Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

19
Corsairs in
Iceland 19

For many centuries the Barbary corsairs had operated principally in galleys. These vessels required hundreds of rowers, who were expensive both to obtain and to maintain, and were in any case becoming more difficult to find. The cruising range of the galley was limited by the need to carry great quantities of food and water for the rowers, while its construction, designed for the calmer waters of the Mediterranean, made it unfit to withstand the heavier strains of the open ocean.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, an important development took place which enabled the corsairs greatly to extend the scope and scale of their enterprises. After the death of Queen Elizabeth of England in 1603, the new king, James I, at last made peace with Spain, and by the treaty of 1604 the long maritime war between the two countries came to an end. At about the same time the long Spanish struggle with the Netherlands ended, and in 1609 Spain was finally compelled to recognize the independence of the Dutch. The many English and Dutch sea-rovers, who had played an important part in the struggle against Spain, now became not only unnecessary but a nuisance, and the English and other western governments began to adopt measures of increasing severity against their own pirates for the protection of international trade. Many of these pirates, finding conditions in their own countries less and less favorable to the exercise of their profession, fled to the states of the North African littoral, where they received a ready welcome. English and Dutch pirates, accustomed to navigating the oceans of the world on square-rigged sailing ships with their armament disposed along their sides, introduced these vessels to their hosts and instructed them in their construction and use. The corsairs, quick to

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