Hamburg and Algiers are in some ways two rather atypical models of success of the Early Modern Era. Until the late 18th century, both were constantly threatened by powerful neighbors (the former by the kingdom of Denmark, the latter by the kingdom of Spain) and yet they managed to retain their independence due to impressive fortifications around the respective cities and a skillful use of diplomatic contacts with other powers, especially the Netherlands, Great Britain and France.1 Moreover, several embargoes and armed conflicts notwithstanding, both were able to flourish in their own ways over the centuries from 1520-1800. Geography was certainly the primary reason for this. The connection of both cities to the sea strongly increased their defensibility and served as an essential lifeline. However, this also resulted in the crucial difference that set both at odds: while Hamburg, a republican city state in Northern Germany, needed a constant coming and going of laden merchant ships under any (but preferably under its own) flag for its weal, Algiers, a monarchical state with solid territorial possessions in Northern Africa, flourished from the coming and going of its corsair ships preying on shipping of all European and Christian states (exempt were in principle only ships of Muslim powers). The result was necessarily conflict between the two cities which were not only 2 000 kilometers, but entire continents and cultures apart. From the 1570s onwards, Hamburg had developed strong shipping and trade connections with Atlantic Iberia and had expanded its range in the 1590s even into the Mediterranean. These destinations were the most profitable branches of Hamburg’s shipping for the better part of the Early Modern Age. The Algerian corsairs had expanded their range into the Atlantic around 1580 and up to Galicia in Northern Spain around 1600.2 As for Hamburg, as well as for Algiers, long-distance shipping was the most profitable branch of their overseas business. The result was foreseeable: hundreds of violent encounters at sea between crews from Hamburg and Algiers took place over the centuries and all in all probably up to 4-5 000 seamen from Hamburg’s ships were enslaved on North African soil in the Early Modern Age.3 The many battles between ships from Hamburg and Algiers have led a historian to regard the sea as second front line in the wars of the Empire against the Turks.4
This problem did not only concern Hamburg. The Algerian attitude towards any European state in the Early Modern Age was certainly one of the most important factors that determined the weal or woe of its shipping in Iberian waters and the Mediterranean. If a European state was at war with Algiers, this almost necessarily meant that its ship owners had no possibility to compete with players in this area whose home state was at peace with the North African regency. Since freighting proper ships was also for merchants from the Ottoman dominions nearly impossible due to the activities of the Maltese corsairs5 and the difficult quarantine-regulations of the European ports, in practice only ships of a European nation that was at peace with Algiers could do intense merchant shipping, contemporarily known as cabotage, in the Mediterranean.6 This led to an unusual concentration of English and French ships in this region from the second half of the 17th century onwards, since both were powerful enough for most of the time to maintain peace with all North African regencies. The Dutch were only able to attain a durable peace with Algiers in 1726, which ensured some substantial Dutch shipping in the Mediterranean in the following decades.7 This was imitated by Austria in 1727 and Sweden in 1729. Austria was not able to maintain its peace with Algiers due to the refusal of the Emperor to pay tributes, whereas Sweden had no great qualms with these payments. Only in 1748 could the Austrians finally achieve a more stable peace with Algiers. The result was a strong and constant growth of the Swedish long-distance fleet while the fleets of Habsburg-governed states remained negligible until the second half of the 18th century, even though the monarchy encompassed quite important parts and ports of Italy and Northern Croatia, from 1720-1734 even Sicily and Southern Italy.8
These proceedings were observed in Hamburg and the kingdom of Denmark-Norway with keen interest. The former had lost most of its shipping near Portugal and Spain after 1725 when the British and Dutch had begun to take over Hamburg’s shipping towards Southern Europe.9 Hamburg had never had substantial shipping to Southern Europe due to a longstanding non-competitiveness with the Dutch.10 However, key-actors from both Hamburg and Denmark-Norway were always out either to regain lost terrain (Hamburg) or to make inroads in new commercial areas (Denmark-Norway). The success of Sweden must have been the most impressive example to stimulate commercial fantasies in the North-European world. The Swedes had suffered a decisive defeat in the Great Northern War (1700-1721) and had thus been written-off by their competitors. When Swedish ships began to appear in substantial numbers in the Mediterranean in the 1730s, this caused quite some awe among its competitors.11 From then on the Swedish flag would remain a regular sight in these waters until 1810, when the continental blockade was extended to this realm.12 This was not something negligible. In Europe many were of the opinion of the Portuguese Jew Jacob Buzaglo, who wrote to the Prussian king in 1756 that this commerce was "plus avantageux, solide & avec moins de Risque que Le Commerce aux Indes orientales".13
To see Sweden now profit to a hitherto unseen degree from its new engagement in an area so far away from its home-waters inspired the Hamburgers and the mercantilist elite in Copenhagen. From 1736 on, Denmark tried imitate its Scandinavian neighbor and to conclude peace with the Algerians.14 From 1661 until 1715 Hamburg had tried to be included in a peace with the Algerians with either the English or the Dutch. The disappointments of these decades had taught the Hamburgers the lesson that no sea power would ever be willing to help them.15 After 1715 the Hamburgers accepted this and did not even dare to approach the Emperor to obtain inclusion into any resulting peace in 1727 or 1740, both years in which the Austrians negotiated with the North African regencies Algiers, Tunis and Tripolis.16 The hope that it would be possible to maintain competitiveness via convoying proved to be in vain already in the 1720s. The inflexibility of convoys hampered Hamburg’s merchant shipping decisively and it was thus no match for the British and Dutch.
