The U.S. Marine Hymn is familiar to most Americans. The Marines have been landing on the shores of other nations since the First Barbary War in 1801-05.
There is a line in the Hymn that contains some history that not many people know about. The line that runs “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli” refers to that history.
The “Halls of Montezuma” refers to Mexico City, which was built on the ruins of the Aztec capitol city, and Montezuma refers to the last Aztec king. The Marines were involved in the fighting in the Mexican War, when U.S. forces captured Mexico City. In 1847, the Marines stormed Chapultepec castle, a strongpoint defending Mexico City.
The “Shores of Tripoli” refers to the Mediterranean, the coast of Libya. What were the Marines doing in those places? In 1805, Marines were involved in a small battle at Derne, in what is sometimes called The First Barbary War. The song glorifies a force that was almost entirely Turkish and Greek mercenaries. The few Marines actually there fought well.
This was the first of two wars in which US naval forces fought the Barbary pirates. They were predatory corsairs based in what are now Libya, Algeria and Morocco). The pirates had been preying on US merchant shipping.
Whatever one thinks of those wars, the tenacity of the US Marines was remarkable, and that’s why they are featured in the Hymn.
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