Dar al-Islam: A Barbary States Empire Total War AAR – Part 1
Empire: Total War is fun, but playing as England, Prussia, France or Spain is a bit easy really. So many provinces, so many troops to build, so much money! So instead of going easy, and to provide an interesting AAR, I unlocked the minor nations and decided to play the Barbary States. Why this rag-tag bunch of North African pirates? For two reasons:
- I want to play as pirates! Duh!
- I want to convert Europe to Islam!
…And I also thought it would be quite funny if I could pull it off. Sure enough, it has been amusing, but also really hard. Read on for the first 20 years of the rise of the Barbary States!
A short history of the Barbary States
The Barbary Coast, or Barbary, was the term used by Europeans from the 16th until the 19th century to refer to the middle and western coastal regions of North Africa—what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The name is derived from the Berber people of north Africa. In the West, the name commonly evokes the Barbary pirates and slave traders based on that coast, who attacked ships and coastal settlements in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic and captured and traded slaves from Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
…The Barbary Corsairs often made raids, called Razzias, on European coastal towns to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in places such as Algeria and Morocco. According to Robert Davis, from the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves. These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and from farther places like France or England, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Iceland and North America.
In Empire: Total War the player has control of Algiers, Tunis and Tripolitania, three fairly poor provinces on the north African coast. To the west lies the independent minor nation of Morocco and the east lies the major power, the Ottoman Empire. To the north lies Europe and all its wealth! Unfortunately, we’re going to have a hard time getting it. We can’t convince the AI players to give us money not to pirate them (which the Barbary States traditionally did), nor can we easily overwhelm their fleets with our galleys, or invade their territories, but we can try!
So lets see what happens when we unify these desert people and convince them that dominating the Mediterranean should be their goal for the future!
1700 – Weakness must be overcome!
We start in a weak position. A small fleet of a few Xebec’s and a couple of 5th Rates and some galleys spread across the Mediterranean and we have no army to speak of. Unfortunately, due to technical cockuping on my part I don’t have early pictures from this time. But don’t worry, you’re not missing much. In the first couple of years the ships are merged into one fleet and we work to improve our home provinces and start to build a small army. Plans for peaceful strengthening continue until 1701 when the Knights of Malta blockade the port of Tripolitania! Scurilous infidel dogs! We must make them pay!
We quickly gather a small army and while our Hashshashin slip into the city and investigate its secrets. In 1702 our invading force lands with a freshly recruited general! We have Shaturnal Camel Gunners (armed with heavy muskets), cutlass-armed Barbary Pirates and “Desert Warriors”, Bedouin musketeers. Time to pay for your cheek, Malta!
Ready to siege Malta!
..or not! We manage to defeat one group of the Maltese, but the next, cavalry heavy, cuts down our Camels and destroys the remaining force completely. The Maltese are far tougher than expected and fill their city with freshly recruited troops. I decide discretion is the better part of valor and forget trying to invade again soon. By the looks of it their province isn’t worth much either. I resort to fist shaking and curses.
Fortunately, a quick sea battle sees our fleet sink the only naval presence the Maltese have, removing any further possibility of blockades or harassment of my Mediterranean fleet.
1703 – The Look North
In 1703 we sign a peace treaty with Great Britain in return for giving them military access. I try to sign peace deals with other major and minor nations so we can focus our forces more effectively against enemies of our choice, but all the other major and minor powers snub us, refusing to consider peace. So be it, we will pirate their trade routes! We do manage to establish trade routes with the Ottomans and those distant foreigners in India, but the routes are regularly blockaded so the chance of great profit is probably slim.
Further, although we can build Dhows (trade ships) I don’t believe we can make much money from the overseas trade routes, what with all of the enemy ships between the Barbary coast and the trade points. We’re going to have to make do with what money we can earn now, and with the ships we can build (galleys, light galleys) or capture!
With this in mind we begin a program of civic construction, bumping taxes on nobles and building improved barracks and capitol buildings in each province. Tunis also gets an observatory to help our (eventual) science research.
Civic construction continues apace!
By 1705 we’re ready. A mighty army has been built and gathered at Tunis and our fleet has been strengthened with a couple of galleys after sinking small raiding fleets from Spain, Genoa, Rome and Venice. The central Mediterranean is largely ours to play in. To our north Corsica and Sardinia look tempting. With few allies and weak armies we are sure our desert warriors can capture these fertile islands!
Massed infantry will take down these Italianate scum!
The battle for Sardinia is brief, and Corsica is conquered by 1708.
Sardinia is conquered
…and Corsica follows soon after
To quell the rebellious population taxes are lifted and we begin the construction of new vineyards in each province, and we expand the mines in Sardinia. Hopefully the population will come to accept the yoke of Barbary rule and the benefits we can bring to their lives (cheap slaves for all!) in due course.
Conquest of the islands of the Mediterranean leads us to the inevitable conclusion that we must have Sicily, which is controlled by Naples. Why? For starters, the region is very fertile, and secondly, it has room to develop the research facilities we very much need. With this task in mind the army is reconstituted and landed near Naples and the fleet is sent back to pirate the nearby trade route. We discover that Naples is only lightly defended!
The landing near Naples, 1710.
The battle is short and unremarkable against largely militia defenders. Our desert nomads held the line while our cavalry swept in from the flanks, finishing any semblance of resistance. Naples is ours! First order of business is the damn Church on Sicily…
A Christian church? On Sicily? Madness!