After 1741, when war among the sea powers began to loom ever larger on the international stage, the ship-owners of Hamburg began to receive constantly more orders from international merchants to transport their goods southwards. It was clear to all Europeans that the greater European states would soon be sucked into the continental conflicts and that the need for some neutral power to do the shipping throughout all of Europe would rise with irresistible force. Regardless of how dangerous the Algerian corsairs were, they were always rather harmless in comparison to the corsair fleets of the West European powers. Thus, the insurance-rates for ships of any belligerent could not but rise strongly in the coming war and correspondingly the rates for neutrals were sure to drop. The result was a boom of Hamburg’s shipping in the Mediterranean and a slump for its main competitor, the Dutch Republic.17
In 1727 Hamburg had no longer seen any perspective to maintain its shipping towards Southern Europe. Hampered by either the Barbary corsairs, or a general European war, the city could not maintain its neutrality as part of the Empire. 1675-1678, 1689-1697 and 1702-1714, ships from Hamburg had been open game for French corsairs. Therefore nobody in Hamburg believed any longer in the possibility of keeping the city neutral in larger European conflicts. The binding to the Empire was simply too tight. The city-state had acquiesced itself into its fate of no longer being able to maintain a large long-distance fleet.18 However, when the Empire waged a war against France from 1733-1735 (the war of the Polish succession), Hamburg could maintain its neutrality thanks to the intervention of the Elector of Brandenburg at the Emperor’s court and a large payment of 100 000 guilders to Vienna.19 Now Hamburg had the explicit precedent that it could enjoy complete neutrality in general European wars. The only obstacle to shipping towards Southern Europe remained the Barbary corsairs. If a peace-treaty could be obtained with them as well, a bright flourishing of Hamburg’s shipping was to be expected. This became the program of the leading politicians of the city.
After 1741 Hamburg tried intensely to come to an accord with Algiers. Between 1741 and 1744, Hamburg’s chief ransoming-agent in Algiers, John Ford, was charged with this project. Problematically he never received the necessary accreditation nor any money to conduct his negotiations with any chance of success. All funds that the city of Hamburg tried to send to him were misappropriated by a corrupt senator who enriched himself.20 The negotiations of the city thus failed in the very same years that Denmark-Norway conducted its negotiations in earnest. The result was foreseeable. Denmark-Norway obtained its peace at the end of 1746 and its merchant fleet was henceforth free to enter into the Mediterranean.
