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Of Corsairs, Converts and Renegades: Forms and Functions of Coastal Raiding on Both Sides of the Far Western Mediterranean, 1490-1540

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Abstract Historians have long debated whether or not the cultures of the Mediterranean constitute a singular unit of geo-historical analysis. The Alborán Sea—the Mediterranean’s far western corner that narrowly separates the Iberian Peninsula from Africa’s northwestern shore—has long been an important “frontier” zone in which arguments for and against Mediterranean unity are put to the test. This essay contends that endemic practices of corsair activity and coastal raiding played analogous functions on both sides of this “frontier” in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. While the fact of systematized conflict in the form of raids lends some support to the notion of an enduring “clash of civilizations,” the parallel forms and functions of such raiding within the societies from which the corsairs came argue at least as persuasively for a significant degree of fundamental similarity and continuity. The Alborán corsairs along both coasts, for instance, typically received patronage and organizational aid from local and regional elites, and their raiding activities proved central to both economies. On both sides of the frontier, moreover, the world of the corsairs allowed a surprising degree of mobility and participation to converts and renegades of Muslim, Jewish and Christian origin alike.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Eastern Kentucky University 323 Keith Building, 521 Lancaster Avenue, Richmond, KY 40475 USA

10.1163/15700674-12342128
/content/journals/10.1163/15700674-12342128
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2013-01-01
2016-12-05

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