Barbary Wars

Barbary Pirates — versus — Christian Sea Powers

The Holy League Wars — 1538-1600      Knights of Malta — 1522-1565     
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries — 1600-1800      Fall of the Barbary Pirates — 1800-1830     

The Barbary pirates were a band of Moorish brigands that were protected and encouraged by the coastal cities of Northern Africa, including Algiers, Tunis, Djerba and Tripoli. Piracy in the Mediterranean had existed since time immortal, but the first real wave of Barbary piracy came at the time that the Moors were driven from Spain in 1492, and Spanish vessels and coastal cities were their first targets. As they became more powerful and brought the Moslem governors of North Africa under their control, they became a greater threat to all of Europe. Not only did they plunder the cargo of merchant ships, but they took all of the Christian passengers hostage, and either ransomed them, or sold them as slaves.

The real scandal regarding the Barbary pirates was not the corsairs themselves, but rather the toleration and support they received from the great naval powers of Europe, during the 17th and 18th centuries when the military capabilities of Western Europe far outstripped that of the Ottomans. Instead of launching a naval crusade against the Barbary nations, they paid them tribute so the pirates would prey on the ships of smaller and weaker nations rather than those of the great powers. Even the American government, in its very early years paid tribute to the pirate kings, but eventually sent a squadron to defeat them. Soon after America took the lead, France and Britain joined in, and by the 1830, the pirate coast became a colony of France.

The Holy League Wars : 1538-1600

The Barbary pirates first arose after the Spanish drove the Moors out of Granada in 1492. They did not become an organized body under the protection of the North African port cities until a few years later, under the leadership of Barbarossa, a pirate chieftain who became an Ottoman Admiral. After leading several daring raids in the Mediterranean and essentially taking over the cities of Djerba and Algiers, he was appointed commander and chief of the Ottoman Navy. In this position he fought the united fleets of the Christians at Preveza, helping to establish Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean. The defeat at Preveza, combined with the utterly disastrous Spanish siege of Algiers several years later, dealt two serious blows the Christian fleets in the Mediterranean, and established a firm alliance between the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary corsairs. Dragut was another leading pirate captain who later became an Ottoman Admiral, and so for a time the Barbary pirates were protected and encouraged by the Ottoman navy. The most well known Christian sea captains who fought pirates during this period were Andrea Doria of Genoa, and Don John of Austria, both of whom fought under the Spanish flag.

During the 16th century, the great Christian naval powers of the Mediterranean were Spain, the Papal states, Venice and Genoa, as well as the Knights of Malta. These states were organized by the pope into a 'Holy League' for a united defence against the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire at this time was at the height of its power at this time, having recently conquered much territory in the Balkans and annexed several European Islands within the Mediterranean, including Rhodes and Cyprus. There was a substantial risk of a Moslem invasion of Italy during this period, and increasing fear as the Ottomans, under Solyman continued to expand their territory. Finally, a great battle was fought at Lepanto in 1571 during which the entire Ottoman navy was destroyed. This dramatically changed the balance of sea power in the Mediterranean. The Ottomans were able to rebuilt their navy, but they had lost virtually all of their experienced sea-captains, and proceeded much more cautiously for the next several generations. The Barbary pirates, no longer having the backing of the entire Ottoman navy, returned to their old ways of plunder, but were no longer feared as conquerors.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Tunis (Holy League ) Christians victory
In 1535 Charles V led a Christian army of 60,000 men against Tunis, which had recently been taken by the Ottomans. After a siege at La Goletta, Tunis was taken and 30,000 inhabitants slaughtered.
Battle of Oran (Holy League ) Spaniards victory
Fought May 17, 1509, between the Moors and the Spaniards, under Navarro. The Spaniards, late in the evening, attacked and drove off the Moors from a strong position on the heights above the city. They then stormed the city itself, escalading the walls by placing their pikes in the crevices of the stones. The Moors lost in the battle and the storm 4,000 killed and about 8,000 prisoners, while the losses of the victors were very small.
Battle of Preveza (Holy League ) Ottomans victory
This naval battle was fought Sept 28, 1538 in the Ionion Sea between an Ottoman fleet of 122 galleys under Barbarossa, and 162 Christian galleys under Andrea Doria. The winds were against the Christians and the Turks were able to destroy 13 ships and capture 36 while suffering minimal losses. The next morning Doria retreated with his Genoese fleet, leaving the Venetians to their fate.
Siege of Algiers (Holy League ) Algiers victory
A large fleet was fitted by Charles V. for a campaign against the pirate city of Algiers, but a tremendous storm destroyed much of the fleet enroute, and insufficient supplies remained to conduct a siege. The retreating forces were harassed in their departure, and many more ships were sunk on the return. Over 150 ships and 30,000 Spaniards were lost or captured.
Battle of Djerbeh (Holy League ) Ottomans victory
Fought 1560, between the fleet of Solyman I, Sultan of Turkey, under Piycala Pasha, and the combined squadrons of Malta, Venice, Genoa and Florence. The Christian fleet was utterly routed, the Turks securing thereby the preponderance in the Mediterranean.
Siege of Famagusta (Holy League ) Ottomans victory
This place was besieged by the Turks under Mustapha Pasha, in October, 1570, and was defended by 7,000 men, half Venetians, half Cypriotes, under Marcantonio Bragadino. The garrison held out until August 6, 1571, when it capitulated, marching out with the honours of war. After the surrender, however, Mustapha murdered in cold blood, Bragadino and four of his lieutenants. The Turks lost 50,000 men in the course of the siege.
Battle of Lepanto (Holy League ) Christians victory
Fought October 17, 1571, betwen a fleet of 250 Spanish and Venetian ships, under Don John of Austria, and a Turkish fleet of 270 sail, under Piale, the Capitan Pasha. The Turkish left wing, under the Dey of Algiers, met with some success, but the centre and right were almost destroyed, the Turks losing 200 vessels, and, it is said, 30,000 men. Piale was killed. The Dey of Algiers succeeded in extricating the majority of his ships. The allies lost between 4,000 and 5,000 men, including 15 Venetian captains.

