Of Corsairs, Converts and Renegades: Forms and Functions of Coastal Raiding on Both Sides of the Far Western Mediterranean, 1490-1540

in Medieval Encounters
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



Historians have long debated whether or not the cultures of the Mediterranean constitute a singular unit of geo-historical analysis. The Alborán Sea—the Mediterranean’s far western corner that narrowly separates the Iberian Peninsula from Africa’s northwestern shore—has long been an important “frontier” zone in which arguments for and against Mediterranean unity are put to the test. This essay contends that endemic practices of corsair activity and coastal raiding played analogous functions on both sides of this “frontier” in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. While the fact of systematized conflict in the form of raids lends some support to the notion of an enduring “clash of civilizations,” the parallel forms and functions of such raiding within the societies from which the corsairs came argue at least as persuasively for a significant degree of fundamental similarity and continuity. The Alborán corsairs along both coasts, for instance, typically received patronage and organizational aid from local and regional elites, and their raiding activities proved central to both economies. On both sides of the frontier, moreover, the world of the corsairs allowed a surprising degree of mobility and participation to converts and renegades of Muslim, Jewish and Christian origin alike.

Of Corsairs, Converts and Renegades: Forms and Functions of Coastal Raiding on Both Sides of the Far Western Mediterranean, 1490-1540

in Medieval Encounters




Jamil M. Abun-NasrA History of the Maghrib (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1971) 157-159.


Andrew HessThe Forgotten Frontier: A History of the Sixteenth-Century Ibero-African Frontier (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1978). Hess argued that the middle decades of the sixteenth century represented a shift away from the permeable boundary and cultural exchange between Spain and North Africa in the later Middle Ages to a hardened and virtually impermeable cultural and religious divide between the two zones beginning in the middle and later sixteenth century and enduring into the modern era. While the significance of the Ottoman-Habsburg naval wars as a critical factor in shaping developments across the Mediterranean basin from the 1530s to the 1570s is undeniable, Hess pushed his argument a bit too far. His extreme statements concerning the impermeability of the divide have been effectively brought into question by several recent studies. See especially Eric Staples’ dissertation on the seventeenth-century corsair port of Salé-Rabat as a community of mixed North African and European cultural inheritance: “Intersections: Power, Religion and Technology in Seventeenth-Century Salé-Rabat,” (Ph.D. diss, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA2008) 4 363. See also Barbara Fuchs Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain (Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press 2011).


Eric R. Dursteler“On Bazaars and Battlefields: Recent Scholarship on Mediterranean Cultural Contacts,” Journal of Early Modern History 15 (2011) 431.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 August 1537 probanza in Málaga.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 August 1534 probanza in Málaga.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 July 1534 probanza in Gibraltar.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 September 1538 probanza in Málaga.


On Martinez’s death in 1534 or 1535see the testimony of Vasco Portugués (one of Martínez’s marineros and close co-workers) in ARCG Leg. 1070 p. 1 August 1537 probanza in Gibraltar. On the transfer of Martínez’s estate to the Hospital de la Santa Caridad of Portuguese Ceuta see ARCG Leg. 1070 p. 1 August 1537 probanza in Málaga.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 August 1537 probanza in Málaga and July 1534 probanza in Gibraltar.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 July 1534 probanza in Gibraltar.


ARCG Leg. 1070p. 1 September 1535 probanza in Gibraltar.


Pablo Pérez MallaínaSpain’s Men of the Sea: Daily Life in the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press2005) 237-245.


Marcus RedikerBetween the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World 1700-1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1989). See also his Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Boston MA: Beacon Press 2005).


John Wansbrough“A Moroccan Emir’s Commercial Treaty with Venice of the Year 913/1508,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London 25 no. 1 (1962) 449-471. See also de la Torre and Suarez 3:192 (a transcription of a 1510 letter from King Fernando to Portuguese King Manuel in which Fernando specifies that raids against the Granada coast were being launched above all from Tetuán Táraga and Vélez de la Gomera/Badis).


In 1514the Barbarossa sent Piri Reis as an envoy to attempt to shore up relations with Sultan Selim I and request aid. Substantial material assistance from Istanbul came however only after Selim’s 1520 death and the accession of Suleyman I and even then actual Ottoman troops began to arrive in Algiers in significant numbers only after 1532: Hess 8-9; 61-63.


On Ali Hamet see Bernard VincentAndalucía en la edad moderna: economía y sociedad (Granada: Diputación Provincial de Granada1985) 193.


José Sánchez Herrero“Corsarios y piratas entre los comerciantes gaditanos durante la segunda mitad del siglo XV,” Studia 47 (January 1989) 61-79. Málaga’s political and commercial elite involvement in corsair activity likewise resembled other Mediterranean locales including Malta. See discussion of the centrality of corsair raiding among the economic activities of the fifteenth-century Maltese local ruling class in Mark A. Aloisio “The Maltese Corso in the Fifteenth Century” Medieval Encounters 9: no. 2-3 (2003) 193-203.


Joseph PérezLa revolución de las Comunidades de Castilla 1520-1521 (Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno1977) 171.


Francisco Bejarano Robles“El almirantazgo de Granada y la sublevación de Málaga en 1516,” Hispania 15 (1955) 78.


In 1502for instance Hernando de Córdoba dispatched a vessel to the African coast carrying not only “nueve moros blancos para resgatar” but also a variety of merchandise for trade including ginger iron nails headwear and various textiles: Archivo General de Simancas Escribanía Mayor de Rentas Leg. 90 no. 1 cited in López de Coca 2:71-72. See also AMM Libro I de actas capitulares f. 302-302v.


Peregrine Horden and Nicholas PurcellThe Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford: Blackwell2000).

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 13 13 8
Full Text Views 6 6 6
PDF Downloads 2 2 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0