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16th until 19th century16th until 19th century16th until 19th century

Barbary Coast /
Barbary pirates

Barbary pirates:  Barbary soldier with crossbow.
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Barbary soldier with crossbow.

Barbary pirates: Fortress in Ghar el-Melh, Tunisia.
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Fortress in Ghar el-Melh, Tunisia.

Barbary pirates: Port of Ghar el-Melh.
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Port of Ghar el-Melh.

Barbary pirates: Ship of Algerian barbary pirates.
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Ship of Algerian barbary pirates.

Related articles
Barbary Coast
First Barbary War
Second Barbary War

Muslim pirates along the coast of North Africa from 16th until 19th centuries. This region was in this period known as Barbary Coast.
Small-scale piracy had been performed for centuries before the 16th century. They were at their height in the 17th century, involved in looting and kidnapping of Europeans on a large scale.
Until the 17th century, the pirates used galleys. After this time, they were taught by a Flemish renegade how to construct and handle sailing ships.
The piracy of the North Africans was backed by their respective states. Local bankers financed and equipped ships with one purpose only, to loot ships and kidnap Europeans. Their standard fee was about 10% of the prizes.
The pirates operated largely in the Mediterranean, but those along the Moroccan Atlantic coast and the western parts of the Mediterranean coast, also sent ships up along the European Atlantic coast, reaching the British Isles, Norway and even Iceland.
Kidnapping and slave trade was among the most important activities of the pirates. Kidnapping could be done to force the payment of ransom, but many abducted civilians became slaves with numerous purposes in North Africa and beyond.
For a long time, Europe did not fight back. The reasons were many, but the most important was that agreements were forged in which the respective states payed tolls to the pirates to pass securely. The insecure chances of winning a war on the pirate states, as well as its cost, also kept Europe away. The first real blow to the pirates was when the USA intervened in the very beginning of the 19th century. Still, even the USA had to sign several treaties with the Barbary states between 1786 and 1836 to secure their ships.

Early 16th century: Barbarossa (Khayr ed-Din) unites Algeria and Tunisia under Ottoman suzerainty, and allows extensive piracy from several ports, aiming at European interests.
1529: The Spanish are driven off Penon, and Algiers is from now on in the hands of pirates. Subsequently, Algiers becomes the capital of what was known as Barbary Coast. A well protected harbour is constructed.
1551 July: Dragut enslaves the entire population of the Maltese island Gozo, between 5,000 and 6,000, sending them to Tripolitania.
1609: Rabat and the Tetouan region becomes centres of piracy from the Moroccan mainland. Piracy is promoted by the Alaouite sultans.
1785: USA pays $60,000 as tribute to the Dey of Algiers, in order to free two ships and the crew, and would continue to pay $1 million per year.
1801-05: First Barbary War between mainly Tropolitania and the USA.
1815: Second Barbary War, between Algeria and the USA.
1816: The port of Algiers is destroyed by the British in cooperation with the Dutch. This would end the piracy from this port.
1818: Tripolitania is forced to end its involvement in piracy.
1830: France begins colonizing North Africa. The backdrop for this, was the weak position of North Africa after it was forced to abandon piracy, not being able to defend themselves against European advances into the region, similar to the period when North African rulers made advances into Europe in earlier centuries.

By Tore Kjeilen