a Frenchman and a Dutchman. Even more important, they sailed out of the Straits of Gibraltar, plundering Madeira in 1617, Iceland in 1627, reaching England, as we have already seen in 1631 and becoming, particularly in the 1630s, pirates of the Atlantic. Moslem piracy had concluded an alliance with Atlantic piracy. According to some sources it was none other than the notorious Simon Danser (alias Simon Re'is) who taught the mariners of Algiers, perhaps as early as 1601, how to slip through the difficult Straits of Gibraltar.


Kheir-ed-Din Barbarossa

Khier-ed-Din and his brother Aruj, the Barbarossa brothers were among the most famous pirates of their day, and now are the best known of the Barbary corsairs. Kheir-ed-Din rose to become regent of Algiers and an Admiral of the Ottoman navy. His standard, which adorned his tomb for centuries was made either during his lifetime or very shortly afterwards. It is now on display in the Navy Museum of Istanbul.



Barbary Corsair c.1684

This flag, very typical of the barbary pirates is shown in an illustration of a Mediterranean galley found in "Historie van Barbaryan" of 1684. The original illustration if in black and white so the colours here are speculative, but we can see that the crescent is lighter than the field.



Barbary Corsair 17th century

This flag can be found in a mid-late 17th century print flying from a Barbary pirate ship. The colours are speculative again as the picture is in black and white. However, the field of the flag is lightly shaded and the crescents are considerably darker than the field - this suggests a yellow field.



Tunisian Privateer Commander

This flag is one of four flags preserved in the Tunis Museum and believed to be from a Tunisian privateer. This particular flag is believed to be that of a galley commander, a kind of privateer commodore.



Tunisian Privateers

These three flags are preserved in the Tunis Museum along with the Privateer Commander's flag above.



The Order of St. John of Jerusalem

The knights of the Order of St. John, more commonly called the Knights Hospitaller or later the Knights of Malta, were soldiers and sailors of a military order set up originally to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land. When they were expelled by the Muslims from the Holy Land they took up residence on the island of Rhodes and commenced a sea-war against the Turks. For most of the 16th and 17th century the galleys of the Order operated as privateers against Barbary corsairs.

Source for the vexillarism and descriptions.


Wiki :Turgut Reis
Wiki : Braudel
Wiki : Uluj 'Ali
Wiki : Philip II
Wiki : Marcantonio Colonna
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Old 10-03-2010, 06:46 AM   Post #2
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Pirates of the Mediterranean : An Empirical Investigation of Bargaining with Transaction Costs (72 pages)

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Old 10-08-2010, 03:24 PM   Post #3
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- In the early 17th century, Dutch ships were ideal prizes for the corsairs because they often necessitated few personnel to man them (which meant that they could be overwhelmed in a boarding attempt) and because of their design could be sailed away on very quickly (Dutch ships were noted for their speed). English ships, on the other hand, were riskier to try to capture, because they often sailed with larger crews, while French, Italian and Spanish ships were not as valuable to capture at that time because they typically did not have the same characteristics as the much sought-after Dutch variety. Additionally, some Dutch ships could be made to collaborate with the Barbaresk corsairs, with crews in tact : something which particularly annoyed the Italians. Other corsairs, these based in and around Dunkirk / southern England (and hence near home), could attack vessels of their own countrymen returning from Mediterranean voyages as well.

- This combined force's northern extension (mentioned just above) did not limit its activities to vessels returning from the Mediterranean, but expanded to make prey of fishing vessels. By the late 1620s, the corsairs were damaging the Norwegian timber trade and causing insurance / freight rates for outgoing ships to skyrocket.

- The Ottomans could not easily check the activities of North African corsairs. Since many of them were geographically at the margins of Ottoman control, the corsairs felt that it was "open-season" on Dutch ships, even if it might upset diplomatic relations. The big reason for this was because warring with the Persians and not keeping peace with the Dutch at that time were more important to the Ottoman policy ; additionally, their was an undercurrent of mistrust between the Ottomans and the Dutch. The obligation to defend the latter's interests, therefore, was weak, at best.

