The infamous Barbary corsairs were the scourge of the Mediterranean throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and indeed right up until Lord Exmouth's successful assault on Algiers in August 1816. Operating out of fortified citadels along the North African coast, the corsairs' reign of terror, specifically the enslavement of Christian prisoners, had flourished unchecked for many generations whilst the European nations had fought each other in seemingly interminable conflict. Only after Napoleonic France had been defeated could Britain and her allies give their full attention to the problem.
In the mid-seventeenth century, such a solution still seemed impossible and innumerable ships of the western nations were lost and their crews seized without the corsairs having any fear of reprisals. It is such a scene as this which is portrayed and whilst probably not depicting a specific incident, the work nevertheless conveys the brutal clash of cultures which characterised these desperate fights.