The legendary "Capitan Peppe" Martinez, terror of the Saracen pirates in the 1700s

by Federico Quagliuolo

For fifty years in the service of Charles of Bourbon with one goal: clean up the Mediterranean from pirates. The story of Captain Peppe, at the time Giuseppe Martinez, is one of those national heroes forgotten today, to which not even one is dedicated license plate or an alleyway (since the street named after him was canceled after the war).

Yet in his day it was considered like a legend for the newborn Kingdom of Naples: it was in fact a naval officer so good and charismatic that he was nicknamed "the terror of the barbarians"(They were so nicknamed i peoples of North Africa). It was thanks to his own businesses that Naples succeeded in stop pirates and privateers that terrorized the Mediterranean.

Ritratto Capitan Peppe
A portrait of Captain Peppe kept in the San Martino Museum

From Spain to Naples

The Spaniards, before the collapse of the Empire, they churned out excellent captains, including Joseph Fulgencio Martinez, who was born in Cartagena in the 1702 and began his adventure in the Bourbon navy of Philip V of Bourbon, where he immediately distinguished himself for his easy-going and charismatic character and for his enthusiasm even in the face of danger.
However, good blood does not lie: was the fourth child of an ancient family of sword nobility and, when Charles of Bourbon arrived in Naples in 1734, it was soon called to the city by the very young king, who was trying to build a new kingdom with the best men known during his journey.

Il leggendario "Capitan Peppe" Martinez, terrore dei pirati saraceni nel '700
xebec of Barbary pirates boarding a ship lithograph 19 sec.

Capture King Charles!

Naples at the time of the young King Charles was a disaster. The minister Bernardo Tanucci he told in his letters that even on his arrival in Royal Palace there was no furniture either and the whole building was a lot dilapidated who seemed on the verge of collapse: we could say the same for the administrative structure of the state, left to itself, remained at Middle Ages and with an army and navy in complete disarray, unable to defend Sicily and the continental coasts from continuous assaults by pirates and privateers.
In fact, since the times of the ancient Romans traveling in the Mediterranean was extremely dangerous. And right in the '500 and' 600 the possibility of dying or becoming a slave was very high. We also notice in these times the birth of many cooperatives and insurance companies for sailors, such as the Pio Monte dei Marinai in Procida.

The good Carlo soon understood on his skin that something had to be done: April 21st 1738, on his return from a hunting trip to Procida, it was assaulted his personal ship from four pirate sabers, who had the mission of kidnap the king of Naples to take him as a prisoner to Algeria.

Never before had such a gesture been seen: the pirates had arrived at the gates of the capital and they almost succeeded in kidnap the ruler. It started with this shock the very long work of mediation with the Ottoman Empire and of reform of the Neapolitan navy (his was the introduction of the Navy infantry, the forerunners of the moderns marines). Thanks to the efforts of Carlo, the Army of the Sea quickly became one of the most advanced and appreciated of the Mediterranean.

Armata di Mare delle Due Sicilie Pirati
The Army of the Sea of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies: it was very appreciated for its fight against piracy

Captain Peppe will take care of it

The first time Charles of Bourbon heard of Captain Peppe it was in 1743, when two convicts of the Kingdom of Naples they brought a Saracen ship with a crew to the city. Was been captured in enemy waters by the commander of the San Francesco, who was Martinez himself. Thus began an extraordinary career.
For the first time since Ferrante of Aragon, the capital of the kingdom responded militarily to the Saracen pirates. It was a real declaration of war, even if just 3 years earlier, in 1740, Charles of Bourbon had signed a peace treaty in Constantinople with the Grand Vizier El Haji Mohamed in which Naples was committed to pay the Ottomans a substantial sum to block pirate attacks. It didn't help.

Giuseppe Martinez earned it the nickname "Captain Peppe" from friends e the derogatory appellative "Pepo from North African enemies. From all, however, it was feared or admired: more than 30 actions of the Spanish / Neapolitan captain against the Barbary pirates are documented, all of which resulted in the capture of hundreds of slaves who were also used as labor. Just think that the Royal Palace of Caserta was built thanks to many prisoners of war captured by Captain Peppe during his raids.

