Hayreddin Barbarossa: History & Accomplishments

Hayreddin Barbarossa, born Khizr in the early 1470s on the island of Lesbos, Greece, was an Ottoman corsair and later the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Empire, known for his key role in establishing Ottoman supremacy in the Mediterranean during the 16th century. His life, marked by naval battles, alliances, and conquests, not only altered the power dynamics in Europe and the Mediterranean but also left an indelible imprint on the annals of maritime history.

Who really was Hayreddin Barbarossa and what was his significance in Ottoman history?

In the article below, World History Edu takes an in-depth look at the life and major accomplishments of Hayreddin Barbarossa, including how he conquered not just Algiers but Tunis as well.

Hayreddin Barbarossa was an Ottoman corsair who later became the admiral of the Ottoman Navy. He is notable for his naval victories, which secured Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean during the mid-16th century. Image: An engraving of Hayreddin Barbarossa by Italian engraver, Agostino Veneziano.

Early Life and Beginnings

Hayreddin and his brothers, including the notable Oruç Reis, were born to a potter named Yakup Ağa and his wife Katerina, who was of Christian origin. The family lived under the rule of the Knights of St. John at the time, which instilled in the brothers a strong maritime inclination and a deep familiarity with the sea.

The young Hayreddin, influenced by his elder brother Oruç, embarked on a life at sea, initially engaging in trade and later turning to piracy, driven by the economic opportunities and the political turmoil of the period.

Expansion to the Western Mediterranean

In 1503, Oruç Barbarossa significantly expanded his operations by seizing three ships and establishing Djerba as his new base, shifting his focus to the Western Mediterranean. His brother Khizr joined him, strengthening their joint maritime endeavors.

The brothers soon formed a strategic alliance with Abu Abdallah Muhammad IV al-Mutawakkil, the ruler of Tunis. They were granted access to the port of La Goulette, vital for their operations, in exchange for a third of their spoils. This period marked a series of successful captures, including two large papal galleys near Elba and a Sicilian warship carrying Spanish soldiers and knights. Their increasing fame attracted other renowned Muslim corsairs like Kurtoğlu.

Broader Impact and Oruç’s Renown

By 1509, the third brother, Ishak, left Mytilene to join them at La Goulette, further consolidating their force. Between 1504 and 1510, Oruç gained significant recognition for transporting Mudéjars (i.e. Muslims who remained in Iberia in the late medieval period following the Christian reconquest) from Christian Spain to safer lands in North Africa, earning him the honorific “Baba Oruç,” later transformed to “Barbarossa.” Their maritime raids continued aggressively across the Mediterranean, including actions against the coasts of Liguria and Andalusia, enhancing their reputation and influence.

Continued Success and Ottoman Recognition

Between 1510 and 1516, the Barbarossa brothers, Oruç, Khizr, and Ishak, conducted a series of audacious naval raids across the Mediterranean, significantly enhancing their reputation and influence. Their activities began with raids on Capo Passero in Sicily and defensive actions against Spanish forces in North Africa.

A notable event in 1512 saw Oruç lose his arm during a battle in Bougie, earning him the nickname “Gümüş Kol” or “Silver Arm,” after the silver prosthetic he used subsequently. Image: Oruç.

Their strategic aggressiveness continued with successful raids on Andalusia, capturing significant assets including a Genoese galliot and multiple galleys near Genoa, despite attempts by the Genoese to reclaim their ships.

The brothers’ effectiveness in maritime combat was further demonstrated when they seized 23 ships in a single month, later enhancing their base at La Goulette with additional galliots and a gunpowder facility.

The period also saw them strengthen ties with the Ottoman Empire, as evidenced by the exchange of gifts with Sultan Selim I, who supported them with military assets. Their continued success in the following years included notable raids and captures in Valencia, Alicante, and multiple locations across Sicily, Sardinia, and the Spanish mainland.

These activities culminated in 1516 with significant naval engagements and further territorial expansions in the Mediterranean, underlining their pivotal role in asserting Ottoman naval dominance during this era.

Read More: Top 10 Ottoman Sultans and their Accomplishments

Capture of Algiers in 1516

In 1516, a pivotal year in the history of North African piracy and Ottoman naval expansion, the Barbarossa brothers—Oruç, Khizr, and Ishak—achieved a significant milestone by capturing Jijel and Algiers from the Spaniards. Their conquest forced the reigning ruler, Abu Hamo Musa III of the Beni Ziyad dynasty, to flee, effectively ending his control over the region.

As the Spaniards retreated to the fortress of Peñón, they sought aid from Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. Despite these efforts, the Spanish fleet was unable to dislodge the Barbarossa brothers from their new stronghold in Algiers.

Recognizing the strategic importance of Algiers and the constant threat posed by Spanish forces, Oruç Barbarossa sought a more formidable ally to secure his position. He turned to the Ottoman Empire, his homeland and the foremost rival of Spain in the Mediterranean. In a strategic move in 1517, Oruç renounced his self-proclaimed title as Sultan of Algiers, offering the city and its territories to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I as an act of allegiance.

Sultan Selim I, seeing the value in controlling Algiers as a western outpost of the Ottoman Empire, accepted the offer. He formally integrated Algiers into the Ottoman domain as a sanjak, or province.

Oruç was appointed as the Governor of Algiers and Chief Sea Governor of the Western Mediterranean. In support of his governance and to solidify Ottoman presence in the region, Sultan Selim I promised to provide Oruç with military reinforcements, including Janissaries, galleys, and artillery. This integration marked a significant extension of Ottoman influence in the Mediterranean and reinforced the maritime power of the Barbarossa brothers under the Ottoman banner.

Rise as a Corsair

The turning point in Hayreddin’s career came after the death of his brother Oruç, who was killed in battle against the Spaniards in 1518. Oruç, who was key in the capture of Algiers in 1516, left Hayreddin a strengthened base and a significant force to command.

Alliance with the Ottoman Empire

Following his brother’s death, Hayreddin sought the protection and patronage of the Ottoman Sultan Selim I.

Recognizing Hayreddin’s naval prowess and the strategic importance of Algiers as a base to control the Western Mediterranean, the Ottomans appointed him as the Governor of Algiers and later as the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman fleet under Sultan Suleiman theMagnificent.

This alliance significantly bolstered the Ottoman naval capabilities and enabled them to challenge the dominance of European powers such as Spain and Venice.

Strengthening Control and Expanding Influence (1516-1529)

Hayreddin Barbarossa’s authority was further challenged in 1519 by a Spanish-Italian army attempting to recapture Algiers, which Barbarossa defeated, enhancing his reputation as a formidable naval leader.

His strategic maneuvers included capturing Bône and sinking a Spanish ship while seizing eight others. Barbarossa’s aggressive policies also included transporting Mudéjars from Spain to North Africa, earning loyalty among Muslims who resented Spanish rule.

Confrontations and Conquests (1521-1526)

Barbarossa’s operations expanded to include raids on the Balearic Islands in 1521 and capturing Spanish ships laden with treasures from the New World. His involvement in the Ottoman conquest of Rhodes in 1522 highlighted his growing importance in Ottoman naval affairs. The following years saw Barbarossa raiding Sardinia, attacking Crotone in Calabria, and engaging in battles along the Italian and Spanish coasts, culminating in significant naval engagements and territorial incursions.

Strategic Naval Engagements and Ottoman Alignment (1527-1531)

Continuing his relentless assaults, Barbarossa raided numerous Italian and Spanish ports in 1527 and captured the strategic Peñón of Algiers in 1529. His role became increasingly aligned with Ottoman strategic interests, culminating in the transportation of 70,000 Mudéjars to Algiers, aiding in their escape from Christian rule.

Ascendancy to Kapudan Pasha (1532-1532)

Recognizing the need for a strong naval commander, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent summoned Barbarossa to Istanbul in 1532. After a series of successful raids across the Mediterranean, Barbarossa engaged and defeated part of Genoese admiral Andrea Doria’s fleet, signaling his prowess and readiness for higher command.

Arriving in Constantinople with a reduced fleet, he was warmly received by Sultan Suleiman, who appointed him Kapudan-i Derya (Grand Admiral) and Beylerbey (Chief Governor) of North Africa, granting him governance over strategic locations including Rhodes, Euboea, and Chios. This appointment marked the zenith of Barbarossa’s naval career, establishing him as a central figure in Ottoman naval dominance in the Mediterranean.

Diplomatic Engagements and Alliances: Barbarossa and France (1533-1534)

In 1533, Hayreddin Barbarossa initiated a significant diplomatic outreach to Francis I of France by sending an embassy, marking the beginning of formal Ottoman-French relations. This move was part of a strategic effort to forge alliances against the common enemy, the Habsburg Empire.

In response, Francis I dispatched Antonio Rincon to North Africa to meet with Barbarossa and then to Asia Minor to confer with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The positive outcomes of this initial contact led to a second embassy in 1534. Following this, Francis I sent Jehan de la Forest to Barbarossa with a specific request for naval support in the ongoing conflict against the Habsburg forces.

This series of diplomatic exchanges underscored the growing strategic and military cooperation between the Ottoman Empire and France, aimed at countering Habsburg dominance in Europe.

Hayreddin Barbarossa is best known for securing Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean. He captured key strongholds like Algiers and Tunis, and he famously commanded the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Preveza in 1538, where he decisively defeated a fleet of the Holy League assembled by Pope Paul III. Image: Portrait of Hayreddin.

Barbarossa’s Campaigns from 1534 to 1540

In 1534, Barbarossa launched a significant campaign from Constantinople with a fleet of 80 galleys, recapturing strategic locations such as Coron, Patras, and Lepanto from the Spaniards.

His momentum continued as he crossed the Strait of Messina, raiding the Calabrian coasts and capturing numerous vessels around Reggio Calabria and the Castle of San Lucido.

Barbarossa further escalated his operations by sacking Campania, bombarding the Gulf of Naples, and taking 7,800 captives, demonstrating his formidable prowess and instilling fear throughout the Italian Peninsula.

In 1536, called back to Constantinople, Barbarossa took command of a substantial fleet for an assault on the Habsburg Kingdom of Naples, capturing Otranto and other key locations in 1537. His forces continued to exert pressure on Venice, capturing several Aegean and Ionian islands, which led Venice to seek formation of the Holy League under Pope Paul III.

Barbarossa’s leadership culminated in the Battle of Preveza in September 1538, where he decisively defeated the Holy League’s fleet, commanded by Andrea Doria. This victory affirmed Ottoman naval dominance in the Mediterranean. Following this, his fleet captured more islands and faced off against Spanish and Venetian forces, capturing towns and fortresses and forcing Venice into a peace treaty in 1540, recognizing Ottoman territorial gains.

Diplomatic Maneuvers and Defense (1540-1541)

In 1540, despite offers from Emperor Charles V to switch allegiance, Barbarossa remained loyal to the Ottomans and continued his maritime campaigns, including a notable raid on Gibraltar. In 1541, Charles V’s attempt to capture Algiers and neutralize Barbarossa failed disastrously due to adverse weather and Barbarossa’s resilient defense, highlighting the challenges of combating such a seasoned naval commander.

Barbarossa’s campaigns not only expanded Ottoman territorial control but also demonstrated his strategic acumen and ability to leverage naval power effectively against both European sovereigns and pirate adversaries, securing his legacy as one of the most feared and respected naval commanders of his time.

Barbarossa’s Campaign in Western Mediterranean (1543-1544)

In 1543, Hayreddin Barbarossa, armed with a fleet of 210 ships, including 70 galleys, 40 galliots, and 100 other warships carrying 30,000 Ottoman troops, set sail from Constantinople to assist France, an ally of the Ottoman Empire. His journey began aggressively; passing through the Strait of Messina, he demanded the surrender of Reggio Calabria. The refusal and resultant cannon fire from Governor Diego Gaetani, which killed three Turkish sailors, provoked Barbarossa to besiege and capture the city.

Barbarossa’s campaign continued along the coasts of Campania and Lazio, menacing Rome from the mouth of the Tiber and causing alarms to ring across the city. Despite this, France intervened, preventing any assault on the Pope’s domain. Barbarossa then shifted focus to the Italian and Spanish islands, sacking Capri and Procida, and bombarding ports in the Gulf of Naples, capturing 7,800 people.

His notable siege and capture of Nice on behalf of King Francis I on August 5, 1543, marked a high point in his campaign. Following this victory, Barbarossa took control of Toulon, transforming it temporarily into a Turkish stronghold complete with a mosque and a slave market, underscoring the depth of the Franco-Ottoman alliance.

In 1544, Barbarossa resumed his marauding, sacking towns along the Ligurian coast including San Remo, and negotiated the release of Turgut Reis in Genoa. His fleet then raided the Kingdom of Naples and threatened other cities like Genoa into compliance through formidable naval presence and ransom demands.

Barbarossa’s exploits continued as he pillaged along the coasts of Tuscany and captured several key fortresses. His fleet made significant incursions into Sardinia and captured cities across the Neapolitan and Sicilian coasts. Despite being challenged by the fleets under Giannettino Doria, Barbarossa’s dominance in naval confrontations forced his adversaries to retreat.

Ultimately, Barbarossa returned to Constantinople in 1545, concluding a series of campaigns that not only demonstrated his naval mastery but also significantly bolstered Ottoman influence in the Mediterranean.

Legacy and Death

Hayreddin Barbarossa retired in 1545, having spent over 30 years at sea shaping the maritime policies of the Ottoman Empire.

He died in 1546 in Istanbul and was buried in a mausoleum adorned with nautical motifs, symbolizing his life and achievements.

His legacy is particularly noted for transforming the Ottoman naval forces into a formidable fleet that influenced Mediterranean maritime dynamics for centuries.

Did you know…?

  • Hayreddin Barbarossa, renowned for his naval prowess, was so respected that until the Tanzimat period, Ottoman fleets saluted his mausoleum at Serai Point, a tradition revived by the Turkish navy in 2019.
  • Several Turkish naval and civilian ships bear his name, underscoring his lasting legacy.
  • His influence extends to architecture, with the Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha Mosque in Istanbul’s Levent neighborhood named in his honor.
  • Hayreddin Barbarossa has been portrayed in numerous Turkish films and TV series. In 2021, Ulas Tuna Astepe played him in “Barbaros: Sword of the Mediterranean,” and in 2022, Tolgahan Sayışman starred as Barbarossa in “Barbaros Hayreddin: Sultan’s Edict.”

His memoirs

During his retirement, he recorded his illustrious career in the memoirs titled Gazavat-ı Hayreddin Paşa, which were later published as Kaptan Paşa’nın Seyir Defteri. These writings, housed at Topkapı Palace and Istanbul University Library, offer a detailed account of his naval conquests. The memoirs have been both academically studied and popularly fictionalized, showcasing Barbarossa’s enduring influence in literature and history.

Hayreddin Pasha died on July 4th, 1546 and was laid to rest in a mausoleum designed by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan in Beşiktaş, Istanbul. A memorial was erected in 1944, near the strategic location where his fleet once gathered. Image: The Tomb of Hayreddin Barbarossa in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkiye.

Sinan: the Greatest Architect and Civil Engineer of the Ottoman Empire


Hayreddin Barbarossa’s life was a remarkable journey from a corsair to a celebrated admiral of the Ottoman Navy.

His naval victories not only secured Ottoman trade routes and territorial expansions but also significantly weakened the naval powers of Spain and Venice, altering the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

Hayreddin Pasha’s strategic acumen and daring exploits have made him a legendary figure in both Turkish and naval history, remembered for his role in turning the Mediterranean into an “Ottoman lake” and setting the stage for the empire’s golden age under Suleiman the Magnificent.

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Hayreddin Barbarossa was a prominent Ottoman corsair and later an admiral of the Ottoman Navy during the 16th century. Image: Barbarossa (c. 1540).

Here are some frequently asked questions about Hayreddin Barbarossa:

Who was Hayreddin Barbarossa?

Hayreddin Barbarossa, also known as Redbeard, was an Ottoman admiral who dominated the Mediterranean Sea for many years. Originally a pirate, he later became a high-ranking admiral in the Ottoman Navy. His real name was Khizr or Khidr.

Who were Hayreddin Barbarossa’s parents?

His father was Yakup Ağa, an Ottoman sipahi of Turkish or Albanian descent. His mother, on the other hand, was Katerina, a Greek Orthodox.

He was raised with his siblings in a multicultural household. He had three brothers – Ishak, Oruç, and Ilyas – and two sisters. After the Ottoman conquest of Lesbos in 1462, Yakup, a potter, also engaged in maritime trade, fostering a seafaring spirit in his sons.

What were his early maritime ventures with his brothers like?

All four Barbarossa brothers were drawn to the sea, influenced by their upbringing on the island of Lesbos, an environment steeped in maritime tradition. The eldest, Oruç, was the first to embark on a seafaring life, soon joined by his brother Ilyas.

Khizr, who would later be known as Hayreddin Barbarossa, began his maritime career independently by obtaining his own ship. Initially working as sailors, the brothers quickly turned to privateering, primarily to counter the actions of the Knights Hospitaller based on Rhodes.

While Oruç and Ilyas focused on the Levant, navigating the waters between Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt, Khizr operated in the Aegean Sea, basing much of his activity out of Thessaloniki. The eldest brother, Ishak, stayed behind on Mytilene to manage the family’s financial affairs.

Oruç, known for his prowess and linguistic skills, encountered severe challenges early in his seafaring career. While returning from a trading expedition in Tripoli, Lebanon, Oruç and Ilyas were ambushed by the Knights Hospitaller.

The attack resulted in the death of Ilyas and serious injuries to Oruç, who was also captured. The Hospitallers took him prisoner to Bodrum Castle in southwestern Anatolia, where he was held for nearly three years.

Despite these setbacks, the brothers’ resolve remained unshaken. Khizr, learning of Oruç’s capture, orchestrated a daring rescue mission to Bodrum, successfully liberating Oruç from captivity. This episode not only freed Oruç but also strengthened the brothers’ resolve to continue their engagements on the Mediterranean seas, setting the stage for their later exploits and contributions to the Ottoman naval dominance.

Why was he called Barbarossa?

The name “Barbarossa,” which means “Red Beard” in Italian, was originally attributed to his elder brother Oruç Reis because of his red beard. After Oruç’s death, Khizr inherited the nickname and became known as Hayreddin Barbarossa.

How did Hayreddin Barbarossa develop an alliance with the Ottoman sultans?

After the death of his brother Oruç, Khizr Barbarossa sensed the vulnerability of his position in Algiers and sought to solidify his authority. In 1519, he reached out to Ottoman Sultan Selim I, pledging his allegiance in exchange for support.

Recognizing his strategic importance, Selim I granted Khizr the title of Beylerbey, a high rank signifying regional governorship. Along with this title, Khizr received crucial military reinforcements, including janissaries, galleys, and cannons, enabling him to secure his brother’s former role. He also inherited the famed name “Barbarossa” and his brother’s mission, continuing the legacy of expanding Ottoman maritime power.

What were some of his major naval campaigns and accomplishments?

One of Hayreddin’s first major campaigns as an Ottoman admiral was the capture of Tunis in 1534. This victory was short-lived, as Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, recaptured the city in 1535.

However, Hayreddin’s adeptness at naval warfare came to the forefront during the infamous Battle of Preveza in 1538. Commanding a fleet of 122 ships, he decisively defeated the Holy League’s fleet of over 300 ships commanded by Andrea Doria, securing Ottoman control over the Aegean and central Mediterranean seas.

In 1541, Barbarossa again demonstrated his naval superiority by thwarting another attempt by Charles V to retake Algiers. The failure of the Habsburg fleet, beset by bad weather and strong defenses, solidified Barbarossa’s reputation and ensured Ottoman dominance in the Mediterranean.

How did Barbarossa rise to power?

Barbarossa began his career alongside his brothers as a corsair, raiding Mediterranean coastal towns and ships. After his brother Oruç was killed in battle, Barbarossa sought support from the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who appointed him as the admiral of the Ottoman fleet.

What was the Peñón of Algiers, and what did Barbarossa do there in 1529?

The Peñón of Algiers was a fortress occupied by the Spaniards. In 1529, Barbarossa took control of the Peñón from the Spanish, enhancing his and the Ottomans’ control over Algiers.

What was his relationship with the Ottoman sultans?

Barbarossa had a strong relationship with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who relied heavily on him to expand and control the Ottoman naval power. This trust and support were crucial in Barbarossa’s rise and success.

What title was Hayreddin Barbarossa granted by Suleiman the Magnificent, and what did it signify?

In 1533, Hayreddin Barbarossa was appointed as Kapudan Pasha, or grand admiral of the Ottoman Navy, by Suleiman the Magnificent. This position signified his supreme command over the Ottoman naval forces.

What were the diplomatic relations like between Hayreddin Barbarossa and France?

Hayreddin Barbarossa had diplomatic and military relations with France. He led an embassy to France in 1533 and conducted joint naval campaigns with the French in the 1540s, showcasing a strategic Ottoman-French alliance against their common European adversaries.

One of Barbarossa’s major naval accomplishments was his decisive victory at the Battle of Preveza in 1538. He successfully defeated the fleet of the Holy League, which confirmed Ottoman naval supremacy in the region. Image: Statue depicting Barbarossa in Istanbul, Turkiye.

How did he impact European and Mediterranean history?

Barbarossa’s naval campaigns significantly influenced the power dynamics in the Mediterranean. His actions helped the Ottomans assert control over the sea, challenging the naval powers of Spain, Venice, and the Papal States, among others.

When and how did Hayreddin Barbarossa die?

Barbarossa died in 1546, reportedly of natural causes, in Istanbul. His legacy as a naval commander continued to influence Ottoman maritime strategies for decades.

What does the honorary name ‘Hayreddin’ mean, and why was it given to Barbarossa?

The honorary name ‘Hayreddin’, derived from Arabic ‘Khayr ad-Din’, means ‘goodness of the faith’ or ‘best of the faith’. It was given to Barbarossa to honor his contributions and virtues in the context of his service to the Ottoman Empire and Islam.

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