Short Biography
Barbarossa II Famed pirate captain who led the brigands of the Barbary Coast. Promoted to Admiral of Ottoman navy.
Dragut Barbary pirate based in Algiers, preyed on Christian ships in the Mediterranean. Led the Ottoman siege of Malta.
Andrea Doria Renowned Naval Commander from Genoa. Fought in the service of Charles V. Fought Turks and Pirates in the Mediterranean.
Mustapha Pasha Ottoman leader who conducted the Sieges of Malta and Cyprus.
Cervantes Author of the classic Don Quixote, the most famous novel in the Spanish Language.
Don John of Austria Illegitimate son of Charles V. Hero of the naval Battle of Lepanto. Briefly governed Spanish Netherlands.
Cardinal Ximenes Influential cardinal-minister at the court of Isabel and Ferdinand. Did much to reform both Church and government of Spain.
Charles V 16th century Hapsburg Emperor who ruled Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and parts of Italy.

Story Links
Book Links
Don John of Austria  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Early Corsairs (continued)  in  Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Rulers of Algiers  in  Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Spain Under the Hapsburgs  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne
Internal Decay  in  Greatest Nations: Vol X—Turkey  by  Charles F. Horne
The Constant Prince  in  Red Book of Heroes  by  Mrs. Andrew Lang
Invasion of Africa  in  Historical Tales: Spanish  by  Charles Morris
Spain's Greatest Victory at Sea  in  Historical Tales: Spanish  by  Charles Morris

Knights of Malta : 1522-1565

The Knights Templars were a holy order of Christian soldiers dedicated to fighting Moslems and protecting pilgrims. The were originally based in the holy lands, but moved their headquarters to Rhodes in the early 14th century and continued to harass and give battle to the Ottomans from this base. The Ottomans attempted to dislodge them in 1480 but failed. In 1522 a new attack was made and after a brutally fought siege in which up to 100,000 Turks perished, the island was surrendered. The knights were allowed to march out with their weapons and banners, and within a few years re-established themselves on the Island of Malta where the became the most resilient foes of the Barbary pirates. Unlike the merchant ships which merely tried to avoid the pirates, the Knights sought them out for battle and harried them. In 1565 Malta was besieged but after a ferociously fought four-month's battle, the Ottomans finally withdrew. The Knights of Malta, as they were henceforth called continued to operate against the Ottomans and Corsairs for the next two centuries. They were active not only in battling the pirates, but in freeing Christian slaves captured by the Moslems.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Rhodes (Knights of Malta ) Ottomans victory
A second and successful siege was begun July 28, 1522, by Solyman the Magnificent. The Knights, under Villiers de L'Isle Adam, held out until December 21, repulsing numerous attacks, but at last, worn by famine, they were compelled to surrender. The Turks are stated to have lost by disease and battle over 100,000 men. This siege is notable as being the first in which the Turks used explosive bombs.
Siege of Malta (Knights of Malta ) Knights Templar victory
This place was besieged May 19, 1565, by 30,000 Turks, under Mustapha Pasha, aided by a fleet of 185 sail, under Piale, the Capitan Pasha. It was defended by the Knights of Malta, under their Grand-Master Lavalette, and though St. Elmo was taken, Valetta held out against numerous assaults until September 11, when Mustapha raised the siege. The garrison lost 5,000 men, the Turks 20,000.

