Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean
by E. Hamilton Currey
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse






"Ships be but boards, sailors but men: There be land rats and water rats, land thieves and water thieves, I mean pirates."

Merchant of Venice.








When the ship is ready for launching there comes a moment of tense excitement before the dogshores are knocked away and she slides down the ways. In the case of a ship this excitement is shared by many thousands, who have assembled to acclaim the birth of a perfected product of the industry of man; the emotion is shared by all those who are present. It is very different when a book has been completed. The launching has been arranged for and completed by expert hands; she like the ship gathers way and slides forth into an ocean: but, unlike the ship which is certain to float, the waters may close over and engulf her, or perchance she may be towed back to that haven of obscurity from which she emerged, to rust there in silence and neglect. There is excitement in the breast of one man alone—to wit, the author. If his book possesses one supreme qualification she will escape the fate mentioned, and this qualification is—interest. As the weeks lengthened into months, and these multiplied themselves to the tale of something like twenty-four, the conviction was strengthened that that which had so profoundly interested the writer, would not be altogether indifferent to others. For some inscrutable reason the deeds of sea-robbers have always possessed a fascination denied to those of their more numerous brethren of the land; and in the case of the Sea-wolves of the sixteenth century we are dealing with the very aristocrats of the profession. Circumstances over which they had no control flung the Moslem population of Southern Spain on to the shores of Northern Africa: to revenge themselves upon the Christian foe by whom this expropriation had been accomplished was natural to a warrior race; and those who heretofore had been land-folk pure and simple took to piracy as a means of livelihood. It is of the deeds of these men that this book treats; of their marvellous triumphs, of their apparently hopeless defeats, of the manner in which they audaciously maintained themselves against the principalities and the powers of Christendom always hungering for their destruction.

The quality which Napoleon is said to have ascribed to the British Infantry, "of never knowing when they were beaten," seems to have also characterised the Sea-wolves; as witness the marvellous recuperation of Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa when expelled from Tunis by Charles V.; and the escape of Dragut from the island of Jerba when apparently hopelessly trapped by the Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria. All through their history the leaders of the Sea-wolves show the resourcefulness of the real seamen that they had become by force of circumstances, and it was they who in the age in which they dwelt showed what sea power really meant. Sailing through the Mediterranean on my way to Malta in the spring of this year, as the good ship fared onwards I passed in succession all those lurking-places from which the Moslem Corsairs were wont to burst out upon their prey. Truly it seemed as if

"The spirits of their fathers might start from every wave,"

and in imagination one pictured the rush of the pirate galley, with its naked slaves straining at the oar of their taskmasters, its fierce, reckless, beturbaned crew clustered on the "rambades" at the bow and stern. It might be that they would capture some hapless "round-ship," a merchantman lumbering slowly along the coast; or again they might meet with a galley of the terrible Knights of St. John or of the ever-redoubtable Doria. In either case the Sea-wolves were equal to their fortune, to plunder or to fight in the name of Allah and his prophet.

That which differentiated the Sea-wolves from other pirates was the combination which they effected among themselves; the manner in which these lawless men could subordinate themselves to the will of one whom they recognised as a great leader. To obtain such recognition was no easy matter, and the manner in which this was done, by those who rose by sheer force of character to the summit of this remarkable hierarchy, has here been set forth.































I wish to record my cordial recognition of the kindness shown to me at Malta by Mr. Salvino Sant Manduca. The picture of the carrack opposite to page 300 was a gift from him. The galley of the Knights of Malta is a reproduction of a picture hanging in his house. I should also like to thank him for the time and trouble which he took on my behalf during my stay at Malta, and the keen interest he displayed in my subject.




















In all the ages of which we have any record there have been men who gained a living by that practice of robbery on the high seas which we know by the name of Piracy. Perhaps the pirates best known to the English-speaking world are the buccaneers of the Spanish Main, who flourished exceedingly in the seventeenth century, and of whom many chronicles exist: principally owing to the labours of that John Esquemelin, a pirate of a literary turn of mind, who added the crime of authorship to the ill deeds of a sea-rover. The Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean in the preceding century did not raise up a chronicler from among themselves: for not much tincture of learning seems to have distinguished these desperate fighters and accomplished seamen, descendants of those Spanish Moslems who had, during the Middle Ages, lived in a land in which learning and culture had been held in the highest estimation. Driven from their homes, their civilisation crushed, their religion banned in that portion of Southern Spain in which they had dwelt for over seven centuries, cast upon the shores of Northern Africa, these men took to the sea and became the scourge of the Mediterranean. That which they did, the deeds which they accomplished, the terror which they inspired, the ruin and havoc which they wrought, have been set forth in the pages of this book.

It was the age of the galley, the oar-propelled vessel which moved independently of the wind in the fine-weather months of the great inland sea. Therefore to the dwellers on the coast the Sea-wolves were a perpetual menace; as, when booty was unobtainable at sea, they raided the towns and villages of their Christian foes. During all the period here dealt with no man's life, no woman's honour, was safe from these pirates within the area of their nefarious activities. They held the Mediterranean in fee, they levied toll on all who came within reach of their galleys and their scimitars. Places unknown to the geography of the sixteenth century became notorious in their day, and Christian wives and mothers learned to tremble at the very names of Algiers and Tunis. From these places the rovers issued to capture, to destroy, and to enslave: in Oran and Tlemcen, in Tenes, Shershell, Bougie, Jigelli, Bizerta, Sfax, Susa, Monastir, Jerbah, and Tripoli they lurked ready for the raid and the foray. At one time all Northern Africa would thrill to the triumph of the Moslem arms, at another there would go up the wail of the utterly defeated; but in spite of alternations of fortune the Sea-wolves abode in the localities of their choice, and ended in establishing those pirate States which troubled the peace of the Mediterranean practically until the introduction of steam.

The whole record of the sixteenth century is one of blood and fire, of torture and massacre, of "punic faith" and shameless treason; the deeds of the sea-rovers, appalling as they were, frequently found a counterpart in the battles, the sieges, and the sacking of towns which took place perpetually on the continent of Europe.

There was so much history made at this period, the stage of world politics was occupied by so many great, striking, and dazzling personalities, that the Sea-wolves and all they accomplished were to a great extent overshadowed by happenings which the chroniclers of the time considered to be of greater importance. In this no doubt they were right in the main; but, in spite of this opinion which they held, we find that time and again the main stream of events is ruffled by the prows of the pirate galleys. Such men as the Barbarossas, as Dragut, and Ali Basha could only have been suppressed and exterminated had the whole might of Christendom been turned against them, for they held in their hands two weapons, the keenest and most powerful with which to attain the objects which they had in view.

The first and more powerful of these was the appeal in a rough and warlike age to the cupidity of mankind. "Those who are content to follow us," they said in effect, "are certain to enrich themselves if they are men stout of heart and strong of hand. All around us lie rich and prosperous lands; we have but to organise ourselves, and to take anything that we wish for; we can, if we like, gather a rich harvest at comparatively small trouble." Such counsels as these did not fall on deaf ears. Driven from the land of plenty—from glorious Andalusia with its fruitful soil, its magnificent cities, its vines and olives, its fruit and grain, its noble rivers and wide-spreading vegas—the Spanish Moslem of the day of the Sea-wolves was an outcast and a beggar, ripe for adventure and burning for revenge on those by whom he had been expropriated.

Great historians like William Hickling Prescott tell us that, in the course of the seven centuries of the Moslem domination in Spain, the Moors had become soft and effeminate, that "the canker of peace" had sapped, if it had not destroyed, the virile qualities of the race, that luxury and learning had dried up at their source those primitive virtues of courage and hardihood which had been the leading characteristics of those stark fighters who had borne the banner of the Prophet from Mecca even to Cadiz. Tom by faction, by strife among themselves, they had succumbed to the arms of the Northern chivalry; by its warriors they had been driven out, never to return.

When this was accomplished, when the curtain fell on the final scene of the tragedy, and the Moors, after the fall of Granada, were driven across the sea into Africa, there came to pass a most remarkable change in those who had been expropriated. The learning, the culture, the civilisation, by which they had been so long distinguished, seemed to drop away from them, cast away like a worn-out garment for which men have no further use. In place of all these things there came a complete and desperate valour, a bitter and headstrong fanaticism.

