Powers that rise must fall—it is the way of things and is true of all, from the smallest realms to the mightiest of empires. There is no place on earth where this is more evident than in the lands and waters of the Mediterranean, where once the Greeks held sway, then Rome fought and conquered Carthage as it spread its influence—and the Christian faith—throughout Europe. In the 7th century, in the Arabian Peninsula, the prophet Mohammed founded Islam; it too spread quickly. It became inevitable that these two great empires of faith would both seek to dominate the region; so there came a time when Christianity and Islam overlapped and the crescent banner flew on the battlefields of Europe and particularly of Spain. By the beginning of the 14th century only Al-Andalus remained in Muslim hands and in 1492 Granada fell to the Catholic monarchs and the Moors pushed back to North Africa. Now the west began to separate from the east and territories and battle lines were drawn; the day of the Barbary pirate had come. Allied to the Ottoman sultan these ruthless freebooters were a powerful force able to hold cities and territories and to engage in pitched battles and lightning raids in search of goods and slaves. The story of the sea war of the Mediterranean, between Islam and the great sea-going city states of Europe and the famous Knights of St. John, makes fascinating reading. The Battle of Lepanto broke the corsairs as a major threat, but what makes this account especially interesting is that it follows the activities of the corsairs—who were still a formidable force—into the 19th century. Here the reader will discover the actions of the United States Navy at Tripoli, the Battle of Algiers in 1816 and the final struggles against the French at the close of the century. This is a fascinating and engrossing read for any enthusiast of naval and maritime history.
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The base of operations thus secured, Uruj did not keep his new ally long waiting for a proof of his prowess. One day he lay off the island of Elba, when two galleys-royal, belonging to his Holiness Pope Julius II., richly laden with goods from Genoa, and bound for Cività Vecchia, hove in sight. They were rowing in an easy, leisurely manner, little dreaming of Turkish Corsairs, for none such had ever been seen in those waters, nor anything bigger than a Moorish brigantine, of which the Papal marines were prepared to give a good account. So the two galleys paddled on, some ten leagues asunder, and Uruj Reïs marked his prey down. It was no light adventure for a galleot of eighteen banks of oars to board a royal galley of perhaps twice her size, and with no one could tell how many armed men inside her.<br>
The Turkish crew remonstrated at such foolhardiness, and begged their captain to look for a foe of their own size: but for reply Uruj only cast most of the oars overboard, and thus made escape impossible. Then he lay to and awaited the foremost galley She came on, proudly, unconscious of danger. Suddenly her lookout spied Turkish turbans—a strange sight on the Italian coast—and in a panic of confusion her company beat to arms. The vessels were now alongside, and a smart volley of shot and bolts completed the consternation of the Christians. Uruj and his men were quickly on the poop, and his Holiness’s servants were soon safe under hatches.<br>
Never before had a galley-royal struck her colours to a mere galleot. But worse was to follow. Uruj declared he must and would have her consort. In vain his officers showed him how temerarious was the venture, and how much more prudent it would be to make off with one rich prize than to court capture by overgreediness. The Corsair’s will was of iron, and his crew, inflated with triumph, caught his audacious spirit. They clothed themselves in the dresses of the Christian prisoners, and manned the subdued galley as though they were her own seamen. On came the consort, utterly ignorant of what had happened, till a shower of arrows and small shot aroused her, just in time to be carried by assault, before her men had collected their senses.<br>
Uruj brought his prizes into the Goletta. Never was such a sight seen there before. “The wonder and astonishment,” says Haedo “that this noble exploit caused in Tunis, and even in Christendom, is not to be expressed, nor how celebrated the name of Uruj Reïs was become from that very moment; he being held and accounted by all the world as a most valiant and enterprising commander. And by reason his beard was extremely red, or carroty, from thenceforwards he was generally called Barba-rossa, which in Italian signifies Red-Beard.”<br>
The capture of the Papal galleys gave Uruj what he wanted—rowers. He kept his Turks for fighting, and made the Christian prisoners work the oars; such was the custom of every Corsair down to the present century, and the Christian navies were similarly propelled by Mohammedan slaves. The practice must have lent a strange excitement to the battle; for then, assuredly, a man’s foes were of his own household. A Venetian admiral knew well that his two or three hundred galley slaves were panting to break their irons and join the enemy; and the Turkish Corsair had also his unwilling subjects, who would take the first chance to mutiny in favour of the Christian adversary. Thus it often happened that a victory was secured by the strong arms of the enemy’s chained partisans, who would have given half their lives to promote a defeat. But the sharp lash of the boatswain, who walked the bridge between the banks of rowers, was a present and acute argument which few backs could withstand.<br>
Uruj had made his first coup, and he did not hesitate to follow it up. Next year he captured a Spanish ship with five hundred soldiers on board, who were all so sea-sick, or spent with pumping out the leaky vessel, that they fell an easy prey to his galleots. Before five years were out, what with cruising, and building with the timber of his many prizes, he had eight good vessels at his back, with two of his brothers to help. The port of Tunis now hardly sufficed his wants, so he established himself temporarily on the fertile island of Jerba, and from its ample anchorage his ships issued forth to harry the coasts of Italy.<br>
To be king of Jerba was all too small a title for his ambition. He aimed at sovereignty on a large scale, and, Corsair as he was by nature, he wished for settled power almost as much as he delighted in adventure. In 1512 the opportunity he sought arrived. Three years before, the Mohammedan King of Bujeya had been driven out of his city by the Spaniards, and the exiled potentate appealed to the Corsair to come and restore him, coupling the petition with promises of the free use of Bujeya port, whence the command of the Spanish sea was easily to be held. Uruj was pleased with the prospect, and as he had now twelve galleots with cannon, and one thousand Turkish men-at-arms, to say nothing of renegades and Moors, he felt strong enough for the attempt. The renown of his exploits had spread far and wide, and there was no lack of a following from all parts of the Levant when it was known that Uruj Reïs was on the war-path. His extraordinary energy and impetuosity called forth a corresponding zeal in his men, and, like other dashing commanders, he was very popular.<br>
Well supported, and provided with such a siege-train as the times permitted, he landed before Bujeya in August, 1512, and found the dethroned king expecting him at the head of three thousand mountain Berbers. The Spanish garrison was collected in the strong bastion, which the Count Don Pedro Navarro had fortified when he took the city, and for eight days the fortress withstood the battering of the Corsair’s ordnance. Just when a breach began to be opened, Uruj was disabled; a shot took his left arm away above the elbow. In the absence of their leader’s heroic example, the Turks felt little confidence in their superiority to Spanish steel; they preferred carrying their wounded captain to the surgeons at Tunis.