Privateering was an age-old practice in the Mediterranean. North
African rulers engaged in it increasingly in the late sixteenth
and early seventeenth century because it was so lucrative, and
because their merchant vessels, formerly a major source of income,
were not permitted to enter European ports. Although the methods
varied, privateering generally involved private vessels raiding
the ships of an enemy in peacetime under the authority of a ruler.
Its purposes were to disrupt an opponent's trade and to reap rewards
from the captives and cargo.
Privateering was a highly disciplined affair conducted under
the command of the rais (captain) of the fleets. Several
captains became heros in Algerian lore for their bravery and skill.
The captains of the corsairs banded together in a selfregulating
taifa (community) to protect and further the corporate
interests of their trade. The taifa came to be ethnically
mixed, incorporating those captured Europeans who agreed to convert
to Islam and supply information useful for future raids. The taifa
also gained prestige and political influence because of its role
in fighting the infidel and providing the merchants and rulers
of Algiers with a major source of income. Algiers became the privateering
city-state par excellence, especially between 1560 and 1620. And
it was two privateer brothers who were instrumental in extending
Ottoman influence in Algeria.
Data as of December 1993