It was one of the attributes of the Moslem civilisation in Spain, and one of the most enlightened thereof, that religious toleration flourished in its midst. Jew and Christian were allowed to worship at the altars of their fathers, no man hindering or saying them nay; one rule, and one alone, had to be preserved: none must blaspheme against Mahomet, the Prophet of God, as he was considered to be by the Moslems. The penalty for infraction of this rule was death; otherwise, complete liberty of conscience was accorded.

We have spoken of the two weapons held by the leaders of the Sea-wolves. The first, as we have, said, was cupidity; the second was fanaticism, the deadly religious hatred engendered, not only by the wholesale expropriation of the Moslem population, but also by the persecution to which the Moriscoes—as those Moslems were known who remained in Spain—were subjected by their Christian masters. It requires little imagination to see how these two weapons of avarice and intolerance could be made to serve the purpose of those dominant spirits who rose to the summit of the piratical hierarchy. Not only did they dazzle the imaginations of those who followed in their train by promises of wealth uncounted, but they added to this the specious argument that, in slaying and robbing the Christian wheresoever he was to be found, the faithful Moslem was performing the service of God and the act most grateful to his holy Prophet.

Could any rule of life be at the same time more simple and more attractive to the beggared Mohammedan cast on the sterile shores of Northern Africa to starve?

With the main stream of history, to which we have before referred, we have no concern in this book. He who would embark thereon must sail a powerful vessel which must carry many guns. Also for the conduct of this vessel many qualities are necessary: a commanding intellect, acute perceptions, indefatigable industry, complete leisure, are among those things necessary to the pilot. These must be supplemented by a genius for research, a knowledge of ancient and modern languages, and an unerring faculty for separating the few precious grains of wheat from those mountains of chaff which he will have to sift with the utmost care. There are, however, subsidiary rivulets which feed the onward flow of events, and of such is the story of the Sea-wolves of the Mediterranean. On these the adventurous mariner can sail his little cockboat, discreetly retiring before he becomes involved and engulfed in the main stream. That he cannot altogether avoid it is shown by the fact that the men who are here chronicled took part in events of first-class importance in the age in which they lived. Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa fought the battle of Prevesa against his lifelong antagonist, Andrea Doria. Dragut was killed at the siege of Malta, at the moment almost of the fall of the castle of St. Elmo; had he lived it is more than probable that Jean Parisot de la Valette and his heroic garrison would have been defeated instead of being victorious. Ali Basha was the one Moslem commander who increased his reputation at the battle of Lepanto, because, as was usual in all maritime conflicts of the time, the corsairs, who had the habit of the sea, were more than a match for soldiers embarked to fight on an unfamiliar element.

We shall speak, later on, of the autocratic rule of these leaders who possessed so absolute a domination over the men by whom they were followed. The fact of this absolute supremacy on the part of the chiefs is very curious, as theoretically in the confederacy of the Sea-wolves all were equal; we are, in fact, confronted with pure democracy, where every man was at liberty to do what seemed best in his own eyes. He was a free agent, none coercing him or desiring him to place himself under discipline or command. This, be it observed, was the theory. As a matter of fact the corsairs, who were extraordinarily successful in their abominable trade, abode beneath an iron and rigid discipline. This was enforced by the lash, as we shall see later on when it is related how Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa flogged one Hassan, a captain who, he considered, had failed in his duty: or by the actual penalty of death, which Uruj Barbarossa inflicted on one who had dared to act independently of his authority.

The theory of equality obtained among the Mediterranean pirates; but the Barbarossas, Dragut, and Ali believed that, in practice, the less interference there was with their designs by those, whom Cardinal Granvelle denominated in a letter to Philip II. as "that mischievous animal the people," the better it would be for all concerned. The conception held of rights and duties of "the mischievous animal" by these militant persons was, that it should behave as did those others recorded of the Roman centurion in Holy Writ: if it did not, and difficulties arose, the leaders were not troubled with an undue tenderness either towards the individual or the theory. Of this we shall see examples as we go on.

This period has been called "The Grand Period of the Moslem Corsairs" because it was in something less than a century, from the year of the expulsion of the Moors from Granada in 1492 to the death of Ali Basha in 1580, that the Sea-wolves were at the height of their power, that the piratical States of the Mediterranean were in the making. That subsequently they gave great cause of trouble to Christendom is written in characters of blood and fire throughout the history of the succeeding centuries; but the real interest in the careers of these men resides in the fact that they established, by their extraordinary aptitude for sea-adventure, the permanent place which was held by their descendants. Time and again in the sixteenth century the effort was made to destroy them root and branch: they were defeated, driven out of their strongholds on shore, crushed apparently for ever. But nothing short of actual extermination could have been successful in this; as, no matter how severe had been the set-back, there was always left a nucleus of the pirates which in a short time grew again into a formidable force. The Ottoman Turk, magnificent fighter as he was on land, seemed to lose his great qualities when the venue was changed from the land to the sea. The Janissaries, that picked corps trained as few soldiers were trained even in that age of iron, who never recoiled before the foe but who fought only to conquer or die, seem to have failed when embarked for sea-service. That which the hard teaching of experience alone could show—that the man who fights best upon the sea is he who has the habit of the sea—was at this time not generally recognised, and this it was that rendered the corsairs so supreme on the element which they had made their own. Some among the great ones of the earth there were who appreciated this fact, who, like that great statesman Ibrahim, Grand Vizier to Soliman the Magnificent, recognised what it was to lay their hands upon "a veritable man of the sea"; but the rule was to embark men from the shore and to entrust to them the duty of fighting naval actions.

When "the Grand Period" came to an end, as it did about the date already indicated, the corsairs had become a permanent institution; they remained established at Algiers, Tunis, and other ports on the littoral of Northern Africa as a recognised evil. Pirates they remained to the end of the chapter, the scourge of the tideless sea; but no longer did they array themselves in line of battle against the mightiest potentates of the earth allied for their complete destruction. It was the men of the sea who set up this empire; it was they who defied Charles V., a whole succession of Popes, Andrea Doria and his descendants, the might of Spain, Venice, Genoa, Catalonia, and France. It was they who taught the so-called civilised world of the age in which they lived that sea-power can only be met and checked by those who dispose of navies manned by seamen; that against it the master of the mightiest legions of the land is powerless.

This contention is by no means invalidated by the fact that frequently the corsairs were defeated by land forces embarked on board ship. Thus when Dragut was defending Tripoli against an expedition sent against him in 1559 by the combined forces of Spain, Tuscany, Rome, Naples, Sicily, and Genoa, of one hundred sail which embarked fourteen thousand troops, he was relieved by Piali, the Admiral of Soliman the Magnificent, who came to his assistance with eighty-six galleys, each of which had on board one hundred Janissaries, and who gained so striking a victory over the Christians that the Turkish Admiral returned to Constantinople with no less than four thousand prisoners. But in this case, as in so many others, the actual hostilities took place on shore, where the troops had the opportunity of displaying their sterling qualities.

There is very little doubt that critics will point out that the corsairs were by no means universally successful; that, as in the case of the attack by Hassem, the ruler of Algiers in 1563, on Oran and Marzaquivir (a small port in the immediate vicinity of Oran), in the end the Moslems were badly beaten. This undoubtedly was the case, and there is no desire to magnify the deeds of the Sea-wolves or to minimise the heroic defence of Marzaquivir by the Count of Alcaudete, or that of Oran by his brother, Don Martin de Cordoba, At the last moment of their wonderful defence they were relieved by a fleet sent by the King of Spain, and Hassem had to abandon his artillery, ammunition, and stores and beat a hasty retreat to the place from whence he had come.

There was nothing remarkable in the fact that the corsairs were frequently defeated; what is really strange is that they should have achieved so great a success—success vouched for by the concrete instance that they established those sinister dynasties on the coast of Northern Africa which were the outcome of their piratical activities.

In speaking of them, historians of later date than that at which they flourished are apt to hold them somewhat cheaply, to dismiss them as mere barbarians of no particular importance in the scheme of mundane affairs; as men who caused a certain amount of trouble to civilisation by their inroads and their plunderings. That which is certain is that they were for centuries a standing shame and disgrace to the whole of Christendom.

To those who may perhaps be called the pioneers—that is to say, the men treated of in this book—a certain amount of sympathy and understanding may be conceded; for they had been driven from the land which had been theirs, it was their countrymen and their co-religionists who were being ground to powder beneath the fanatical cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition. That which they did was doubtless abominable, but it cannot be contended that they had not received the strongest provocation both from the material and the religious points of view.

