Barbary Pirates: The Ottoman Empire Essay

1348 words - 5 pages

In the early sixteenth century, the powers of the Ottoman Empire grew weary of Europe’s vigorous pursuit of territory, indigenous peoples of which they would take command, and use of natural goods. Piracy as harassment and deterrent began in the Mediterranean with the Barbarossa brothers along the North African coastline, starting in Algiers. As privateering against Spain drew to a close privateers looked elsewhere to continue their craft and found a home with the Barbarossa brothers. (Thomas, Woodward, 2004) Eventually, Europe struck a treaty with the Barbary States to end the continuing war between the powers and brought relative safety to the waters. Those in treaty with the Barbary States were safe, but what of those maritime competitors without a treaty? The United States considered these implications as they were no longer protected by treaties held by the British. After a time of conflict with the Barbary pirates, US maritime safety from the Barbary pirates would be finalized in the late 18th century.

“In the early sixteenth century, [Barbarossa] conquered Algiers and Tunis and, with the blessing of the Ottoman emperor, turned them into bases for sea raiding, which they would remain for the next three centuries.” (Boot, 2009) The Barbary pirates took on an expedition of immense proportions, their primary intent was in raiding Christian nation’s merchant ships to capture passengers to sell as slaves or to ransom to their families and procure cargo to sell. “…it has been suggested that they represented perhaps the greatest intensity of pirate activity in history…” (Owens, 2013) Sovereigns saw potential for financial exploit among the pirating world and began to endorse “privateering”. Privateering, a more genteel term for state upheld piracy, was somewhat commonplace for the time. “…a corsair (or privateer) being a private ship-owner operating under a license from his sovereign authorizing him to attack the merchant shipping of an enemy state at the time of war. A share of any prizes taken by a corsair or privateer would normally be paid to the sovereign, and this legal authorization was what set the actions of a corsair apart from those of a common pirate. However, in practice, the activities of pirates and corsairs were not always easy to distinguish, and the extent to which the countries involved were actually at war with each other was often extremely (Owens, 2013)

In its initial days of independence U.S. diplomats had to determine the manner in which they would handle the vicious raids carried out in the Mediterranean. Should they fight the aggressors or comply with their demands for “protection payments”? If they chose to resist a tribute payment or fight an international incident or even full-scale war was a high risk. In the end, to quell further attacks the United States paid great amounts to the Barbary States in exchange for the safe passage of its ships. “The nascent U.S. government sought help from its French...

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