THE BARBARY COAST: Algiers Under the Turks by John B. Wolf

THE BARBARY COAST: Algiers Under the Turks

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Interesting, neglected history, drily and none-too-expeditiously recounted. The lineaments are as follows: in the early 16th century, Levantine corsairs assumed control of Algiers--as fellow-Moslems, they were more acceptable to the native populace than the contending Spanish--and, enlisting the Turkish sultan's protection, turned the central Barbara Coast into the Turkish regency of Algiers, which was to last until the French takeover in 1830. Foreign janissaries--Levantine Turks or Christians turned ""Turk""--comprised the ""army of occupation"" (native North Africans were barred) and also manned the corsair ships; plunder and the ransoming of slaves seized on corsair raids were the basis of the economy. In defense, the European nations either fought the corsairs or bought them off, depending on their military involvements, the state of their armaments, or their natural bent (the pragmatic Dutch, for example, settled for paying tribute); with captured seamen and passengers routinely enslaved, no one was taking a high moral stance, and in any case the Europeans respected private property. Wolf is at some pains to demonstrate that the Knights of Malta, as anti-Moslem crusaders, were probably no better-behaved than the infamous ""Barbary pirates"": and he properly points out that virtually all the chroniclers were Europeans--many of them redemptionist monks who took on the task of ransoming slaves. Why did the slaves, a numerical majority, not revolt? Occasionally, Wolf notes, they did; but, as in Malta, ""the advantage was with the defenders who had better weapons and were accustomed to fighting together as units."" The European slaves had the further handicap of diverse origins and different tongues. There are, however, few lessons here among the myriad details of internal and external hostilities which Wolf further complicates by treating of the same events in different contexts. He is an unimaginative writer to boot, with a stiff, pedantic style. Historians will doubtless find the information useful but even the historically-minded reader will have to be a determined sort to persevere.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Norton