There are two chapters posted here: one in which Reverend Ólafur describes the Icelanders’ arrival in Algiers and their subsequent sale in the slave market there, the other in which he describes the city of Livorno, in Italy.




About how it went (to the best of my knowledge) for the good people who had been captured and were taken to that place [Algiers]


When the poor Icelandic people were put on land, such a huge crowd gathered that I think it was impossible to count their number. They did not come for any cruel purpose, but only to look at the poor captives. The Icelanders were separated from each other—friend from friend, children from their parents—and driven through the streets, from one house to another, to the market place where they were put up for auction as if they were sheep or cattle.

 The people who had been captured in East Iceland were first offered for sale, the men being kept separate in some houses, the women in other houses. This went on until the 28th of August, by which time most of the East Iceland people were sold.

Captives being sold in the slave market—the  Batistan —in Algiers. (Engraving by Jan en Casper Luyken, 1684. Amsterdam Historic Museum.)

Captives being sold in the slave market—the Batistan—in Algiers. (Engraving by Jan en Casper Luyken, 1684. Amsterdam Historic Museum.)

 After that, the people from the Westman Islands were brought to the market place, which was a square built up of stones with seats encompassing it all around. The ground was paved with stones which appeared glossy — which I understand is because they were washed every day, as were the main houses, sometimes as much as three times a day. This market place was next to where their local King had his seat, so that he would have the shortest way there, because, as I was told by those who had been there a long time (and were and are still Christians), their laws concerning the sharing out of prisoners were as follows.

First and foremost, the Commander got to have whichever two of the captives he wanted. Then their King (if I may call him that) took every eighth man, every eighth woman, and every eighth child. When he had taken these, those people who remained were divided into two groups, one for the ship owners and one for the pirates themselves.

We poor Westman Island people were taken to the market place in two groups, each of thirty. The Turkish guarded each group in front and behind and counted heads at each street corner because the inhabitants of that place will steal such captive people if ever they get the chance.

When we came to the market place, we were placed in a circle, and everyone’s hands and face were inspected. Then the King chose from this group those whom he wanted (every eighth, as I mentioned earlier). His first choice amongst the boys was my own poor son, eleven years old, whom I will never forget as long as I live because of the depth of his understanding. When he was taken from me, I asked him in God’s name not to forsake his faith nor forget his catechism. He said with great grief, “I will not, my father! They can treat my body as they will, but my soul I shall keep for my good God.”

I have to say with Job: What is my strength, that I should hope? (Job 6:11). Were one to try to weigh my misery and suffering altogether on a scale, they would be heavier than all the sand in the sea.

The other Icelanders were moved from there to another place, and one of the Turkish led two groups of ten around one stone column with loud screaming which I did not understand. I and my wife and our two younger children, a one-year-old and a one-month-old, were taken from that place up to the King’s hall, and there we sat with the children in our arms for two hours. From there, we were then taken to the King’s prison, where we spent that night. From that time on, I do not know what became of the rest of the Icelandic people. Ah! I would like to comfort and strengthen the people with my words, but I cannot. And whether I speak of such things or not, my suffering does not lessen.





About their dress in that town [Legor i.e., Livorno] and the unusual things that I saw there


The men of Legor [Livorno] are extremely well dressed, better, I think, than anywhere else in the world, or here in the Nordic countries. They wear silk and velvet, and they wear nothing except only shirts and jerkins which are cut in five strings on the shoulders, and also the same way on the arms. Their trousers are also the same. They spend so much on themselves that their legging-strings [garters] cost 60 dalers, their shoe laces 10 dalers, and other things are similarly expensive. And the men who fancify themselves like this include even soldiers and porters.

In that town, food is so very expensive that people who want to buy food for the week have to pay four dalers, even for poor meals. One pound of birds (very small birds) costs sixteen shillings. About their dress on holy days, I cannot say much.

As for how the women dress: their clothing is costly and made of valuable cloth, and cut very well and very well made. The style resembles that of the lower part of honest women’s dresses here in Iceland. Their bodices have gold and silver buttons, and even buttons of precious stones, and their shoes cost sixty dalers, and some more. The vamps of their shoes are made from velvet, and are divided in three on the instep with gold buttons. All the people in that town are dark haired but white skinned, and with good-looking faces and figures.

I want to put down here something that I saw, which I had never seen before: every morning that I was there, I saw in all the streets of the town 100 people or more going about in chains, shackled two by two together, as horses are harnessed. These people were totally naked except for a small piece of clothing around the waist to cover their ‘shame.’ Two other men went with them, whom I understood to be their overseers. With that group was a deer, from whom the antlers were cut, and also two big rams, and a fox and a sea-cat [a kind of monkey], both of who were in red dress. These two walked only on their hind legs, and wore black shoes and hats on their heads, and had blades at their sides, and—if I may say so—from behind their red trousers hung their long tails. What this act was for, I hardly know.

I also saw there two other animals, which they call buffler. These resemble the biggest ox in general shape, and they look amazingly fat. They have screwed horns like old rams. The Norwegian man told me that they had no fat on them, inside or out, but that they are very strong to drag wagons filled with brick, iron, salt, and lead.

Further, I saw in that town a masterpiece, the like of which I have never seen before or since. It was four human figures, in fetters, cast in copper [i.e., bronze], about a column of white marble. This column was foursquare, and a figure sat by each side, looking almost like living men. These were replicas of a Turk and his three sons, who had done great damage to Christianity. In stature, they were like giants, but the duke of that town had conquered them in battle, and had had their figures cast in memory of his victory. His figure stands over them with a big sword in hand. There, on pikes on a wall, are placed the severed heads of Turkish pirates.


Statue of the four Barbary corsairs as captives. Italian engraving from the seventeenth century of the Monumento dei Quattro Mori (Monument of the Four Moors).

Statue of the four Barbary corsairs as captives. Italian engraving from the seventeenth century of the Monumento dei Quattro Mori (Monument of the Four Moors).