Once the "Grand Period" was passed, that period in which such men as the Barbarossas, Dragut, and Ali flourished, the chronicle of the Moslem States founded by them sinks to the degraded level of sheer robbery and murder; of a history of a tyranny established within one hundred miles of the shores of Europe, and of great kings and princes bargaining with piratical ruffians who held in thrall thousands upon thousands of their subjects. How it came about that the Christian States tolerated such an abuse is one of those mysteries which can never be explained; and if subsequent centuries displayed a greater refinement of manners, a more apt appreciation of all that is softer and kindlier in the human relationships of nation towards nation and of people towards people, they have not perhaps so much to plume themselves upon as had their rude forefathers of the sixteenth century, who, seeing the evil and feeling the effects thereof, did their best to extirpate those by whom this evil was caused.

The question may be asked, how can it be that the lives and actions of such men as these are worth chronicling? It is because, not only that they modified profoundly the course of history in the age in which they lived, but also because that, hidden deep down, somewhere, in these men stained by a thousand crimes, ruthless, lustful, bloodthirsty, cruel as the grave, was the germ of true greatness, some dim spark of the divine fire of genius. Contending against principalities and powers, they held their own; in the welter of anarchy in which they lived they proved that there existed no finer fighting men, which alone give them some claim to consideration; but that which is most interesting to watch is the absolute domination obtained by the leaders over their followers. There is no other record of pirates who commanded on so large a scale; there is none which shows men such as these bargaining on equal terms with the great ones of the earth.



There is, in the deeds of men of action, an interest which is never aroused by those persons of brains and capacity by whom the world is really ruled. The statesman in his cabinet is the god within the machine; it is he who directs the acts of nations, it is he who moves the fleets and armies as if they were pieces on the chess-board; to him, as a rule, is the man of action subordinate, obeying his behests. Rule and governance are his, power both in the abstract and the concrete. Seldom in the history of the world do we come across the men who are at one and the same time statesmen and soldiers, who, taking their destiny in their own hands, work it out to the appointed end thereof. But, as we stray in the by-paths of history, we meet with some who, in their day, have influenced not only the age in which they lived themselves, but also the destinies of generations yet unborn. It would seem incredible that mere pirates, such as the Moslem corsairs of the Mediterranean, could be included in this category, and yet, as their story is unfolded, we shall see how the Sea-wolves rose from the humblest beginnings to trouble the peace of Europe, to found for themselves dynasties which endured.

Uruj Barbarossa, Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa, Dragut Reis, and Occhiali, or All Basha, were men who, in the sixteenth century, did much to change the conditions of the times in which they lived: it was the time of the Renaissance in Europe, a period of splendour in all the arts and sciences. These men added nothing to the knowledge of the civilised world as it then existed, save and except in one particular, which was, as Kheyr-ed-Din explained to Soliman the Magnificent on a certain memorable occasion, that he who rules on the sea will rule on the land also. In the present day, when all the nations and languages sit at the feet of Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Mahan, and acclaim his "Sea Power" series of books, it is interesting to find that he was anticipated in the most practical fashion possible by a corsair of the sixteenth century.

This period was one in which great men abounded. The Emperor Charles V., Francis I. of France, and Henry VIII. of England, were on the thrones of their respective countries; in Hungary was John Hunyadi, at Constantinople Soliman the Magnificent held rule, while in Rome the "fatal house of Medici" were the successors of Saint Peter. War was a commonplace state of the times, but until the Crescent began to sweep the seas it had its manifestation in the perpetual quarrels of the nations of Christendom, which represented, as a rule, the insatiable ambitions of its rulers. But now new men forced themselves to the front, a new power arose which was very imperfectly understood, and which practically held the sea at its mercy. Gone were the halcyon days of peaceful trade which had been pursued for generations by Venetian and Genoese, by Spaniard and Frenchman; gone also, apparently never to return, was all sense of security for the wretched dwellers on the littoral of the Mediterranean, who lived in daily, and particularly in nightly, dread of the falcon swoop of the pirate galleys.

It is amusing to read the old chroniclers, sticklers as they were for "the dignity of history," continually having to turn aside from the main stream of their narrative of emperors, popes, and kings to descend to the level of the Sea-wolves, and to be constrained to set down the nefarious doings of these rovers of the sea. Bell, book, and candle were invoked against them in vain, and mighty monarchs had to meet them in the stricken field not merely once or twice—to their utter undoing and discomfiture—but many times, while victory inclined first to one side and then to the other.

The Osmanli had ever been warriors since the times of the Prophet, of Abu-Bekr, of Othman, and of Ali; but so far their warlike achievements had been always on land, their only sea experience being confined to the crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar, when in the eighth century, under Tarik, they had swarmed into Andalusia, conquered Roderick the Goth, and set up that Moslem domination in Southern Spain which lasted until 1492, just before the events set forth in this book took place. Piracy in all ages is a thing in which a curious shuddering interest has been taken, and the deeds of the outlaws of the sea have never lacked chroniclers. There is for this a reason apart from the record of robbery and murder, which is the commonplace of piratical deeds: it resides in the perennial interest which men take in individual achievement, in the spectacle of absolute and complete domination by one man over the lives and the fortunes of others. This intense form of individualism is nowhere so well exhibited as in the story of piratical enterprise, where a band of men, outside of the law and divorced from all human kind by the atrocity of their deeds, has had to be welded into one homogeneous mass for the purpose of preying upon the world at large. Therefore he who would hold rule among such outlaws must himself be a man of no common description, for in him must be that quality which calls for instantaneous obedience among those with whom he is associated; behind him is no constituted authority, discipline is personal, enforced by the leader, and by him alone. Beneath him are men of the rudest and roughest description, slaves to their lusts and their passions, prone to mutiny, suspicious, and—worst of all—stupid.

It is with these constituent elements that the piratical leader had to deal, trusting to the strength of his own arm, the subtlety of his own unassisted brain. Some among these leaders have risen to eminence in their evil lives, most of them have been the captains of single ships preying on commerce in an indiscriminate manner; but this was not the case with the Sea-wolves of the Mediterranean, Primarily sea-robbers they were of course, but as time and opportunity developed their characters they rose to meet occasion, to take fortune at the flood, in a manner that, had they been pursuing any other career, would most certainly have caused them to rise to eminence. Into the fierce and blood-stained turmoil of their lives there entered something unknown to any other pirates: this was religious fanaticism—a fanaticism so engrained in character, a belief held to with such passionate tenacity, that men stained with every conceivable crime held that their passage to Paradise was absolutely secure because of the faith which they professed. Tradition, sentiment, discipline, were summed up in one trite formula; but though we, at this distance of time, may hold it somewhat in derision, it was a vital force in the days of Soliman the Magnificent; and there was an added zest to robbery and murder in the fact that the pirates, as good Mohammedans, were obeying the behests of the Prophet every time that they cut a Christian throat, plundered a Christian argosy, or carried off shrieking women into a captivity far worse than death.

That a pirate should be a warrior goes without saying, that a pirate should be a statesman is a thing almost incredible; but those who will read the story of the life of Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa will be forced to admit that here, at least, was a pirate who achieved the apparently impossible. Admiral Jurien de la Graviere has remarked that the Moslem corsairs of the sixteenth century were great men, even when measured by the standard of Henry VIII., of Charles V., of Soliman the Magnificent, of Ibrahim, his Grand Vizier, or of Andrea Doria, greatest among contemporary Christian mariners. To the seaman, of course, there is much that is fascinating in the deeds of his forerunners, and the ships of the corsairs had in them something distinctive in that they were propelled by oars, and were in consequence, to a certain extent, independent of the weather. Like the sailors of all ages, to the Sea-wolves gales and storms of all sorts and descriptions were abhorrent; and in consequence they had a well-marked piracy season, which, as we shall see, covered the spring and summer, while they carefully avoided the inclement months of autumn and winter.

In a later chapter an attempt has been made to place before the reader pictures of the galley, the galeasse, and the nef, which were the names attached to the ships then in use; the name brigantine, far from having the significance attached to it by the sailor of the present day, seems to have been a generic term to denote any craft not included in the names already given.

