Why do people migrate? The causes and reasons for migrating are manifold, but the main factors are political and economic. History shows us that there are two major types of migration: forced migration and voluntary migration. Indeed, they coexist and are particularly interlinked with one another.

The three centuries of Ottoman supremacy represent the golden age of the privateering war at sea. Muslim and Christian privateers battled relentlessly in the Mediterranean to take captives who served as bargaining chips or as a labour force. In 1816, the English expedition led by Lord Exmouth sounded the death knell for privateering in the Mediterranean. The powerful Ottoman Empire had some 50 provinces in Europe, Asia and Africa, stretching from the Balkans to North Africa, including the Middle East and Egypt. As a crossroad of diverse influences, the empire inherited a long tradition of migration and transit. From the 16th century it began taking in and integrating different communities from east and west and sent out streams of migrants in different directions. The collapse of the empire following World War I in particular triggered mass movements.

In the 19th century, migratory flows from north to south became more significant and commonplace: the migration of political refugees, especially Italians; economic migration, facilitated by geographical proximity, which offered a second chance to improve living conditions; and migration related to colonisation (officials, soldiers, settlers, entrepreneurs etc.).

Despite the human tragedy caused by migration, migrants have helped to reshape the society of their host countries demographically, socioculturally and economically.

Misrata [Libya]. In the Home of Gabrielli, Agent of the Society of Maritime Services [Società dei servizi marittimi]


Italian Geographical Society (SGI), Rome, Italy

Ignazio Sanfilippo

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In this Exhibition
About the Exhibition
Privateering and captivity in the Mediterranean
Migrations within the Ottoman Empire
North–South movements
The life of European immigrant communities: Egypt and Tunisia