- North African rulers had a free hand to play one European competitor off of the other at that time (the late 1620s), at varying points agreeing to alliances with Dutch, English or French partners, but always with a view that the "field of sport" was expanding beyond previous bounds and taking on an international aspect.


Paraphrased from [Merchants, interlopers, seamen and corsairs: the "Flemish" community in Livorno and Genoa (1615-1635) by Marie-Christine Engels]

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Old 10-15-2010, 01:08 AM   Post #4
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MAHDIA CRUSADE (1390)


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A Franco-Genoese crusade, sometimes known as the “Barbary Crusade,” that attacked the port of Mahdia (mod. al- Mahdiya, Tunisia) in North Africa, but was abandoned after a siege of some nine weeks. The crusade originated as a Christian response to the piratical activities of the Barbary corsairs of the North African coast. For many years Muslim piracy had constituted a major disruption to Western shipping, particularly the commerce of the Italian maritime republics. In late 1389 Genoa sent an embassy to meet King Charles VI of France at Toulouse, which proposed a joint expedition to capture Mahdia, regarded as the major port of the Hafsid realm of Tunisia. The Genoese were already interested in this region; in 1388 they had sent a fleet under the admiral Raphael Adorno to take part in a joint expedition with the Pisans and Sicilians, which had captured the island of Jerba in 1388. The Sicilians acquired the lordship of the island after paying for Genoa’s expenses. The republic thus had an interest not only in eliminating Mahdia as a pirate base, but also in acquiring a port that would serve as an entrepôt for its own trade goods and give it access to African products, above all gold from the sub-Saharan regions. Genoa was also keen to intensify relations with the French Crown in order to secure an ally against its powerful northern neighbor, the duchy of Milan.


A Crusader vessel.

At the Toulouse meeting, the Genoese ambassadors proposed to provide naval transport and provisions for a crusade army, to be led by a French prince of the royal blood. They also offered to contribute and pay for a force of crossbowmen and men-at-arms for the duration of the proposed campaign. The Genoese plans were received enthusiastically by some at the French court, notably by Louis II, duke of Bourbon, the king’s uncle, who asked for command of the crusade. Although initially hesitant about the proposal, King Charles and his advisers eventually agreed to allow a French force to join the expedition, and gave the command to Louis. However, each French participant had to have express royal permission to join it and also had to defray his own expenses. Genoa agreed to provide twenty-eight galleys and eighteen transport ships and their crews. It is possible that other ships were hired by some of the crusaders themselves. The fleet was commanded by the Genoese Giovanni Centurione, who had taken part in the conquest of Jerba, while Louis of Bourbon was to act as overall military commander. The mustering point for the army was originally fixed for late June 1390 at Genoa, but the difficulties of provisioning meant that this was changed to 1 July at Marseilles.

Louis of Bourbon, a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War, had a great reputation as a knight, and the proposed expedition, coming as it did during a period of truce with England, appealed to the chivalric sensibilities of the French nobility and found recruits from all over France. Among those who signed up were Philip of Artois, constable of France, John de Vienne, admiral of France, and notable knights such as Enguerrand VII, lord of Coucy, and Geoffrey de Charny the Younger, whose father had been a famous crusader and author of a treatise on chivalry. Recognition for the expedition as a crusade was secured, not only from the Avignonese pope recognized in France, Clement VII, but also from his rival at Rome, Boniface VIII. This universal recognition helped secure some participation from England, Gascony, and Spain, including John Beaufort, earl of Derby.

The main sources for the course of the crusade are French works: the Chronique du bon duc Loys de Bourbon, written in 1429 by Jean Cabaret d’Orville, the Chroniques of Jean Froissart, and the chronicle by the anonymous writer known as the Religieux de Saint-Denis.

