August 27, 2009

Saracens, Corsairs & Barbary Pirates

From the 7th-19th centuries, pirates sailed the Barbary coast of North Africa, which comprised the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and today’s Lybia. They have come to be known as Saracens, Corsairs, and Barbary pirates.

Their mission was to engage in ghazah, or razzia in Italian, raiding European coastal cities and islands primarily to capture slaves, whom they sold in Algeria and Morocco. All coastal areas were prey, but Italy was the most ravaged of all, partly due to geographical proximity.

The first wave of pillaging and slave-trading occurred during the Mameluk period of Egypt (7th-15th centuries). At that time, pirates were slave soldiers, mostly nomadic Kipchak Turks that had converted to Islam. The second wave of incursions took place during the reign of the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey).

The most famous of all pirates were the Barbarossa brothers, who were of Turkish origin but inherited their nickname from the Italians, who called them “Red Beard.”

Most legendary of the four was Kheir ed-Din (1474-1518), who became admiral of the sultan’s Ottoman fleet, which, after assaulting the coasts of Sardinia in 1544, landed on the islands of Ischia and Procida in the Bay of Naples.

Another celebrated pirate was Turgut Reis Dragut (1485-1565), who also raided the Italian peninsula, conducting expeditions to Naples where he enslaved thousands in 1552.

Tidbit: the eye patch originates with the 18th-century Arab pirate, Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah, who lost his eye in battle.

As for men’s attire, the Barbary period spans many centuries and geographical locations, so we can only summarize the looks and styles.

The dress during the first wave would have been identical to what the men wore in North Africa, slowly evolving into the Arab dress as seen in the photo to the middle right.

The pre-Islamic basis of clothing was a short, flowing, unbelted tunic and loose outer wrappings. The Romans noted that the North Africans draped animal skins over the left shoulder.

With the spread of Arab influence, men wore head coverings like hooded cloaks or a winding cloth around the head, as well as long robes, wrapping mantles, and sandals.

The garb during the second wave would have been heavily influenced by the attire of the Ottomans, as seen in the photo at bottom left, of course depending on the Corsair’s relationship with or status within the Ottoman Empire.

2010 Trends & Takeaways from the Period:
Various elements from this period have been appearing recently in the collections of several menswear designers, ranging from the drop-seat pants of the Ottomans to the turbans and flowing hoods of the Arabs. Some designers have even based their entire collections on the nomadic styles of North Africa, as well as those of the Barbary pirates.

Photo top left, Barbarossa by Shuppiluliuma, Public Domain at Wikipedia.
Photo middle right, Arab dress 4th-6th centuries, Public Domain at Wikimedia.
Photo bottom left, Osman I & Ghazi warriors, 13-14th centuries, Public Domain at Wikipedia.

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