Turkish Abductions

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The Turkish Abductions (Icelandic: Tyrkjaránið) were a series of slave raids by Barbary pirates that took place in Iceland between June 20 – July 19, 1627. Pirates from Morocco and Algeria, under the command of Dutch pirate Murat Reis, raided the village of Grindavík on the southwestern coast, Berufjörður and Breiðdalur in the Eastern Region (the East Fjords), and Vestmannaeyjar (islands off the south coast); they captured an estimated 400-800 prisoners to sell into slavery.


In 1627 Barbary corsairs from Algiers and Salé descended on Iceland in two separate raids, taking around 400–900 prisoners (Iceland's population at the time has been estimated to have been about 60,000). This event is popularly known in Iceland as Tyrkjaránið – the 'Turkish Raid', as it was launched from areas under Ottoman sovereignty, although no North African Turks (Kouloughlis) are known to have been involved.[citation needed] Four ships attacked the eastern and southern coast as well as the Vestmannaeyjar ("Westman Islands"). Ten years later 27 captives made it back to Iceland; a few had come home earlier.


The leader of one of the raids was Jan Janszoon, also known as Murat Reis the younger, a Dutch pirate who operated from Salé. In 1627 he rented a Danish slave (most likely a crew member captured on a Danish ship taken as a pirate prize) to pilot him and his men to Iceland, where they raided the fishing village of Grindavík. Their takings were meagre, some salted fish and a few hides, but most importantly they captured twelve Icelanders and three Danes, whom they could sell as slaves. As they were leaving Grindavík, they managed to trick and capture a Danish merchant ship by flying a false flag.

The ships sailed to Bessastaðir (Danish governor of Iceland), to raid but were unable to make a landing. It is said they were thwarted by cannon fire from the local fortifications (Bessastaðaskans) and a quickly mustered group of lancers from the Southern Peninsula.[1] They sailed home and sold their captives at the slave market of Salé.

Eastern Region[edit]

The second group of raiders came to Hvalsnes in Southeastern Iceland on July 4 and raided the fjords north of there for a week, capturing livestock, silver and other goods, in addition to 110 Icelanders. They captured a Danish merchant ship and sank it. North of Fáskrúðsfjörður, they hit strong winds and decided to turn around and sail along the south coast of Iceland. Around that time, another pirate ship joined them, and they also captured an English fishing vessel.


As there were no harbors or landing sites along the south coast, the three ships eventually came on July 16 to Vestmannaeyjar, a group of islands off the coast, where there was a fishing village of the same name. They raided the village and the home island for three days, capturing 234 people and killing 34, including one of the ministers of the island. The other minister, Ólafur Egilsson, was initially enslaved by the pirates and brought to Algiers. He was sent back to Copenhagen to plead for ransom funds from the King of Denmark to redeem his Icelandic subjects still in Algiers.[2] Those offering resistance were killed, as were some of the old and infirm people.[3] On July 19 the ships left Vestmannaeyjar and sailed back to Algiers. Ólafur later wrote a detailed account of his experience, one of a number of captivity narratives published in these years. It was translated and published in English in 2008.[2]

Slaves in the Barbary[edit]

Those captured were sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast. All Icelandic accounts agreed the number of captives was below 400. French nobleman Emanuel d'Aranda says in his book, Relation de la captivité et la liberté du sieur (1666), about his time as a slave of the Barbary pirate Ali Bitchin, that an Icelandic fellow captive in Algiers told him 800 people had been enslaved. That number does not agree with any Icelandic sources.[4]

A few letters written by captives reached Iceland. Together with other accounts, they indicate that the captives were treated very differently according to their masters. Guttormur Hallsson, a captive from Eastern Region, said in a letter written in the Barbary in 1631: "There is a great difference here between masters. Some captive slaves get good, gentle, or in-between masters, but some unfortunates find themselves with savage, cruel, hardhearted tyrants, who never stop treating them badly, and who force them to labour and toil with scanty clothing and little food, bound in iron fetters, from morning till night."[5]

The most notable captive was Guðríður Símonardóttir. She was sold as a concubine in Ottoman Algeria and was among the few Icelandic captives who were redeemed by King Christian IV of Denmark. She is known for having later married Hallgrímur Pétursson, who became a Lutheran minister and one of Iceland's most famous poets.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vilhjálmur Þ. Gíslason, Bessastaðir: Þættir úr sögu höfuðbóls. Akureyri. 1947
  2. ^ a b Egilsson, Ólafur (2008) The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson (Reisbók séra Ólafs Egilssonar) Captured by Pirates in 1627. Translated and edited by Karl Smári Hreinsson and Adam Nichols. Reykjavik: Fjölvi.
  3. ^ Peter Madsen, "Danish slaves in Barbary", Islam in European Literature Conference, Denmark
  4. ^ Wilson, Peter Lamborn (2003). Pirate Utopias. Autonomedia. p. 100. ISBN 1-57027-158-5. Retrieved 2011-04-29.  It is also found in D'Aranda, Emanuel (1666), The History of Algiers and It's Slavery with Many Remarkable Particularities of Africk. London: John Starkey, p. 248.
  5. ^ Letter written by Guttormur Hallsson

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