He’s one of the most infamous pirates of the 16th century. He gave the Spaniards and Italians a tough time all through his life, and he was the main inspiration for the antagonist of the original Pirates of the Caribbean film.
He is none other than Hayreddin Barbarossa. He has often been portrayed as a wicked man who kills people for his own benefit and is full of greed. In reality, however, he was a very different man.
During the 16th century, Barbarossa actively operated in the Mediterranean seas. He started his naval career by serving as a corsair under the leadership of Oruç Reis, his elder brother. In the year 1516, they captured Algiers together, and Oruç declared himself sultan.
The Europeans were fearful of the naval battle tactics, warrior skills, and seamanship of Hayreddin Barbarossa. He bravely captured ships and sacked different ports. He was not just a government-sponsored pirate, but possessed astute political understanding that enabled him to become the king of Algiers.
Early Life of Barbarossa
The exact birth date of Barbarossa is not known. However, it is believed that he was born in Palaiokipos between 1466 and 1478. He was the son of Yakup Aga, who was a Muslim of Turkish origin. His mother, Katerina, was a Christian Greek. Barbarossa was the third son; Ishak and Oruç were his elder brothers. He also had a younger brother named Ilyas.
All the brothers served as corsairs and took to the seas. All the brothers learned how to sail from their father, who worked as a potter and transported goods through boats and ships. They were all a part of their father’s business, yet they later went on to become pirates of the Mediterranean Sea.
Work as a Corsair
While the brothers were engaged in business, the Knights Hospitallers disrupted them. As a corsair, Oruç helped Jews and Muslims flee from the Christian wrath of the era. In his fleet, Oruç helped Muslims reach North Africa.
Oruç and Hayreddin worked together as corsairs and counterattacked the Portuguese and Spaniards under the supervision of Korkut, Ottoman sultan Bayezid II’s son. However, the demise of Sultan Bayezid II resulted in a war between his sons.
In order to avoid being killed in the war, the Barbarossa brothers fled to North Africa. They continued their fight against the European forces through cooperation with local emirs.
Rulers of Algiers
The Barbarossa brothers were quite successful in defeating the European forces. In the year 1516, they overthrew Abu Hamo Musa III, the ruler of Algiers, and captured Jijel. The fall of Algiers made the Spaniards lose their North African base.
The Ottoman sultan made an offer to Oruç and Hayreddin for the expansion of their influence in North Africa. They were provided with the required military and financial support.
Oruç and Hayreddin also were titled as the governor of Algiers. However, in a Spanish attack, Oruç died. Hayreddin Barbarossa remained as a corsair and directed all his activities against Spain.
Chief Admiral of Ottomans
Hayreddin Barbarossa maintained his loyalty towards the Ottomans. His association with the Ottomans increased with time. Suleiman made him the governor of Rhodes in the year 1522.
In 1531, Hayreddin Barbarossa became the Chief Admiral. He, along with his forces, defeated the Spaniards. His activities enabled him to fight against European countries like Portugal, Genoa, Spain, Venice, Malta, and Papal states.
In Greece’s Battle of Preveza in 1538, Hayreddin Barbarossa got a victory against the Europeans. Being a master of seas, he was well aware of what works best for naval battles.
He made use of 122 galleys in order to counter 300 sailing ships of the European countries. He gained victory over the “Holy League” of the Europe and obtained the entire Mediterranean for the Ottoman Empire.
In the battle, the fleet of Barbarossa captured 30 ships and 3,000 sailors, burned 3 ships, and sunk 10 ships of the Europeans. Defeating the Spaniards, he was able to get Castelnuovo. The Castle of Risan was also captured by him.
Charles V’s Offer for Hayreddin Barbarossa
Owing to the extraordinary skills of Barbarossa in conquering and capturing regions, Emperor Charles V was impressed and offered a number of lucrative positions to Barbarossa. It included the Chief admiral and king of Spanish territories.
Barbarossa, however, declined the offer, thereby enraging the emperor. The forces of Charles V fought hard with the forces of Barbarossa. However, they were unable to conquer them.
So, the forces of Charles had to evacuate. The plan of ending the rule of Barbarossa backfired, and they had to withdraw and experience defeat.
Barbarossa sailed the seas all his life and contributed towards the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. In 1545, he finally decided to retire to his palace in Istanbul. He gave his positions to Hassan Pasha, his son.
On 4th July 1546, Hayreddin Barbarossa took his last breath in his own seaside palace. He was buried in the Barbaros Türbesi in Istanbul. For several years, it had become a custom for all the Turkish ships to pay a salute to the tomb of the brave and feared sailor.
Top image: Hayreddin Barbarossa has been depicted in a number of Turkish films over the years, and he is still considered one of the greatest pirates to sail on the Mediterranean seas. Source: Unknown Author / Public Domain
By Bipin Dimri
The True Story of Hayreddin Barbarossa, the Admiral of Ottomans. Available at:
From Pirate to Admiral: The Tale of Barbarossa. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/story/from-pirate-to-admiral-the-tale-of-barbarossa
This 16th-century corsair was the most feared pirate of the Mediterranean. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/history-and-civilisation/2019/10/16th-century-corsair-was-most-feared-pirate-mediterranean