Libya Table of Contents
Part of an excavated Roman city at Sabratah, near Tripoli
Courtesy United Nations
Throughout the sixteenth century, Hapsburg Spain and the Ottoman Turks were pitted in a struggle for supremacy in the Mediterranean. Spanish forces had already occupied a number of other North African ports when in 1510 they captured Tripoli, destroyed the city, and constructed a fortified naval base from the rubble. Tripoli was of only marginal importance to Spain, however, and in 1524 the king-emperor Charles V entrusted its defense to the Knights of St. John of Malta.
Piracy, which for both Christians and Muslims was a dimension of the conflict between the opposing powers, lured adventurers from around the Mediterranean to the Maghribi coastal towns and islands. Among them was Khair ad Din, called Barbarossa, who in 1510 seized Algiers on the pretext of defending it from the Spaniards. Barbarossa subsequently recognized the suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan over the territory that he controlled and was in turn appointed the sultan's regent in the Maghrib. Using Algiers as their base, Barbarossa and his successors consolidated Ottoman authority in the central Maghrib, extended it to Tunisia and Tripolitania, and threatened Morocco. In 1551 the knights were driven out of Tripoli by the Turkish admiral, Sinan Pasha. In the next year Draughut Pasha, a Turkish pirate captain named governor by the sultan, restored order in the coastal towns and undertook the pacification of the Arab nomads in Tripolitania, although he admitted the difficulty of subduing a people "who carry their cities with them." Only in the 1580s did the rulers of Fezzan give their allegiance to the sultan, but the Turks refrained from trying to exercise any influence there. Ottoman authority was also absent in Cyrenaica, although a bey (commander) was stationed at Benghazi late in the next century to act as agent of the government in Tripoli.
Data as of 1987