Barbary States

views updated Jun 11 2018


From the mid-1500s to the mid-1800s the North African countries of Morocco, Algiers (present-day Algeria), Tunis (now Tunisia), and Tripoli (in northwestern Libya) were called the Barbary States. The name was derived from the Turkish leader and pirate Barbarossa, whose name means "red beard" in Italian. Barbarossa's original name was Khayr ad-Din (c. 14831546).

Barbarossa seized Spanish-occupied Algiers in 1518. He placed Algiers and three other states he later captured in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Under Turkish leadership the region became a center for pirates who raided Spanish and Portuguese ships on the Mediterranean Sea and along Africa's Atlantic coast. The pirates (also called corsairs) demanded payment in the form of loot or slaves.

At the same time the Barbary States extorted money from European nations and the United States. They required the governments of these countries to pay tribute for protecting their merchant marine from seizure by the corsairs. By 1800 the United States had paid Tripoli alone an estimated $2 million. After Thomas Jefferson (17431826) became president of the United States in 1801 Tripoli increased the amount of the tribute. Jefferson had complained bitterly about these payments since his days as U.S. minister to France (178589). He preferred to fight the rogue states rather than concede to their demands.

The next 15 years saw intermittent conflict between the United States and Tripoli. The U.S. Navy won important battles along the North African coast. In 1815 the leaders of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli signed treaties that obligated them to cease collecting tribute or ransom from the United States. European military initiatives placed further pressure on the Barbary States to end their acts of piracy by 1835.

See also: Thomas Jefferson

Barbary States

views updated May 29 2018


Sixteenth-century term for states of North Africa's Mediterranean shore.

Morocco and the Ottoman Empire provinces of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, which ranged along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, became known in the West as the Barbary states beginning in the sixteenth century. In the West, they became synonymous with Corsair raiding and the so-called Barbary pirates, who waged the Barbary wars against ships of Christian states until 1821.

see also barbary wars; corsairs.

Jerome Bookin-Wiener


views updated Jun 08 2018

Barbary a former name (also Barbary States) for the [Saracen] countries of North and NW Africa, together with Moorish Spain. The area was noted between the 16th and 18th centuries as a haunt of pirates.
Barbary Coast a former nickname for a district of San Francisco (the tenderloin) regarded as a centre for vice and corruption. The original Barbary Coast was the Mediterranean coast of North Africa from Morocco to Egypt, taken as the home of the corsairs and a source of violence and danger.