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August 20: Sinan’s Fleet

August 20, 2014

talk-like-a-jewish-pirateOn this date in 1534, Sinan, a Jewish refugee from the Spanish Inquisition who had resettled in Turkey, led a hundred ships into the harbor of Tunis and occupied the city in the name of the great sultan Suleiman. Sinan was the favored captain of Suleiman’s naval commander, Barbarossa (“Red Beard”), the scourge of Christendom, and he was known throughout the Mediterranean as “the Famous Jewish Pirate.” Counter to accepted practices at the time, Sinan did not engage in the slaughter of innocents or helpless captives; when a Spanish fleet took back the city in 1535, he dissuaded Barbarossa from killing some 20,000 Christian slaves who were quartered in the city’s dungeons. He reportedly told his commander, “To stain ourselves with so awful a massacre would place us outside the pale of humanity forever.”

“[Sinan’s] untutored crew bragged that he needed no more than a crossbow to find the height of the stars to determine their position at sea. (In truth, his crossbow was a ‘Jacob’s staff,’ an early form of sextant.)” —Edward Kritzler, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean

Our thanks to Mikhail “the Beardless Buccaneer” Horowitz for this Jewdayo entry.