We set it to be immediately torn down, as we do with some craft workshops. Within months a school and a madrasa are set as replacements and it dawns on our leaders that perhaps converting Italy to Islam would be a remarkable achievement! Meanwhile, the rest of Naples is restless under their new rulers and so the province is exempted from taxes for a few seasons. Once the people have calmed down they will understand what bonuses we can provide!
1712 – A time of struggle
In 1712 the Moroccans declare war on us for no clear reason. That they would deign to declare war against their fellow Muslims is madness and I suspect the influence of a scheming foreign power. Unfortunately we’re very tied up in Italy and we can’t afford to martial a force to take them on directly. Fortunately, they seem happy raiding our port and sending one or two probing units to be batted away by the garrison in Algiers.
Moroccan forces scout western Algiers
While we worry about invasion from Morocco the Italians in Rome raid our newly-built madrasa and require constant attention from the defenders of Naples. Although we are able to destroy their raiding parties, to do so we need to leave Naples, which constantly throws the risk of rebellion into the equation due to an unhappy province. Frantic troop recruiting in Tunis and frequent deliveries by the navy keep our military topped up enough to stave off these raids, but only just.
A line unit from Rome is flanked by Barbary musketeers.
While all this is going our a small transport force of galleys is ambushed and decimated by a Spanish fleet, with three captured and one sunk. The main fleet is sent to destroy the raiders Spanish and so in 1714 a battle off the coast of Tunis sees six Barbary vessels take on two galleys and the three galleys the Spanish captured off us.
The Barbary fleet sweeps around the Spanish
All Spanish ships are sunk, but at the cost of one Xebec, which we can’t replace. It is a costly victory, but it clears the Spanish from the Western Med and so we know it’s a price we must pay. Our Admiral, Ibrahim Osmani, confirms his skill and rises in talent yet again, making him far and away the best admiral on the Med that we’ve seen.
Throughout 1714 we deal with raids from the Romans, but also benefit from the school on Sicily being completed and the fortunate arrival of two scholars to join it. We set them to studying agricultural techniques which will aid us in our future development.
The raids appear endless, and we’re hard pressed to counterattack with Rome a strong power to contend with. They seem easily able to send out raiding forces which require us to send counterattacks to fend off while also leaving enough troops in Naples to prevent a revolution. It’s a delicate balancing act.
The tide finally turns in our favour in 1417 when the Romans send a large army to try and take Naples from us. We have a chance now to smash their forces while we’re still safe at the city, and then to counter-attack! Seizing the moment we deploy our forces across the right flank of the enemy, requiring them to fully re-orientate to attack us.
Defending against the Romans
Lines of infantry are flanked by heavy raiding forces of cavalry and Pirates, ready to leap out and take the fight to the enemy. The Romans find it difficult to re-orientate and their massive artillery supperiority is neutralised by the flanking placement. Piecemeal the Romans attack, and one by one, dispatched! Even so, it is a costly battle with 800 of theirs killed to 700 of ours. We will need all the reinforcements from Tunis we can afford.
The good news is that despite the war we’ve still been able to improve farm land and state buildings in Naples and around the provinces. We’ve also been recruiting more galleys to top up our fleet. Although they don’t appear tough, galleys have very, very heavy guns at their front and can do a lot of damage to an approaching fleet. They are used successfully against a Genoese fleet which had been threatening our supply route to Naples. The entire Genoese fleet is destroyed without loss.
The 5th rates do figure-8s while the galleys duke it out with the Genoese
Even more sure of the security of our resupply route more troops are rushed to the Italian theater. With Naples calm a siege force is sent to take on the now-depleted Roman forces.
The siege of Rome
The siege force is reinforced with more camel gunners and musketeers. We will take these Italians! After a year-long siege the Italians counter-attack. Deploying to the side, again they approach piecemeal and we envelop and cut them down.
The Romans are surrounded and destroyed!
The city of Rome is ours! But our forces are quite depleted from the fight. The garrison from Naples is rushed to Rome to help suppress the locals since our siege force may not be strong enough on its own. At the same time fresh pirates are delivered from Tunis to bolster the defences.
In 1718 a new port emerges in Naples, the province has seen strong growth due to our decision not to tax it. At the same time the shipyard in Tunis is torn down. Both coastal towns are set to be fishing ports as what we need more than anything is growth to boost our tax base and strength.
Examining Rome I am tempted to immediately tear down the church there and to replace it with a madrasa, but the happiness of the province could be severely affected. Instead, I decide to let the locals continue to believe in their false prophet until we can pacify them some more. Then we will begin the conversion!
Meanwhile, new agricultural technology has meant gradual improvements to farms across the Caliphate and the promise of a strong economy to boost our future development and expansion. Even so, we are still extremely poor. Our fleet must sit raiding enemy trade lines all year or we run the risk of going bankrupt. We build units in dribs and drabs and upgrade farms slowly across many seasons. I can’t wait to finally start taxing Rome, a rich province, which will hopefully let us support a larger army and navy.
1720 arrives and sees Rome secure, but the threat of raids from Venice and Genoa strong. In the west, the Moroccans still threaten invasion but seem content, for now, with securing the port. The Mediterranean is a safer place for our fleet, but in the west large Spanish and Moroccan fleets still exist. We will need to deal with these. One the plus side our home provinces are growing stronger and richer and our research program continues with three scholars working on new technologies. The caliphate will grow, I’m sure of it!