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Algerian Navy

1–Introduction

The 17th century was definitely the golden era for the Algerian marine, where the ruler of Algeria imposed the state’s prestige through the Algerian navy they owned. The navy was the most significant and terrifying one among all the Mediterranean basin states, and it did not match any other country's navy, especially that it was able to impose its territory and force in the western basin of the mediterranean facing deep international transformations. In the 18th century and thanks to its sailors, Algeria established a navigation system in the Mediterranean sea that ensured the security of the Algerian state in particular, and the security of international trade as well.

2–The factors of the Algerian navy’s force:

The formation of the Algerian navy started in early 1518 AD, with some maritime pieces of the Barbaros brothers who brought the first nucleus of the Algerian maritime fleet, that developed later on to become the master of the Mediterranean sea for three centuries. Many factors participated in its establishment, including:

  • The geographical and geostrategic location of Algeria regarded as a site located in an urban contiguity zone between two models of civilization, the Christian western in the North of the Mediterranean basin, and the Islamic one in the South, which explains the violent maritime collisions between the parties of this space, and that was probably what made Algeria recognize the house of Al-Jihad.

  • Reinforcing the Algerian maritime ranks with European members historically known by the name “the Elches”, who reached advanced leadership echelons after their conversion to Islam and their strong bond with Algerian despite their different origines, there was: Greeks, Spaniards, Majorcans, Maiolitanians , Carcassonnians, Sardinians, English and Dutch.

  • Military expertise especially in the seafaring field of Algerian people from the Almohades state that was transmitted from one generation to another.

3–Shipbuilding industry:

The shipping constructions centers were spread on most of the coastal cities adjacent to the forests like Jijel, Collo, and Bejaia to provide wood…As for the anchorages that were considered as the starting bases for the European pirates, were spread along the coastline from Djerba in Tunisia, to Mostaganem in Algeria. Moreover, the Algerian navy was composed of the following elements:

The Algerian navy was composed of maritime elements like ships and huge boats, including: the fortress deck, the green wing which was composed of a human crew whose number depended on the ship size, and the crew had a ship captain and two delegates, the boat inspector, artillery officer, sails officer and others…in addition to the soldiers of the boats made in Algeria.

4–The role of the Algerian Marine:

The Algerian marine played a significant role on both internal and external levels, that consisted of:

  1. On the internal level:

  • Protecting the coasts and ports of Algeria.

  • Blocking the repetitive Christian campaigns on the Algerian coats.

  • Liberating the coastal cities, most recently the Big Port in 1792 AD.

  • Contributing to the economic prosperity of Algeria by enriching the state treasury with royalties and supplies.

  1. On the external level:

  • Provide military aid for the Ottoman state like the Lepante battle  in 1571 in Greece, in addition to the Navarin battle in 1827 AD…

  • Helping and protecting the Andalucian migrants from the crusader persecution.

  • Protecting ships and the international trade in the Mediterranean basin in exchange for royalties.

  • It allowed Algeria to have an international stance, and it made all the states court to establish relations with Algeria.

5–The maritime ranks and regime:

The sect of Raïs had ranks and promotion methods like any other maritime institution, and each ship of the Jihad house ships had a specific crew of men, it might have been large or small, and was usually composed of:

  • Captain Raïs: The captain of the ship

  • Bash Raïs: The delegate and the first assistant of the ship captain, and his tasks consisted of distributing tasks on the sailors and to ensure discipline inside the ship.

  • Mosso Raïs: The second delegate of the ship captain.

  • Supervision Raïs: The inspector of the boat and diligence supervisor.

  • Bash Tabji: he was the artillery officer in the boat, supervising the maintenance of the artillery used in the war.

  • Bach Doumanji: The sails officer in the boat, supervising the way of using the sails.

  • Khodja: The ship’s secretary, and worked as an accountant and notary, where he registered incomes and ship expenses in a small notebook, in addition to emptying the spoils.

  • Khaznadji: The governor of the war ammunition treasury, and the necessary funds to spend on food.

  • Bash surgeon: The surgeon who accompanied the boat to treat patients and disabled people during travel and battles.

  • Bash road: The chief of the janissary group accompanying the boat, and his mission was to supervise the oarsmen and the attacks on the enemy’s boats during battles and confrontations, and the oarsmen had to stay in their seats during the rowing, except for the Pasha who was allowed to move. 

  • Agha: his ranks are unknown, however he was a highly positioned officer anyways.

  • Imam: his task was to recite the Holy Quran, guiding the sailors during prayers and praying for them to win the battles, and this was a proof ofthe sailors’ religious commitment to Islam and the entrenchement of the religious spirit in them.

  • Kolfat: he was in charge of painting the ships with asphalte to avoid cracking,breaking and water going inside.

  • Sandal Raïs: he was in charge of the boat and ship equipment.


Moreover, muslim historians testify that the Raïs sect was not made of ordinary sailors, therefore the ambassador Tamagruti transmitted during his stay in Algiers in 1584 where he said: “ the Algerian Raïs were known for their bravey and composure, in addition to their smartness in the sea, they were defeating the Christians in their country, and were much better than the Constantinople Raïs, greater in prestige, and more terrifying in the hearts of the enemy”.