At the same time (in late 1746), Hamburg had sent out a warship to protect its merchant ships in the Mediterranean. The hope invested in this tour was great but it ended in a drastic disappointment. At the beginning of 1747, the Hamburgers received the news that their convoying had failed and that the Algerians had captured fourteen merchant ships under Hamburg’s flag while the warship had not been able to come to their aid.21 The Algerian way of warfare on the oceans was intelligent and flexible and convoying an incredibly clumsy measure to counter it. The Algerians used chebeks, galleys with latin sails, to attack single merchant ships in a calm. Usually the Algerians hid five to seven chebeks, each manned with at least 100 soldiers, close to the coast behind larger cliffs. A lookout at the top of the cliffs spotted the European ships and gave the signal to approach these. Usually the Europeans immediately surrendered when faced with the vastly superior attacking force. In case of defense, usually only death of many sailors and certain defeat awaited them. Against such tactics the Hamburgers were powerless and thus the year 1747 saw their greatest losses since the 1620s.22
Worse was to come: At the same time the Hamburg merchants learned that henceforth ships from Altona, two kilometers away and under Danish rule, in the future would be furnished with Algerian passes at just 50 Reichsthalers per piece. The only condition was the relocation of one’s residence, a marginal prerequisite that any ship-owner of Hamburg could easily do. Thus, Hamburg now faced the scenario of mass-emigration of its ship-owners to Altona, a city that always had been and still was regarded an economic rival.23
In 1747 and 1748 Hamburg approached the Emperor in Vienna. Austria was able to come to an advantageous commercial treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1747. In this treaty, explicit mention was made of the North African regencies and thus the Austrian merchants and ship-owners obtained full liberty in the Mediterranean. This was of great advantage to Livorno and Trieste.24 The Hamburgers hoped that they would also be included and thereby gain cheap access to the highly profitable Levantine trades. However, the result was disappointing. The mention of the Hanseatic cities in the north of the Empire was made in such general terms that it was of no real value to the Hamburgers. When the Emperor continued his negotiations in Algiers in 1748, the Hamburgers requested officially inclusion into the treaty. On the ground in Algiers however, the Dey refused to accept any inclusion of the Elbe city into the treaty with Austria, stating that the city was completely independent from Vienna.25 The Emperor could not obtain Hamburg’s inclusion and the city saw itself abandoned.26
Now the Hamburgers approached France. It was common knowledge in the city that any attempt to obtain help from either England, Denmark-Norway, Sweden or the Dutch Republic was doomed to failure since these all regarded the Hamburgers as competitors. This was not the case with France which had practically no shipping towards Northern Europe and yet exported vast quantities of high value wares like wine or colonial goods to Germany via Hamburg. This strong French export business was practically completely in the hands of Hamburgers who had their agents in Bordeaux and other French ports overseeing the entire commercial process from the moment onwards that the product was bought from the local merchant.27 Thus, the Hamburgers considered themselves to be in a strong alliance of mutual interest with France. Any strengthening of Hamburg would be, in this logic, also to the benefit of France, therefore a peace of the city with Algiers was thought to be also in the interest of France.28 This was a principal error on the side of the senate. France at this time was economically not interested in any further strengthening of Hamburg; to the contrary. The Elbe city was accused of strong discrimination of French merchants residing here.29 Instead France was much keener on furthering its own merchants and ship owners in the Northern markets.30 Furthermore, the overarching interest of France in regards to the Empire and the Scandinavian powers was at this time of strong tensions between the leading European powers principally of political nature and economic considerations were at best only secondary.31
In May 1748, the senate approached the French resident in Hamburg. He in turn contacted the French government, which decided in favor of the city after some months. Within the foreign ministry, some debates had taken place, but in the end it was decided that such an engagement in favor of a small and weak state of Europe would enhance French prestige and bring Hamburg closer in dependence to the kingdom. It was hoped that this would enable France to act better on behalf of its merchants residing in Hamburg.32 A Hamburg merchant living in Marseilles of the name Jacob Goverts was chosen as chief negotiator on behalf of the city. He officially became a French subject, and in May 1749 he travelled from Marseilles to Algiers. The French government instructed its consul in Algiers, Benoît Lemaire, to lend his full support to Goverts’ mission.33
Goverts started methodically. He acquainted himself with key-figures of the regency and bribed some of them in order to facilitate his business. He stayed some months in order to learn as much as possible about the local structures before he would begin his negotiations. Soon he also approached John Ford, Hamburg’s old ransoming agent, who became an indispensable ally in Govert’s quest for peace. It was all under good way until the French consul at the beginning of 1750 learned from the chief Algerian minister that the Dey was willing to conclude peace with Hamburg and break with Denmark at the same time. Thereby he would not lose any tribute and his corsairs could immediately make great prey, given the many Danish ships that now roamed the Mediterranean.34 The sending-out of a message to all European courts that Algiers was still a potent player on its own was certainly also a welcome side effect.
For the French, this was unacceptable. In these days everyone knew that the next war between France and Great Britain would soon come and that it would result in the definite settling of the question of power within Europe, on the seas and in the colonial hemisphere.35 In anticipation of this decisive fight, France had built up an elaborate and complicated alliance-system with the two Scandinavian kingdoms that was buttressed with substantial subsidies from the French side.36 If the Dey of Algiers were to declare war on Denmark at the same time that he concluded a peace with Hamburg that had been brought about with the support of France, this could not but be seen as an uttermost hostile act by the court in Copenhagen. The end of the Franco-Danish alliance was a possible outcome. Given the Danish possession of the strategically very important Sound that connected the Baltic and the Western waters, such had to be averted by all means.
