Pirate anniversary

It was 380 years ago today that “turkish pirates” raided the southwest of Iceland and took 242 slaves into captivity in Algiers…

For some reason the anniversary was commemorated…

The raid, by barbary corsairs out of Algiers (which was an Ottoman domain), hit the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), which ironically are named after the irish slaves that rebelled in the late 9th century and fled to the islands.
They were all hunted down and killed, but it turned out the islands have a decent harbour (much improved by the tongue of lava from the 1973 eruption) and sit in the midst of some of the best fishing grounds in the world. So they’ve been occupied pretty much since. Even flirt with independence on occasion (upon which the mainlanders smile sweetly and invite them to open discussion about the price for the fresh water piped to the islands).

There were about 300 pirates on three ships, mostly not algerians, included a number of European outlaws, I gather (maybe even Jack Shaftoe?). They circled the island and landed at “robbers promentory” thereby avoiding that fierce cannon put there to fight off the english (it was the middle of the 30 years war, European politics were particularly complicated)… they had earlier landed on the east coast and south coast of Iceland proper, taking about 100 slaves and killing nine or ten, and capturing 2 or 3 small trading ships. One tale claims that a shepherd killed 18 of the turks, in one story he fought them one by one, too close for them bring their guns to bear, the other story says he came upon them sleeping and killed them with an icepick, the third version had the shepherd captured, then escaping after pissing on their gunpowder, and raising the locals who ran the group of 18 into the sea, where they drowned – not sure which is more plausible… especially since that last story is exactly how some spanish pirates were also supposedly disposed of that same century.
Good lateral thinking, in either case.

In the islands, 36 were killed and about 200 managed to hide in the hills and caves in the lavafields and cliffs. Iceland’s soul was scarred for 350 years – people remember these things, and as a child my grandmother would tell stories of the terrifying “blue men” in their ships who would come and kill the men and take the boys and women.
The woman who jumped off the cliffs when they ran her down, rather than be taken is still a local legend. For some reason the church bells were also rescued, and one is still in use in the local church.
Not the original, it was burned. One local tale has the “unsalable” captives locked up in either the church or the fish warehouses and burned alive.

35 people either worked their way to freedom or were ransomed, 27 got back to Iceland about a decade later.
For the next 350 years “turks” could be killed on sight in Iceland… very quaint, although if I keep getting more comment spam from Istanbul I may start to understand…

Interestingly, as a historical concept, the “turkish raid” is now used to promote two memes – one is the outsiders (like city folk) coming to appropriate some local treasure, used by environmentalists to stir emotions over minor local issues; the other is right wing pro-US commentators trying to push Iceland to setup a standing army to defend out shores from the legendary hordes of islamists allegedly heading for the shores this century… oy vey.

wiki.is entry
The history, from our perspective – east coast and the westman islands

ok, ok Here is an abbreviated english language version – nekulturny


  1. #1 Paul
    July 17, 2007

    Barbary pirates pulled the same trick in Ireland, carrying off most of the town of Baltimore in County Cork. Apparently, you can still find the odd red head turning up in Tangiers.

  2. #2 Gerry
    July 17, 2007

    Interesting about the memory of ‘Blue’ men in Iceland.
    In Irish Gaelic a black person is ‘duine gorm’, literally a blue person.

  3. #3 NelC
    July 17, 2007

    I think you’re a century too early for Jack Shaftoe. Isn’t he early 1700s? Still, I could see Iceland as Qwghlm.

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