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The Topography of Algiers is a lively eyewitness account of life in Algiers written by the Portuguese-born, naturalised Spanish cleric Dr. of Theology Antonio de Sosa (ca. 1538-87) while he was held as a slave in Algiers between 1577 and 1581, following his capture by corsairs.

Algiers was then the capital of a province of its name, the westernmost in the Ottoman empire, and the greatest of the Mediterranean ports dedicated to piracy, whither thousands of Christian slaves were brought, captured every year.

It was first published posthumously and anonymously in Valladolid, Spain in 1612 as the first of a five-volume work by de Sosa titled the Topographia, e Historia general de Argel. It was first translated into English by Diana de Armas Wilson as An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa's Topography of Algiers (1612) edited by María Antonia Garces (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), from which the passages concerning Greek love are here taken.

Algiers in Braun & Hogenberg's Civitates Orbis Terrarum II, ca. 1575

Chapter 13.  Renegades

“Turks by profession” are all those renegades of Christian blood and parentage who have turned Turk of their own free will, impiously renouncing and spurning their God and Creator. These renegades and their children outnumber all their neighbors in Algiers – Muslims, Turks, and Jews – because there is no Christian nation on earth that has not produced renegades in this city.[1] Beginning with the remote provinces of Europe, the following renegades may be found in Algiers: Muscovites, Russians, Ukrainians, Valacos, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Bohemians, Germans, Danish and Norwegians, Scotsmen, Englishmen, Irishmen, Flemish, Burgundians, Frenchmen, Navarrese, Basques, Castilians, Galicians, Portuguese, Andalusians, Valencians, Aragonese, Catalonians, Majorcans, Sardinians, Corsicans, Sicilians, Calabrese, Neapolitans, Romans, Tuscans, Genoese, Savoyans, Piedmontese, Lombards, Venetians, Slavs, Bosnians, Albanians, Greeks, Cretans, Cypriots, Syrians, Egyptians, and even Abyssinians of Prester John, as well as Indians from the Portuguese Indies [India], from Brazil, and from New Spain [Mexico].[2] 

What moves some of these men to forsake the true path of God, at such great peril to their souls, is nothing more than the fainthearted refusal to take on the work of slavery. Others are attracted by pleasure, by the good life of fleshly vice in which the Turks live. Still others are addicted since childhood to the wickedness of sodomy imposed on them by their masters. And together with all the fuss the Turks make over them – more even than over their own women – these men turn Turk in their youthful ignorance, understanding neither what they are disowning nor what they are adopting.[3] [p. 125]

Chapter 20.  Customs of the Janissaries in Peacetime

The rest of the Algerians live a bestial life of swine, constantly giving themselves over to licentiousness and lechery, and particularly to the heinous and revolting act of sodomy, abusing young boys, captive Christians whom they buy for this vice and later dress in the Turkish mode. Or from in and outside the territory, they take the sons of Jews and Moors, despite the pain of their parents, and spend days and nights with them while drunk on wine and brandy. [p. 148]

Chapter 27.  The Marabouts of Algiers

A marabout from Algiers

De Sosa explains (p. 174) that the marabouts were another kind of people living in and around Algiers, either Moors or Turks by birth, or renegades, “who are like ecclesiastical persons, because the word in Arabic means something like ‘saint,’ and they are all held in great veneration.”

Other marabouts out of devotion (as they put it) burn their heads with hot irons and brand themselves with knobs of fire; others slice into their chests and arms with razors, giving themselves great wounds; or they put cotton rags drenched in oil over their arms, which they set on fire and let their flesh burn until the oil and cloth are consumed. But the truth is that they do this out of love for young boys (to whom they are very addicted) when the devil makes them burn with desire and further inflames in them that dirty and filthy lust. And in this way, every man who kisses the head and wounds of these dirty rogues is a holy man. [p. 178 …]

In sum, however saintly these marabouts appear to be, they are tremendous sodomites. They pride themselves on it and commit this bestial sin publicly, in the middle of the Souk or the main street and in the eyes of the entire city. And the blindness of Moors and Turks is so engrained that they praise and endorse these acts. I choose to refrain from citing some cases here because they are so gross, dirty, and filthy. Given that these men profess such a bestial life, similarly outrageous are the tall stories, dreams, fictions, errors, and blindness that they teach, preach, and use to persuade their followers – well beyond what Muhammad left written in the Qur’an, which we shall discuss in its proper place. [p. 180]

Chapter 31.  Childbirth and Child Rearing

A Jew from Algiers by A.M. Wolffgang (Esquer, Iconographie hist. de l’Algérie I 29)

When the sons are grown, each follows the lifestyle that most agrees with him, although, ordinarily, the son of a corsair becomes a corsair; that of a merchant, a merchant; that of a janissary[4], a janissary and soldier; and that of a mechanic, a mechanic. All of them, in general, when they reach fourteen years of age, or even earlier, are contaminated with every kind of vice, especially that of licentiousness, continuous eating and drinking of wine or stronger alcohol, and every manner of lechery and sodomy. […]