In the first months of 1750 the French government sent out strict instructions in several letters towards Lemaire to do everything in his power to sabotage the negotiations of Hamburg and yet keep his actions secret.37 Hamburg should never get its peace but it should still be thankful to the French for their "support". The following months were marked by a game in the shadows that is richly illustrated by the letters from Lemaire. The French consul was often able to delay the negotiations of the Hamburgers and cause the rise of demands from the Algerians’ side. However, even though he thought that he was always master of the game, in reality he could not completely control the course of events. The Danish kingdom delayed the deliverance of the annual tribute when faced with constantly rising demands from the Algerian side and Goverts, with the support of Ford, was able to win over some key figures of the regency. The French consul convinced the Algerians that Hamburg was rather rich and could easily afford substantial tributes beyond what Goverts was allowed to agree to. In addition, the French consul could convince the Algerians to demand war-materials instead of money, an explicit red line of Goverts instructions. However, when Goverts wrote this to Hamburg, the senate gave in to these demands and thus kept the negotiations going. When everything was going badly for Lemaire in late 1750, he decided to play his last trump card. He told the Danish consul in Algiers, Ludwig Hameken, that a declaration of war by Algiers against Denmark was imminent. Hameken should announce that he had received a letter from Copenhagen in which the expedition of the promised war-materials was confirmed.38
The maneuver worked well. The Algerians now decided to end the negotiations with Hamburg and to send Goverts back to Europe. However, now the events occurred rapidly. Goverts packed for his departure and told the Algerians in anticipation of the future bluntly that the Hamburgers would from now on buy passports from other European powers at peace with Algiers for half the money that they had offered as tribute.39 At the same time, John Ford was able to conduct some last negotiations behind the scenes. The combination worked. The Algerians could only gain naval stores by signing a treaty with Hamburg and, since no Hamburger ventured in Southern Waters any longer, they faced no potential loss whatsoever. Therefore the Algerians suddenly changed their opinion when seeing Goverts leaving and offered at the last minute peace to Hamburg on even slightly better terms than the one they had with Denmark. Goverts signed without hesitation on 22 February 1751.40
The leaders in Hamburg were enthusiastic when they heard the news. The peace was ratified and published in late summer 1751. In October and November 1751, a fleet of nine ships, presumably organized as a convoy, left Hamburg with the destination of Algiers. Two of them carried the tribute of several valuable objects for the high-ranking Algerian leaders but mostly naval war-materials (i.e. cannons, powder, cannon balls, planks etc.). The total value of the tributes amounted to 64 824 Marks, an impressive sum even for the rather rich city.41 Nonetheless, it likely paid off already in the first few months of the peace. Immediately after the publication of the peace treaty, Hamburg’s shipping towards Southern Europe boomed. In 1751, 24 ships under Hamburg’s flag had a South European destination, in contrast to just 12 in 1750.42 We can thus be sure that a stable peace would have brought with it a strong and long lasting shipping of Hamburg’s vessels within the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, the situation did not remain so favorable. In these years, the Spanish crown changed its political course and tried to modernize its economy. This went along with a more aggressive stance against the North European powers. The feeling of being exploited by foreign merchants was widespread and manifested itself in a mercantilist movement among politicians and scholars that fostered some sense of necessary reforms. Spain reasserted itself in some regards in the mid-18th century and this manifested itself also in the attitude towards the foreign merchants and the states from which they came.43
A particular nuisance for the Spaniards was the annual deliverances of war-material to the Algerians by the Northerners. This had started with the Dutch in 1726 and continued with the Swedish in 1729 and the Danes in 1746. Now Hamburg was the latest addition to this list. The amount of naval war-material was a dire threat to the Spanish fleet and coasts. Worse was the havoc wreaked on any potential Spanish commercial activity within Europe. The threat of the Barbary corsairs resulted in the fact that Spanish commercial or shipping activities were "in the Old World next to nothing".44 The Spanish still dreamt of a destruction of their archenemy just across the Mediterranean and thus were not ready in any way to start peace-negotiations by themselves.45 However, seeing the North Europeans strongly engaged in commercial activity in Southern Europe, dominating the Iberian ports with their merchants and being the dominant players in intra-European shipping caused strong resentment among the leading Spanish politicians.
The Spanish consul in Hamburg, Giacomo Poniso, duly reported to Madrid at the end of July 1751 that the Hamburgers had outfitted two ships with munitions and naval stores for Algiers.46 When these ships were dispatched, the Spanish king issued an embargo against Hamburg in late 1751. All Hamburgers had to leave the country and no more commercial activity between Spain and Hamburg should be permitted. The message that Spain wanted to send out to the world was clear: The proud nation would not tolerate any longer such behavior of the Northerners. Henceforward this kingdom would again be a power to be reckoned with in such matters of national pride.
