• An independent privateer, usually operating in the Mediterranean Sea.


14th century. From the French word, corsaire, meaning raid.


Commonly thought of as pirates operating off the Barbary Coast of North Africa, in reality, they were often authorized by their respective governments. Frequently attacking ships and coastal ports of Christian countries, corsairs operated from the Middle Ages all the way to the 1800s and were such a problem that they necessitated naval intervention and sparked off the two Barbary Wars in the early 1800s.

Not to be confused with the “Corsair Fleet” of WWII which were armed U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary vessels used as submarine pickets off the U.S. coastline.


Kemp, P. (1994). The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Oxford University Press.

King, D., Hattendorf, J.B, & Estes, J.W. (1997). A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales (2nd Ed.). Owl Books.

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.