A million Europeans
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
"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."
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'
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
"It is not the best way to
make population estimates, but it is the only way with the limited