Breaking Glass

Islam, Europe, and Slavery

At Midsummer 1631, Barbary pirates from North Africa raided the Irish village of Baltimore, and took several hundred local people into lifelong captivity.  Such a distant projection of Islamic power might seem extreme and even bizarre, but it was no such thing.  Forgotten today, the danger of Arab and Turkish assault remained a nightmare for the vast majority of Europeans throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and well beyond that date in some regions.

By way of chronology, the critical dates were 1525-26, when the pirate Barbarossa took Algiers and pledged allegiance to the Ottoman Empire.  At the same time, the Ottomans smashed the once great Christian state of Hungary, making Budapest a border city.  At least until the 1680’s, thoughtful Europeans speculated just how much farther the Ottomans might extend their rule.  The Christian victory at Vienna in 1683 provided some security, but Ottoman-sponsored banditry and slave-raiding deep into the Holy Roman Empire persisted long afterward.

But the danger extended far beyond Central Europe, and was considerably worse in Mediterranean lands.  Many of the worst perpetrators were themselves Europeans, ex-Christians who converted to Islam to take advantage of the rich opportunities in piracy and slaving.  From the Spanish word for these “deniers” of their faith, we get the word renegades.

Trading in Christian...

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