The Political Network of Ottoman Corsairs and Their Participation in Factional Politics in Sixteenth Century Constantinople

Friday, January 4, 2013: 3:30 PM
Cornet Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Emrah Gurkan, Georgetown University
While Western historiography has focused on the economic side of Mediterranean privateering (corso), a strong trend in Turkish historiography has been to present Ottoman corsairs of, ironically, diverse religious, ethnic and cross-cultural origins, as sea ghazis, i.e. holy warriors of Islam. These two approaches dominate studies to date. In this paper, I prefer to concentrate on a different aspect of Ottoman corsairs: their political role in the Ottoman Empire. I demonstrate how these corsairs formed a network between Constantinople and provincial port cities and constituted a faction which vied for power in the Ottoman capital, participating in court rivalries and shaping the formation of Ottoman strategy. Thanks to Ottoman, Spanish and Venetian archival sources, we can trace the activities of this network, which I label “the Mediterranean faction,” in the second half of the sixteenth century, at the zenith of the Ottoman-Habsburg Rivalry in the Mediterranean. Therefore, in order to demonstrate how economic factors, religious ideology and political calculations were intertwined in the history of the sixteenth-century corso, and to give an example of how auxiliary forces on distant frontiers that were traditionally considered to be of tangential importance to the formulation of imperial strategies did in fact have a strong influence on the shaping of these strategies in imperial capitals, I focus on the following aspects of the “Mediterranean faction” and Ottoman corsairs, hitherto unstudied by historians of either the Mediterranean or the Ottoman Empire: the networks of interests that brought this faction together, its political agenda, its efforts to keep the Ottomans active in the Western Mediterranean, and the relationship between the faction in the capital and those in the North African provinces.
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