1. News & Issues

Barbary Pirates

By

Barbary map

The sea coast of Barbary from Cape de Tenes to Cape de Rosa in an early 18th century map by Samuel Thornton.

Courtesy of The New York Public Library (www.nypl.org)
Definition: The Barbary pirates (or, more accurately, Barbary privateers) operated out of four North African bases--Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and various ports in Morocco--between the 16th and 19th centuries. They terrorized seafaring traders in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, "sometimes," in the words of John Biddulph's 1907 history of piracy, "venturing into the mouth of the [English} channel to make a capture." (See a complete timeline of the Barbary wars)

The privateers worked for North African Muslim deys, or rulers, themselves subjects of the Ottoman Empire, which encouraged privateering as long as the empire received its share of tributes. Privateering had two aims: to enslave captives, who were usually Christian, and to ransom hostages for tribute.

The Barbary pirates played a significant role in defining the foreign policy of the United States in its earliest days. The pirates provoked the United States' first wars in the Middle East, compelled the United States to build a Navy, and set several precedents, including hostage crises involving the ransoming of American captives and military American military interventions in the Middle East that have been relatively frequent and bloody since.

The Barbary wars with the United States ended in 1815 after a naval expedition ordered to North Africa's shores by President Madison defeated the Barbary powers and put an end to three decades of American tribute payments. Some 700 Americans had been held hostage over the course of those three decades.

The term "Barbary" was a derogatory, European and American characterization of North African powers. The term is derived from the word "barbarians," a reflection of how Western powers, themselves often slave-trading or slave-holding societies at the time, viewed Muslim and Mediterranean regions.

Also Known As: Barbary corsairs, Ottoman corsairs, Barbary privateers, Mohammetan pirates
  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Middle East Issues
  4. Glossary
  5. B
  6. Barbary Pirates - Who Were the Barbary Pirates and Privateers?

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.