Untold Story of White Slavery
As Robert C. Davis notes in this eye-opening account of Barbary Coast slavery, American historians have studied every aspect of enslavement of Africans by whites but have largely ignored enslavement of white (Europeans) by North Africans.
Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters is a carefully researched, clearly written account of what Prof. Davis calls “the other slavery,” which flourished during approximately the same period as the trans-Atlantic trade, and which devastated hundreds of European coastal communities.
Slavery plays nothing like the central role in the thinking of today’s whites that it does for blacks, but not because it was fleeting or trivial matter. The record of Mediterranean slavery is, indeed, as black as the most tendentious portrayals of American slavery. Prof. Davis, who teaches Italian social history at Ohio State University, casts a piercing light into this fascinating but neglected corner of history.
The Barbary Coast, which extends from Morocco through modern Libya, was home to a thriving man-catching industry from about 1500 to 1800. The great slaving capitals were Salé in Morocco, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli, and for most of this period, European navies were too weak to put up more than token resistance.
What is most striking about Barbary slaving raids is their scale and reach. Pirates took most of their slaves from ships, but they also organized huge, amphibious assaults that practically depopulated parts of the Italian coast. Italy was the most popular target, partly because Sicily is only 125 miles from Tunis, but also because it did not have strong central rulers who could resist invasion.
Building on high hills was a relative safety feature and offered an “early warning” lookout to help stave off North African Moors (Muslim) raiding parties.
Large raiding parties might be essentially unopposed. When pirates sacked Vieste in southern Italy in 1554, for example, they took an astonishing 6,000 captives. Algerians took 7,000 slaves in the Bay of Naples in 1544, in a raid that drove the price of slaves so low it was said you could “swap a Christian for an onion.”
Spain also suffered large-scale attacks. After a raid on Granada in 1566 netted 4,000 men, women, and children, it was said to be “raining [white] Christians in Algiers.” For every large-scale raid of this kind there would have been dozens of smaller ones.
If the pirates were short on galley slaves, they might put some of their captives to work immediately, but prisoners usually went below hatches for the journey home. They were packed in, barely able to move in the filth, stench, and vermin, and many died before they reached port.
Once in North Africa, it was tradition to parade newly-captured [WHITE] Christians through the streets, so people could jeer at them, and children could pelt them with refuse. At the slave market, men were made to jump about to prove they were not lame, and buyers often wanted them stripped naked again to see if they were healthy.
This was also to evaluate the sexual value of both men and women; white concubines had a high value, and all the slave capitals had a flourishing homosexual underground. Buyers who hoped to make a quick profit on a fat ransom examined earlobes for signs of piercing, which was an indication of wealth. It was also common to check a captive’s teeth to see if he was likely to survive on a tough slave diet.
Why is there so little interest in Mediterranean slavery while scholarship and reflection on black slavery never ends? As Prof. Davis explains, white slaves with non-white masters simply do no fit “the master narrative of European imperialism.” The victimization schemes so dear to academics require whitewickedness, not White SUFFERING. Source
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