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The struggle for maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean gained new momentum with the French incursion into Algeria in 1830. In response, the Ottoman Empire made a strategic move by establishing a centralised administrative apparatus in Tripolitania in 1835. France strengthened its geopolitical influence by acquiring new ports in Algeria, thereby increasing its weight in the regional balance of power. The prospect of France extending a similar sphere of influence into Tunisia became a source of grave concern for both the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

This power struggle, mainly centred in Tunisia, prompted active diplomatic intervention by British consuls. Their concerted efforts were aimed at mitigating French influence by arguing for the retention of Tunisian territories under Ottoman suzerainty. In contrast, the Tunisian beys, aware of the precariousness of their position, skillfully pursued a policy of balance. This diplomatic strategy sought to safeguard Tunisian autonomy while managing the complex web of relations between the Ottoman Empire and France. In particular, the dynamics of this power struggle changed in the 1870s with the active involvement of Italy, which further complicated the challenges faced by the Ottoman Empire.

The speaker attempts to elucidate the narrative of the nineteenth-century maritime power struggle between empires along the Mediterranean littoral. It seeks to illuminate the dynamic agency of the Ottoman Empire within the region, using archival documentation as the primary analytical lens.

Speaker: Cemal Atabaş

Affiliation: Marmara University, Istanbul


Cemal’s academic field is late modern Ottoman history. He specifically focuses on the Ottoman administration in North Africa and 19th-century inter-imperial rivalries in the Mediterranean. He graduated from Marmara University with a degree in History Education in 2009. In 2011, he obtained his MA from Istanbul University with a dissertation titled (in translation) “Savvas Pasha's Governorship in Crete (1885-1887)” and later completed his PhD at the same university with a dissertation titled (in translation) “The Establishment of Central Authority in the Tripoli Province and the Uprising of Sheikh Ghuma (1835-1858)”. His research extensively utilizes sources from the Ottoman and British archives. He has ten years of research experience at Istanbul University, Department of History. Currently, he is a member of Marmara University's Institute of Middle East and Islamic Countries Studies and a visiting research fellow at King's College London.

The King’s Maritime History Seminar is hosted by the Laughton Naval Unit and the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. It is organised by the British Commission for Maritime History in association with the Society for Nautical Research and with the support of Lloyds Register.

Event details

Dockrill Room
Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS