Striking Manuscript Map of Pirate Activity off the Southern Coast of France -- Antibes / San Tropez / Cannes
Fascinating sketch map of the scenic French coast from Antibes to St. Tropez with fleets of Barbary pirates out to sea. The Barbary corsair ships are delicately drawn, and the map is accompanied by a court ruling that explains the circumstances underlying the map, entitled:
Culpa Que Resulta Del Processo Criminal fulminado con comission del Rey nustro Señor en la Ciudad de Barceloa por Don Diego Fajardo.
Don Francisco Savater Cauo de las Galeras de Cathaluña y Francisco Miguel Capitan de la Capitana.
The text consists of 19 pages. We believe the pamphlet was printed in Barcelona in 1623.
The map is northwest-oriented, with several towns marked. From the west, these include Saint Tropez (Santope), Frèjus (Fregu), Saint Raphaël (S. Rafe), Mandelieu-La Napoule (La Napola), Cannes (Canona), and Antibes (Antibo). Each town has some detail regarding its architecture and layout. Frèjus, an ancient settlement built up by the Romans, is shown as a fortified city. At other points inland there are wavy lines which seem to denote hills or another geographic feature.
Two fleets of corsairs—their flags are marked with a crescent moon—are included on the sketch map. One is off of Cannes, behind two islands. These islands are Île Sainte-Marguerite (Sa Ma) and Île Saint-Honorat (So No). The ships are drawn with great attention to detail. Each has run out its oars, which descend into the water.
Farther west, eight corsairs sit off Saint Raphaël, hemming in two ships at anchor. These are the galleys Capitana and Patrona. The printed pamphlet that accompanies the map tells the story of these two ill-fated ships.
The capture of the Capitana and the Patrona
The printed pamphlet outlines a court case brought against Don Francisco Savater and Francisco Miguel, officers aboard the galleys. In July of 1623, the two left Barcelona, where the case was tried, with the two galleys. However, the galleys were not properly fitted out defensively, a grave error since Barbary pirates had been reported in the seas to the east.
The two ships proceeded first to Mataró, on the Spanish coast, where they took on bullion and left a group of aged soldiers. Then, they sailed to Marseilles. In both places, they again received word of Barbary pirates in the area. Despite numerous warnings to the contrary, the two men decided to sail on toward Nice.
Soon after leaving Marseilles they met with a fleet of eight corsairs, those drawn here. They lost their pursuers under cover of darkness. Instead of heading for the safety of Frèjus, the two men on trial chose to anchor at Saint Raphaël, then an open, unprotected beach. Once there, chaos ensued. The two accused and the prosecution disagree on the precise order of events, but it seems that in quick order practically all of the crews had deserted the ships.
Don Francisco Savater and Francisco Miguel are accused of loading some of the bullion into chests and ferrying them ashore; some of this money was then stolen. They also abandoned ship, heading overland to Frèjus. They left the ships totally vulnerable and intact. They were taken by the Barbary pirates the next day.
Stories of abandonment like this are rare, but it is understandable why Don Francisco Savater, Francisco Miguel, and their crews might have been afraid of the pirates. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, Barbary pirates preyed on ships in the Central and Western Mediterranean. They had their bases along the North African, or Barbary, Coast. While capturing prizes and goods was of interest, their primary goal was to gain slaves to work in their galleys or to sell into captivity in markets in Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli.
While Westerners tend to know the Barbary-based crews as pirates, they are more correctly termed privateers. They worked in concert with North African states or the Ottoman empire to prey on enemy ships, a practice in which the empires of Europe also engaged. The corsairs gained their letters-of-marque by taking Christian ships; the Barbary ships were run by, or stationed in, Muslim ports, and the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim powers sanctioned the taking of Christian slaves as part of the long-standing conflict, sometimes hot and sometimes cold, between Muslims and Christians in the Mediterranean. The Barbary pirates also acted in concert with state-actions, such as in the Ottoman siege of Malta in 1565. Additionally, Christian states also supported privateering (and pirating) in the Mediterranean, with the ports of Valletta and Livorno as important centers of pirate activity, including the slave trade.
Famous Barbary privateering captains include Kemal Reis and the Barbarossa brothers, both of whom operated in the second half of the fifteenth century. By the early seventeenth century, when this sketch map was drawn, corsairs were raiding as widely as Dorset and Cornwall, in southwest England, and Iceland. However, they also faced fierce attacks from the Spanish, French, Venetians, and other European powers.
In 1659, England signed a treaty with Algiers, almost entirely putting a halt to the raiding on the English coast. By the turn of the eighteenth-century, France and Britain had set up strong, fortified ports from which to defend shipping, including at Gibraltar and Minorca. A hundred years later, the last remnants of the pirates were engaged in the First and Second Barbary Wars with the newly-independent United States. In 1827, the Ottoman naval forces were defeated by combined British, French, and Russian fleets at Navarino. Three years later, the French captured Algiers and established a colony there. The age of the corsairs was truly at an end.
This map was drawn at the height of the corsairs’ power, however. It illustrates a court case that reveals much about shipping practice and privateering in the seventeenth-century Mediterranean. It is a rare find, and a significant one, that deserves more study and discussion.