Estimating the population of Lipari in 1544

by Joe Russo
October 1, 2015

Lipari è facto cusi[1]

For eleven days[2],[3] during the month of July in 1544, the Ottoman admiral and corsair Hayreddin Barbarossa (c.1478-1546) (also known as Khayr ad-din) lay siege and sacked the city of Lipari taking most of the population captive. Afterwards, Charles V had the city refortified and the island repopulated so over the course of several decades, many families came to Lipari mostly from Sicily, Calabria, mainland Italy and Spain.[4]

Over the course of the next few centuries, the population of the archipelago continued to grow until it peaked at 21,639 in 1861 and 21,210 in 1891[5],[6], followed by a rapid decline into the 1970s as many emigrated from the islands to the USA, Australia, Argentina and other countries.

In this brief discussion we shall look at the year 1544 and determine how many people there might have been at the time of Barbarossa.

The higher estimate

A general reading of Lipari’s history reveals the belief that roughly 8-9,000 of its 10,000 inhabitants were taken captive by Barbarossa, leaving few remaining.

Jérome Maurand, the French priest present on the French contingent accompanying Barbarossa’s fleet, wrote an account of the event and tells us of 10,000 inhabitants, 9,000 were taken into slavery:

“Sonno [sic] stati menati schiavi anime Liparitane utriusque sexus 9000 . . . quali tuti in numero sonno stimati anime diese millia . . . presse dentro de Lipari et mentate schiave.”[7]

The historian Pietro Campis, who wrote a comprehensive history of Lipari (Disegno historico o siano l’abbozzate historie della nobile e fidelissima città di Lipari, 1694), says “circa otto mila schiavi” [8] while the Pyrologia (1783) “e con circa ottomila schiavi”[9] and more recently, Leopoldo Zagami “più di ottomila prigionieri.” [10]

This is quite a significant number of people when we consider that the next time the population reached this number was some 150 years later during Campis’ own time[11] and more recently the population of Lipari (excluding the three comuni of Salina) has hovered around this number since the 1970s.[12]

Although this number is generally referred to, there is little evidence on how it was arrived at except maybe from Maurand’s opinion that on Lipari he estimated some 2,000 houses.

“Questa insula de Lipari è asay grande . . . La cità è fortissima e li borgui grandi. A judico mio, inanti che fuse disfata da Turchi, vi erano tra la cità e li borgui 2,000 case.” [13]

How he managed to estimate there were 2,000 houses during his short time stationed out at sea during the assault on Lipari is not clear (although he did visit Vulcano).

The lower estimate

Pino Paino, in his book, La vera storia di Lipari, prefers a lower estimate of about 3-4,000:

“la popolazione dell’isola di Lipari, al tempo del Sacco del Barbarossa, non raggiungeva più di tre quattromila abitanti.”[14]

His estimate is based on family tradition from his ancestor Tommaso Pajno (1864-1949), a medical doctor.[15] Paino argues that Maurand’s and Campis’ estimates for those deported are absurd [16] and addresses some of the practical aspects against that figure. While he ponders the logistics involved such as the time it would take to board several thousand people in such a short time, the main point that I think questions the entire higher estimate is the population density within the walled city.[17]

When Barbarossa’s fleet approached, the inhabitants sought refuge within the città murata=walled city for protection and to defend the city. How many people could the walled city hold? He calculates, after allowing for the space occupied by churches, public buildings, and uninhabitable areas, had there been the greater population, this would result in a population density of 1m2 per person.[18] This is quite telling. Certainly, we could argue, given the circumstances, people would have also occupied these buildings and the other areas within the precinct as well (he calculates the total area at three times the above figure). They were crammed in there for protection. But still, this is hardly enough room for 10,000 people and defend the city. Practically, the higher estimate appears a little exaggerated.

An analytical approach

One other historian who considers the higher estimate an exaggeration is Giuseppe Restifo. He maintains that at most there were 4,660 inhabitants. He arrives at this figure in a most logical and analytical manner using what is known about 1544 with demographics derived from a census taken in 1610 as his benchmark and then extrapolates back to 1544.

Accordingly, the defence of the city was organised into six areas; each assigned two comandanti= commanders and comprised of 160 uomini in armi=soldiers. In total, there were 960 able men to defend the city. Restifo then suggests this segment of the population (men of age between 18 and 60) constituted 41.2% of the male population in 1610 and the male/female ratio was 53%. He then uses this to derive an estimate for 1544. His figure comes to 4,396 inhabitants and, if a 50:50 split between males and females is used, then it rises to 4,660 inhabitants.[19]

This is a logically derived conclusion except there is one problem. In 1610 we have a much younger population. People began arriving on Lipari from the 1550s onwards; settled, married and began having families. It was a younger population in the process of rebuilding. As you can see from the chart below, the largest segment of the male population is the 0-19 age group accounting for 56% of the male population (non-cleric).


Chart 1: Total number of non-cleric males per age group – Lipari 1610[20]


Chart 2: Total number of non-cleric males per age group – Lipari 1610: cumulative percentage[21]

This was a young, growing population. The average male age was 22. It’s not your typical population pyramid shape with the bulge in the middle and stable population growth. In other words, if we assume a more mature demographic, the percentage of males of fighting age would be higher than the 41.2% Restifo uses in his calculations.


Chart 3: Total Lipari Births 1560-1610 (*adjusted for incomplete years 1586, 88-93, 1599-1601).[22]

What would be a more reasonable factor? A census takes place in Italy every ten years with the most recent one in 2011. Its population pyramid shows the largest age group is the 35-49 age group. And when we calculate the percentage of the male population aged between 20-59 (the data is broken down into five year segments) we find it is 55.4%.


