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‘Ill-Treated by Friends’: Ottoman Responses to British Privateering in the Mid-18th Century

Michael Talbot - Postdoctoral Researcher, Mediterranean Reconfigurations project, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

 

Abstract

From the 1690s until the 1780s the constant wars between the European mercantile states, particularly the British and the French, spilled into the Mediterranean in the form of pirate and privateer attacks on rival shipping. This included attacks against each other’s commercial interests in the waters of the Ottoman Empire. However, as Ottoman merchants often used British and particularly French ships as freighters for their own internal trade, attacks on French shipping by British privateers resulted in significant damage to Ottoman trade, especially to the supply of food to famine-stricken provinces. This paper will examine the Ottoman response to attacks by British privateers in Ottoman waters in the mid-18th century, particularly in the context of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), a conflict in which the Ottoman Empire did not participate. Using sources from the British and Ottoman archives, particularly Ottoman declarations and merchants’ petitions, I will examine the dynamics between British political and commercial interests in the Levant, the impact British attacks had on Ottoman shipping, and the Ottoman legal responses to these attacks, which involved redefining Ottoman maritime jurisdiction and suing for damages. Overall, this paper will demonstrate that the Ottomans justly felt ill-treated by their nominal allies, and that their response was significant in seeking compensation through legal prosecution, suggesting a sophisticated response to the problem of European privateering.

 

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