6–The battles of the Algerian navy:

The Algerian navy went through a number of battles over three centuries, and won most of them and lost some, however it did not lose its regional influence, where it was gaining its balance back very quickly and engaging again into the arena of confrontations to protect the southern coasts of the Mediterranean.

During the period between 1563-1571, and more precisely in the era of the Beylerbeyi  Hassan Pasha and Uluç Ali, the Algerian navy conducted violent attacks on the crusader marine, and also helped the Moriscos to escape from the Spanish inspecting trials and provide protection for them in the middle of the sea.

The Algerian sailors controlled the Mediterranean sea for almost 3 centuries, where their ultimate goal was to counteract the crusaders. Among the battles that the Algerian marine went through, their battle with the English and Dutch in 1618, where the Algerian navy was able to repulse the double attacks of the English and Dutch on the Algerian coasts, in addition to causing a great loss for the attackers. The most prominent leaders of the marines who went through the battles are: Ali Bachin, Mami Arnaut and Jaafar Genweis.

Moreover, the Algerian sailors participated in most of the naval wars that the Ottoman marine went through against the European states, or in the blockade and colonization of the islands that the crusaders were controlling, they also contributed in liberating the Muslim territories like Tunisia and western Tripoli.

Furthermore, the Algerian historian Hanifi Halayli in his book “The Structure of the Algerian Army During The Ottoman Era” stated that it was the skill of Algerian sailors, their military competencies, and their high ability to fight  that enabled them to achieve decisive victories, and thanks to those Raïs the Algerian marine became a lead school for the Islamic marine during the Ottoman era.

–Maritime Jihad and not Piracy

Many western historians describe the Algerian marine as “Pirates” to underestimate them and denigrate their championships and achievements that were immortalized by history for three centuries, however a small research confirmed us that they were Mujahideen and not pirates, engaged in maritime Jihad and not piracy, because Algeria represented the sword of Islam against the crusador empires in the west of the Mediterranean sea.

In this regard, the American historian William Spencer stated: “Algiers city as a capital of strong a stable state in North Africa represented the sharp edge of the Ottoman Islamic power who was actively engaged in the crusader fight against christianity, like a sharp blade buried deeply in the christian land”.

Moreover, the objective of the maritime Jihad was sometimes self-defense and counteract the crusader pirates while it was a manifestation of the official rejection of the European dominence and their threats, and sometimes to open new zones and the victory of the vulnerable muslims once again.

The Algerian sailors controlled the Mediterranean sea for about three centuries for religious reasons, and their ultimate goal was to counteract the crusader aspirants for the muslim land in the south of the Mediterranean after they won against the Andalus. Indeed, they were able to  do it and impose their force on the strongest states and empires even the United States of America, which we will address in an upcoming report within the file of Ottoman Algeria.

The truth is that all nations and states practiced piracy against each other in the period before 1830, therefore maritime piracy was a legal institution based in the European countries. Furthermore, the maritime Jihad existed in Algeria, and it was called piracy or maritime Jihad and it was considered as a proffession, as the investors in the piracy system considered themselves as employees not thieves, runaways or bandits. Their work was recognized in the regency of Algeria as it was recognizing other professions like tannery, jewelry making, porcelain industry or baking, that is it was a profession like the others.  

The Algerian maritime Jihad was essentially due to the Spanish and Portuguese attacks on the Algerian coasts, therefore the maritime imposed on the Algerians to defend their country, dignity, money, sons and daughters, and they did not have any other choice. In addition, the Spanish invaders more precisely, wanted to penetrate deeply in Algeria towards the country’s interior, therefore it was the battle that imposed the kind of Jihad practised by the Algerians. If the battle was on land, it would have been a land battle, like it was the case with the brutal  French colonizer later on. However, the battle during the entire Ottoman era was a naval battle, because like it was mentioned in the book of Algeria “In the era Sea Raïs”, Algeria represented an Islamic fortress in facing a hostile christian world so their first priority was to  destroy its maritime force in preparation to invade its land subsequently.

Moreover, it was the Algerian marine’s right to defend itself and protect its coasts and citizens from their evil projects, and what would we expect as long as the violent campaigns were continuous on the different cities of the Algerian coast. Were we going to expect them to welcome the invaders like it was the case in 1531 AD, when the Spaniards tried to colonize Jijel city starting from the Italian city Genoa. After all, they call the Algerians’ self-defense a piracy project and a maritime banditry.

Furthermore, what the Algerians did was part of the international war in the Mediterranean basin and the Atlantic and Indian oceans between the crusader forces with Spain and Portugal on one side, and the Ottoman state and Algeria on the other side. Thus, the actions of Algerian people should be put in the Jihad and stationning Islam column, and we deny the vanities of the Europeans about the Algerian marine and calling it baditry like the colonial school claims in order to find an excuse for colonizing Algeria under the pretext of fighting piracy.