Main: Battle of a French ship of the line and two galleys of the Barbary/Ottoman corsairs. Inset: An Ottoman pirate.

Aruj Barbarossa: Most Notorious Pirate of the Barbary Corsairs

(Read the article on one page)

Aruj Barbarossa, known also in Turkish as Oruc Reis, is one of the most notorious pirates in history. He lived between the 15th and 16th centuries, and was one of the most well-known Barbary corsairs. As allies of the Ottomans, the usual targets of Aruj and his corsairs were Christian and other non-Islamic vessels that sailed in the western Mediterranean.

The Barbary corsairs were pirates / privateers who operated from ports on the Barbary Coast, that is, the western portion of North Africa from Tripoli in the east, to Morocco in the west. During Aruj’s lifetime, the Barbary Coast was part of the Ottoman Empire. Aruj submitted Algiers in 1517 to the Ottomans when they became the rulers of that region. As allies of the Ottomans, the usual targets of Aruj and his corsairs were Christian and other non-Islamic vessels that sailed in the western Mediterranean.

Aruj Barbarossa’s Life

Aruj Barbarossa was born around 1474 on the Greek island of Lesbos, which was taken from the Genoese by the Ottomans in 1462. Aruj’s father, Yakup, may have been a sipahi, i.e. a feudal cavalry knight. Others, however, have speculated that Yakup was a janissary from Vardar, an area in modern day Macedonia. Aruj’s mother, Katalina, was a local Christian woman, who was also the widow of an Orthodox priest. Aruj had an older brother by the name of Ishak, as well as two younger brothers, Khizr (more commonly known as Hayreddin), and Ilias.

A (1597) map of Lesbos (Mytilene), the location of Barbarossa’s birth.

A (1597) map of Lesbos (Mytilene), the location of Barbarossa’s birth. ( CC BY 3.0 )

The Four Brothers

Eventually, all four brothers became sailors. The corsairs were not the only pirates in the Mediterranean. During one of their sea-faring missions, the brothers encountered the Knights of St. John - Christian pirates who operated from the island of Rhodes. During the ensuing sea battle with these Christian pirates, one of Aruj’s brothers, Ilias, was killed in combat. Aruj himself was captured by the knights, and imprisoned on their island, where he waited to be sold as a slave. It has been suggested that Aruj either escaped from captivity, and fled to Egypt via Italy, or served as a galley slave until he was ransomed by an Egyptian prince, and then sent to Alexandria.   

A lithograph of Aruj Barbarossa

A lithograph of Aruj Barbarossa ( Public Domain )

This seems to be the point when Aruj and his surviving brothers turned to piracy, so as to counteract the actions of the Knights of St. John. It is said that, whilst in Egypt, Aruj managed to obtain an audience with the Mamluk sultan, Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri, and received a ship from him. This ship was manned and Aruj began to attack Christian vessels.

Baba Aruj and his Battles

In the meantime, the Spanish Reconquista had ended in 1492, and the new Christian rulers of Spain were not inclined to treat their Muslim and Jewish subjects kindly. Many Jews and Muslim decided to flee from Spain to North Africa. It has been claimed that Aruj came to the aid of these people, and helped a large number of them to escape from the hands of the Spanish. It is said that because of this good deed, Aruj became known a Baba Aruj (Father Aruj). Some say that the name Baba Aruj was turned by Europeans into Barbarossa, as the two words sounded similar. Alternatively, it has been argued that the name Barbarossa (Italian for ‘red beard’) was given to Aruj simply due to the color of his beard.

An Illustration of Aruj Barbarossa

An Illustration of Aruj Barbarossa ( baba_oruc_reis/twitter)

Aruj, however, was not contented with merely rescuing refugees. Apart from mistreating their Jewish and Muslim subjects, the Spanish had also been expanding into North Africa after the Reconquista. Aruj became a mercenary, and was hired by the ruler of the Algerian seaport of Bougie to retake this city.

This mission, however, ended in failure, and Aruj even lost his left arm during the siege. His arm was amputated by surgeons, and replaced with a prosthetic one made of silver. Aruj besieged the city again, though this too ended in failure.

Despite these setbacks, Aruj maintained his reputation, and was hired in 1516 by the city of Algiers to drive out the Spanish. This time, Aruj was successful. Not only were the Spanish driven out, but its former ruler, Selim ben Tumi, was also killed by the pirate. Aruj was now the ruler of Algiers, and a year later, pledged his allegiance to the Ottomans.


Wikipedia: The Ohio State University history Professor Robert Davis describes the White Slave Trade as minimized by most modern historians in his book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800 (Palgrave Macmillan). Davis estimates that 1 million to 1.25 million white Christian Europeans were enslaved in North Africa, from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th, by slave traders from Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli alone (these numbers do not include the European people which were enslaved by Morocco and by other raiders and traders of the Mediterranean Sea coast), and roughly 700 Americans were held captive in this region as slaves between 1785 and 1815.

16th- and 17th-century customs statistics suggest that Istanbul's additional slave import from the Black Sea may have totaled around 2.5 million from 1450 to 1700. The markets declined after the loss of the Barbary Wars and finally ended in the 1830s, when the region was conquered by France.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

 “Big Foot”
The Maero is a creature found in the mythology of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. This mythological creature may be described as a type of wildman, like the Yeti of the Himalayas, or the Sasquatch of Native American folklore. Like these more well-known creatures, the Maero are described as large, hairy, human-like creatures.

Myths & Legends

An illustration of Vasilisa the Beautiful, by Ivan Bilibin.
[…] In the evening the girl laid the table and began waiting for Baba-Yaga. It grew dark. The black horseman swept by and it was night. The skulls’ eyes began to shine. The trees creaked, the dead leaves crunched, the earth trembled, and there was Baba-Yaga…

Human Origins

Silhouettes (Public Domain) in front of blood cells (Public Domain) and a gene.
Most people who have the Rh blood type are Rh-positive. There are also instances, however, where people are Rh-Negative. Health problems may occur for the unborn child of a mother with Rh-Negative blood when the baby is Rh-Positive.

Ancient Technology

Mammoth in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria (Canada). The display is from 1979, and the fur is musk ox hair.
In Sivershchina, close to the village of Mizyn in Ukraine is one of the oldest and most unique settlements of humans – and it was discovered in a parking lot. The now well-known archaeological site, known plainly as the Mizyn parking lot, dates back 18-20 thousand years.

Ancient Places

The highly-decorated tomb is built in a distinctive ‘L’ shape
A mysterious ancient tomb with “unusual and rare” wall paintings has been discovered in Egypt. Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told BBC reporters the discovery of a 4,400-year-old tomb found during excavation work in Giza’s western cemetery “likely belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, who assisted women in childbirth.”

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article