Barbary, a name given to the northern coastal area of Africa from Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean. The Barbary States, semi-independent countries under Turkish protection, were established in the 16th century. These included Tripoli (now in Libya), Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco.

Barbary suffered successive invasions by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Vandals before the Muslims won control in the seventh century. In the early part of the 16th century, sea corsairs under the Barbarossa brothers made the Mediterranean unsafe for Christian shipping. Most of these pirates were Berbers, Moors who had been expelled from Spain, and Turks. Numerous attempts to crush the corsairs were made by various European powers during the 16th and 17th centuries, but all were ineffectual. The power of the Barbary pirates was severely shaken by the Barbary Wars waged by the United States (1801-05 and 1815). Their power was finally destroyed with the seizure of Algiers by the French in 1830.

The Barbary Wars

The United States had been paying tribute to the Barbary States since its independence. When Tripoli demanded increased payments in 1801, President Jefferson refused. Tripoli declared war on the United States, beginning the so-called Tripolitan War. A U.S. Navy squadron, under Commander Edward Preble, blockaded Tripoli from 1803 to 1805. After rebel Tripolitan forces led by U.S. Marines captured the city of Derna, the pasha (leader) of Tripoli signed a treaty promising to exact no more tribute. The United States continued to pay other of the Barbary States, however.

During the War of 1812, Algiers declared war on the United States when it refused to increase its payments. There was little action in the Algerine War, as it was known, until 1815, when the United States sent a squadron of ships, commanded by Stephen Decatur, to Algiers. Decatur threatened to destroy the city and forced the dey (ruler) of Algiers to renounce further American tribute and to pay reparations for any American casualties. Decatur also persuaded the rulers of the other Barbary states to sign similar treaties.