Although the sixteenth century had outgrown the principle of the general massacre of the enemy by the victors, still chivalry to the fallen foe was far to seek, as all persons captured at sea were, no matter what their rank and status, immediately stripped and chained to the rowers' bench, where they remained until ransom, good fortune, or a kindly death, for which these unfortunates were wont to pray, should come to their release. To a large extent this savagery may be traced to the religious rancour which animated the combatants on both sides, as the fanaticism of the Moslem, of which we have already spoken, was fully matched on the side of the Christians by the bigotry of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights of Malta, who were vowed to the extermination of what they, on their side, called "the infidel." It was an age of iron, when men neither gave nor expected grace for the misfortunes which might befall them in the warrior life which they led. It was distinguished by many gallant feats of arms on both sides, but pity formed no part of the equipment of the fighting man bent on the death or capture of his enemy. Honestly and sincerely each side believed that they were doing the service of the Almighty in destroying the other party root and branch. The amount of human misery and suffering caused by the rise and progress of the Moslem corsairs was absolutely incalculable; the slavery of the rower in the galley in the time of which we speak was an agony so dreadful that in these days it is a thing which seems altogether incredible, a nightmare of horror almost impossible even to imagine.

The life of the "gallerian" was so hard that his sufferings in many cases were mercifully ended in death in a very short time, as none save those of iron constitution could stand the strain imposed by the desperate toil and wretched food. Yet there are cases on record of men who had worked at the oar for actual decades, so unconquerable in their strength that even such a life as this had not the power to break them down.

To the peaceful mariner who wished merely to trade, to the individual whose business called him overseas, this epoch must have been one of terror unspeakable. The ordinary perils of the deep were quite enough to keep timid folk at home in those days of clumsy, ill-found sailing ships, which could by no means work to windward, and did not sail remarkably well even with the most favouring breezes; when to this we add that every ship which started on a voyage in the Mediterranean had before her the chance of being captured by the corsairs, it was no wonder that he whose business led him oversea should make his last will and testament and bid a fond farewell to all his relatives.

There is a record in the Memoires of the Rev. Frere Pierre d'An, Bachelier en Theologie de la Faculte de Paris, etc., who wrote in a most heartfelt manner concerning the danger of the sea and the perils to be expected from the Barbary corsairs. He says, date 1637:

"An ancient writer, considering how little assurance can ordinarily be placed in the sea, and how hazardous it is to expose oneself and one's goods to its mercy, has remarked, with much reason, that it is infinitely preferable to be poor on shore than to be rich at sea. In which saying he mocks indeed at those ambitious, avaricious, and mercenary men who, in order to gain false glory and the things of this world, expose themselves rashly to the manifest perils which are most of the time the inevitable lot of the seaman. This same consideration causes him also to utter these remarkable words: that he repents himself of but one thing, and that is ever to have travelled by sea when it was possible to have done so by land. And, to say truth, he has good reason to speak as he does, because it is impossible for the most hardy navigators not to tremble with fear when it is represented before their eyes that they must combat with the winds, the waves, and the foam every time that they adventure upon the deep.

"Because it is indisputable that this is the very Theatre of the storms, and the place in the world most capable of all sorts of violence and tragic adventure. This, however, does not prevent those who covet the perishable goods of this world from straying upon the sea, even in unknown and untraversed regions, without ceasing and without rest.

"If, however, they abandon the ocean for a time, it is but to return to it again to seek once more war with their ships, in order unjustly to make themselves masters of the bodies and of the riches of others.

"Of such it may be remarked to-day are, in all the maritime coasts, the implacable Corsairs of Barbary. For, however great may be the dangers of which we have just spoken, and no matter now many examples they may see of the fury and inconstancy of Neptune, they cease not their irritating performances, kindling warfare in all the coasts of the Christian nations. It is there that they exercise their infamous piracies, and there also that they glory in the most shameful of all commerce—the trade of the brigand.

"Which in all towns that are well policed have always met with a swift and just retribution, because the law is ordained against those who maintain such practices.

"But such does not happen among these pirates.

"On the contrary, it may truthfully be said that, while in towns in which good persons dwell good actions receive the palms and the crown, it is among the Corsairs but to the wicked to whom are given recompense and praise.

"In effect the most determined among them—I mean the most unworthy robbers who are best versed in all the infamies of their trade and most accustomed to the practice of violence—are those who are covered with honours, and who pass in the estimation of their fellows for men of heart and courage.

"Indeed experience has taught all Christian merchants that the infidels of the coast of Barbary are all brigands.

"Among these those of Algiers carry off the prize for riches, for ships, for strength, and for villainy."

The bachelor in theology is somewhat sweeping in his criticisms, and his meaning is, perhaps, somewhat clearer than his grammar. One thing, however, is perfectly plain, that, in the opinion of the reverend brother, those who go to sea are to be divided into two categories, rogues and fools, with a strong preponderance of the worse Element of the two.

Of the corsairs dealt with in this record of their deeds the two Barbarossas were the sons of a Mohammedan father and a Christian mother. Dragut Reis was a pure Mohammedan, and Ali Basha was a pure-blooded Italian. All these men, as will be seen, raised themselves to eminence in the profession of piracy; in each and every separate case starting at the very bottom rung of the ladder and rising, by sheer stress of valour and character, to the very top. Each in turn became Admiralissimo to the Grand Turk at Constantinople. Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa commanded the Ottoman fleet at the great battle of Prevesa, at which he met with his life-long competitor at sea, the famous Genoese Admiral, Andrea Doria. Dragut Reis was killed at the siege of Malta in 1565, and Ali Basha was the only Moslem commander who increased his reputation at the battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Don John of Austria shattered the power of the Moslem at sea for the time being.

Although the "renegado" was very much in evidence in the vessels of the Moslem corsairs, still of course the bulk of the fighting men, by which the galleys were manned, were Mohammedans, the descendants of the warriors who had swept through Northern Africa like a living flame in the early days of the Mohammedan conquest.

Cut adrift from the homes which had been theirs for over seven centuries—as we shall see in the next chapter—there was nothing left for the erstwhile dwellers in Andalusia but to gain their living by the strong hand. The harvest of the sea was the one which they garnered—a harvest of the goods of their mortal enemies strung out in lines of hapless merchant-vessels throughout the length and breadth of the tideless sea.

It booted not that the great Powers of Europe sent expedition after expedition against them; these they fought to the death with varying fortune, ready, when the storm had passed over their heads, to start once more on the only career which promised them the chance of acquiring riches. Their whole history is a study of warfare, waged as a rule on the petty scale, but rising at times, as in the cases already mentioned, into events of first-class historical importance.

The deeds of the buccaneers of the next century in the Spanish Main sink into comparative insignificance when compared with what was accomplished by such a man as Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa, who was known, and rightly known, by his contemporaries, and for many generations of Moslem seamen yet to come, as "the King of the Sea." The capture of Panama by Sir Henry Morgan in January 1671 was possibly as remarkable a feat of arms as was ever accomplished, but it cannot rank in its importance to civilised mankind on the same plane as those memorable battles in the Mediterranean of which mention has been made as having been fought by the Moslem corsairs.

Fighting for their own hand, the booty reaped by these men was incredible in its richness. Sea-power was theirs, and they took the fullest advantage of this fact, fearing none save the great community of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, which, vowed to the destruction of the infidel, neither gave nor accepted quarter.

We have said that the real interest in the lives of the corsairs arose from the fact that it was personal ascendancy, and that alone, which counted in the piratical hierarchy. Against Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa plots arose again and again, only to be defeated by the address of the man against whom they were directed.

It was one of the cruellest of ages, and rough cruelty was the principal means adopted to ensure success; sheer terror was the weapon of the leader. Thus when one Hassan, a subordinate of Kheyr-ed-Din, failed to take a Spanish ship because she made too stout a resistance, his chief caused him to be soundly flogged and then thrown into prison. Such methods naturally raised up hosts of enemies in the wake of the piratical commanders, ready at any time to do them a mortal injury, and it is little short of miraculous that they should throughout a long period of years have been able not only to maintain, but to increase, their supremacy over the wild spirits of which their following was composed. It was, however, the golden age of autocracy, when men surrendered their judgment to some great leader, content to follow where he led, to endorse his policy at the cost of their lives.

It is the autocrat who is made by the circumstances of his life who ultimately becomes supreme. The leaders among the corsairs were tried by every test of prosperity and of adverse fortune; they emerged from the ruck in the first instance because it was in them to display a more desperate valour than did their contemporaries, and it was only when they emerged triumphant from this, the first test, that they could begin to impose their will upon others. It was then that their real trials began, as the undisciplined are ever prone to suspicion, much given to murmuring against a leader who is not perpetually successful.

