Privateers

Privateers

Privateering was an age-old practice in the Mediterranean. North African rulers engaged in it increasingly in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century because it was so lucrative, and because their merchant vessels, formerly a major source of income, were not permitted to enter European ports. Although the methods varied, privateering generally involved private vessels raiding the ships of an enemy in peacetime under the authority of a ruler. Its purposes were to disrupt an opponent's trade and to reap rewards from the captives and cargo.

Privateering was a highly disciplined affair conducted under the command of the rais (captain) of the fleets. Several captains became heros in Algerian lore for their bravery and skill. The captains of the corsairs banded together in a selfregulating taifa (community) to protect and further the corporate interests of their trade. The taifa came to be ethnically mixed, incorporating those captured Europeans who agreed to convert to Islam and supply information useful for future raids. The taifa also gained prestige and political influence because of its role in fighting the infidel and providing the merchants and rulers of Algiers with a major source of income. Algiers became the privateering city-state par excellence, especially between 1560 and 1620. And it was two privateer brothers who were instrumental in extending Ottoman influence in Algeria.


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