Chart 4: Population pyramid for Italy 2011[23]


Chart 5: Total number of males per age group – Italy 2011: cumulative percentage[24]

Let’s compare this with Australia and the USA. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows Australia had a male population of 11,124,254 of which 6,201,486 (or 55.3%) are aged between 20 and 59.[25] It’s similar for the USA. In 2010, it had a male population of 151,781,326 of which 83,748,273 (or 55.2%) are aged between 20 and 59.[26]

What effect would this have? If we assume 50% of the male population was of an age able to bear arms and defend the city, rather than the 41.2% Restifo uses and nearer to the current demographics of Italy, then we arrive at a population of 3840 (960/0.50=1920males x2=3840 total population). This would be closer to the actual number than 4,660 and certainly a long way off from 10,000.


The general belief that Lipari had a population of 10,000 at the time of Barbarossa in 1544 and 8,000-9,000 of them were taken captive seems an exaggeration of the real extent of the de-population of Lipari in 1544. The logical extrapolation provided by Restifo goes a long way to accurately estimating the true population. Now, admittedly, we don’t know whether Lipari’s population in 1544 was young, old or a mature and stable population. What we do know is he derived his estimates from a younger, rapidly growing population so his calculation of no more than 4,660 can serve as the upper limit. Whereas using a factor closer to today’s demographics would place Lipari’s population at the lower estimate of around 3,840. Either way, what we can confidently say, is Lipari’s population in 1544 was less than half than what’s generally assumed and closer to 4,000.



[1] Jérome Maurand, La Flotta di Barbarossa a Vulcano e Lipari nel 1544, (P. Orsi edizione, 1995), Cap. XI, [p.16].  This is Maurand’s concluding remarks after witnessing the deplorable state Lipari had been reduce to:  “Qui avesse havuto l’animo più crudele del tigro, vedendo li pianti, gemiti et singulti quali gitavano queli poveri Liparitani abandonando la propria cita (et) [per] essere menati schiavi, il padre risguardando il figliolo, la madre la figliola, non averia potuto contenire li flebili occhi di l’abundante pianto, et queli cani pariano lupi rapasi in mezo de le timide pecorelle.  Lipari è facto cusi.”
[2] Michele Giacomantonio, Navigando nella storia delle Eolie, (Pungitopo, 2010) p.149. “Sugli undici giorni in cui durò l’attacco a Lipari, prima della sua caduta, abbiamo diverse versioni.”
[3] Pino Paino, La vera storia di Lipari, (Messina, 1996), p.138. “Ben undici giorni durò questo penoso assedio”
[4] Leopoldo Zagami, Le isole Eolie tra leggenda e storia, (Pungitopo, 2006), p.259, “il viceré di Napoli, don Pietro di Toledo…a nome del re Carlo V, il 21 gennario 1546.”
[5] Wikipedia, articles Lipari_(comune), Santa_Marina_Salina, Leni and Malfa, viewed July 7, 2015.
[6] Pietro Campis, Disegno historico o siano l’abbozzate historie della nobile e fidelissima città di Lipari, ms. del 1694, published with notes by Giuseppe Iacolino (Bartolino Famularo, 1980), p.513.
[7] Maurand, loc. cit.; Giacomantonio, op.cit., p.160, 161.
[8] Campis, op.cit., p.305 (163v).
[9] Giuseppe La Rosa, Pyrologia Topostoricografica dell’Isole di Lipari seu Lipari Sacro, Vol.II, Parte III, orig. 1783 (Centro Studi, 1997), p.21.
[10] Zagami, op. cit., p.253.
[11] Campis, op. cit., p.308 (164v); Nota 32, p.455.
[12] Lipari (comune),, viewed July 7, 2015. Census years 1971 – 10,037, 1981 – 10,547, 1991 – 10,382, 2001 – 10,554, and 2011 – 11,642. This includes all islands that form the comune di Lipari, i.e., all except Salina.
[13] Maurand, op. cit., [p.1]; Giacomantonio, op.cit., p.150 (“La città è fortissima e i borghi grandi. A mio giudizio, prima di essere distrutta dai Turchi, vi erano tra la città e i borghi duemila case.”)
[14] Paino, op.cit., p.155.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., p.153. “cerchiamo ora di capire quanto sia assurdo, con buona pace di Jérome Maurand e Pietro del Campo di Randazzo . . . che il Barbarossa deportò da Lipari da otto a diecimila abitanti quando fu di quel Sacco.”
[17] Ibid., p.159-162.
[18] Ibid., p.157.
[19] Giacomantonio, op.cit., p.161-162.
[20] Data for chart derived from Giuseppe A.M. Arena, Popolazione e distribuzione della ricchezza a Lipari nel 1610, (Società Messinese di storia patria, 1992), pp.86-87. Excludes clerics, most of whom aren’t given an age in the census material.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Total Lipari Births 1560-1610, LDS Microfilm 1338513, Lipari Baptisms 1559-1696, adjusted for incomplete years 1586, 88-93, 1599-1601. This is not a net total and therefore excludes deaths during the same years.
[23] Data derived from ISTAT Statistics, Censimento popolazione e abitazioni 2011, Resident population by age,, data extracted on Sept. 26, 2015.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Demographic Statistics, Table T.7, Population pyramid of Australia. 1901 to 2010,, searched Sept.26, 2015.
[26] U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Census Bureau, American FactFinder,, searched September 26, 2015.

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