As a rule, however, there were but few to criticise, as the office of critic was one fraught with far too much danger to be alluring. In maintaining their authority the leaders stopped at nothing, and the heads of the recalcitrant were apt to part with amazing suddenness from their bodies if they repined overmuch. The Moslem leader was, it is true, merely primus inter pares, and was distinguished by no outward symbol of the power which he possessed; but life and death lay in his hands, and life was cheap indeed.

We have spoken hitherto of the leaders, but what of the men of which their following was composed? Rough, rude, and reckless, these latter lived but to fight and to plunder; to them any other life would have seemed impossible, and indeed this was practically the fact. In the communities in which they lived the adult male had no other means of gaining a livelihood. Since their expulsion from their ancient homes no ordered and peaceful method of existence had been possible for them. In the surroundings in which their forefathers had lived the arts of peace had been carried on in a civilisation to which there had been none comparable in the world as it then existed; on all this the Moslem had now to turn his back, and to earn a precarious living by the strong hand. War, sanguinary and incessant, was henceforward to be his lot, and it must be said that he turned to this ancient avocation with a zest which left but little to be desired from the point of view of those by whom he was led. In the new life of bloodshed and adventure he seemed to delight. Like the free-lance in all ages, he seems to have squandered his booty as soon as it was acquired, and then to sea once more, to face the desperate hazard of an encounter with the knights, to raid defenceless villages, to lie perdu behind some convenient cape, dashing out from thence to plunder the argosy of the merchantman. Intolerable conditions of heat and cold he endured, he suffered from wounds, from fever, from hunger and thirst, from hope deferred, from voyages when no plunder came his way.

His reward was the joy of the fight, the delight of the ambush skilfully laid, to see the decks of the enemy a dreadful shambles, with the Crescent of the Prophet above the detested emblem of the Cross. Then the return to Algiers laden with spoil: to tow behind him some luckless Christian ship, while aboard his own war-worn galley the drums beat and the trumpets sounded, and the banners floated free to the stainless Mediterranean sky. Then the procession of the captives through the crowded streets laden with what a short time before had been their own property—a mournful cortege of men doomed to an everlasting slavery and of women destined for the harems of the Bashas.

Thus was his life lived, and when death came it came as a rule from the slash of a sabre or the ball from an arquebus or a bombard; and then what matter, for had not Hassan Ali or Selim fallen in strife against the enemies of his faith, and did not the portals of heaven open wide to receive the man who had lost his life testifying to the fact that there was but one God, and that Mahomet was the Prophet of God?

True in substance and in fact is that which was said by the Frere Pierre d'An that "it is indisputable that the sea is the Theatre of the storms and the place in the world most capable of all sorts of violence and tragic adventure." Those who "coveted the goods of others straying on the sea," called by the reverend brother "the implacable, corsairs of Barbary," were to make life intolerable on that element for centuries to come, and if the Crescent did not supersede the banner of the Cross in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, it remained as a portent and a dread symbol of human misery and unutterable suffering.



The rise and progress of the Moslem corsairs of the Mediterranean is a most curious and interesting historical fact. The causes which led to results so deplorable to commerce, civilisation, and Christianity are set forth in this chapter in order that some idea may be formed of the state of affairs in that region at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, and also that the reflex action of the great triumph of the Christian armies in Spain may be more fully understood.

The maritime Christian States of the Mediterranean at this epoch were at the height of their power and prosperity, but were faced by the might of the Ottoman Empire, against which they waged perpetual warfare. Bitter and unceasing was the strife prosecuted by the Cross against the Crescent, and by the Crescent against the Cross; and riding, like eagles on the storm came the corsairs in their swift galleys ready to strike down the luckless argosy of the merchantman wheresoever she was to be met. But this was not all, as the shore as well as the sea yielded up to them its tribute in the shape of slaves and booty, and Christian mothers trembling in the insecurity of their homes would hush their wailing children with the terror of the names of Barbarossa, of Dragut, or of Ali Basha.

Popes and emperors, kings and princes, found themselves compelled to form leagues against these Sea-wolves who devoured the substance of their subjects, and great expeditions were fitted out to fight with and destroy the corsairs. Had Christendom been united no doubt the object would have been attained; but, as will be seen at the end of this chapter, an "Alliance of Christian Princes against the Turks"—which generic term included the corsairs—was not always used in the manner best calculated to injure those common enemies.

When in 1492 Granada was yielded up to "Los Reyes Catolicos," Ferdinand of Aragon, and Isabella of Castile, by that luckless monarch known as Boabdil el Chico (or "the little"), the last remnant of the power of the Moors in Spain had gone never to return. On that small hill on the way to the coast still known as "el ultimo suspiro del Moro" (the last sigh of the Moor), Boabdil, as he looked for the last time on his lost capital of Granada, is said to have burst into tears. His fierce mother Ayesha had, however, no sympathy for her fallen son: "Thou doest well to weep like a woman for that which thou daredst not defend as a man," was her biting—and totally unjust—comment, and the cavalcade pursued its miserable journey to the coast, from whence it embarked for the kingdom of Fez.

Great was the jubilation in Christendom; for more than seven centuries the followers of the Prophet had dwelt in the land from which Tarik had expelled Roderick the Goth in the eighth century. There they had dwelt and held up a lamp of learning and comparative civilisation which shone brightly through the miasmatic mists of cruelty and bloodshed in the Middle Ages, and none can question that, under Moorish rule in Spain in those centuries, the arts of peace had flourished, and that science, agriculture, art, and learning had found generous and discriminating patronage in the courts of Cordoba and Granada.

And now all was over the iron chivalry of the North had broken in pieces the Paynim hosts. They were expelled for ever from Christian soil, or else were forced to live in a state of degrading servitude, sore oppressed by an alien rule, in the land which their forbears had won and kept by the sword.

There was jubilation, as has been said, in Christendom, but the knights and nobles who flocked from all parts of Europe to join the standard of the Catholic monarchs had no prevision of the consequences, no idea of the legacy that they were leaving to their descendants.

It is of this legacy that we have to speak, and there has been none more terrible, none fraught with more awful suffering for the human race. The broken hosts of the Moslem chivalry became the corsairs of the Mediterranean: ruthless pirates freed from all restraint of human pity, living only to inflict the maximum of suffering upon their Christian foes, who, having sown the wind at the taking of Granada, reaped in the coming centuries a whirlwind of blood and agony which continued down to the bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth in 1816, and even later than that date.

Warriors to a man, the hosts of Boabdil crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into Africa; warriors but now broken men, from whom had been reft not only their lands and houses but even the chance of remaining in their native country. Religious toleration had been the rule of the Moslem States in Spain. In the name of religion they had been expropriated; therefore toleration was slain, and to exalt the Crescent above the Cross became the duty of every fighting Mohammedan. Into all the ports and harbours of the North African littoral the Moslems intruded themselves, their one preoccupation to revenge themselves upon the Christians, of no matter what race or nationality. There was at this date but small opposition from the rulers of the Pagan States who held in their weak and inefficient hands such strong places of arms as Algiers and Tunis.

Very soon the Moslems acquired the habit of the sea, and very soon the Christian States discovered how different was the Mohammedan dwelling at peace in Andalusia, or at worst fighting with his co-religionists, to the desperate corsairs created by their own act who now ravaged the shores of the tideless sea.

In the years succeeding to the conquest of Granada the corsairs became the scourge of the Mediterranean. France, Spain, Genoa, Venice, were all at odds with them; as the trading vessels, which had hitherto passed to and fro unmolested, were now captured, haled into North African ports, their cargoes sold, and their hapless crews forced to labour, naked and chained to the benches of the pirate galleys, until death came and mercifully put an end to their sufferings.

From Reggio to Genoa, from Venice to Taranto, the cry of rage and fear went up; it was re-echoed from the coasts of France and of the Balearic Islands, while Southern Spain seethed with disaffection, and the Moriscoes, as those Moors who remained in the country were known, were ever on the lookout to assist their bold brethren, the rovers of the sea. Christendom was completely bewildered: hitherto the relations between the nations and the Kings of Tunis, Tlemcen, Fez, and others of the North African potentates, had been of the most agreeable description. Both parties had denounced piracy, and had as far as in them lay done all in their power to discourage this form of robbery. But now all was changed, and, as has been said in the previous chapter, a situation arose analogous to that of the Spaniards in the West Indies a century and a half later when Morgan and the buccaneers were at the height of their maleficent prowess. The situation was analogous, but whereas Morgan, Scott, L'Ollonais, and others terrorised only such forces as Spain possessed in far-distant colonies, the corsairs were a terror to all the great nations of the world.

