The Barbary States


Figure 1.--

The Barbary states were titular provinces of the Ottoman Empire, but actually small autonomous principalities. After Lepanto (1571), with Ottoman naval power declining, the Ottoman Empire was no longer were able to control the Barbary principalities which emerged as essentially independent states. The Barbary pirates operated from western portion of north Africa from Tripoli west to Moroccan ports. This became known as the Barbary coast. The Barbary Coast was a medieval term for the Maghreb and evolved from the Berber inhabitants of North Africa. The town of Bougie1 (Béjaïa in Algeria west of Tunisia) was then the most notorious pirate centers. The most formidable Barbary port was Algiers, but Tripoli and Tunis were also important as well as some Moroccan ports, especially Salé. The pirates operating from the different ports were not always under the effective control of any central authority. The major principalities involved were essentially comparable to the modern states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The importance and nature of the various Barbary states varied over time. As the Sahara desert dominated the interior away from the coast, there was little agriculture or industry to sustain these states. Piracy became the mainstay of the local econonomy.

Morocco

The area of modern Morocco was one of the areas from which Barbary pirates operated. There were several ports in Morocco. The pirates operating from the differen ports were not always under the effective control of any central authority. Salé was especially important. The pirates from Moroccan bases preyed primarily upon European trade in the Mediterranean, but occassionally venturing into the Atlantic Ocean (17th-19th century). An American show of naval force in the First Barbary War convinced them not to attack American shipping.

Algiers

The most formidable Barbary port was Algiers. Deveral ports in what is now Algeria were cenrts of Barbary piracy. The town of Bougiel (Béjaïa in Algeria west of Tunisia) was for a time was an important pirate center. Algiers was such a major pirate center that Algiers became virtuall synomanous with Barbary piracy. The first half of the 17th century was the high point of Barbary piracy. One report suggests that more than 20,000 captives were imprisoned in Algiers alone. The common practice was to allow the rich to ransome theieselves. The poor were sold into slavery. American merchant men until after the Revolution sailed under the security of the Union Jack. American merchants after independence Ammerican shipping with no navy to protect it became fair game for Barbary corsairs. The first two American ships sized were the Maria out of Boston and Dauphin out of Philadelphia (1785). The men aboard were cast into a dank prisoin and reduced to slavery. The Dey of Algiers demanded a huge payment to ransome the captives and for for a peace treaty to protect other American ships. This incident occurred at a time when the United States was still governed by the Articles of Confederation. The seizure of American shipping gave rice to demands for na navy after the Contitution was eatified and a new Federal Government formed.

Tunis

Tunisia ports became pirate strongholds--the Babary States (late 16th century). The Hussein dynasty of beys seized power (1705), establisheda dynastty that lasted until independene (1957). The most formidable Barbary port was Algiers, but Tripoli and Tunis were also important as well as some Moroccan ports, especially Salé. European countries at times negotiated with the Barbary Pirates and at other times launched military expeditions. British admiral, Robert Blake, comanded an expedition against Tunis (1655). There were quite a number of these expeditions launched by the British, Dutch, French and others. After the American Revolution, the Americans also participated, 1801-05 and 1815. These expeditions were naval in character and the Europeans declined to land large armies to actually seize the area. Here the calculation was largely financial. A major military campaign would have been more expensive than the commerce to be protected. It was more cost-effective to buy them off. Another factor was European wars. These provided opportunities to prey upon commerce.

Tripoli

Tripoli in modern Libyabecomes one of the main centrers for the Barbary pirates preying on Christian shipping and raiding Christian coastal settlements (16th century). Piracy and slave trading came to be the primary economic activity of Tripoli and the other Barbary states. It complicated relations with the European states which occassionally mounted militry expeditins. For the most part, however, the Europans found it more economical to pay tribute. The United states fought the First Barbary War primarily with with Tripoli (1801-05). It waa the new American Navy's first foreign engagement. The Pasha was eventually defeated.







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Created: 11:29 PM 4/10/2009
Last updated: 11:24 PM 5/14/2010