“… As soon as they had passed Corsica they caught sight of three wooden ships with a French flag, which the captain – believing them to be friends – approached. But alas, what a sudden, unexpected change! In an instant the French insignia were lowered, the Algerian standard was raised, and we were surrounded by more than eight hundred Barbary corsairs” (Giuseppe Albertazzi, travelling on a Genoese ship bound for Spain in 1760).
From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the waters and the coasts of the Mediterranean, especially between the Christian and Muslim shores, were teeming with corsairs. They were neither pirates nor marauders, but rather sea guerrillas supported by state-issued licenses. They were largely Maghrebis settled in Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, but even the Ottoman Empire had its corsairs. In explaining the uses of corsair warfare and its main events, this book also describes the cities in which privateers were based, the ships they operated, their rules, practices, and rituals, how they shared booty, and how they organized the trade in prey and slaves. The text also focuses on the lesser-known activities of European (Italian, French, Maltese, Spanish) corsairs against other Europeans.
Salvatore Bono is professor emeritus at the University of Perugia, where he used to teach History of the Mediterranean.