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Book Review
The Barbary Pirates
The Barbary Pirates, 15th - 17th Centuries
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by: Randy L Harvey [ HARV ]

Originally published on:
Historicus Forma

** For almost 300 years North African and Turkish corsairs dominated the Western and Central Mediterranean from their havens along the coasts of modern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya – the Berber or ‘Barbary’ Coast. The pirate galleys and light sailing vessels ranged far and wide, hunting ships, plunder, and captives for the slaver-markets of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. These skilled and ferocious seamen earned such a reputation that they attracted European renegades to join them, and raided as far north as the coasts of England, Ireland, and even Iceland. This book describes their origins, ships, lairs and hunting-grounds, their organization and tactics, and the careers of some of the greatest corsair captains; it is illustrated with early engravings and paintings, and colour plates of the pirates and their warships. **

** Quoted from the back cover of the book.

Osprey Publications Ltd has released The Barbary Pirates 15th-17th Centuries as Number 213 in their Elite series. It is a softcover book with 64 pages. Included with the text are black and white photographs, color photographs, color illustrations, and detailed captions. It has a 2016 copyright and the ISBN is 978-1-4728-1543-9. The book details the Barbary Pirates and their activities during the timeframe of the 15th through 17th Centuries.


- Introduction
- Nomenclature: ‘pirates’, ‘privateers’ and ‘corsairs’
- Privateers and ports
- Historical Background
- The Arab conquests
- The Hafsid and Marinid dynasties, 13th – 15th centuries
- The First Corsairs
- The Ottomans
- Kemal Reis
- The brothers Barbarossa
- Chronology, 1450-1660
- The Barbary Coast
- The Barbary States
- Morocco
- Algiers
- Tunis
- Tripoli
- The Ships
- The galiot
- The galley
- The fusta and barca longa
- The xebec
- The polacca
- The felucca and tartan
- ‘Roundships’
- The Pirates
- Chain of command in the Ottoman regencies
- The captains
- Dual command
- Division of the spoils
- The crews: officers
- Nationalities
- European renegades
- Galley slaves
- Janissaries
- Techniques & Tactics
- Limitations
- Hunting-grounds and prey
- Battle tactics
- Further Reading
- Index

As one can guess by the title of the book, the main focus is on the Barbary Pirates during the period of the 15th through 17th centuries. The text in the book is nicely written and well detailed. Please refer to the Contents section of this review to learn all that is discussed in this volume. The contents section is very accurate in regards to the history that Angus Konstam has written. This is a well written book that will be of great use and interest to the well-seasoned and knowledgeable Barbary Pirates historian or the individual that is new to the pirate activities in the Barbary Coast region during the period of the 15th through the 17th centuries and wants to learn more. Angus Konstam does an excellent job of detailing the Barbary Pirates and their activities and exploits throughout the Barbary Coast region. He details all aspects of the pirates in the region such as the countries of origin of the various pirates and their crews, the types of ships and small craft used, the various type of weapons carries and used, areas of operation, specific conflicts and their outcomes, specific cargos sought and their involvement in the slave trade of the period. In addition to the history and technical information provided on the Barbary Pirates, the author has also included personal accounts provided by individuals from the period of the 15th through the 17th centuries. Personally, I appreciate the individual accounts as they provide excellent information on the books main subject manner and gives the reader a first-hand type of account of the specific era and the subject discussed. As I read through the text I didn’t notice any spelling or grammatical errors. Grammar and spelling might not be an important factor to everyone however it is something that I take notice of and pass on my findings. I feel that if the text is well written then it shows that the author has taken the time to be a professional with their writing. Anyone wanting to add an excellent reference and history book on the Barbary Pirates during the period of the 15th through the 17th centuries to their personal library will be pleased with this very informative and detailed book.

Please refer to the scans that I have provided so that you can judge the text for yourself.

There are a total of 30 black and white photographs and 15 color photographs. The photographs featured are of period engravings and paintings. I would say that the photographs that were chosen for this book were for the most part lesser known photographs as opposed to photographs that are featured in many other titles that deal with the same subject matter. The photographs of the period engravings and paintings provide the reader with details of period maps, the various ships and small craft used by the pirates as well as details of various weapons, gear and period uniforms and clothing. They also provide a good reference for coloring which can be used as a painting guide for modelers if so chosen. Author Angus Konstam stuck to the title of the book and chose subject specific photographs and did not include photographs that strayed from the main subject of the book. The majority, if not all, of the photographs will prove to be a wealth of information to the pirate and nautical enthusiast and the scale figure and ship modeler due to the details they contain. The images are obviously not always in scale and 100% accurate as to specific actions but I personally feel that they still do their job of providing information as there was obviously no photography equipment of any type back in that time period. So obviously, artists were free to use artistic interpretation when they created their paintings and illustrations.

Please refer to the scans that I have provided so that you can judge the photographs for yourself.