Short Biography
Solyman Most famous of the Ottoman Emperors. Extended the empire to the Balkans and North Africa.
Mustapha Pasha Ottoman leader who conducted the Sieges of Malta and Cyprus.
Dragut Barbary pirate based in Algiers, preyed on Christian ships in the Mediterranean. Led the Ottoman siege of Malta.
La Valetta Grand Master of the Knights Templar who held out against an enormous Ottoman force during the Siege of Malta.

Story Links
Book Links
Knights of St. John  in  Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Knights of St. John (continued)  in  Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries : 1600-1800

Much changed regarding the Barbary Pirates and European Sea Powers during the following centuries. The settlement of the new world and the opening of trade routes with Asia by way of Africa resulted in a new set of sea-faring powers. Portugal, France, Holland and England became more important merchant countries than Venice and Genoa, since trade from the east no longer needed to pass through Moslem controlled lands or the Mediterranean. The Holy League was no longer an important force in the Mediterranean and at the same time, the influence of the Ottoman Empire was much curtailed as it lost its monopoly on Asian trade. By 1659 the Barbary states which had been under Ottoman protection broke free and became "anarchical military republics which chose their own rulers and lived by plunder." They continued to menace Mediterranean shipping, but expanded their depredations into the Atlantic, and one fleet under the command of Murad Reis, a Flemish renegade, even harassed the British isles and took hundreds of captives back to the Barbary coast. Passengers on foreign vessels who could be either ransomed or sold as slaves, were considered just as valuable as any other booty and several priests dedicated their whole lives just to the cause of freeing Christian slaves.

The emerging sea powers of Britain, Holland and France were not entirely remiss in their efforts to suppress the corsairs. Britain and France both sent numerous expeditions against Algiers, and in 1655 Blake, the most famous sea captain in Britain, attacked and destroyed a harbor in Tunis. The French made several raids on Algiers, and similar half-hearted punitive actions continued throughout the eighteenth century, often in retaliation for a particularly egregious escapade. However, no sustained effort was made to permanently destroy the power of the renegade nations, and the great European powers resolved to pay tribute in order to avoid further attacks on their own ships rather than to eliminate the threat itself. The reasons for this were entirely self-serving. The major nations of Europe were always at war with each other, and were happy to see their rivals harassed. They each desired to monopolize trade as much as possible, and the pirates help to harass the very nations that would attempt to compete with them.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Porto Farina (Seventeen Eighteen ) British victory
In April 1655 Blake was sent to the Bey of Tunis in order to demand compensation for losses to English fleets. Upon the refusal of the Bey to comply, he destroyed 9 Algerian ships and 2 shore batteries.
Siege of Algiers (Seventeen Eighteen ) Algiers victory
This town was attacked July 8, 1775, by a Spanish force of 51 ships of war and 26,000 men under Don Pedro de Castijon and Count O'Reilly. After a severe conflict, the Spaniards failed to dislodge their opponents, and retired, with a loss of over 3,000 killed and wounded. The Algerines lost about 5,000.

Short Biography
Murad Reis Flemish Corsair captain who led pirate raid of the coasts of Britain.
Robert Blake Military commander turned admiral who took a leading role in the Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars.
Comte de Tourville Naval Commander during War of the Grand Alliance. Defeated British at Barfleur.

Story Links
Book Links
Marshal Anne-Hilarion de Tourville  in  Boys' Book of Sea Fights  by  Chelsea Curtis Fraser

Fall of the Barbary Pirates : 1800-1830

While America was part of the British Empire, its merchants ships were safe from the Barbary Pirates because they flew under the British flag, but shortly after the close of hostilities, the Governors of the Barbary coast demanded and received tribute from the United States as a condition of allowing its merchant ships to pass through the Mediterranean unmolested. Many statesmen, including Thomas Jefferson were against paying tribute from the start, but in its earliest years, the U.S. Navy was not up to the task. By the time Jefferson became president however, he sent an American squadron to fight the pirates rather then pay tribute, and in 1803 a naval blockade of Tripoli was commenced. The most notable events of the siege was the sinking of the USS Philadelphia by Stephen Decatur and the land invasion resulting in the capture of Derna, by William Eaton. When the Tripoli Dey agreed to American terms however, the siege was lifted, but the navy of Tripoli had not been crushed and Algiers and Tunis remained a threat. During the war of 1812, when all of its naval resources were diverted to other ends, the U.S. resumed paying tribute, but immediately after hostilities ceased with Britain, the U.S. navy was dispatched to Algiers and took aggressive actions against Algerian vessels and forced a treaty with both Algiers and Tunis restoring American captives and the rights of American merchants to trade in safety.

