History, Ottoman Rule
Algerian pirates, yeniceri, Redbeards, ship construction, caliph
The Almohad dynasty collapsed in 1269 and was succeeded by the 300-year-long rule of the Abd al-Wadid (or Zayyanid) dynasty, centered in Tlemcen. The period was marked by fierce trade competition among rival Mediterranean seaports, both Christian and Muslim. To gain advantage, city governments began to hire corsairs—pirates who seized merchant ships and held crews and cargo for ransom. Algiers became a primary center of corsair activities.
In the 16th century the Christian Spaniards occupied various North African ports. Algiers was blockaded and forced to pay tribute. Other ports were captured outright. The desperate Muslims called for help from the Ottoman sultan, then the caliph of all Islam. Two corsair brothers, the Barbarossas (“Redbeards”), persuaded the sultan to send them with a fleet to North Africa. They drove the Spaniards out of most of their new possessions, and in 1518 the younger Barbarossa, Khayr ad-Din, was appointed beylerbey, the sultan’s representative in Algeria.
Because of its distance from the Ottoman capital at Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), Algiers was governed as an autonomous province. Externally, the effectiveness of its corsair fleet made Algiers a power in its own right—Algerian pirates dominated the Mediterranean. European states paid tribute regularly to ensure protection for their ships, and prisoner ransom brought a rich income to the province. Internal security was maintained by Ottoman janissary (from Turkish, yeniceri, “new special troops”) garrisons.
In the late 18th century, as the Ottoman Empire was in decline, improved firepower and ship construction enabled the Europeans to challenge corsair domination. International agreements to outlaw piracy made collective action against Algiers possible. In 1815 the United States sent a naval squadron against the city. The following year an Anglo-Dutch fleet nearly destroyed its defenses, and in 1830 Algiers was captured by a French army.
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