Granada fell, as has been said, in 1492 amid the rejoicings of the Christian States; but it had been well for Christendom as a whole if the Caliphs of Cordova and Granada had never been defeated, and they and their subjects driven from their homes: to form the nucleus of those piratical States which existed from this date until well into the nineteenth century, as the scourge and the terror of all those who, during those ages, desired to "pass upon the seas on their lawful occasions." The capture of Granada was separated from the fall of the Byzantine Empire by a period of thirty-nine years, as it was in the year 1453 that Constantinople was captured by the Caliph Mahomet II. Byzantium fell, and perhaps nothing in the records of that Empire became it so well as that last tremendous struggle; and when on May 29th, 1453, the Ottoman legions were victorious, the body of the last Emperor of Byzantium was found beneath a mountain of the slain only recognisable by his purple mantle sewn with golden bees. The Cross which Constantine the Great had planted on the walls 1125 years before was replaced by the Crescent, and the Christian Cathedral became that Mosque of St. Sophia which still endures.

From the earliest days of the Moslem corsairs of the Mediterranean they were in close communication with their co-religionists of the Ottoman Empire; and this for a very good reason, which was that the Turk had not the habit of the sea, but was essentially a land warrior, and, as the story of the Sea-wolves progresses, we shall see how in a sense the Grand Turk and the pirates became interdependent in the ceaseless wars which were waged in the epoch of which we treat.

The fall of Constantinople resounded throughout Christendom as though it had been the crack of doom, and all men held their breath wondering what next might portend. So stunned were the maritime States that they took no action, letting "I dare not wait upon I would." Their indecision was fatal. Had the Venetians, the Genoese, and the Catalans at this juncture formed an alliance, they might have chased the Turks from off the face of the waters; but to mutual jealousy and indecision was added fear—fear of this new and mighty power which had arisen and had swept away one of the landmarks of Europe. So it fell out that Genoa entered into an arrangement with the Grand Turk, and Venice concluded a treaty of commerce on April 18th, 1454. It was the Caliph Mahomet who first fortified the Dardanelles, where he mounted thirty heavy guns before which Jacques Loredano, the Venetian admiral, recoiled, reporting to the Republic that henceforward none could pass the Straits. We have, however, nothing to do with the Grand Turk in these pages, save, and except in so far, as he had an effect on the lives of the corsairs. This effect will develop itself as we proceed.

There is one body of men, however, concerning whom it may be as well to treat of briefly in this place, as the lives which they led and the deeds which they performed were inextricably entangled with those of the corsairs. These men were the members of that association first known as the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, later as the Knights of Malta. Between them and the corsairs it was war to the death; and not only with these robbers, but also with any ship which sailed beneath the insignia of the Crescent.

In 1291 the Soldan of Egypt chased the Knights Hospitallers, as they were also known, from the soil of the Holy Land; Philip IV. of France welcomed them in the island of Cyprus, and gave them the town of Limasol as an asylum. This for the time the knights were bound to accept, but they were impatient of charity, resentful of tutelage, proud and independent. Considering their own order as the greatest and most stable bulwark of the Christian faith, they bowed before neither King nor Kaiser; and the only boon they asked of great potentates, when allied temporarily with them in their eternal warfare, was that on all occasions theirs should be the post of the greatest danger.

This, indeed, they did not ask as a favour, but claimed as a right. It is easily understood that such desperate warriors, who fought only to conquer or die, were allies sought for eagerly by all professing the same faith.

Fulke de Villaret, Grand Master of the order in 1310, seized upon Rhodes, which, though nominally belonging to Greece, was at this time a refuge for bad characters of all nationalities. This island was in the most advantageous position, as it commanded the sea-route from Constantinople to Egypt and the ports of Asia Minor, and was also in close proximity to the coast of Caramania, from whence the order could draw the necessary timber for the building of their galleys and incidentally their motive power—in the shape of slaves—for the oars by which they were propelled.

The knights fortified the island until it was practically unassailable in that age. In the meanwhile their navy grew so rapidly that, in 1436, they were actually in a position to fight the Turks in line of battle. To Rhodes came the younger sons of noble families from every nation in Europe, all aflame with ardour to fight for "the religion"; and the great nobles themselves did not disdain to take service in so chivalrous an order.

Their former enemy, the Soldan of Egypt, made a descent on the island in 1440, and in 1444 besieged the place in form; but he was beaten off, after forty-two days' ceaseless fighting, with great slaughter.

"Soldier and sailor too" were the bold Knights of Saint John; for them no toil was too arduous, no danger too great. In heat and cold, in storm and tempest, they plied their trade of war, their holy crusade to extirpate the infidel from off the face of the waters. They looked for no material reward, and riches and honours they contemptuously rejected. Strong in their marvellous faith that on their shoulders rested the propagation of Christianity in these latter days, they swept the seas with a calm assumption of victory which caused it to be half assured before the fight began. And when the battle was joined, where could be found such paladins as these men who claimed it as an inalienable right to head the hurricane rush of the boarders from the decks of their galleys, to be ever the leaders when the forlorn hope should mount the breach? Life for the knights of this order was looked at literally with a single purpose—the advancement of Christianity and the downfall of that pestilent heresy which proclaimed that Mahomet was the prophet of God. Against all who bowed the knee in the mosques of the false prophet their lives were vowed, and it is but the barest justice to them to record that on the altar of this their faith these were ungrudgingly poured forth.

Naturally reprisals were the order of the day. Equally fanatical was he who held to the Moslem faith; in consequence many were the attempts to stamp out, once and for all, the prime enemies of the Ottoman Empire. In 1480 a Turkish fleet of one hundred and forty ships issued from the Dardanelles, an army awaited it on the coast of Caramania which was rapidly embarked, and on May 23rd the fleet anchored a few miles from the town of Rhodes. Here, then, was a trial of strength in which the Hospitallers delighted. After repeated attacks in detail, on July 28th a grand assault was made which the Turks considered would be absolutely decisive: it was decisive, but not in the fashion which they anticipated.

The standard of the Janissaries already floated on the first curtain of the rampart when Pierre D'Aubusson rallied the knights for one last desperate effort. "Shall it be said in days to come that 'the Religion' recoiled before a horde of Moslem savages; that the banner of Saint John was soiled by their infamous touch? But this is no time for talk. Ye have swords, Messires; use them!"

Thus the Grand Master; and then the knights, in their battered armour and with their hacked and dinted swords, flung themselves once more upon the foe. The Janissaries closed in around them; but these fine troops were not what they had been two months before, and the close contact with the Hospitallers, which had endured sixty-five days, had been to them a lesson fraught with disaster: they had already lost six thousand men, and their adversaries were still absolutely undismayed. His helmet gone, his banner held aloft over his head, Pierre D'Aubusson was ever in the thickest of the fray unconquered, unconquerable; and pressing close behind him came the knights, each jealous for the glory of his "Auberge." French, Venetian, Catalan, Genoese German, none can tell who fought best that day; but the Janissaries were beaten, and three thousand of their corpses cumbered the ditch into which they were hurled by their foes; there were besides fifteen thousand wounded in the Turkish camp.

The heart was out of that great army which had embarked to the sound of trumpets and the blessings of the Mullahs but ten weeks before, and they sailed away a beaten force. Mahomet II. swore to avenge his defeat, but his days were numbered, and he died at Scutari on May 3rd, 1481, at the age of fifty-two, and in the thirteenth year of his reign.

In the year 1499 Daoud Pasha, Admiralissimo to Bajazet, the successor to Mahomet II., defeated Antonio Grimani the Venetian admiral in that combat known to the Republic as "La deplorabile battaglia del Zonchio." The populace of Venice demanded that Grimani should be instantly beheaded, but he not only escaped their vengeance but lived to be nominated as Doge on June 6th, 1521, at the age of eighty-seven: certainly a curious record for an unsuccessful admiral of that date.

In 1500 was formed the "Alliance of Christian Princes" at the initiative of the Borgia Pope Alexander VII. Louis XII., King of France, and Ferdinand V. of Spain announced their adherence to this effort against the Turk, and Pierre D'Aubusson, the veteran Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, was nominated as Captain-General of the Christian armies. For the purposes of this war the admiral of the Papal galleys in the Mediterranean, Lodovico del Mosca, purchased from Ferdinand, King of Naples, all his artillery, of which a description is given by the Padre Alberto Guglielmotti, a Dominican friar, author of a work entitled, "La Guerra dei Pirati e la Marina Pontifica dal 1500 al 1560 A.D." "There were thirty-six great bombards, with eighty carts pertaining to them; some drawn by horses, some drawn by buffaloes harnessed singly, or two, four, or even six together; two waggons laden with arquebuses for ships' boats; nine with about forty smaller bombards (bombardelles) placed three, four, or even six on each waggon; twelve with ordinary pieces of artillery; as many more for the service of twelve big guns; thirty-seven carts of iron balls; three with gunpowder; and finally five laden with nitre, darts, and bullets. Splendid artillery of most excellent workmanship and great power escorted by two thousand men under arms, without mentioning the companies who marched before and after each waggon."

The French king had prepared a fleet and army under Count Philip of Ravenstein; the Spaniards were under the command of Gonsalvo de Cordoba, the "Great Captain." The history of the "Alliance of Christian Princes" is illustrative of the methods of those potentates at that time. After one or two unimportant skirmishes with the Turks, in which no great harm was done on either side, the French and Spaniards joined together, and seized the Kingdom of Naples: the prudent king of this territory, having sold his artillery to Lodovico del Mosca, did not await the coming of his Christian brethren.

In the territory known to the Romans as Byzacena, which stretched from Algiers to the confines of Tripoli, there was reigning at this period one Abu-Abd-Allah-Mahomed, a Berber Moslem of the dynasty of Hafsit. Between this dignitary and Genoa a treaty of commerce had been arranged and signed. But treaties on the shores of the Mediterranean were capable of very elastic interpretation; they never reckoned with the corsairs, and these latter were in the habit of intruding themselves everywhere, and upsetting the most carefully laid plans. Curtogali, a corsair who had collected a great following, was now a power with which to reckon, and high in the favour of the Grand Turk at Constantinople. This robber presented himself at Bizerta—one of the ports of Abd-Allah-Mahomed—with a squadron of thirty ships, and demanded hospitality. As Curtogali disposed of thirty ships and some six thousand fighting men it would probably have been impossible for Abd-Allah to have refused his request in any case; but he was far from wishing to do so, as, by a convenient interpretation of the Koran, the pirate had to deliver up one-fifth part of all the booty which he reft from the Christians to the ruler of the country in whose harbours he sheltered. There was no place so convenient for the purposes of the pirate as Bizerta: from here he could strike at Sicily, at the Balearic Islands, at Rome, Naples, Tuscany, and Liguria, while at the same time he held the trade slowly sailing along the North African littoral at his mercy. Great were the depredations of Curtogali, and even Pope Leo X. trembled on his throne, while Genoa, Venice, and Sicily seethed with impotent fury.

In the meanwhile who so happy as Abu-Abd-Allah-Mahomed? We cannot do better than to take the description of his position from the pages of the good Padre Alberto Guglielmotti. The Franciscan says: "He [that is, Abd-Allah] desired peace with all and prosperity for his own interests. Friendly to the merchants in their commerce; friendly to the corsairs in their spoils. Let all hold by the law: the former contentedly paying customs dues, the latter cheerfully handing over a fifth part of their robberies, and Abd-Allah—their common friend—would ever continue at peace with them all. Outside his ports the merchants and the pirates might fall by the ears if they would: that was no reason for him to trouble his head. On the contrary, he would joyfully await them on their return either with customs dues or tribute of the fifth as the case might be."

However well this state of affairs may have suited Abd-Allah, the Genoese held that the situation was far from satisfactory. In consequence they sent an army against Curtogali, and on August 4th, 1516, they captured Bizerta, set free a number of Christian captives, and plundered the town. But they did not capture Curtogali, who, only five weeks after, made a daring attempt to carry off the Pope in person from the sea-shore in the neighbourhood of Rome. Curtogali ended his days as the Governor of Rhodes, from which the Knights of Saint John were finally expelled by Soliman the Magnificent on December 22nd, 1522. This was the greatest blow which the fraternity ever received. On December 24th the Turks made a triumphal entry into the town, and it was said that "Sultan Soliman was not insensible to the sorrowful position of his vanquished enemies, and when he saw the Christian Commander, Prince Philippe Villiers L'Isle Adam, he remarked: 'It weighs upon me somewhat that I should be coming hither to chase this aged Christian warrior from his house.'" At the beginning of the following year the knights left the island, never to return. On the day of this desolate embarcation the herald blew upon his trumpet the "Salute and Farewell" and the identical instrument upon which this call was sounded is still preserved in the armoury at Malta, to which barren island the knights were forced to retreat.



In the year 1457 an obscure Roumelian or Albanian renegado named Mahomedi was banished from Constantinople by the Grand Turk; he established himself in the island of Mitylene and there married a Christian widow named Catalina, by whom he had two sons, Uruj and Khizr. The father had been a sailor and both sons adopted the same profession. It is from the pages of El Maestro Don Fray Prudencio de Sandoval that we glean these bare facts concerning the birth and parentage of these men who, in after-years, became known to all the dwellers on the shores of the Mediterranean as the "Barbarossas," from their red beards. Sandoval, Bishop of Pampluna, published in the year 1614 his monumental history of the Emperor Charles V., and through his splendid volumes the deeds of the Moslem corsairs run like the scarlet thread which is twisted through a Government rope. It is evident that the fact of having to deal with such rascals annoys the good Bishop not a little, as his severe and caustic comments frequently display. There was incident and accident enough in the life of the famous "Carlos Quinto" without the historian having to turn aside to chronicle the deeds of the pirates; but their exploits were so daring, the consequences thereof were so far-reaching, that the ominous crimson thread had to be woven into any narrative of the times in despite of the annoyance of the man by whom the rope was twisted.

Of Mahomedi we possess no record save the remark concerning him to the effect that "el qual fue gran marinero": in what way he displayed his gifts as a seaman we are not told. We have remarked before on the curious fact of how the "renegado," or Christian turned Mohammedan, became the most implacable foe of his former co-religionists. We see in the case of the two Barbarossas that they had no drop of Moslem blood in them, as both parents came from Christian stock: and yet no greater scourges ever afflicted the people from whom both their father and mother originally sprang than did Uruj and Khizr Barbarossa.

The characters of the two brothers were widely different. The elder was no doubt a "first-class fighting man," a fine seaman, a born partisan leader; but here his qualities came to an end. Rough, cruel, imperious, brutal, he imposed himself upon those who became his followers; but in him were to be found none of the statesmanlike qualities which distinguished his far greater younger brother. His was the absolutely finite intellect of the tactician as opposed to the strategist, who, seeing his objective, was capable of dealing with circumstances as they immediately arose; but, partly no doubt from defective education, but principally from the lack of intellectual appreciation of the problems of the time in which he lived, could never rise to the heights which were scaled by Khizr, better known by the title conferred upon him later on by the Grand Turk as "Kheyr-ed-Din," or "The Protector of Religion."

The sons of Mahomed, that "gran marinero," naturally took to the sea, and as a young man Uruj became possessed of a ship—how we do not know, and it were better perhaps not to inquire. In this small craft he repaired to the coast of Caramania to make war upon the Christians; or, in other words, to begin an independent piratical career. Uruj in these days was young and inexperienced, or he would not have chosen this locality for his first venture, as this coast was in close proximity to the island of Rhodes, from whence the great galleys of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem set forth to exterminate the enemies of their faith.

So it came about that Uruj, sailing out in his little ship from under the shadow of a wooded point, came in full sight of Our Lady of the Conception. There was nothing for it but immediate flight, and Uruj put his helm up and scudded before the breeze; but the great galley "goose-winged" her two mighty lateen sails, and turned in pursuit. The ship which carried Uruj and his fortunes was both fast and handy, and for a time she held her own; but it was only for a time, as those on board Our Lady of the Conception, finding that they were not gaining on the chase, put forth their oars and soon changed the aspect of affairs. The galley of the knights carried twenty-seven oars a-side, and each of these oars was manned by nine Moslem slaves. The sea was smooth and favourable for rowing, and soon the ravening pursuit closed in on the doomed corsair. As the interval between chaser and chased became less and less, those on board the pirate ship could see for themselves the fate which was awaiting them, as on the central gang-plank, which separated the rowers' benches, the boatswain and his mates were unmercifully flogging the bare backs of the straining oarsmen to urge them to greater exertions. He who was captured at sea in those days was set to row until he died, and the calculating mercy which causes a man to feed and treat his beast well in order that it may do the better work was not to be relied upon here, as life was cheap and slaves were plentiful. Very soon the beak of the galley overhung the stern of the little ship. Escape was impossible, to fight would have meant the massacre of all on board; the choice was instant submission or a watery grave. Uruj lowered his sail, and he and his little company were ironed and flung into the depths of the galley until such time as they should be wanted to take their turn at the oars. In this ignominious fashion ended his first attempt at independent piracy.

