Corsairs of the Mediterranean
Say the word pirate, and people tend to think of the buccaneers and others who operated out of the many islands of the Caribbean Sea for about two centuries, from the middle of the 1500s until their end during the 1700s. While the history of those scallywags is certainly sensational, it is by no means more nefarious than that of the corsairs who were active throughout the Mediterranean Sea, including the coast of North Africa, but even beyond.
History—The Rise and Spread of Islam
When one considers the rise of piracy in the Caribbean Sea, it is relatively easy to choose a single event that altered the region's history forever—“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” In the same way, one can look at the history of North Africa and find an event that was just as definitive—the rise of Islam and the Muslim conquest of North Africa.
610—Muhammad begins preaching Islam.
629—The prophet leads the conquest of Mecca.
642—Alexandria falls under Arab control.
643—Arab armies conquer Tripoli.
711—Muslim forces cross into Spain from North Africa.
800—Two great rulers, the Muslim Haroun al-Rashid and the Christian Charlemagne, live at the same time and exchange correspondence and delegations.
969—The Fatimid army completes its conquest of all of Egypt and North Africa.
1096—European forces join together to launch the First Crusade, eventually leading to their capture of the Holy Land.
1118—The Poor Order of the Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon is founded.
1147—While the Second Crusade accomplishes little in the Holy Land, Christian forces do retake Lisbon from Muslim control.
1171—Saladin takes control in Egypt.
1187—Saladin's forces reconquer Jerusalem, leaving the Christians in control of just a few coastal holdings. The Third Crusade, led in part by Richard the Lion-Hearted, fails to reclaim Jerusalem.
1270—King Louis IX of France leads an unsuccessful attack on Tunis. A year later he is joined by Edward I of England in striking again, but fails once more.
1291—The Knights Hospitaller, after fleeing the Holy Land, settle on Cyprus.
1302—Some time after this date, the Templar knight Roger de Flor founded the Catalan Company, a band of mercenaries that fought first for the Byzantines and then for others.
1307—The Templar Order is disbanded and many of its members are arrested.
1309—The Knights Hospitaller conquer Rhodes.
1340—The Battle of the Four Kings pits the rulers of Castile and Portugal against those of Granada and Fez.
1362—Sidi Ahmad ibn Ashir, a saint rumored to be able to calm storms, dies.
1453—Ottoman forces capture Constantinople and name it Istanbul, capital of the Empire.
1487—Kemal Reis begins leading corsair attacks against Christian vessels.
1488—Portuguese sailors round the Cape of Good Hope for the first time.
1492—Christopher Columbus sails for the New World; Jewish citizens are expelled from Spain.
1510—Spain conquers the Penon islet outside Algiers in an effort to reduce corsair activity; it would change hands several times before falling under Ottoman control.
1522—Ottoman forces expel the Hospitallers from Rhodes.
1530—Charles V of Spain gives Malta to the Hospitallers (for the payment of a single falcon a year); they become known as the Knights of Malta.
1534—Khair ed-Din “Barbarossa” takes control of Tunisia and holds it for a year.
1541—King Charles V attempts to invade Algiers, but his efforts are foiled by powerful storms.
1544—Khair ed-Din leads an attack on the island of Ischia, taking thousands of prisoners to sell into slavery. This kind of raiding soon became a common source of income for the corsairs.
1551—Tripoli falls under Ottoman control.
1571—Christian forces defeat the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto.
1574—The Ottoman Empire regains control of Tunisia.
1601—Zymen Danseker, a Dutchman, travels to Algiers and teaches its corsairs European sailing techniques.
1616—Corsairs raid Iceland for slaves.
1675—The English Navy attacks Tripoli but does not conquer it.
This brings the history up to the Golden Age of Piracy. It leaves the various European powers, divided by their own squabbles, poised opposite the Muslim cities and countries which themselves aren't exactly united in purpose.