Mediterranean Captivity through Arab Eyes, 1517-1798


The post-Lepanto Mediterranean was the scene of “small wars,” to use Fernand Braudel’s phrase, which resulted in acts of piracy and captivity. Thousands upon thousands of Europeans, Arabs, and Turks were seized into bagnios stretching from Cadiz to Valletta and from Salé to Tripoli. After returning to their homelands, dozens from England and France, Germany and Spain, Malta and Italy wrote about their captivities. Their accounts were printed, distributed, translated, and plagiarized, making captivity a key subject in Europe’s Mediterranean history. While Europeans wrote extensively about their ordeals, the Arabs wrote little because their religious culture militated against such writings, which would be construed as expressing disaffection with the will of God. Nor were there detailed records and registers of captives – their names, places of origin, and ransom prices – similar to what was kept in the European archives. Contrary, however, to what some historians have claimed, there was a distinct Arabic narrative of captivity that survives in anecdotes, recollections, reports, miracles, letters, fatawa, exempla and short biographies in both verse and prose. Cumulatively, these sources constitute the Arabic qiṣṣas al-asrā, or stories of the captives, in the native language and idiom of the men and women of the early modern Mediterranean.

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Nabil Matar, Ph.D. (Cantab. 1976), University of Minnesota, holds the Samuel Russell Chair in the Humanities at the university. He has published widely on the Christian-Islamic relations in the Mediterranean and on the history of captivity, including British Captives in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic 1563-1760 (Brill 2014).

Prologue: 21 June 2019

Introduction: Mediterranean Captivities
 1 Writing Captivity in Arabic
 2 Between the Lands of the Christians and the Lands of Islam, Bilād al-Naṣārā and Bilād al-Islām

1 Qiṣaṣ al-Asrā, or Stories of the Captives
 1 ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qaysī (fl. 1485)
 2 Aḥmad ibn al-Qāḍī (1553–1616)
 3 Aḥmad Bābā al-Tinbaktī (1556–1627)
 4 Taʿlīqāt Musṭafā ibn Jamāl al-Dīn ibn Karāma (9 July 1606)
 5 Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ṭayyib al-Tafilātī al-Mālikī (Early Eighteenth Century)
 6 Sayyid ʿAlī ibn al-Sayyid Aḥmad (ca. 1713)
 7 Faṭma (1798)
 8 Ibrāḥīm Librīs (1802)
 9 Conclusion

2 Letters
 1 Conclusion

3 Divine Intervention: Christian and Islamic
 1 Christian
 2 Muslim

4 Conversion and Resistance
 1 Aḥmad ibn Yaḥya al-Zwāwī al-Yūsifī (1630s)
 2 Muḥammad al-Tāzī and Bil-Ghayth al-Drāwī (1656–1667)
 3 Imam Ibn ʿAbdallāh al-Ṣaʿīdī (1718)
 4 Conclusion

5 Ransom and Return
 1 Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Mahdī al-Ghazzāl (1766)
 2 Ibn ʿUthmān al-Miknāsī (1779–1783)
 3 Conclusion

6 Captivity of Books

Epilogue: Esclaves turcs in Sculpture

Postscript: How Should the Sculptures Be Treated?

All interested in the history of early modern captivity and piracy in the Mediterranean, and in the relations between Europe and the Arab-Islamic world.
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