REUTERS NEWS AGENCY
An American historian says that more than a million Europeans were enslaved by North African slave traders between 1530 and 1780, a time of vigorous Mediterranean and Atlantic coastal piracy.
The number of white European slaves is only a fraction of the trade that brought 10 million to 12 million black African slaves to the Americas over a 400-year period, historian Robert Davis says, but his research shows the slave trade was more widespread than commonly assumed. The impact on Europe’s white population was significant.
“One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature — that only blacks have been slaves. But that is not true,” said Mr. Davis, an Ohio State University professor.
“Enslavement was a very real possibility for anyone who traveled in the Mediterranean, or who lived along the shores in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and even as far north as England and Iceland.”
In a new book, “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800,” Mr. Davis calculates that between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by pirates called “corsairs” and forced to work in North Africa during that period.
The raids were so aggressive that entire Mediterranean seaside towns were abandoned by frightened residents. “Much of what has been written gives the impression that there were not many slaves and minimizes the impact that slavery had on Europe.
“Most accounts only look at slavery in one place, or only for a short period of time. But when you take a broader, longer view, the massive scope of this slavery and its powerful impact become clear.”
The pirates, sailing from such cities as Tunis and Algiers, raided ships in the Mediterranean and Atlantic as well as seaside villages to capture men, women and children, he says. They were put to work in quarries, in heavy construction and as oarsmen in the pirates’ galleys.
Mr. Davis calculated his estimates using records that indicate how many slaves were at a particular location at a single time. He then estimated how many new slaves it would take to replace slaves as they died, escaped or were ransomed.
“It is not the best way to make population estimates, but it is the only way with the limited records available.”