Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Sallee Rovers

Hat Tip: Robin

There never was, nor ever can be again, such a perfect example of a confederation of the brethren of the sea as that of the Pirate Republic of Bou Regreg. Rabat and Sale were the twin cities at the heart of this Republic. They were both guarded by medieval walls that had been greatly reinforced by artillery fortresses dug into the outlying cliffs that overlook the dark, muddy waters of the Bou Regreg estuary from the north and the south banks. Submerged rocks, a line of forbidding cliffs, Atlantic reefs and a sand bar at the mouth of the tidal Bou Regreg made the estuary waters a very safe harbour.

It was from this secure base that the free-ranging pirate squadrons known as the Sallee Rovers set out to harass the sea-lanes, merchant ships and harbours of Europe. They were brilliantly successful for their ships crews were a kaleidoscope of international talent that allied the military élan of Moroccans and exiled Spanish Moors with Dutch, German and English professional skills. The crews spoke a lingua franca that was based on Spanish with a mixture of French, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic loan words.

The Sallee Rovers did not just restrict their operations to the capture of shipping but took the war into the lands of the enemy; landing raiding parties that returned with captives. Their notoriety as white slavers reached a crescendo in the mid 17th century England when a series of daring slave raids seized captives from St Micheals Mount in Cornwall and Baltimore in south-west Ireland as well as intercepting the cod fishing fleet off Iceland. The boasting verses in Rule Britannia about Britons never shall be slaves could certainly not have been written in those years. It has been calculated that in this period that there were more Britons labouring away as slaves and concubines in North Africa than as settlers in all of the colonies of North America put together.

This fascinating subject can be pursued further in the book Christian Slaves; Muslim Masters by Robert C. Davis.

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