There are 8 color plates by illustrator Gerry Embleton.

The color illustrations are of the following:

Plate A

Raid On Corsica, c. 1480 (refer to attached scan)

1. Barbary captain
2. Bowman
3. Berber crossbowman

Plate B

Galley Armament, & Barbary Galiot, 16th Century

1a: A reconstruction, from archaeological study of the Mary Rose, of a cast bronze gun on a heavy wheeled wooden carriage.
1b & 1c: Image showing galleys mounting large centerline guns and anti-personnel swivel guns.
2: Galiot – image of a warship

Plate C

Action Against A Venetian Galley (same image shown on front cover of the book)

1. The crew of a Barbary vessel are shown defending themselves against a determined boarding attack from a larger venetian galley.

Plate D

Polacca & Tartans

1. & 2: Tartans. Small coastal craft with a single sail.
3. Polacca. Three-masted vessels with lateen sails.

4. Small craft: Curved hull small boats.

Plate E

Barbary Xebex, Early 17th Century

1. Typical small privateering sailing vessel operating out of the Barbary ports.

Plate F

Turgut Reis At Battle Of Preveza, 1538

1. Turgut Reis
2. Berber officer
3. Hafsid Berber Soldier
4. Janissaries
Plate G

European Renegades, C. 1620

1. Three drunkards (probably Englishmen) squabbling over their last flask of liquor during a ‘run ashore’ in Algiers
Plate H

Barca Longas, Early 17th Century

1. The Barca Longa – small craft used by barbary privateers.
2a: Example of large 17th century galley under sail.

2b: Northern European caravels.

2c: Small two-masted with lateen rig.

As with the photographs of the period engravings and paintings the majority, if not all, of the illustrations will prove to be a wealth of information to the pirate and nautical enthusiast and the scale figure and ship modeler due to the details they contain.

Please refer to the scans that I have provided so that you can judge the illustrations for yourself.

There is 1 black and white map included in this volume which is well done and details:

- The Barbary Coast, showing the main battles of the 16th and 17th century corsairs.

There are 3 individual profiles included that detail and provide information on:

- Kemal Reis (c. 1451 – 1511)
- Turgut Reis (c. 1485 – 1565)
- Murad Reis (c. 1570 – c. 1641)

There are 2 notes included in this volume and they are:

- Acknowledgments
- Artist’s note

The captions are well written and explain the accompanying photographs and illustrations in great detail eliminating any doubt as to what is shown. The captions go into very specific detail as to the nationality of the figures shown, ship and boat types, weapons, gear and clothing, dates and locations and other such pertinent information. I was very impressed by Angus Konstam’s captions as they are very helpful to the reader due to their detailed content as opposed to other captions I have seen that are very brief and lack detail.

Please refer to the scans that I have provided so that you can judge the captions for yourself.

This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.

As with the other Osprey Publishing weapons series titles I was impressed with this volume. This is a very nice reference book that contains many close-up, detailed, subject specific photographs and illustrations and well detailed captions. It details the Barbary Pirates and their exploits and actions during the 15th through the 17th centuries. I would have no hesitation to add other Osprey Publishing titles to my personal library nor would I hesitate to recommend this book to others as it will be a welcome addition to one’s personal reference library.


The Pirates
Douglas Botting and the Editors of Time-Life Books
The Seafarers
Time-Life Books

A Pirate Hunter’s Companion
Dugald A. Steer
Candlewick Press

Search inside The Barbary Pirates 15th-17th Centuries on the Osprey Publishing web site:


Osprey Publishing also has The Barbary Pirates 15th-17th Centuries available as:

- eBook (ePub)
- eBook (PDF)

Look inside The Barbary Pirates 15th-17th Centuries on the Amazon web site:


Look inside the Kindle Edition of The Barbary Pirates 15th-17th Centuries on the Amazon web site:


Highs: Well written text and captions Subject specific photographs and illustrations
Lows: Nothing to mention
Verdict: Another excellent volume in Osprey Publishing’s Elite series. Definitely beneficial to the pirate and nautical enthusiast and the scale figure and ship modeler.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-1-4728-1543-9
  Suggested Retail: US $19.00 / UK £11.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jan 06, 2017

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About Randy L Harvey (HARV)

I have been in the modeling hobby off and on since my youth. I build mostly 1/35 scale. However I work in other scales for aircraft, ships and the occasional civilian car kit. I also kit bash and scratch-build when the mood strikes. I mainly model WWI and WWII figures, armor, vehic...

Copyright ©2021 text by Randy L Harvey [ HARV ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Far more of a history of those groups than I realized. The design of their ships is quite pleasing. I'll have to try to get a copy of the book.
JAN 06, 2017 - 06:49 AM
You can have this one if you want it Fred. I have no further use for it. Randy
JAN 06, 2017 - 11:12 PM

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