The Barbary Crusade

One of the last crusades

Grant Piper

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(Public domain)

Amid the Hundred Years’ War, the merchant republic of Genoa appealed to France for help organizing and participating in a brand new crusade. The new crusade would take place in 1390 and would be one of the last major religious crusades organized by Christians. Today, the crusade is known as the Barbary Crusade, and it is a little-remembered footnote in the history of Medieval Europe.

Genoa was a major trading nation that sent merchant ships sailing all over the Mediterranean and beyond. Unfortunately, they were having a major issue with Berber piracy. Genoese ships were coming under frequent attack from Muslim pirates along Africa’s northern coasts. Genoa hoped that France could lend the firepower necessary to eliminate the Berber pirates as a threat once and for all.

Genoa would provide the ships and the archers if France provided heavily armored knights. In return, France would receive the due glory and respect as well as religious considerations from the Pope. France quickly agreed and dispatched 1,500 knights for the mission.

Interestingly enough, this expedition was to take place in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. Instead of waiting around for the English to appear, the French knights wanted to continue fighting and amassing wealth, glory, and fame even if the current war would not provide what they were looking for.

The crusade was launched on July 1st, in the middle of a hot, dry summer. The troops sailed to the African coast on behalf of the Genoese, who had targeted the pirate city of Mahdia as their goal. The knights had little knowledge of where they were going or what they would face when they arrived.

Confusion and Incompetance

(Public domain)

When the small crusader force landed on the shores of the Barbary coast, they were expecting some ramshackle villages to be plundered. Instead, they found Mahdia to be a well-fortified city with high walls and a large port. Temperatures in Mahdia during July could easily soar past the 100 F mark.

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Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.