The total number of crusaders is difficult to compute, as the sources give only partial or conflicting figures. The Genoese provided 1,000 crossbowmen and double the number of men-at-arms in addition to the ships’ crews. King Charles VI had tried to limit the number of French crusaders, but the response had been so enthusiastic that we should probably assume that French numbers exceeded the Genoese. Some 200 crusaders, mostly French, are known by name.

The fleet sailed from Marseilles via Genoa and Corsica to Sardinia, where it took on provisions, and then on to an island off the African coast then known as Conigliera (probably Kuriat on the Gulf of Hammamet). During a nine-day layover there caused by bad weather, the plan of campaign was worked out. As Mahdia was too strong to be taken by an immediate assault, it would be necessary to besiege the town. The Muslims of Mahdia were by now aware of the coming of the expedition but were not expecting it to be so strong, and decided not to contest the landing. On 22 July the crusaders disembarked unopposed and started the siege; they cut Mahdia off from the rest of the mainland, with the land forces watching the town’s three land gates while the fleet maintained a blockade of the harbor. On the third day of the siege the defenders made a sortie, which was beaten back by the crusaders, suffering considerable losses. Thereafter the crusaders took greater precautions to guard and defend their camp. Numerous, largely inconclusive skirmishes occurred over the next few weeks, which offered the Christian knights ample opportunities to satisfy their desire for combat and honor. It was only after about seven weeks that the crusaders began to make serious attempts to assault the walls with siege machines assembled on land and mounted on galleys. Yet by this time they were suffering the effects of the North African summer climate, increasing illness, and the shortage of water and food supplies, much of which had gone bad, while relief forces were being gathered by the sultans of Tunis, Bougie (Bejaïa), and Tlemcen. The Genoese began to argue for raising the siege and gradually won over the bulk of opinion in the crusader camp.

Negotiations were opened after contacts were made through Christian merchants within Mahdia. Although Louis of Bourbon was disinclined to abandon the siege, the Genoese had by now clearly given up hope of taking Mahdia and were unwilling to waste further resources on the project. After four days of talks, the crusaders agreed to withdraw; in exchange the Hafsid sultan Ahmad II agreed to pay the Genoese a cash indemnity of 10,000 ducats, plus an annual tribute to the value of the sultan’s revenues from Mahdia for the next fifteen years.

At the end of September 1390, the crusaders withdrew in good order, with military dispositions taken by Louis of Bourbon preventing a Muslim attack as their embarkation was carried out. Some of the crusaders wished only to return home, but others were keen to secure some more tangible success. The Genoese persuaded the French to mount an attack on Sardinia, then a possession of the Crown of Aragon, by convincing them that the port of Cagliari had assisted the North African corsairs. The fleet occupied Cagliari and the island of Ogliastra, installing Genoese garrisons in both places. The fleet then set sail for Naples, but storms forced the ships to assemble off Sicily. They then sailed on to Terracina on the Italian mainland, which also surrendered and was placed under Genoese control. The French crusaders, however, drew the line at an attack on the Pisan port of Piombino, although the mere presence of such a large seaborne army forced the Pisans into an accommodation with Genoa. The fleet then returned via Genoa (where Louis of Bourbon and other leaders refused to leave their ships) to Marseilles.

The French crusaders were welcomed back as heroes. Despite the lack of success of the expedition, they were regarded as having acquitted themselves valiantly and with honor. The expedition revived French enthusiasm for crusading and undoubtedly contributed to the huge response to the Nikopolis Crusade in 1396. Indeed, many of the veterans of Mahdia are known to have fought at Nikopolis. The limited objective of the Mahdia Crusade was by no means unrealistic. The port had been taken by the Christians twice before in 1087 and 1148; Spanish conquests in Morocco and the recent capture of Jerba had demonstrated that it was possible to hold well-chosen bases in North Africa. In comparison with the fiasco of Nikopolis, the French forces seem to have been relatively well-disciplined, and the successful landing and disembarkation of the army are tributes to Louis of Bourbon’s generalship. Yet whether the Franco- Genoese forces would have been sufficient to hold the mainland port of Mahdia if they been successful is debatable; the majority of the French crusaders would have desired to return home, and would have needed to be replaced by a permanent and substantial garrison. In the event, the crusaders of 1390 wasted valuable time and provisions in many weeks of desultory combat while their enemies regrouped; the assaults with siege engines came too late to be effective, and it is questionable whether there was sufficient siege machinery for the task. Genoa was able to make good use of the expedition for its own political and commercial ends, but the gains of the expedition did nothing to advance the aims of the crusade movement.

