The White Slaves of Barbary

The White Slaves of Barbary


Much attention and condemnation has been directed towards the tragedy of the African slave trade , which took place between the 16 th and the 19 th centuries. However, another equally despicable trade in humans was taking place around the same time in the Mediterranean.  It is estimated that up to 1.25 million Europeans were enslaved by Barbary corsairs , and their lives were just as pitiful as their African counterparts. They have come to be known as the white slaves of Barbary.

Slavery is one of the oldest trades known to man. We can first find records of the slave trade dating back to The Code of Hammurabi in Babylon in the 18th century BCE. People from virtually every major culture, civilization, and religious background have made slaves of their own and enslaved other peoples. However, comparatively little attention has been given to the prolific slave trade that was carried out by pirates, or corsairs, along the Barbary coast (as it was called by Europeans at the time), in what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, beginning around 1600 AD.

Anyone travelling in the Mediterranean at the time faced the real prospect of being captured by the Corsairs and taken to Barbary Coast cities and being sold as slaves. 

However, not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, and even as far away as the Netherlands and Iceland.  They landed on unguarded beaches, and crept up on villages in the dark to capture their victims.  Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631.  As a result of this threat, numerous coastal towns in the Mediterranean were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants until the 19 th century.

The Sacking of Baltimore

The raiding of the coastal village of Baltimore on Ireland’s South West coast is one of the more horrific acts performed by the Barbary corsairs.  At 2.00am on 20 June, 1631, over 200 corsairs armed with muskets, iron bars and sticks of burning wood landed on the shore of Baltimore and silently spread out, waiting at the front doors of the cottages along the shoreline and the homes in the main village. When a signal was given, they simultaneously charged into the homes, pulling the sleeping inhabitants from their beds. Twenty men, 33 women and 54 children were dragged into ships and began the long voyage back to Algiers. 

Upon arrival, the citizens of Baltimore were taken to slave pens before being paraded before prospective buyers, chained and nearly naked. Men were typically used for labor and women as concubines, while children were often raised as Muslims, eventually forming part of the slave corps within the Ottoman army. 

Captured victims arrive on the Barbary coast

Captured victims arrive on the Barbary coast to be sold as slaves.

The Rise of the Barbary Corsairs

In the 13th and 14th centuries, it was Christian pirates, primarily from Catalonia and Sicily, that dominated the seas, posing a constant threat to merchants. It was not until the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15 th century that the Barbary corsairs started to become a menace to Christian shipping.

Around 1600 AD, European pirates brought advanced sailing and shipbuilding techniques to the Barbary Coast, which enabled the corsairs to extend their activities into the Atlantic Ocean, and the impact of Barbary raids peaked in the early to mid-17th century.

While the Barbary slave trade is typically portrayed as Muslim corsairs capturing white Christian victims, this is far too simplistic.  In reality, the corsairs were not concerned with the race or religious orientation of those they captured. Slaves in Barbary could be black, brown or white, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim. And the corsairs were not only Muslim; English privateers and Dutch captains also exploited the changing loyalties of an era in which friends could become enemies and enemies friends with the stroke of a pen.

"One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature,” said historian Robert Davis, author of Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy . “But that is not true," he added.

In comments which may stoke controversy, Davis claims that white slavery had been minimised or ignored because academics preferred to treat Europeans as evil colonialists rather than as victims.

The Barbary slave trade

The Barbary slave trade is typically depicted as Muslims capturing white Christians, such as in the artwork above, but this is not entirely accurate. Image source.

Life as a Barbary Slave

The slaves captured by the Barbary pirates faced a grim future. Many died on the ships during the long voyage back to North Africa due to disease or lack of food and water. Those who survived were taken to slave markets where they would stand for hours while buyers inspected them before they were sold at auction.

