Barbary Corsairs in Algerian History

Algeria has a history filled with stories of success, independence, war, determination and victory. But there are also sides to the heritage of countries, as terrible as they may seem, that play a vital role in shaping the country and its people. When it comes to Algeria, the time of the Barbary Corsairs was one of violence, slavery and eventually freedom. Exploring the connection between the Barbary Corsairs and Algeria over the years gives great insight into how even what seems to be a powerful force can be disbanded and freedom regained.

The Barbary Corsairs were referred to as Barbary Pirates and even Ottoman Corsairs at times. They were generally based in North Africa, with Algiers being one of their main ports. The stretch of land from which they operated in Europe was known as the Barbary Coast. The Barbary Corsairs did not fear pillaging and invading towns in other countries and were known to perform raids in countries such as France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and even Iceland. The Ottoman Empire would also make pirate attacks on ships, although their main industry was the capture of slaves, generally Christian slaves, to sell on the slave markets in the Middle East and parts of North Africa. It is estimated that between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century, the Barbary Corsairs were able to capture an estimated 1.25 million slaves during their time of reign. Their activities began to slow down from the seventeenth century, with even more pressure coming down on the Barbary Corsairs in the years 1814 and 1815, when European leaders began to stand together to protect ships and bring the Barbary Corsairs to their knees once and for all. There were some incidents reported after this, but when the French invaded Algiers in the year 1830, all their activities had ended.

Lord Exmouth played a vital role in the campaign to free the slaves that were captured during this time, and set about his anti-slavery project in 1816. Treaties were negotiated, with the main areas being Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, where the slaves were then seen as prisoners of war rather than slaves. The most famous Barbary Corsairs included Kemal Reis, Turgut Reis, Koca Murat Reis and Salih Reis.