Bibliography

Atiya, Aziz S., The Crusade in the Later Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1938).

Delaville Le Roulx, Joseph, La France en Orient au XIVe siècle. Expéditions du maréchal Boucicaut, 2 vols. (Paris: Thorin, 1886).

Hazard, Harry W., “Moslem North Africa, 1049–1394,” in A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton et al., 2d ed., 6 vols. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969–1989), 3:457–485.

Mirot, Léon, “Une expédition française en Tunisie au XIVe siècle: Le siège de Mahdia (1390),” Revue des etudes historiques 97 (1931), 357–406.
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Old 10-15-2010, 01:44 AM   Post #5
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An In-Depth Analysis of the Xebec

Steve Pope in Hornblower's Navy calls the xebec a museum piece by Nelson's time. This is far from true, considering that the Royal Navy had at that time tested with success the qualities of the xebec. The French too built seven ships based on the xebec design and these ships even fought successfully against British ships.


The anatomy of a xebec.

Vital Statistics
- Dimensions (meters): Length 25-35, Beam 7-10, Draught 1-2
- Displacement (tons): 150-250
- Crew: 200-450 (2/3 were soldiers)
- Guns: 4-36 (varying calibre, 6-18lb) + 6 culvern or swivel guns
These are the parameters I have been able to collect concerning the xebec's dimensions, tonnage, crew, and guns. The wide ranges come from a large variety of sources, but one must remember that the xebec existed from the mid 1600's to the mid 1800's, was used as both a merchantman and a warship, and could easily vary in size according to need and function. It seems that the average xebec carried 24 guns, displaced 250 tons, and carried about 350 sailors and soldiers.


Here we see the difference in size between a merchant xebec and a Corsair xebec in relation to gun carriage.

The xebec under sail was noted to be the fastest and most agile craft of the Mediterranean. However, the ship was not suited to heavy weather due to its low freeboard and shallow draught. As well, if it were a Corsair vessel loaded with armed troops, its range would be limited due to the fact that the stores required for that many men would take up a large amount of space. Being lightly built and of typical Mediterranean materials, the xebec was not a strong vessel. As Thomas Jefferson put it, Algerian xebecs were "so light as not to stand the broadside of a good frigate."

These were the physical disadvantages of the xebec. Added to this was the fact that the gunners on most Barbary (North African) xebecs were poorly trained and very inaccurate. Calibres were not standardized like in modern navies so this also added to the xebec's disadvantages.

What the xebec lost in weakness and poor crews, it made up for in speed and manoevreability. This ship type was famous for its speed and handling under sail. If the wind died, the xebec could also rely on a set of 10 to 20 oars. With that kind of movement and versatility, it was easy for a xebec to run circles around slower, heavily laden merchant ships. In a time of crisis, a xebec could easily escape naval warships too.

These qualities made the xebec attractive to North African Corsairs, notably Algeria. However, the Knights of Malta, their Christian opposites, did not seem to adapt the design, preferring galleys and eventually a modern Westernized navy. Nevertheless, many European states integrated the xebec into their navies, notably France, Spain, and Britain. Britain built two xebec-based ships (Dart and Arrow) in 1797 and both vessels were particularly successful. France and Spain utilized the design to fight the Corsairs with their own weapon. It is undoubtable that Portugal, Russia, the Italian city-states, and other nations did the same thing.