After purchase, slaves would be put to work in various ways. Men were usually assigned to hard manual labor, such as working in quarries or heavy construction, while women were used for housework or in sexual servitude.  At night the slaves were put into prisons called 'bagnios' that were often hot and overcrowded. However, by far the worst fate for a Barbary slave was being assigned to man the oars of galleys. Rowers were shackled where they sat, and never allowed to leave. Sleeping, eating, defecation and urination took place at the seat. Overseers would crack the whip over the bare backs of any slaves considered not to be working hard enough.

Galley Slaves of the Barbary Corsairs

Galley Slaves of the Barbary Corsairs. Image source .

The end of the Barbary corsairs

Corsair activity began to diminish in the latter part of the 17th century, as the more powerful European navies started to force the pirates to cease attacking their shipping. However, it wasn’t until the first years of the 19th century, that the United States of America and some European nations began to fight back more fervently against the Barbary pirates.

Algiers was frequently bombarded by the French, Spanish and Americans, in the early 19th century. Eventually, after an Anglo-Dutch raid in 1816 on Algiers, the corsairs were forced to agree to terms which included a cessation of the practice of enslaving Christians, although slave trading of non-Europeans was allowed to continue.

A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs

A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs, c. 1681. Image source .

Occasional incidents continued to occur until another British raid on Algiers in 1824, and finally, a French invasion of Algiers in 1830, which placed it under colonial rule. Tunis was similarly invaded by France in 1881. Tripoli returned to direct Ottoman control in 1835, before finally falling into Italian hands in the 1911 Italo-Turkish War. The slave trade finally ceased on the Barbary coast when European governments passed laws granting emancipation to slaves.

Featured image: A slave caught by Barbary pirates. Image source .


Slavery and White Guilt – James Eden. Available from:

Barbary pirates – Wikipedia. Available from:

African Slave Traders and their White European Slaves – Grumpy Opinions. Available from:

America and the Barbary Pirates: An International Battle Against an Unconventional Foe – The Library of Congress. Available from:

British Slaves on the Barbary Coast – BBC / Robert Davis. Available from:

New book reopens old arguments about slave raids on Europe – The Guardian. Available from:

When Europeans were slaves – Ohio State University.

From Baltimore to Barbary: the 1631 sack of Baltimore – History Ireland. Available from: 

