Ransom Outsourcing: The Politics of Ransom in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Friday, January 4, 2013: 2:30 PM
Cornet Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Daniel Bernardo Hershenzon, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
At the turn of the seventeenth century, scholars have claimed, Mediterranean Empires had turned their backs away from the sea, which in turn had lost its earlier characteristic unity, and subsequently declined. In contrast to this postmortem on the Mediterranean, this paper argues that the rumors about the sea’s death may be premature. This paper examines how the “Mediterranean” was created and recreated between 1581 and 1630 through the interaction between Spanish, Ottoman-Algerian, and Moroccan imperial region-making projects, on the one hand, and Jewish and Muslim ransom intermediaries, on the other. The paper reconstructs the politics of the ransom economy and argues that the conflictual relations between the Spanish Empire, Ottoman Algiers and Morocco, reflected in the phenomena of piracy and redemption, embodied the attempts of Mediterranean sovereigns to impose on the sea competing agendas of interaction and exchange. The Algerians and Moroccans perceived the sea as a space in which political powers negotiate directly with each other while seeking a duopoly which would have allowed them to be the exclusive sellers of captives to Spain. The Spaniards, on the other hand, prompted intermediation, and consequently preferred a market of ransom rather than inter-ruler interaction. On the basis of hitherto unstudied archival documents compiled by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, the paper not only explores the opposing region-making projects of these sovereigns but also demonstrates how they were forced to negotiate their plans with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian ransom intermediaries.
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