CORSAIR CLOTHING – FURBAN MALTI
I guess a little introduction about who we are is in order. We’re a growing group of individuals with a deep appreciation for the Maltese people’s journey through history, however we focus on a climactic era in our rich history. Climactic in a cultural and historical sense which inspires a certain passion and triggers Maltese pride, i.e. the walk hasn’t been easy. We have crystallised this sense of pride, in an image relative to contemporary art and thus we are also promoting local artists, like the man who captured the spirit behind the movement with one of the coolest looking skull and bones designs available both locally and internationally and which you can have the opportunity to acquire at the Malta Tattoo Expo 2014 from the 7th to the 9th November 2014.
In this series of articles, we shall give you a brief overview on the Maltese corsairs or as more commonly known in our language ‘Furbani Maltin’. The information provided is both factual and well researched. Feel free to trace all our references and sources. In case you would like to research more specific information, we would gladly help you with any queries that you might have. With great appreciation and humility, we thank you for both your interest and support.
SEA WOLVES OF MALTA – The Beginning
From Buccaneers and Privateers to the famous cutthroats declared ‘Hostis Humani Generis’ i.e Enemy of Mankind, forever immortalised during the Golden Age of Piracy . The tales of these Sea bandits stimulates our imagination and are a source of healthy, informative and provocative discussion till this very day. Our story, less mentioned yet nonetheless extraordinary takes us to the other side of the world, to a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean, in a time way before the Caribbean made its name as a pirate haven. And yet as the years passed in the Mediterranean, a new breed of sea mercenaries was being forged from a race without options caught between the collapse and emergence of new vast empires. This is the story of the Maltese Corsairs. Second to none warriors who later on spread fear and destruction even within the ranks of the dreaded Barbary Pirates… Heroes were born in the suffering and bloodshed of our island’s history and their names and deeds will never be forgotten.
Surrounded by sea and with limited natural land resources, survival was tough and this breed of warriors had mastered the sea , after absorbing the knowledge and experience of a thousand years wisdom passed on from generation to generation. Survival mostly meant Fishing, Trading and Piracy. Being spot on in the middle of naval trade between West and East one can only imagine which of these three, was the preferred course of action.
Corsairs unloading their plunder at the Harbour (Knights of Malta Museum Mdina)
It was not trading… By the 10th century, Maltese pirates were reputed to being “the worst members of the fraternity of rovers’’ along with the Greeks, Sardinians and Genoese. (1)(2)Malta was raided frequently by ‘Furbani’ and other sea mercenaries, but groups of hardened Maltese warriors returned the onslaught and violence in kind at sea. The Maltese were “Sinners as well as sinned against’’. (3) Different Foreign Rulers came and went, and in the process utilized the skillful Maltese sailors and fighting men in “Corsairing’’ – A Legalized form of Piracy… which reached its heyday in Malta under the Knights.
Enter the Knights of St John…who harshly criticized Malta but settled here nonetheless. The Corsairs of Birgu had by now, with their highly skilled knowledge of navigation and savagery in armed combat, made a name for themselves (One Bad Ass Maltese Furban had even attacked the Knights whilst they were still in Rhodes in 1467) (4).With also an already reputable number of Corsair ships and skilled workforce, the Knights were compelled to opt for the medieval city of Birgu as their new base of operations in their harassing of the Ottoman Empire. (5) Always aware of the importance of a Naval Force, the Knights continued to focus on the ‘Corso’ and as the years passed they made an offer impossible to refuse which more or less was ‘’Become a licensed Corsair and fight for your faith whilst becoming rich from the plunder… This ‘package’ also includes making use of our virtually impregnable and naturally sheltered Harbours, armaments for hire, market for the spoils, and if that is not already enough, make use of expert Maltese craftsmen renowned also for sail making and boat building… all this for just 10% of your plunder as tax and right to fly our Flag!’’
Maltese Corsair (17th Century) can be seen at exhibitions by the ”Society for Scale Modellers – IPMS Malta”
This High Risk and High Reward profession attracted cutthroats, opportunists and adventurers from all over Europe to Malta. Last but not least it attracted many of the Maltese all with one common goal – Glory and Gold, so much so that in the 1660’s it is reported that ONE THIRD of the Maltese population was involved in Corsairing.(6) A way out of poverty for most…at least for those not tempted to spend all their gains in the numerous taverns and women of pleasure available all over the Harbour area.
For the Order it was a profitable way to expand their already existing navy at a low cost. Despite Corsairing’s similar nature to piracy, (i.e raiding and plundering ships and enslaving all aboard) at the time it was considered a Respectable and Honorable profession, it was considered Privateering rather than Piracy due to its legal status (licensed). Of course those preyed upon, and also the victims of “illegal Corsairing” might have had a very different opinion.
So it came to be, Malta’s Grand Harbour area was constantly occupied by the Notorious Corsairs of Malta, made of various nationalities and a large number of Maltese all carousing in the local taverns drinking Aqua Vitae (Grappa) mixed with black powder!! (7) Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the Turks ‘’feared no one on the seas except the Maltese Corsairs’’ (8) with one of their captains maintaining that ‘’there was a devil in each Maltese Soldier.’’ (9)
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