By April Holloway


You can't be serious...Saddam wanted nothing but peace with the USA ( referencing the 2nd occupation in 2001,2,3 here ) . He sent 3 messages saying just that, and they were ignored because it didn't fit with our agenda. The same thing happened when Japan ' attacked ' Pearl Harbor...Roosevelt knew that Japan wanted peace with the USA, yet he poked and prodded them until they attacked, while he stood down and let it happen. Same thing Cheney did on 9/11. War games at the exact same time the ' threat ' was going on?? Come on...ever heard of the PNAC? Guess who was the CEO...guess who was also connected to Halliburton?...we could very easily go off on a 9/11 tangent here, and you would probably tell me, it was 19 hijackers
back to it, Japan had sent, how many?? Yes, 3 messages saying they wanted nothing to do with a war with the USA. They were ignored in order for us to enter into WW2 against a 60-80% negative approval rating, of the American people, which is the same exact thing that happened with Iraq, again the 2nd time. No one wanted to go to war with Iraq, our one time ally. It was definitely not ' justified ' ...whether or not Congress approved it, which they didn't at first. It was only when Bush was so adamant about it that they gave in, basically to shut him up...and as you must know he was nothing more than a figurehead, working out in the front while the usual suspects did all the planning. Saddam worked for us in the 80s...who do you think sold him all the chemical weapons he used on his own people? Was he a nice guy? No, not always...but he knew better than to provoke America, and did not want things to escalate. We did. That's why we went to war. In the Gulf War, we peppered Iraq with depleted Uranium, which is of course controversial, same thing in 2001, 2 and 3 in Iraq and many people have died there since then? Well over a many babies are born with birth defects from all of that Uranium? Yes, i've read that it's harmless. If you believe that, you should do some more research on it. What we did was use a new form of nukes and did it in a ( not entirely ) covert way, which will have long lasting effects, in a country who was and still is innocent. What we did in 1990 was use the war with Iraq as a distraction in order to " turn our attention from the USSR to the Middle East " ( quoting Chomsky there...) and created a whole new Cold War with them. The entire reason we ever went towards the Middle East is to protect our pipeline in Afghanistan, which has been there since the mid 70s, and realistically most likely since the mid 50s. Why do you think we had Bin Laden under our employ in the 80s? To protect our oil, and part of the territory from Russia. We never found Saddam's WMD because our own people, namely the CIA moved them out of Iraq into Saudi Arabia where we would never even bother to look because they were and still are an ally, even though they are considered a ' terrorist state ' ...Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Cheney, Rumsfeld, and now, as you wrote, Obama should all be tried for war crimes, the only part of your statement that i agree with. Actually, quoting Noam Chomsky again, any president post WW2 could have been tried for war crimes. It sounds to me like you make up your own theories and batter people over the head with them, as part of your own agenda. That isn't right. This is about getting to the real story through all the bullshit that the US government feeds us each and every day.
Here's to a new America, because the old one that we all know and love is gone and has been for well over 30 years. If McCarthy was around today, all of our ' leaders ' for the past 50 years would be called Communists, and we would be living in a police state. OH WAIT!!:O We are living in a police state. How many laws did Obama push while he was fake crying about fake dead kids in Newtown, CT? MANY...
Iraq was not justified, no war is justified. We haven't been attacked on our own soil since 1910, and that was between points in Arizona and Mexico. No outside source is a threat to us, the threat resides at 1,600 Pennsylvania avenue. What's next? Will we be told in 10 years that ISIS is still lurking in the shadows and gonna attack someday? If you aren't aware of who created them, look into it, and tell me Iraq was justified. Creating ISIS ( which consists of CIA/Mossad agents ) was justified in order to have a constant threat to instill fear into the American citizens and have a place to send all the taxpayer's money, which is the military. Go back to September 10th 2001...Rumsfeld, " we can't account for 2.3 trillion dollars, and we don't know where 25% of the military spending budget goes...there's your answer. War.
Notice that in the Boston marathon sham, remember that bomb drill turned live fake terrorist attack? ...Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with several counts of ' use of WMD ' ? .....there's yer sign. Same terminology that was used to lull the US citizens into a false sense of hope, while in reality the US government is slowly but surely fucking each and every one us. He left with his backpack, that unravels the entire case against him, not that he's alive today to care either way...
CHEERS!! Let's do this again some time.

The war in Iraq was 100% justified you moron. The first Gulf War ended not with a peace treaty, but a cease fire agreement. Part of that agreement clearly detailed a series of obligations that Saddam had to abide by and any violation could be legal grounds for a resumption of hostilities.
Saddam's first violation was the dozens of times he kept screwing with the weapons inspectors at the IAEA who were kicked out of the country on multiple occasions. Saddam also had declared very detailed lists of his chemical weapon stockpiles which under the agreement had to be handed over and destroyed by the UN. And the fact alone that almost on a daily basis Saddam's military would fire surface to air missiles at American fighter jets who had the legal right to patrol the no-fly-zones is all that was needed.
By the way, who deemed the war illegal? Last I checked, Bush was given full legal authority to remove Saddam by the United States Congress as mandated in Article I, Section VIII of the U.S. Constitution.
If you're referring to "international law"... it clearly states in the Constitution that no treaty may be entered into that puts foreign laws above the constitution itself. Woodrow Wilson tried this with the League Of Nations and failed. The United Nations only exists because the U.S. puts them secondary to our own law.

Now if you want to talk about an illegal war, and a clear violation of the Constitution... look no further than Barack Obama's use of the military in Libya and current operations in Iraq and Syria. Neither conflict was approved by congress is one of countless crimes that are grounds for impeachment.

LOL... a good laugh too.

I'm sorry you seem to have the wrong definition of Propaganda.the difference in what I posted is that it's true not propaganda

Tsurugi's picture

Ahh, love the smell of propaganda in the morning.


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