Sweden was one of the warring parties in the First Barbary War (1801-1805) with 3 frigates from the Swedish navy.

I had read that Sweden had a colony in Gold Coast (modern Ghana), taken from the Dutch, from 1650 to 1663, but was not aware that the Scandinavian country was doing any business in Africa in 1800's.

One thought was that perhaps this had something to do with pirates from Africa stealing Europeans to slavery, but the sources I have found on this do not mention Swedish victims. For example the Wikipedia article on Barbary Wars says that British and American ships had been attacked:

Since the 1600s, the Barbary pirates had attacked British shipping along the North Coast of Africa, holding captives for ransom or enslaving them. Ransoms were generally raised by families and local church groups. The British became familiar with captivity narratives written by Barbary pirates' prisoners and slaves.[5]

During the American Revolutionary War, the pirates attacked American ships.

This Wikipedia article does also mention that the pirates from northern Africa had attacked coastal towns in Europe all the way to Iceland:

In addition to seizing ships, they engaged in razzias, raids on European coastal towns and villages, mainly in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, but also in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Ireland, and as far away as Iceland. The main purpose of their attacks was to capture European slaves for the Arab slave market in North Africa.4

The source referenced by the above section is a BBC article titled "British Slaves on the Barbary Coast". This article estimates the number of Europeans taken as slaves to be as high as 1,250,000:

for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 - this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless.

Still none of these sources explicitly mention Swedish prisoners.


What kind of business or involvement did Sweden have in northern Africa and what developments lead to it being a party in the First Barbary War?

  • 5
    The Swedish would not necessarily have had to be doing trade in Africa to become involved. Trade with any of the Eastern Mediterranean ports would have brought their ships in range of the pirates. This unreferenced article suggests that Tripolitania declared war on Sweden.
    – Steve Bird
    Jan 12, 2018 at 17:55

4 Answers 4


This is a difficult topic to find good sources for, because this war is largely forgotten in Sweden. It was not a very dignified affair, and was overshadowed by the catastrophic defeat in the Finnish War a few years later. Most Swedes, even historically interested ones, would not know about it or be more than dimly aware of it. (The article in Swedish Wikipedia is actually a translation from English and only briefly covers the Swedish involvement).

The barbary corsairs were demanding tribute of everyone. They were not as powerful as they had been, but basically every Christian state that did any shipping around the Mediterranean sea still paid regular tribute. Sweden had also increasingly irritated since the corsairs of Tripoli had recently captured several ships, starting in 1797, demanding ransom. One such was paid and the prisoners released. Soon, another group of ships were captured. This time the prisoners were released on the promise of ransom, but it was not paid. This started a formal war in 1800. The next year, the pascha also declared war on the US. Sweden was not involved in the Napoleonic wars, and thus saw the possibility of allying with the Americans.

Sweden contributed three Frigates, but as the Pascha held the crews of 14 ships hostages and threatened to kill them if the city was attacked, Sweden sued for separate peace in 1802. The Americans continued fighting, and reached an inconclusive peace in 1805.

The US would be free of the demand for tribute through the Second Barbary War of 1815; Sweden continued paying tribute until 1845.


As noted above, it is hard to find good sources; this war is usually not covered in any detail, or even at all, in general works of history. I've relied a lot on this article by Torbjörn Dalnäs, who is a journalist writing on nautical history. Some details are confirmed here, in a blog post from Dick Harrison. He has written books on the history of slavery, which I own and have read, but don't have on hand right now.


There is a thread about it on Skalman.nu (partly in english).

In 1796 Yussuf Bascha of Tripoli took 8 swedish ships because his tribute was late. [...] Yussuf Bascha demanded compensation from the swedish government for his lost cargo and weren´t shy about the value of the cargo. Also three shipboys that had converted sneaked out of Tripoli. As compensation for this crime against islam Yussuf demanded 15000 peso duro from the swedish government.

Apparently there was an article in Strategy & Tactics magazine.


There is a detailed account of the events available here, in swedish. I will summarize briefly.

First we must note that Tripoli declared war all the time, versus different countries. It was part of their strategy. A declaration of war from Tripoli was nothing but a pretext for demanding additional sums when negotiating for peace, in addition to raising the annual tributes that all countries who did commerce in the mediterranean sea (that includes Sweden) had to pay to the barbary states as protection money against piracy.

An example of what could happen: Tripoli makes up an excuse to go to war (e.g. through ridiculous demands that the extorted party could not agree to). Once at war, the Tripolitan fleet captures trading ships, turning the sailors into slaves. There is but one way to peace: A new peace negotiation which means increased annual tributes, plus a large sum of money for the release of the slaves and ships that have been captured. To get a better position in those negotiations however, some countries (such as Sweden in this case) decided to send frigates to the shores of Tripoli to blockade its port, protecting its own trade vessels and putting pressure on Tripoli at the same time.

The point I am making is that the exact events of what led up to Sweden's involvement in the first Barbary war is not that important, still I promised a summary:

Two years after Yusuf Karamanli became Pasha, in 1797, he captured two swedish ships. He then complained to the swedish consul about not receiving a gift from Sweden upon ascending the throne, and for not receiving a gift for Gustav IV Adolf's ascension in 1796. He was promised such gifts and the ships were allowed to set sail. The transportation of the gifts took too long for the impatient Karamanli, hence he declared war. Sweden negotiated for peace and signed an expensive treaty in 1798.

The peace did not last long, in 1799 a french commander selected a swedish ship to transport gifts from France to Tripoli. The ship was captured by the portuguese, who were already at war with Tripoli. Karamanli decided to blame Sweden and required that Sweden should arrange the return of the gifts from the portuguese. The Pascha also provoked Sweden further by e.g. capturing swedish ships despite the peace. The swedish consul Cöster agreed to pay the Pascha a substantial amount, worth in total about the same amount as a decade of tributes. Gustav IV Adolf was not pleased and so in February of 1800 he declared war on Tripoli himself, and so the war began.


This answer focuses on the casus belli, the cause for Swedish participation in the Barbary Wars.

Quoting James L. Cathcart, Monticello.org states:

The First Barbary War

... Cathcart explained to the Secretary of State why America owed nothing to the pasha and how he was regularly at war with some country or other from which he would demand beneficial negotiations. (He was then at war with Sweden which would soon agree to pay annual tribute and ransom for 131 captives; Swedish merchantmen had been seized by Tripolitan corsairs since the angered Pasha had broken an existing treaty and declared war a few months earlier)

source: Monticello.org

"Pasha" in the quote refers to Yusef Caramanli.

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