Two odd accounts of xebecs outside the Mediterranean occur in North America and in the Baltic. There are some records of xebecs operating on the Great Lakes during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 (Repulse and Champion). There is also a record of 12 xebecs on the Danish casualty list after the bombardment of Copenhagen in 1801 by Horatio Nelson. Each of them mounted four guns. At the battle of Svensksund in 1790, 'hemmemas' were used as gunboats, and greatly resemble xebecs.
~ A British Xebec ~


~ A French Chebec ~


~ A Spanish Jabeque ~


~ A Barbary Xebec ~


~ A Russian Shebec ~


~ A Swedish Hemmema ~


~ An Italian Sciabecco ~

A xebec in action would have been a grand sight. Algerian xebecs rarely operated together but those of other nations probably did. Once a Corsair xebec had located a victim, it would close rapidly and probably fire a few shots off. If this failed to affect surrender, then the crew of 200 to 450 would board and waste the enemy party. North African Corsair vessels primarily relied on their speed and ability to dispatch large numbers of soldiers onto the enemy's deck. Given the weakness of a xebec's light hull and the poor aim of Corsair gunners (worse than the French Navy!), a prolonged gun battle was not an option. Only Europen xebecs would engage in that kind of conflict, with better trained crews and gunners.

The relationship between the xebec and other ship types is almost one of mystery and extreme doubt. It is argued that the xebec derived from a galeotta, a smaller type of galley. The felucca seems a more likely source. Both are very similar vessels and both derive from the millennia-long evolution of the galley. However the transition from a felucca to a xebec is far more smooth when compared to that of a galeotta and a felucca. Observe the characteristics of the two following images:


The appearance of these two ships is very similar, especially the extended overhang at the stern, which was characteristic of the xebec.

This transition is especially probable because the word felucca probably comes from the Turkish word 'fulk,' meaning a ship. This suggests that the feluuca was of Turkish/Barbary design and thus much more probable that the Turks and Corsairs developed the xebec from their own feluccas.

It is also probable that the xebec itself gave birth to the mystico and the polacre. The lateen rig of a xebec was most likely the original rig, but some time around the turn of the 18th century, square sails were added. By the middle of this century there are French and Moroccan xebecs with square-rigged mainmasts, a rig called a la polacca. The term polacca comes from a Greek word which means 'much pointed.' The term polacca or polacre refers to a square rig with masts that are all one piece, that is to say, no topmasts or crosstrees. The yards of a polacre rig could be lowered to spill wind and furl the sail. When three square sails replaced the lateen sail on the main mast and a square topsail and a gaff mizzen replaced the lateen mizzen, the xebec became 'polacre rigged.'


The two rigs of a xebec, the left is lateen, while the right is polacre rigged.

From a polacre-rigged xebec it was an easy transition to a full polacre. A point occurs where polacre xebecs become 'polacre-settees,' which were lateen rigged on the fore and mizzen (i.e. xebec with a polacre rig). By the late 18th century polacre-xebecs were soon fully ship-rigged and became true polacres, although some people merely call them xebec-frigates. However it is easy to see how the polacre could have developed from the xebec, considering the similar lines and features. The polacre has virtually the same hull shape as a xebec with all the standard features. The only difference was that the polacre was slightly larger than a xebec, so it is probable that the polacre was derived from larger xebecs, which were probably rigged 'a la polacca' to supplement their size.


Here I took the hull of the polacre and simply changed the rig, which creates a xebec.

The mystico was simply a French derivative of the xebec design. This ship type was primarily used for dispatches and for military operations of a non-combative nature. They were polacre rigged and retained the basic characteristics of the xebec. The only difference would probably be the added strength of European construction and materials.

