Muslim Pirates Sold a Million Europeans as Slaves: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Pirates of Barbary" by Adrian Tinniswood. Source: Riverhead Hardcover via Bloomberg

On Aug. 4, 1639, William Okeley sailed from the Isle of Wight on the Mary, bound for South America. He was captured by pirates and taken to Algiers, where he was paraded in front of the pasha, Yusuf II, before being sold at the slave market.

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Okeley had a lot to fear. Christians were sometimes tortured to force a conversion to Islam, males could be raped, and punishment was appalling. One slave had his arms and legs broken with a sledgehammer, another was thrown from a high wall onto a meat hook and left to die, while another was dragged naked through the streets, his ankles tied to a horse’s tail.

In the 17th century, more than a million Europeans were sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast. Okeley was one of the very few who, after years in captivity, managed to escape and make it back to England.

I spoke with Adrian Tinniswood, author of “Pirates of Barbary,” on the following topics:

1. Christians vs. Muslims

2. Capturing Slaves

3. State-Funded Crime

4. Pirate Terror

5. Paying Tribute

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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