A Holy Razzia? Ottoman Corsairs in Ottoman Historiography

Emrah Safa Gürkan - Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Istanbul 29 Mayıs University



Corsairs at Ottoman employ have long been presented by modern historiography as Ottoman ghazis, i.e. holy warriors fighting in order to spread the religion of Islam. This presentation challenges the validity of the ghaza approach that studies these self-seeking entrepreneurial corsairs of diverse ethnic, religious and geographical backgrounds in a single category, simplifying their motives and neglecting the rationale behind their modus operandi. Such an approach that takes at face value the propagandistic language of Ottoman works such as the court chronicles and the Gazavat-ı Hayreddin Paşa could only be called into question by diversifying the source base and bringing into game European archival (Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Archivo General de Simancas) and printed primary sources (Sanuto, Haedo, Charrière, Alberi, Priuli) that provide the historian with minute information regarding the activities of Ottoman corsairs.

By juxtaposing Ottoman sources with European ones, this presentation seeks to delineate the motivations that prompted individuals to sail under the pirate’s banner and exposes the economic and political factors that shaped political calculations of Ottoman corsairs as an interest group. Moreover, it reads the idealistic representation of corsairs in contemporary Ottoman sources as a conscious attempt on behalf of a frontier elite, struggling to find a place for themselves in a foreign capital. Their depiction as sea ghazis was less a simplification at the hands of Ottoman historians than a strategy of self-promotion in order to capitalize on an already dominant ghaza ethos and manipulate their new employer’s sense of religious responsibility. Works produced by corsair circles for the consumption of the Ottoman court elite, such as Gazavat-ı Hayreddin Paşa, shaped the Ottoman perception of corso and corsairs’ representation in Ottoman sources.




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