Her adventures they began to become legend in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies: he charged his men with fiery speeches, stuffed with half Spanish, half Neapolitan and half Italian words. The ships, as per Spanish tradition, were all called with the names of the patron saints of the Kingdom, from the "Saint Gennaro", to the "Sant 'Antonio“, Martinez's xebec. And it was precisely these names, which they also assumed a symbolic meaning of Christianity, which brought terror to the Ottoman coasts.

The exploits of Captain Peppe they became so bold that in 1754 he succeeded in an action that had a lot international prominence: after a furious battle that lasted an entire night captured Teramo, one Algerian flagship, complete with 108 prisoners. To succeed he had chased him into enemy waters, risking disastrous consequences, but getting out of it victorious. Great risks, great triumphs.
It was there third enemy ship requisitioned in a few months: in 1753 he had in fact captured a pinco and another xebec, all with the flag of the Bey of Algeria. Thanks to his constant vigilance, the pirate raids on the coasts of the Two Sicilies they decreased dramatically.

Ahmed Bey di Algeria
Ahmed, one of the most famous Bey of Algeria

Envy, low blows and accusations of homosexuality

Success brings envy. And there is no man who, in front of the triumph, does not come hindered in every way by his opponents or even by his teammates.
It happened so also for Captain Peppe who was accused of homosexuality, a fact that at the time aroused scandal, even more so for a senior officer in the navy. Several times he was in fact denounced for having slept with men or for having done advances to young sailors, even if the allegations never ended in condemnations: we will never know the truth, but it is undeniable that an outgoing and out of line character his superiors did not like him at all.

Another episode when the captain visited Lipari. Captain Peppe, who was there with his xebec, greeted the governor of the island with nine cannon volleys, but this unleashed a disciplinary accident, since the Purser had not authorized the use of gunpowder.
A very long one followed judicial proceedings that, between appeals and appeals, it even involved Charles of Bourbon. The king, with his Solomonic way, decided to acquit his trusty captain, but specified that in future cases Martinez would have paid all the expenses for irregular initiatives out of his own pocket.

Captain Peppe, at the height of his career, he was wounded in battle three times and as many times he returned to the cabin without flinching: thanks to his charisma and his fighting spirit was even considered immortal by its sailors and we are sure that lived aboard the Bourbon fleet at least until 67 years old, In the 1769. Despite the so many poisons which he received from his own allies, the esteem enjoyed by the sailors and the people of all the Duosicilian coasts equal to a living legend: the captain was also sent as representative of the Kingdom of Naples in support of Spanish and Portuguese raids against the Saracens and this also suggests his skill in military strategy, despite advanced age.

Dragut Rais
Dragut Rais, one of the most formidable Barbary admirals in history. It was a nightmare for the whole Mediterranean

The end of piracy

With the farewell of Charles of Bourbon, the regency council was busier a reject the initiatives of Bernardo Tanucci than to look after the military apparatus of the state. And the Neapolitan fleet began to creak, so much so that the barbarian raids began again. Captain Peppe died on March 27, 1770.

The times of diplomacy they will arrive in much more distant times: in 1816 Ferdinand I, now old and much more experienced, he signed a peace treaty with the Bey of Tripoli: also in this case the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies should have pay 40,000 ducats to stop privateering raids.

It goes without saying that it didn't help much and the treaty was Broken when, upon renewal of the agreements 9 years later, the Algerians upped the ante with a real blackmail: 100,000 ducats so as not to resume privateering activities. Or they would every Duosicilian ship sank.

On the diplomatic side he thought about it Ferdinand II to close the affair with a new peace treaty with Constantinople in 1833. On the military side, however, there France stood colonizing Africa and the Algerians and Moroccans had other problems to deal with. Of the exploits of Captain Peppe, however, there was no more talk, except in some paragraph of a history book for enthusiasts.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Franco Nocella, Bourbons and Barbarian Corsairs
Antonio Petrone, Cultural Library

Thanks to the precious contribution of Giuseppe Di Paola to identify the date of Captain Peppe's death.

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