But a storm was brewing, and a heavy sea got up. The sails of the galley were lowered, her beak was put head-on to the wind, and she made for the shore. In this noisome confinement Uruj could hear above the crash of the seas and the whistling of the wind the shrieks of the hapless slaves as the whips of their taskmasters bit through skin and flesh: the galley-slave rowed stark naked chained to his bench. This was to be his fate, and he was well aware of the fact.

At last, after nightfall, the galley anchored under the Isle of Castel Rosso, at the entrance of the Gulf of Satalie. It still blew hard, but, in the comparative peace of the anchorage, sounds hitherto hidden by the war of the elements now made themselves manifest. There were the snores of the sleepers, the clank of the leg-chains as the wretched slaves shifted their positions in the attempt to gain an easier place on the bench, there was also the sound of men carousing with loud laughter in the stern of the vessel; but above them all rose the hollow groaning as of one in mortal agony. This proceeded from a slave who was quite close to Uruj. There came a spell in the laughter and loud voices in the stern, and presently an imperious voice spoke: "That noise disturbs me; see that it ceases at once." An obsequious answer came from out of the prevailing darkness: "It shall cease at once, Excellency." Then came men with lanterns, who unshackled the wretch who groaned and—flung him overboard.

The night grew worse, the wind backed, and the galley began to drag her anchors. The slaves were roused, and the oars got ready to shift her from her dangerous position on what had now become a lee-shore. Uruj had managed to slip his shackles, a defective bolt having given him his liberty; for him it was now or never, and he was a bold swimmer. He had seen enough and heard enough of Our Lady of the Conception, and, as the great oars plunged once more into the sea, the corsair, preferring the mercy of the elements to that of the knights, slipped over the side unobserved and swam for the shore. He reached dry land by a miracle, and from Satalie he found his way to Egypt, where he took service as a mariner in a ship of the Soldan of Egypt which was bound for the coast of Caramania, from which province the Egyptians, as well as the knights, drew the timber which they required for shipbuilding. But again this neighbourhood proved disastrous to Uruj, as the ship in which he sailed was attacked by a Christian galley, and he once more had to save himself by swimming on shore. There was no lack of incident in the life of a corsair of the sixteenth century.

This time he presented himself to Khorkud, the Governor of Caramania, brother to Sultan Selim, the Grand Turk. The Governor, recognising him as an intrepid mariner, ordered the Basha of Smyrna to furnish him with a ship fitted for that guerre de course, which he desired to pursue against the Christians. The value of the corsair as an auxiliary was beginning to be recognised among the high Turkish officials. For the complaisance of Khorkud there were two reasons: in the first place, he was acting in the interests of his brother in sending to sea any really capable man to make head against his enemies, and the fact that Uruj was a pirate pure and simple did not weigh for a feather in the balance; in the second place, it was a decidedly good mercantile speculation as he ordered his inferior, the Basha of Egypt, to bear the expense of fitting out the necessary ship—which came to some 5,000 ducats—and doubtless received a handsome percentage on all captures from his grateful protege.

This latter, as may easily be imagined, had had quite enough of the Caramanian coast, which had turned out a veritable nest of hornets; also, he had no desire at present to cultivate the further acquaintance of the knights, and therefore put the whole width of the Ionian Sea between himself and them, and succeeded in taking several rich prizes. He avoided Mitylene and returned to Egypt, wintering at Alexandria. It may here be remarked that the corsairs, as a rule, regarded the winter as a close season, as in those early days the mariner did not, if he could avoid it, risk his ship by sailing her at this period of storm and tempest. In consequence there was nothing to tempt the pirates to range the seas during these months, and if they had had a successful summer and autumn, as they generally did, they could well afford to lay up and await the coming of spring.

But when storm and rain gave way to the smooth waters and balmy breezes, the Sea-wolves were certain of their prey, as the whole length and breadth of the tideless sea was sure to be filled with the ships of the detested Christians trafficking in every direction. In the ethics of the Moslem all ships which sailed under the banner of the Cross, no matter to what nation they belonged, were fair game, even supposing that her insignia were the Crescent—well, supposing the spot to be sufficiently remote, dead men tell no tales, and the pirates were to be trusted to see to it that none escaped.

But, however this might have been, it is quite certain that no qualms of conscience troubled Uruj concerning those others: Genoese, Neapolitans, Catalans, Andalusians, French, or the dwellers of the Balearic Islands, were all fish sent by a bountiful Providence to be enclosed in his net, and he seized upon them without distinction. When in the full tide of his success there was but one thing which preoccupied the mind of the corsair, which was to find a ready market for his spoils and a convenient place in which to rid himself of an embarrassing number of captives. This, however, did not present an insuperable difficulty, as we have already seen in the case of Curtogali, and a similar arrangement was carried out by Uruj Barbarossa and his brother.

Uruj now established himself at the island of Jerba, on the east coast of Tunis, which formed an admirable base from which to "work" the Mediterranean from the piratical point of view. Jerba had originally been conquered and occupied by the Spaniards in 1431, but the occupation had been allowed to lapse, and the island was lying derelict when the Barbarossas made it their headquarters. Here Uruj was joined by his younger brother Khizr, destined to become so much the more famous of the two; he had already made himself some reputation in piratical circles, and now brought his cool judgment and wise counsel to the assistance of that fiery fighting man his elder brother. The first question to be decided was that which we have already mentioned, namely, the disposal of spoil from prospective captures, and with this end in view the corsairs approached the Sultan of Tunis. This potentate made a gracious response to their overtures, and wished them all success in their enterprises. He promised them succour and support on the same terms which Curtogali had obtained, namely, one-fifth of all the spoil landed in his dominions.

The price to be paid was a stiff one, and was so regarded by the active partners in this arrangement; they were, however, young and unknown, and had not the least intention of holding to their bargain when more favourable circumstances presented themselves. Now they held fair speech with the puppet princes of North Africa; the day was to come when they should chase them from their insecure thrones. It was at this time, shortly after the treaty with the Sultan of Tunis was concluded, that the younger Barbarossa received from the Grand Turk the glorious name of Kheyr-ed-Din, or "The Protector of Religion." It was a somewhat remarkable title for a pirate, but perhaps its bestower was slightly deficient in a sense of humour.

Sailing from Tunis in the spring of the year 1512, the brothers, with three galleys, fell in with The Galley of Naples, an enormous nef with a crew of three hundred. They instantly attacked, but were repulsed, night falling without either side having gained an advantage. This audacious proceeding illustrates the hardihood of the Moslem corsairs at this time. They were amply strong enough to range the Mediterranean and to capture, with no risk to themselves, the weak and unprotected argosies plying their trade in this sea; but this was not the method of the Barbarossas. Villains they may have been according to modern standards, pirates they were unquestionably; but they were grim, hard-bitten, fighting men, who shrank from no dangers in the pursuit of their prey, who reckoned that the humiliation and defeat of their Christian antagonists was as sweet a morsel as the booty reft from their hands. All night the three Moslem galleys and the great nef lay becalmed awaiting the conflict which was to come with the break of day; and it is easy to imagine that there was not much quiet sleep on board of either the Moslem or the Christian ships, for both on the one side and the other the issues loomed large. The corsairs had, so far, made no such important capture as this, which, could it be accomplished, would add enormously to their prestige, in addition to such spoils as they might acquire; but the combatants were fairly evenly matched in the matter of numbers, and the fight was one to a finish. The advantage on the side of the corsairs lay in the fact of their being three to one, and their being thus enabled to attack in three separate places at the same time. Terrible must have been that night of waiting for the unfortunates on board The Galley of Naples; there was no escape, and on board of her among her passengers were many women, whose fate was too terrible to contemplate should the day go against them. The first assault had been beaten off, it is true, but the struggle had been hard and bitter; would they be equally successful when the assault was renewed?

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse