Hayreddin Barbarossa

1. Birth – Family

Hayreddin Barbarossa has been the best-known pirate, corsair and seaman of the late 15th century and the first half of the 16th century in the Mediterranean. He was born on Lesvos, probably in 1466. Hızır was his original name. We know for sure his mother was a Greek Christian named Katalina or Katerina (Catherine). Information on his father is controversial. According to some sources, he was an Ottoman sipahi at the region of Gallipoli, while others say he was a janissary of Greek origin.

2. His action

2. 1. From trade to piracy

His naval carrier began with trade, but he soon cooperated with his brother Oruç. Together they raided the Aegean up to 1512, becoming very well known. In 1515, they also raided the Mediterranean, managing to conquer Algiers. Oruç declared himself Sultan of Algiers and kept his title up to 1518, when he was killed during an attack against the Spaniards at Oran. Hızır then succeeded him and recognized the dominance of Ottoman sultan Selim I.

That was a strategically significant move, since he thus ensured his title and became a corsair working for the Ottoman Empire instead for himself. As a corsair, he kept raiding Christians – mostly Spanish and Italian ships or facilities. In 1520, he managed to take over Tunisia. In sources of that time, he was referred to as the terror of the seas, whereas he was called “Barbarossa”, because of his red beard (barba rossa in Italian). At about that time, he must have gotten married for the first time, with an Algerian woman, with whom he had a son named Hasan.

2. 2. Barbarossa as kapudan paşa – His conquests

The power of Barbarossa increased even more after 1523, when he joined two other known pirates, Sinan Reis and Aydin Reis. In 1533, Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent named him Hayreddin (Goodness of the Faith) and made him kapudan pasha, namely the Ottoman fleet admiral, recognizing thus his competence at sea and his direct or indirect service to the Sublime Porte. As an admiral now, Barbarossa embarked on a new series of sea wars in the Mediterranean. Making a short alliance with the French, he took over Sardinia and Sicily in 1535. Next, he tried to control the Aegean Sea. Then, on behalf of the Ottomans he managed in 1537-1538 to take over most of the Venetian territories in the Aegean, mostly in the Cyclads and the Sporades islands, and subject the Duchy of Naxos to the Ottomans. In 1538, he actually defeated the powers of the Holy League formed on an initiation of many European countries, establishing thus the Ottoman supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean up to the Battle of Lepanto (1571).

3. The last years of his life

In 1543, Barbarossa made his last sea journey. That is about when he married his second wife, the 18-year-old daughter of the governor of Reggio in Calabria. Later, he settled in Istanbul, where he founded a medrese (religious school) and a mosque at the Beşiktaş area. He saw to it that his mausoleum was also built within the same area, famous architect Sinan Paşa designed it. He was buried there after his death on July 4th 1546.