Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean
Joshua M. White


Contents and Abstracts
1 Ottoman Pirates, Ottoman Victims
chapter abstract

This chapter chronicles the rise of Ottoman-on-Ottoman maritime violence in the post-1570 period, accounting for its endurance and examining its internal social and political significance for the Ottoman state and its implications for our understanding of Ottoman power and center-periphery relations. Introducing the Ottoman pirate "life cycle," it explores the connections between "local" and "long-distance" manifestations of piracy and the slippery distinctions between pirate and corsair, positing that Ottoman subjects were the prey that sustained all pirates in the Ottoman Mediterranean and enabled them to expand their operations. Because the Ottoman central administration relied heavily on naval irregulars to safeguard the coasts and provide intelligence on enemy movements, it was forced to balance the demands of law and justice with its security needs and the limits of its political and military capacity.

2 The Kadi of Malta
chapter abstract

This chapter turns to the Ottoman victims of Catholic corsairs and pirates who were carried off to Malta and Livorno to be sold as slaves and/or held for ransom. It focuses on the Ottoman magistrates (kadis) who, as judge-notaries, as captives, and as official mouthpieces of the Ottoman state, were involved in every stage of the ransom slavery industry in the eastern Mediterranean. From the late sixteenth century to the early eighteenth century, a number of Ottoman judges could always be found imprisoned in Maltese dungeons, where their legal expertise proved critical for preparing surety agreements and ransom contracts acceptable in courts throughout the Ottoman Mediterranean. The phenomenon of the kadis of Malta reflects the essential paradox of the seventeenth-century Ottoman Mediterranean: the inverse relationship between Ottoman maritime security and the importance of Ottoman law as an almost universally acceptable legal lingua franca from Istanbul to Malta.

3 Piracy and Treaty Law
chapter abstract

Piracy was an early and constant subject of negotiation between the Ottomans and their treaty partners, who developed a legal and diplomatic framework prohibiting piracy and establishing the procedures for redress when attacks did occur. Focusing primarily on Ottoman-Venetian relations, this chapter parses the form and content of their treaties (ahdname), examines how their antipiracy provisions were understood, and traces their development from the late fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century, by which point treaties with similar antipiracy clauses had been extended to France (1569), England (1580), and the Netherlands (1612). The antipiracy articles of these treaties were regularly expanded and modified to address new challenges, including how to deal with and defend against the proliferation of uncontrollable nonstate actors, but developments around the turn of the seventeenth century threatened to bring down the entire order on which the treaty regime was founded.

4 Diplomatic Divergence
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses the political and religious-legal challenge that North African corsairs posed to the Ottoman treaty regime in a post–"Northern Invasion" Mediterranean, and explores the reasons for and consequences of the diplomatic divergence of the 1620s, when England, France, and the Netherlands began concluding treaties directly with the North African port cities. It argues that the legal and diplomatic fallout of a series of Algerian-Tunisian piratical raids in the 1620s and 1630s led to a permanent restructuring of the imperial center's relationship with North Africa. As a result, Istanbul washed its hands of responsibility for the North African corsairs' predations, granting explicit permission to its treaty partners to destroy any African corsairs who threatened them and creating conditions that led to dozens of European punitive expeditions against the North African port cities beginning in the 1660s and culminating in the French invasion of Algiers in 1830.

5 Piracy in Ottoman Islamic Jurisprudence
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the legal opinions (Arabic: fatwa, Turkish: fetva) issued by the chief Islamic legal authorities of the empire (şeyhülislam) concerning maritime violence and explores the implications of their rulings for judges and litigants throughout the empire and for the corsairs based on its margins. Drawing on research in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century fetva collections, the chapter establishes the kinds of legal questions that piracy and captivity posed for the Ottomans and how they were answered as the intensity, frequency, and focus of Mediterranean piracy mutated in sometimes alarming ways. Showing how secular, interstate, and Islamic law were harmonized through fetvas, the chapter lays the groundwork for the subsequent analysis of the convergence of theory and practice in Ottoman courts.

6 Piracy in the Courts
chapter abstract

Relying on Ottoman court records from Istanbul to Crete, this chapter shows how merchants, monks, and mariners, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Ottomans, and foreigners used the Ottoman Islamic courts, how victims of piracy sought restitution and sometimes revenge. It asks how complex jurisdictional questions were addressed and how the legal theory introduced in the previous chapter impacted the legal strategies of litigants, Ottoman and foreign alike, in Ottoman courts. It explores examples of disputes over ships and cargo seized by pirates, suits lodged by victims against their alleged pirates, privateering arrangements contracted and disputed in court, and prosecutions of alleged pirates. Telling these stories and examining their outcomes, the chapter ties together the threads from the preceding examination of the courts, Islamic law, the Ottomans' diplomatic dealings, and Ottoman administrative responses to piracy.

chapter abstract

The conclusion recapitulates the book's key arguments, fast-forwarding to the mid-eighteenth century to test the assertion that the Ottoman Mediterranean was a legal space, defined in large part by the challenge of piracy. Recounting an incident from the 1740s, in which Cretan seamen traveled to Tripoli to acquire licenses to attack Venice—with which Tripoli then considered itself at war—it reflects on the path by which Tripoli and the rest of North Africa came to be excluded from the Ottoman Mediterranean legal space, such that neither administrators in Istanbul nor sailors in Candia considered Tripoli truly "Ottoman." It then reconsiders the connections between legal corsairing/privateering and illegal piracy, and the complex roles religion and subjecthood played in fixing the line between them.

chapter abstract

In September 1614, Ali bin Yusuf of Jerba lodged a lawsuit against a Venetian merchant named Nicolo in the court of Galata, a suburb of Istanbul. Ali accused Nicolo of having murdered his son, Süleyman, a ship captain, and five of his son's shipmates in a piratical attack eight years earlier. Ali's claims before the court, and his difficulty substantiating them—for the Venetian pirate had murdered the Ottoman crew to eliminate witnesses (one escaped, but two were required)—frame the fundamental questions the book addresses, first and foremost: who, what, or when is a pirate? The introduction also provides the historical context, surprisingly absent from most studies of Mediterranean piracy, essential to understanding why the period between 1570 and 1720 was one of pervasive piracy.