Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean

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ISBN: N/A
Language: English
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INTRODUCTORY

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....