Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha defeats the Holy League of Charles V under the command of Andrea Doria at the Battle of Preveza (1538).

Hayreddin Barbarossa: Causing a Ruckus as the Notorious Pirate Redbeard

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Hayreddin Barbarossa was one of the most notorious pirates of his day. Together with his older brothers, Ishak and Aruj, they conquered the North African city of Algiers, and submitted it to the Ottomans, as a means of protecting themselves from the Spanish.

Nevertheless, this did not stop the Spanish, who made an assault on Tlemcen in 1518. This is a city located near Algiers which was under the rule of Hayreddin and his brother. During this siege, Ishak and Aruj lost their lives. Hayreddin inherited his brother Aruj’s position as the ruler of Algiers, and continued to serve the Ottoman Empire. It was during this ‘post-Aruj’ period that Hayreddin continued his privateering / pirating activities, and created a name for himself, thus ensuring a place for himself in the history books.

The Life of Hayreddin Barbarossa

Hayreddin Barbarossa was originally known as Khizr or Khidr, and was born on the Greek island of Lesbos around 1478. Hayreddin had three brothers, though by 1518, he was the only one left, as the all his brothers had been killed during combat.

When Aruj was killed at Tlemcen, Hayreddin not only inherited the rulership of Algiers, but also his brother’s nickname amongst the Europeans, ‘Barbarossa’ (due to his red-colored beard). On the subject of names, Hayreddin has been translated into English as ‘goodness’ or ‘best of the religion’, and was an honorary title given to the pirate by the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Portrait of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha (1478-1546)

Portrait of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha (1478-1546) ( Public Domain )

Hayreddin’s Raiding Spree

Although the Spanish had captured Tlemcen around the middle of 1518, Hayreddin was able, with fresh troops sent by the Ottomans, to recapture that city at the end of the same year. In the following year, a joint Spanish-Italian force attacked Algiers, though Hayreddin was able to repel them. Hayreddin had his vengeance in the same year when he raided the French region of Provence. In 1520, the Ottoman sultan, Selim I, died, and was succeeded by his son, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Suleiman I was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1520 to his death in 1566.

Suleiman I was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1520 to his death in 1566. ( Public Domain )

In return for the services of his pirate fleet, Hayreddin requested the new sultan for further Ottoman protection for North Africa from the Spanish threat. This was granted by Suleiman, and Hayreddin’s fleet began raiding the French and Spanish coast.

Then, in 1522, Hayreddin contributed to the conquest of Rhodes by sending his ships under the command of one of his subordinates, Kurtoğlu. Rhodes was the stronghold of the Knights of St. John - Christian pirates who often raided Ottoman vessels in the western Mediterranean. Thus, their expulsion was a removal of a thorn in the side of the Ottomans.  

Trouble with Europe

Hayreddin’s raiding spree continued, and caused much trouble to the Europeans. As a result, in 1530, the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, decided to seek the help of Andrea Doria, a formidable Genoese admiral. Hayreddin’s first engagement with this adversary happened in 1531. Hayreddin bested his opponent, who commanded a Spanish-Genoese fleet of 40 galleys, for which he won the personal gratitude of the sultan.

Portrait of Andrea Doria, c. 1520, by Sebastiano Del Piombo

Portrait of Andrea Doria, c. 1520, by Sebastiano Del Piombo ( Public Domain )

Whilst Suleiman was on a military expedition to Habsburg Austria in the following year, Doria captured several cities on the coast of the Greek mainland. Although the Ottomans successfully recaptured these cities, it was then that the sultan realized the importance of having a strong navy to protect Ottoman interests in the Mediterranean from the seasoned seamen of Europe (such as the Genoese and the Venetians.) As a result, Hayreddin was summoned to the court in Constantinople, and was appointed as the admiral of the Ottoman fleet.

A Capable Naval Commander

Hayreddin did not let his patron down, and continued his raids on Christian Europe. He proved his capabilities as a naval commander once again in 1538. This time, a ‘Holy League’ was assembled by Pope Paul III, and was led by Andrea Doria. The Genoese admiral commanded a fleet consisting of vessels belonging to the Papal States, the Spanish Empire, the Knights of Malta, and the Republics of Genoa and Venice. The Battle of Preveza, which took place on the 28th of September 1538, resulted in another victory for Hayreddin, and ensured that the eastern Mediterranean would be dominated by the Ottomans until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

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