[After describing the loving devotion with which the Jews of Algiers bring up their children, and fathers their sons in particular, …] And because of the way these Jewish children are reared, no father will dare to punish them or make them angry, because at that moment many of them, for this reason, will turn Turk in spite of their parents, who cannot stop them. In the same way, many of these children, as youngsters, are very prone to vice, gambling, and drink. Some also take up friendships with Turks or renegades, whom they serve as sexual partners and to whose vice of sodomy they then attach themselves. [pp. 196-7]

Chapter 36.  Algerian Vices

The third vice and sin is Lust, which they profess so generally that there is no species of this sin that they do not practice and count on for their well-being in this world and the next. [… The huge number of women prostitutes is next described].

In the same way, given that all the women (as we have said) are covered and walk about freely throughout the city, and that their husbands pay so little attention to them and dearly love their garzones,[5] rare is the woman who is chaste, especially since there are an infinite number of female go-betweens who make a living by pandering, and not one of them is punished for it.

Sodomy, as we said, is considered honourable, because he who can support the most garzones is the more honoured for it. He is envied for this even more than for his own wives and daughters, when on Fridays and holidays, he displays his boy-loves very richly dressed. And then all the young men of the city, and many who consider themselves serious men, vie with each other in offering the youths bouquets of flowers and expressing their passions and torments.

An Algerian family, 1671

A man with a son should guard him Argos-eyed from taking up this vice (and few are those who do not take it up in time), because later they will have lovers who court them, send them gifts, and show them off in the street. No governor goes abroad, no Turk goes to war or on a cavalcade, no corsair goes privateering that he does not take his garzón to cook for him and service him in bed. Sinning with these boys, at midday and in the eyes of the whole world, does not seem strange. Many Turks and renegades, already grown and even old men, not only do not want to marry women other than these garzones, but they boast of never having known a woman in all their lives; rather they despise them and do not want to look at them.

One of these, a Greek by birth and chief among the ka’ids and richest renegades, swears to God that he is so affronted at having been born of a woman (he hated them so much), that if they should show him his mother, he would kill her with his own hands. This may explain why sodomy is so esteemed in Algiers, and in so public a manner, that barbers, in order to earn more and have a larger number of customers to trim and shave in their shops, staff them with boys who clip, wash, and shave Turks, renegades and Moors. These boys are continually courted as if they were the loveliest and most prominent ladies in the world, and, in effect, these barber shops are public brothels. [pp. 238-9]

[1] Between 1500 and 1650, thousands of Christian renegades from the western Mediterranean, both as captives and free men, flocked en masse to Islamic countries,  prompting a great exchange of men, ideas, and technologies. Recent historical studies calculate that over 300,000 inhabitants of the Mediterranean world became “Turks by profession” in the early modern period. [Editor’s footnote]

[2] Prester John was the legendary Christian king living more or less in Ethiopia and sought out by the Portuguese in their voyages to India. [Editor’s footnote]

[3] Whereas fornication in Counter-Reformation Europe constituted a mortal sin, sexual freedom in Barbary was ample and included, among other accessible pleasures, those offered by young men. This was the infamy that public opinion in Europe attributed to Turks and inhabitants of Barbary. Many young men, captives or renegades, accepted the sexual practices that offered them advantageous compensations. Cervantes himself described and condemned these practices in his literary production, especially in El trato de Argel [Life in Algiers]. [Editor’s footnote].
     As can be seen from the text, the editor’s use in this note of the term “young men”, as opposed to “boys”, is quite unjustified. At best, looking at it from a 21st-century perspective, it might be excused as a euphemism; less charitably, it might well be regarded as a typical example of the dishonesty with which 21st-century writers habitually rewrite pederastic history in favour of an entirely invented gay history. [Website footnote]

[4] The Janissaries were infantry forcibly recruited as boys from the Christian provinces of the Ottoman empire, converted to Islam and dedicated personally to the Sultan. [Website footnote]

[5] In sixteenth-century Spain, the term garzón (pl. garzones) referred to sodomites, especially to the bardash, or passive agent in the sexual relation between men.” Editor’s footnote]
     There is no possible justification for the editor writing here of sex “between men” rather than “between men and boys”. See the definitive history of male homosexuality in Spain in this period, Cristian Berco’s Sexual Hierarchies, Public Status: Men, Sodomy, and Society in Spain's Golden Age (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006) for overwhelming evidence that almost all male homosexual acts there were between men and boys, as indeed they seem to have been throughout Europe. Moreover, the word garzón derives from the French garçon, meaning a boy, its connotation of sexual passivity linked to the expectation that the passive homosexual partner was a boy. [Website footnote]



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