Hamburg could not but give in. The city sent out an agent to Spain to negotiate on its behalf but he could only obtain the foreseeable result that the complete cancellation of the treaty would bring the end of the embargo.47 Larger powers like Saxony (in effect this also meant the Kingdom of Poland), Austria and France were asked to intervene on Hamburg’s behalf, but this did not help very much. The embargo was suspended for several months but the Spanish demand of the cancellation of the treaty remained rigidly fixed. For some time the Hamburgers hoped that the deliverance of money instead of naval stores might assuage the stance of the Spanish government, but this was in vain. Instead the Hamburgers now clearly perceived moves of other maritime actors, like the Dutch Republic, Bremen and Prussia (with its important port of Emden) to increase their respective share in Spain at the expense of Hamburg. The losses that the city now potentially faced were disastrous since the commercial exchanges between Hamburg and the kingdom of Spain had traditionally been strong.48 Thus, Hamburg officially annulled the peace in a public printing on 28 July 1752. Even afterwards the peace continued in practice until the end of the year since only on 8 November 1752 did the Dey of Algiers receive Hamburg’s official letter of cancellation. Hamburg’s ships that operated in southern waters could all return northwards peacefully and no ships from the city was caught. For nearly 20 months Hamburg had been at peace with Algiers in practice, the only time ever that a German state (apart from Austria49 and Hanover50) had been in a stable relationship with the regency before the French invasion of 1830.51
Afterwards, the Spanish tried again to embargo Denmark-Norway and thus to force this state to also give up its treaty with Algiers. However, this time such a move did not work. Denmark-Norway had no significant trade with Spain and no important community of merchants of the Northern monarchy lived in the Iberian kingdom. The embargo could hurt Danish shipping towards Iberia but here the traditional connection had been from Norway to Portugal and this was hardly affected by the Spanish move. Thus, the damage caused was not too strong and the Danes decided to withstand the Spanish embargo.52 Royal pride was an important factor in this decision since Sweden had not been subjected to any similar treatment from the Spanish side. After some years both sides again came to an accord. In 1757 the embargo was lifted and henceforth normal trade relations prevailed between Denmark-Norway and Spain.
The results of the failed peace treaty of Hamburg and the successful treaty of Denmark-Norway with Algiers soon became obvious. The merchants of Hamburg now chartered the ship-owners of Altona and the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein to a hitherto unknown degree. The fleet of the composite monarchy of Denmark-Norway and the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein thus gained a strong boost and soon grew to become one of the largest of all of Europe. Constantly receiving orders from the merchants of Hamburg, the ships under the Danish flag became practically the long-distance fleet of most parts of Germany.53 Denmark’s shipping boom of the second half of the 18th century was not for the smallest part due to its proximity to one of the most important mercantile centers of the contemporary world, i.e. Hamburg. The Danish kingdom could never break Hamburg’s commercial supremacy, thus a division of labour remained intact for the entire epoch from 1748-1830, nearly 100 years. Hamburg was the financial and commercial city, Altona the center of shipping. Hamburg did not fare overall badly in this repartition. By outsourcing shipping towards German speaking Altona, two kilometers away, the city practically enlarged the territory of the active economic unit "Hamburg" to now become in practice "Hamburg/Altona" to soon also draw other towns in Schleswig-Holstein like Glückstadt or Flensburg into its economic orbit.54 Denmark certainly made vast profits in the shipping business and built up an impressive fleet, but Hamburg now could rather easily engage in commerce with locations within the Mediterranean, an area that hitherto had been mostly blocked to its enterprises. Thus, even though Hamburg lost with its shipping industry an important economic sector, it could still make up for this with a slow but steady expansion of its Mediterranean trade.55
A peace-treaty with Algiers would have resulted in stronger shipping and more riches for Hamburg in the late 18th century, as well as more contact with Northern Africa. The area thus remained mostly outside the German mental map of the navigable world. Yet, the disadvantages were manageable for Hamburg and thus the city did not suffer too much from being forced to have its shipping done under the Danish flag. The German subjects of the Danish king became frequent visitors of the Mediterranean to the great advantage of all of Northern Germany. Their impact has not only been beneficial to the overall economic performance of Northern Germany, but also culturally left us a very rich jewel: Christian Levsen’s "Nachrichten und Bemerkungen über den algierischen Staat"56 were published between 1798 and 1800 not by chance in Altona, the city that profited most from the Danish-Algerian peace and its close vicinity to Hamburg. Levsen had worked for many years at the Danish consulate in Algiers57, thus his observations are not only excellent for their scientific precision but deeply grounded in profound first-hand experience. This work can, in some sense be regarded as the most lasting result of the Hamburg-Danish entente in regards to Algiers that came out of the failed peace treaty of 1752.