As the trans-Atlantic slave trade from sub-Saharan Africa to the Americas flourished in the 1500s, there was another slave trade that operate on an even larger scale. It was the capture of Europeans by north-African Muslims. Barbary Pirates enslaved an estimated 1 million Europeans in the period from 1500 to 1800.
Enslavement was a real possibility for anyone who traveled in the Mediterranean or who lived along the shores in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and even as far north as England and Iceland. For example, in 1632, pirates captured the Irish city of Baltimore. They and others were snatched from their homes, taken in chains to the slave markets of Algiers and sold to the highest bidder. Some spent the rest of their lives rowing galleys. Others toiled in quarries or on farms. Attractive women were sent to harems and became a pasha’s concubine.
This episode looks at a little-known chapter in the history of slavery. Although few know the stories of these captives, the threat of piracy on the Mediterranean had a huge impact on the Western World. Thomas Jefferson developed the U.S. navy to eliminate the Barbary Threat. Miguel de Cervantes spent years in North Africa. Even John Smith of Pocahontas fame was a slave in Istanbul.
Learn about this disturbing period in history and how it all came to an end in the early 1800s.
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