The xebec under sail is something difficult to explain. For this, we can refer to Landstrom's description of a lateen sail and its rig: "the halyard always ran in a block above the shroud attachments. Since forestays could not be used, the mast often sloped slightly forward. The shrouds were tautened with lanyards, and could easily be thrown loose when sailing on different tacks. The long yard was bound together of two or more pieces and held to the mast by a parrel in the form of a slipknot, which could easily be loosened from the deck. The sail was checked by two tackles to the lower yard-arm and two braces, which usually started slightly below the upper yard-arm" (51). He says earlier on that page that "the lateen sail was suitable precisely for coastal traffic with a small crew, and it was more efficient than the square sail in sailing close-hauled"

With this description, the method of tacking a lateen sail can be derived. In some cases, when the ship was close-hauled or on a zig-zag course, the lateen sail would not be tacked but rather left for the wind to fill in either direction. In anticipation for this, some ships left two sails on one side of the mast and the remaining sail on the opposite side. The sail would be adjusted by the braces and tackles depending on point of sail and wind force.

The actual method of tacking would be a long and arduous process. It would entail hauling down the sail with the spar and physically move the entire apparatus to the opposite side of the mast. It is probable that this was done in the destined port in anticipation of the return journey.


A diagram of a lateen sail and its rigging.

Considering the popularity and long-term use of the xebec, it is easy to state that they were effective in combat. Barbary xebecs primarily relied on their speed and manouvreability to deliver large numbers of soldiers to the decks of their enemies. However, most European nations seem to have successfully used xebecs in gunnery battles, using the manoevreability to point the ship's arsenal in the right direction.

Obviously Pope was wrong in calling the xebec a museum piece, considering that most European nations involved in the Mediterranean had their share of xebecs in the age of Nelson. Many used them for anti-Corsair patrols and as contemporary coasters. Of course, it cannot be denied that the xebec still had its place amongst Mediterranean traders as a merchant ship too. The effectiveness of this ship ensured its continued use by Barbary Corsairs well into the 19th century. Ultimately the xebec only came out of favour when Admiral Lord Exmouth in 1816 bombarded Algiers for the final time, and Algerian piracy largely ceased.
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Old 10-15-2010, 08:54 AM   Post #6
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In the middle of XVIII, century the Neapolitan navy had a dedicated squadron of xebecs which proved quite useful in contrasting corsairs. They had 20-34 cannons on board, the first xebec to be built was the San Gennaro in 1750.

A vey popular hero of the time was Commander Giuseppe Martinez who successfully mutuated the corsairs techniques.

The bigger ships of the fleet routinely participated to expeditions to Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and on Morocco's coast. Tasks involved bombardments and blockades.

This painting by Jakob Philipp Hackert celebrates the fleet's return from Algiers:



And we talk about corsairs we cannot miss a fundamental coastal defense, the so called torre saracena:



Many of them are now hotels a luxury residences.

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torri_costiere
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Old 10-15-2010, 09:07 AM   Post #7
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Some visual reference from the Abbazia di San Michele of Procida (Bay of Naples)

St. Michael Archangel defends Procida from a corsair raid (1690)




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Old 10-25-2010, 01:08 PM   Post #8
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- Apparently even Brazilian natives and Russians could be found among the renegades of Algiers at one point, according to Fuchs (2001). Europeans of various backgrounds supplied significant manpower among the Barbary corsairs from the late 1500s (Corbett 1917, chapter 2 ; Senior 1976) until the 1800s, states Abun-Nasr (1987). Matar (1999) and Thompson (1976) both frame the corsairs as a fraternal organization formed primarily for entrepreneurial purposes.

- Certain tactics common to the Barbary corsairs were also common among the Sea Dogs of England and the knights of the Order of St. John based in Malta (the latter two both indulging not infrequently in some opportunistic piracy - including Christian ships). Among these commonalities included (a) boarding vessels and then claiming that a selected passenger belonged to a belligerent nationality and (b) hoisting different colors (i.e. the flag of a Barbary domain) to give a pretext to attacking a ship whose colors indicated it represented a benevolent polity. Throughout the Mediterranean of the 1500s and 1600s, opportunistic sea-rovers, regardless of whether representing Christian or Muslim interests, "conducted business" nearly unencumbered.

