Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 8(1982)3(264)
Clissold S., The Barbary Slaves, London (Paul Eiek) 1977, pp. 181.
A rather detailed and vivid account of Christian Slaves in Barbary is the subject of this book which subdivides its contents into areas embracing subjects such as Moors and Christians, the rise of the Barbary States, Corsairs and Captives, Life in the Bagnios, Escapes, Renegades, Ransoms, and English Slaves. It ends with the decline and extinction of the North African corsairing activity when French colonialist rule took over Algiers in 1830.
The book makes pleasant and very [p.265] informative reading. Mr. Clissold has here presented a study, spanning three centuries (c- 1500 - 1800), in which he traces the development of Christian slavery under Islam, particularly in Muslim Spain and its extension to the Barbary Regencies of North Africa. Quite vivid descriptions are given such as, to quote but some examples, the capture of slaves, their sale in the slave markets, life in the bagnios, some types of torture and attempts to escape.
One must, of course, point out that inhuman living conditions were not a prerogative of Christian slaves but were also inflicted on Muslim captives too. So, in a sense, this book helps the reader to understand the hard and harsh life of the times. Also, quite a number of Maltese slaves finished up in the North African bagnios and I noticed no less than seven references to our island in the index alone. Although the work is mainly built up on secondary sources, I think it does contribute towards the better understanding of slavery as a direct result of the Holy War in the Mediterranean, a situation so readily accepted by both sides and which was only brought to an end through the direct intervention of outsiders, so to speak.
On the whole, a book worth reading and having for the better understanding of the history of the Mediterranean littoral, of which Malta is an integral part.
JOSEPH F. GRIMA