The captive experience
What happened to Britons once they were captured?
Many found themselves sold into slavery in the Barbary city of Algiers. The outdoor slave market there was on the Al-Souk al-Kabir (the Great Street of the Souks), a wide thoroughfare lined with markets (souks) that transected the city. New captives were paraded along the Al-Souk al-Kabir while sellers shouted to attract buyers.
How were they sold?
Once in the slave market, captives were stripped and examined. Men had to jump about, demonstrating their fitness, and were hit with sticks if they did not promptly comply. Buyers examined their hands to see if they were calloused. (Soft hands indicated a life of ease and wealth, and therefore potential profits in the form of a large ransom.)
Buyers also examined male captives’ teeth to see if they were fit for work as oarsmen in the galleys (galley slaves were fed only hardtack biscuit).
What was life like for the slaves?
Once sold, slaves could find daily life grim. If not assigned the brutal drudgery of the galleys, men bought by the state were employed in hard labour: quarrying stone and hauling it off, working in chain gangs on building sites, turning the grinding wheels in grain mills like draft animals, or cleaning cesspits. Many were manacled and forced to drag heavy chains behind them (as pictured above, in a 17th- century engraving).
At night, they were locked up in bagnios (slave pens), where they slept on the cold stone floor.
Were they tortured?
If they ‘ transgressed’, they could be punished with the bastinado: slaves were hoisted feet first into the air and the soles of their feet caned mercilessly.