Ot­toman ad­mi­ral Hayred­din Bar­barossa Outwits Holy league ad­mi­ral an­drea do­ria in a show­down in the io­nian sea, septem­ber 1538


de­stroy the Peñón of Al­giers. The gar­risons of the Span­ish pre­sid­ios along the Bar­bary Coast were de­spised by Ber­bers and Arabs alike, and there­fore were un­able to pur­chase sup­plies from the lo­cals. When Bar­barossa re­turned, the Span­ish gar­ri­son was low on food, gun­pow­der and am­mu­ni­tion, and was await­ing re­sup­ply. The con­voy of ships bear­ing sup­plies was long over­due.

Bar­barossa moved quickly. As soon as his siege guns were in po­si­tion, he be­gan bom­bard­ing the pre­sidio. After two weeks of sus­tained shelling, the heavy guns opened a breach wide enough for the Turks to charge through it. Gov­er­nor Don Martin de Var­gas promptly sur­ren­dered, hav­ing lost three­quar­ters of his men.

Khizr put the cap­tured sol­diers to work with other Chris­tian slaves dis­man­tling the fort, so that it would never again house Span­ish troops. Un­der the bey of Al­giers’s watch­ful eye they used the stones to build a break­wa­ter, stretch­ing from the main­land to the islet, to pro­tect his fleet from the pow­er­ful north­ern and west­erly winds.

Dur­ing this time, Khizr fre­quently plun­dered the coast of Spain for slaves and riches. He also evac­u­ated Moriscos (Moors com­pelled to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity) who wanted to es­cape in­tol­er­ant Spain. He made sure to stay in the good graces of Sul­tan Suleiman by send­ing a por­tion of his booty to the Sub­lime Porte. Suleiman con­sid­ered him an able ad­min­is­tra­tor and su­perb naval com­man­der. As a sign of re­spect, Suleiman be­stowed on him the com­ple­men­tary Is­lamic honorific ‘Hayred­din’, mean­ing ‘good­ness of the faith’.

Hayred­din’s cap­ture of Al­giers co­in­cided with the Peace of Cam­brai in 1529 be­tween French King Fran­cis I and Holy Ro­man Em­peror Charles V. The de­feated Fran­cis had to re­lin­quish all claims to Italy. To make mat­ters worse, Genoan Ad­mi­ral An­drea Do­ria quit French ser­vice in or­der to com­mand Charles’s Span­ish fleet.

Sul­tan Suleiman’s ad­mi­ral

Suleiman sum­moned Hayred­din to Istanbul in 1532 to over­see the con­struc­tion of a new im­pe­rial fleet. The sul­tan and ad­mi­ral were in agree­ment that the Ot­tomans needed to cap­ture Tu­nis and de­stroy Do­ria’s Span­ish fleet. While Hayred­din was in Istanbul, Do­ria had con­ducted a suc­cess­ful raid against an Ot­toman squadron in Septem­ber 1532, cap­tur­ing the fortress of Coron on the south­ern tip of Morea (Pelo­pon­nese).

The fol­low­ing year Suleiman pro­moted the bey of Al­giers to the ex­alted post of grand ad­mi­ral. The ship­build­ing ini­tia­tive pro­duced 70 gal­leys, each of which was out­fit­ted with one bronze can­non in the bow. The mighty fleet de­parted from the Golden Horn in 1534. After raid­ing Cal­abria, it turned south for Tu­nis. The pre­sidio at La Goulette (the gul­let) guarded the chan­nel lead­ing to the har­bour at Tu­nis.

The troops dis­em­barked on 16 Au­gust and quickly gained pos­ses­sion of Tu­nis. The rul­ing Ber­ber prince, Mulei Has­san, fled. After the fall of Tu­nis to Hayred­din, Has­san im­plored

King Charles to help him re­cover the city. No sooner had Charles re­ceived the re­quest than he be­gan as­sem­bling forces for an op­er­a­tion he in­tended to lead him­self. The em­peror’s 500ship ar­mada weighed an­chor near Tu­nis on 13 June 1535.

Hayred­din knew that he could not hold

Tu­nis, but he put up a spir­ited de­fence any­way. Charles landed his troops a short dis­tance from La Goulette. It took the Span­ish army 24 days of con­stant fight­ing to cap­ture the twin tow­ers at La Goulette. To his credit, Hayred­din safely with­drew his sur­viv­ing troops. How­ever, Charles suc­ceeded in de­stroy­ing 82 Ot­toman ves­sels.

War with Venice

Charles’s de­ci­sive vic­tory at Tu­nis did lit­tle to calm the feel­ing of in­se­cu­rity and dread that gripped those liv­ing along the coast in Spain, Italy and the Chris­tian-held is­lands of the western Mediter­ranean. They lived in con­stant fear of at­tack by Hayred­din’s fleet and Ot­toman cor­sairs.

King Fran­cis en­cour­aged Suleiman to send ves­sels to as­sist him in his op­er­a­tions against Charles. Although the French had a fleet, it had re­cently been de­feated by Do­ria. Suleiman duly obliged him, as he har­boured dreams of cap­tur­ing Rome one day. They hashed out a plan whereby Fran­cis would at­tack into north­ern Italy and the Turks would land in Apu­lia and push north. An Ot­toman squadron ar­rived in Mar­seilles in 1536, but Fran­cis soon grew skit­tish about con­duct­ing joint op­er­a­tions with the Turks against fel­low Chris­tians. This di­min­ished the French king sig­nif­i­cantly in the eyes of the Ot­tomans.


