The cap­tive ex­pe­ri­ence

BBC History Magazine - - Barbary Corsairs -

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.

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