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. 1483–1546).
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 (1743–1826) 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 (1785–89). 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, term used for the North African states of Tripolitania, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. From the 16th cent. Tripolitania, Tunisia, and Algeria were autonomous provinces of the Turkish Empire. Morocco pursued its own independent development. The corsair Barbarossa and his brothers led the Turkish conquest to prevent the region from falling to Spain. A last attempt by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to drive out the Turks failed in 1541. The piracy carried on thereafter by the Muslims of North Africa began as part of the wars against Spain. In the 17th and 18th cent., when the Turkish hold on the area grew weaker, the raids became less military and more commercial in character. The booty, ransom, and slaves that resulted from attacks on Mediterranean towns and shipping and from occasional forays into the Atlantic became the main source of revenue for local Muslim rulers. All the major European naval powers made attempts to destroy the corsairs, and British and French fleets repeatedly bombarded the pirate strongholds. Yet, on the whole, countries trading in the Mediterranean found it more convenient to pay tribute than to undertake the expensive task of eliminating piracy. Toward the end of the 18th cent. the power of the piratical states diminished. The United States and the European powers took advantage of this decline to launch more attacks. American opposition resulted in the Tripolitan War. After the Napoleonic wars, European opinion clearly favored destroying the pirates. In 1816 Lord Exmouth with an Anglo-Dutch flotilla all but ended the naval power of the dey of Algiers. An ultimatum from the European Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1819) compelled the bey of Tunis to give up piracy. The Tunisian fleet was subsequently sent to help the Ottomans in Greece and was destroyed (1827) at the battle of Navarino. In 1830, France, after a three-year blockade of Algiers, began the conquest of Algeria. The Ottoman Turks were able to reassert (1835) direct control over Tripolitania and end piracy there. About the same time the sultans of Morocco, who had occasionally encouraged piracy, were forced by France, Great Britain, and Austria to give up plans to rebuild the Moroccan fleet, and North African piracy was at an end.
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.
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.