- Beys, pashas and deys who were the authority in Barbary regencies actively invested in corsair fleets, but not in the role of government official, rather instead the role of speculative citizen. The same was true for the bureaucracy, janissaries, artisans as well as other civilians within the Barbary domains. The plunder was dispensed to all of these persons as though they were shareholders in a joint stock company, with a remainder retained by the corsair vessel's owner and crew. What was gained by the 'shareholders' was then set out as merchandise in the local markets of the Barbary regencies or, optionally, allowed to be purchased by European trading institutions via their representatives in these ports (these companies would eventually, by the mid 1600s, circulate agents and conduct consuls in Algiers and elsewhere in the Barbary domain). This symbiosis achieved primarily from the corsairing enterprise was, however, not necessarily derived of the corsair's discipline ; rather, it could be said that it was driven principally by the corsair's enduring self-interest. This is why it required a fair amount of convincing to coax the Barbary corsairs to f.e. serve the interests of the Ottomans, who occasionally found themselves needing them to protect precarious lines of sea communication or even to fight in combat. The true source of authority in the Barbary domain originated with the divan - the local militia council / janissaries - and the taifa - the corsair captains' council (reis) - but never really with Ottoman officials or representatives. The deviation from Ottoman hegemony could be seen in the 1540s, when the reis - unlike the loyal beys - deliberately ignored Istanbul's mandates in order to continue profiting from their sea enterprise, and the 1580s especially, when the corsairs began asserting themselves bolder and bolder, refusing service in Ottoman fleets and even targeting Ottoman vessels nearer to Istanbul. Sultan Murad III attempted to negotiate with the Barbary corsairs, the terms of which allowed the janissaries to be integrated in the corsair crews (the motive was to regulate the corsairs' activities), but it instead attracted the janissaries to the lucrative corsairing trade.

- The corsairs did not limit their activities to only the Mediterranean or the northern Atlantic subregions : the Red Sea was also targeted. The West India Company found it necessary to thoroughly arm and man its vessels braving the Angola-Curaçao route in the 17th century, wary of prowling corsairs. Some corsair fleets by the mid 1600s comprised 20 vessels or more.

The Dutch, having had notable experience with the Barbary corsairs, took more proactive course of action at about this same time : regulations for all outgoing vessels included minimum armament standards, crew quantity standards, mandates on ship dimensions, prohibitions on ordnance and naval exportation to certain cities (i.e. Tunis, Algiers or Salé) and required intracompany convoy practices. The penalties facing a shipowner included refusal of insurance, seizure of freight (if contraband, this was heightened to summary execution) and a fine of ƒ.1000. A network of inspection was also in place, pivoting from Dutch ports, its task to report on the activities of any repeat offender. The Dutch Navy, meanwhile, was not infrequently assigned to specific operations along the North African littoral : these were usually 'search-and-destroy missions'. The States-General made this alluring for sailors by offering, in exchange for a captured corsair ship, a month's pay for each crewman taken ; a share in the auctioning of the vessel's 'freight' ; and the most valuable items, including any small armaments, belonged to the captain responsible for the seizure of the vessel. These measures, taken together, secured considerable revenue for the Dutch and did in fact periodically interdict some of the Barbary corsairs.

Paraphrased from :

- [Piracy and privateering in the golden age Netherlands - Virginia West Lunsford]
- [Predators and parasites : persistent agents of transnational harm and great power authority - Oded Löwenheim]
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Old 11-23-2010, 10:18 PM   Post #9
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European Attitudes toward Barbary Corsairs, 1600s–1700s

