Swedish reciprocal ransoms and multinational solutions to insecurity in the Mediterranean, c. 1720–1740

by Joachim Östlund

27 Aug 2021
Journal of the British Academy
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages
17 (pp. 151-167)

Abstract: This article compares the Swedish government’s legal practices to secure protection for its trade and shipping with the legal strategies for protection which circulated among sailors and consuls along the Swedish trade route to the Mediterranean in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. One major threat to Swedish commercial interests at the time were the ‘Barbary corsairs’, and the challenges when they captured ships and seized crews, whether Swedish sailors (many of them from Sweden’s Baltic and German provinces) on foreign-flagged ships or foreign sailors on Swedish ships. Consuls and traders knew of the problems caused when sailors crossed legal borders and challenged the rules of state protection. To counter this a more international model of maritime security was tested by attempting to strengthen the presence of the state in ransoms affairs in northern Africa. This model was developed when the Swedish Levant Company was founded. The main idea was shared responsibility between nations to ransom sailors serving under foreign flags, culminating in ‘reciprocal ransom agreements’ in 1742. Even though reciprocal ransom agreements were short-lived, it shows two different modes to counter insecurity in the Mediterranean, one based on local customs and regional elite networks and the other on multinational agreements and the discourse of international law.

Keywords: Swedish Levant Company, Barbary captivity, ransom, diplomatic consul, international law.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 4 (Global Border Making and Securitisation in the Early Modern World)

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