Suleiman un­leashed Hayred­din to wreak havoc against Charles’s Ital­ian do­mains. The Ot­toman ad­mi­ral, who the Chris­tians called the “King of Evil,” pro­ceeded to rav­age Apu­lia. Hayred­din sailed from Istanbul in May 1537 with 170 gal­leys and sup­port ships bound for Apu­lia. Over the course of a month he torched towns, de­stroyed forts and car­ried off thou­sands of Chris­tians to be sold as slaves.

In 1537 the Vene­tians and Ot­tomans went to war with each other for the third time. Suleiman or­dered Hayred­din to cap­ture the Vene­tian citadel at Corfu, which if cap­tured could serve as a for­ward base for an in­va­sion of Italy. But the Vene­tians had made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to the citadel, and Hayred­din judged it im­per­vi­ous to his siege ar­tillery. He there­fore con­cen­trated on mop­ping up Vene­tian out­posts in the re­gion. He at­tacked 25 strongholds on the Aegean is­lands and Morea (Pelo­pon­nese). Of the 25 out­posts, he de­stroyed 13 and com­pelled the other 12 to pay an­nual trib­ute to the sul­tan.

While Ot­tomans were pre­oc­cu­pied with

Venice, Em­peror Charles sent en­voys to Hayred­din with an in­vi­ta­tion to aban­don Ot­toman ser­vice in favour of be­com­ing a Hab­s­burg ad­mi­ral. Hayred­din strung him along, all the time keep­ing Suleiman ap­prised of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. As a de­vout Mus­lim, Hayred­din had no in­ten­tion of leav­ing Ot­toman ser­vice.

In­vin­ci­ble ad­mi­ral

Sul­tan Suleiman launched an of­fen­sive that same year, de­signed to se­cure the Io­nian Sea and the Strait of Otranto for fu­ture op­er­a­tions against Italy. To counter the threat, Pope Paul III es­tab­lished the Holy League in Fe­bru­ary 1538. The pope placed Genoan Ad­mi­ral An­drea Do­ria in charge of the vast Chris­tian ar­mada that in­cluded fleets from Genoa, Venice, Naples, Malta and the Pa­pacy. Do­ria’s 130 gal­leys and 50 galleons met Hayred­din’s 50 gal­liots and 90 gal­leys in bat­tle near the en­trance to the Gulf of Preveza on 28 Septem­ber 1538. Be­cause of the im­preg­nable po­si­tion of Grand Ad­mi­ral Hayred­din Bar­barossa’s gal­ley fleet, Do­ria at­tempted to with­draw with­out fight­ing; how­ever, the Ot­toman gal­leys caught his sail-driven galleons when the wind dropped.

The Ot­tomans in­flicted greater losses on the Chris­tian fleet than they re­ceived from it.

In the af­ter­math of the Ot­toman vic­tory at Preveza, a fierce storm drove Hayred­din’s im­pe­rial fleet up the Adri­atic coast­line, de­stroy­ing half of his ves­sels. After­wards, he re­turned to Istanbul to build more gal­leys.

Hayred­din’s next note­wor­thy ex­pe­di­tion came in 1543 when he led a large gal­ley fleet to Mar­seilles to par­tic­i­pate in joint op­er­a­tions with the French. An am­phibi­ous at­tack on Nice failed when Franco-ot­toman troops couldn’t cap­ture the port-city’s strong citadel.

After sup­port­ing the French in their failed at­tack on Nice in sum­mer 1543, King Fran­cis bil­leted the Ot­toman fleet in Toulon. When they could not agree on an ob­jec­tive in spring 1544, Hayred­din led his fleet out of French wa­ters. De­ter­mined to come home to a hero’s wel­come, Hayred­din spent sum­mer 1544 us­ing his fleet and troops to me­thod­i­cally pil­lage Cam­pagna, Cal­abria and Si­cily. Although the in­hab­i­tants of south­ern Italy had built watch­tow­ers along hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of coast­line, they did lit­tle good as there were no lo­cal forces siz­able or pow­er­ful enough to check the Ot­toman raiders. Hayred­din’s last raid was marked by sadism and cru­elty de­signed to un­der­mine the faith of Chris­tians in their God. In some cases, en­tire vil­lages were wiped off the map.

Hayred­din’s fleet car­ried 6,000 Chris­tian cap­tives back to Istanbul. It was to be his last great raid, as two years later he died of a fever in his sea­side palace in Istanbul.

Bar­barossa’s life was re­mark­able, if bru­tal, given that he rose from mod­est begin­nings to one of the high­est posts in the Ot­toman Em­pire. He showed dur­ing the height of his ca­reer that he un­der­stood the ad­van­tages and lim­i­ta­tions of gal­ley war­fare. He was revered for his mil­i­tary achieve­ments across the Mus­lim world and de­spised for his cru­elty through­out the Chris­tian one. He re­mains a cel­e­brated fig­ure in the Turk­ish psy­che.


Ot­toman cor­sairs in oar-driven war­ships known as gal­liots at­tack a pow­er­ful Span­ish galleon along the Bar­bary Coast

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