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The absence of a concerted joint effort by the Christian maritime powers allowed the corsairs of Barbary and Sallee to survive into the nineteenth century. This shameful failure of international cooperation had three main causes. In the first place, the great maritime nations were always suspicious of each other's intentions and were often reluctant to believe that a proposed attack on the corsairs was not a cover for some other more nefarious activity. Such suspicions were sometimes justified and so 'an expedition against the Barbary corsairs became the stock diplomatic formula for covering some ulterior and sinister design', as the historian Sir Julian Corbett put it in his study of England's early naval adventures in the Mediterranean. It also soon became apparent to the maritime powers that the Barbary regencies could be valuable allies in the numerous European wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as long as peace could be negotiated with them. This made collusion in naval expeditions against Barbary almost impossible, since it became naval policy to exploit friendship with Algiers or the other regencies in order to gain an advantage over whichever of the other European powers was currently the enemy. The last reason for this failure was even more cynical and was noted as early as 1611 by the English consul in Syria. 'He remarked there were difficulties in the way of uniting sovereigns for the suppression of piracy, for some are not displeased that pirates exist and are glad to see certain markets harassed.' This observation made at a time when there seemed to be genuine hopes for cooperation became even truer in later years. The maritime powers, especially England and France, realised that if the corsairs could be persuaded by force and diplomacy to leave their shipping alone, these predators would then concentrate their attention on the shipping of weaker nations and so reduce the competition in trade. The French attitude towards Barbary was summed up in a memorandum of 1729. 'We are certain that it is not in our interest that all the Barbary corsairs be destroyed, since then we would be on a par with all the Italians and the peoples of the North Sea.' What France wanted was 'just enough corsairs to eliminate our rivals, but not too many'. Such sentiments were shared by the English, a nation who first condoned the piracy of its own subjects as it helped them force their way into the commerce and carrying trade of the Mediterranean and then exploited the piracy of the corsairs to sustain and increase their dominant position.

This desirable if immoral position was to take a long time to achieve. The Barbary corsairs, especially those of Algiers, were formidable opponents in the 1620s and 1630s whose well-manned ships need feel little fear of the ships in the generally weak Christian navies of the day, since those they could not defeat in battle they could easily evade. 'It is almost incredible to relate in how short a time those ships out-sailed the whole fleet out of sight,' wrote the English Admiral Mansell after his failure to capture some corsair ships off Majorca on Christmas Day 1620. Algiers itself was virtually impregnable, a large, well-fortified city on what was normally a lee shore whose harbour was protected by a mole and a boom which could be drawn across if danger threatened. The other corsair cities were more vulnerable, but still offered a formidable challenge to those who dared to attack them. And so, although many attacks were made on the ships and cities of the corsairs by the English, Dutch, French, Maltese and especially the Spaniards, not much progress was made in the first half of the seventeenth century. The Barbary corsairs, those 'pirates that have reduced themselves into a Government or State' as the jurist Charles Molloy neatly put it, remained a very great danger to the ships and coastlines of Christian Europe.

The situation was to change in the years after 1650 which saw a huge increase in the naval strength of England, Holland and, later, France and a growing commitment to the belief that one key function of such navies was to protect the nation's trade. These years also saw a change in the make-up of the European navies which had previously been dominated by large and very powerful ships. These remained, indeed became even more powerful, but they were now supported by much larger numbers of relatively small, fast vessels of shallow draught that had been originally designed to catch the privateers of the day but were of course also invaluable against the Muslim corsairs.

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Old 11-25-2010, 12:10 AM   Post #10
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It was estimated in 1626 by one observer that 1.200-1.400 English persons were held by the pirates based in Salé (on the Atlantic coast of Morocco) in 1626, these captives having been abducted primarily from the English Channel region. A decade later, the Salé pirates could even boast of bringing in 200 new captives in a day !

"In times past, only the pirates of Algiers sometimes came into the English and Irish channels, now the pirates of Sallee are become so numerous, strong, and nimble in their ships, and are so well piloted into these channels by English and Irish captives..."

The Salé piracy based in the Bou Regreg zone was taking a toll on English commerce, abducting and putting to market English citizens in Tetouan and as far east as Tunis, and generating significant alarm up and down the West Country coastal communities.

In summer 1636, the Salé corsairs drifted into the estuary of Severn ; Dorset, Devon and Cornwall were all under threat.

Paraphrased from here. A few pages backward, and there is also mention of the Hornacheros as well
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