The question of whether or not treaties with the Barbary states would have sustained long term, was never answered because in the following year, Britain, who had been under obligation of Peace with the Barbary states during the Napoleonic Wars sent a fleet to bombard Algiers. Although British shipping had long been safe from the pirates, the British government had resolved to abolish Christian slavery in North Africa, and had also taken several small island nations in the Mediterranean under their protection. When the Algerians broke terms of a treaty signed with Britain, it retaliated immediately and shelled the city for nine hours destroying all of the Algerian forts and much of the city. The greatly weakened pirate state was no longer a threat to any European power, the slave trade was severely curtailed, and Algiers became a French colony in 1830, Tunis and Tripoli likewise falling under European control in the next few decades.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Tripoli (Fall of Corsairs ) Americans victory
In October of 1803 the harbor of Tripoli was blockaded by an American fleet under the command of Commodore Preble. The first major action of the siege was the capture and subsequent sinking of the USS Philadelphia under the direction of Stephen Decatur. During the siege several inconclusive attacks were made on Tripoli, but the siege was not brought to a close until the town of Derna was taken.
Battle of Derna (Fall of Corsairs ) Americans victory
A small number of American Marines under William Easton led a force of 500 mercenaries on a 500 mile trek across the Libyan desert to attack the town of Derna. The town was stormed and after light resistance and few casualties the American led force gained command of the garrison. This was the first American battle fought on foreign soil.
Battle of Algiers (Fall of Corsairs ) British victory
In 1816 Lord Exmouth, in command of 19 British warships, and accompanied by 6 Dutch ships under Van Capellan, bombarded the forts of Algiers, mounting 500 guns. The bombardment lasted for about eight hours, and resulted in the destruction of the forts and a large part of the city. The Dey then gave way, and agreed to the total abolition of Christian slavery in his dominions. The loss of the allies amounted to 885 killed and wounded; that of the Algerines to over 6,000.
Battle of Constantine (Fall of Corsairs ) French victory
This fortified city in Eastern Algeria, which, under Hadji Ahmad, had held out for six years against French rule, was invested by the French, 7,000 strong, under Marshal Clausel, in the autumn of 1836. Having no breaching pieces, Clausel essayed an assault, but was repulsed with a loss of 2,000 men, and abandoned the siege. In the following year General Damrémont sat down before Constantine October 6, with 10,000 men, and on the 12th, a breach having been effected, an assault was on the point of taking place, when Damrémont was killed. His successor, General Valée, however, took the place by storm on the following day.
Battle of Isly (Abd-el-Kader's Rebellion ) French victory
Fought August 14, 1844, between 8,000 French, under Marshal Bugeaud, and 45,000 Algerines, chiefly cavalry, under Abd-el-Kader. The French infantry repulsed all the charges of the Algerine Horse, and aided by the artillery, inflicted heavy loss upon them; when sufficiently shaken, a charge of the French cavalry completed the rout, and the Algerines fled, leaving 1,500 dead on the field. Abd-el-Kader was captured.

Short Biography
Commodore Preble Founding member of the U.S. Navy. Led the American Naval blockade of Tripoli in 1803.
Stephen Decatur Naval Hero noted for his exploits during the war Barbary War, and also the War of 1812.
William Eaton American marine who led a force of 500 accross the Libyan desert to take the town of Derma.
Lord Exmouth British commander who in 1816 bombarded and destroyed much of the city of Algiers.

Story Links
Book Links
Burning of the Philadelphia  in  Boys' Book of Sea Fights  by  Chelsea Curtis Fraser
Fate of the Philadelphia  in  Historical Tales, Vol I: American  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Spanish Galleys in a sea-fight
 in A Child's History of Spain

Selling the Captain's Nephew
 in Stories of American Life and Adventure

Buring of the Philadelphia
 in Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans

Corsairs chasing a galleon
 in Barbary Rovers

Corsairs looting a Spanish town
 in Barbary Rovers

Barbarossa capturing an armed galley of the Papal states
 in Barbary Rovers

Malta harbor
 in Barbary Rovers

The heroic defense of Fort St. Michael
 in Barbary Rovers

Walls of the Kasbah, Algiers
 in Barbary Rovers

Battle Map: Palmero
 in Boys' Book of Sea Fights

Battle Map: Algiers and Tripoli
 in Boys' Book of Sea Fights

Burning of the Philadelphia
 in Story of the Great Republic
"Don't Give Up the Ship."
"Don't Give Up the Ship."
 in Back Matter

Defeat of the Mahometans at Lepanto
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain

The prisoners of Barbarossa
 in Greatest Nations: Vol X—Turkey

The captives of Lepanto
 in Greatest Nations: Vol X—Turkey

Decatur's Men Fighting Pirates in the Mediterranean
 in Builders of Our Country: Book II