We all know the stories of the pirates of the Caribbean—“Calico” Jack Rackham, who sailed with two women and is credited with designing the skull and crossbones of the famous Jolly Roger; Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard), who terrorized the southern American colonies; even Jack Sparrow, the fictional captain of the Black Pearl.
But pirates operated in other waters as well. In his latest book, Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean, historian Adrian Tinniswood delves into the world of North African pirates under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
The Barbary corsairs wreaked havoc from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles for more than a century, earning the wrath of the great European nations and making names for themselves in history. They had their own heroes—John Ward, an English traitor who turned corsair and sailed the seas with his captured fleet; Simon Dansekar, the “Devil Captain of Algiers”; and the Barbarossa brothers, who are credited with the rise of Ottoman strongholds along the Barbary Coast.
But who were these men who ruled the Mediterranean and earned the enmity of European nations? Tinniswood recounts their exploits—from attacks on Spanish ships to raids on British-held Ireland. He also goes deeper, sharing the stories of their lives—their struggles, their loves, their victories, and their deaths.
Tinniswood tells the whole story, from the pirate Hizir’s conquest of North Africa to the death of Hamidou Rais, the “last of the great corsairs.” Pirates of Barbary is about the bloody conquest of the Mediterranean: land raids for captives that went as far north as Ireland; battles over the islands and the fight for the control of Crete; and the Ottoman takeover of North Africa. These corsairs battled and pillaged, fighting for money, empire, God, and control of the Mediterranean.
But this is not just a story about the Barbary corsairs; it is also the story of the European men who fought them, bargained with them, and—in some cases—came to respect them. These are the men who experienced firsthand life on the Barbary coast—Thomas Baker, an English consul in Tripoli who worked to keep peace between the nations; Edmund Cason, who tried to free European slaves held captive in Algiers; William Okeley, a former slave who led a successful escape attempt; and Sir Robert Mansell, who led an expedition against the Barbary Coast.
In Pirates of Barbary, Tinniswood gives readers a glimpse at real-life piracy that will thrill—and, at times, frighten—lovers of fantasy pirates like Captain Jack Sparrow. Given time, the heroes and villains of the Barbary Coast might just grow into legends to rival their Caribbean counterparts.
Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean, a 343-page hardcover book from Riverhead Books, is available now at a list price of $26.95. It will be available in paperback on September 6 for $16.00.