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Barbarossa, lithograph by Charles-Etienne Motte, after a drawing by Achille Deveria.
Born c. 1474
Midilli, Ottoman Empire
Died 1518
Tlemcen, Ottoman Eyalet of Algeria

Aruj or Arouj (Turkish language: Oruç Reis, Arabic: عروج بربروس, Spanish language: Arrudye

c. 1474 – 1518) was a Barbary Pirate. He was the elder brother of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha and Ottoman Bey (Governor) of Algiers and Beylerbey (Chief Governor) of the West Mediterranean. He was born on the Ottoman island of Midilli (Lesbos in today's Greece) and was killed in a battle with the Spaniards at Tlemcen in the Ottoman Eyalet of Algeria.

He became known as Baba Aruj or Baba Oruç (Father Aruj) when he transported large numbers of Moriscos refugees from Spain to North Africa; he was known through folk etymology in Europe as Barbarossa (which meant Redbeard in Italian).


Sources refer to him as a Greek,[1][2][3] as a Turk[4][5][6][7] or as an Albanian by origin.[8][9] Oruç was born in the 1470s on the Ottoman island of Midilli (Lesbos in present-day Greece; Greek: Λέσβος) to his father Yakup Ağa, a Greek renegade[10] or Turk[11][12][13][14] as well as a former Sipahi[15][16][17][18] from the Ottoman city of Yenice-i Vardar (modern Yannitsa in Greece)[19] and his wife, Katerina, from the Aegean island of Lesbos. Yakup Ağa took part in the Ottoman conquest of Lesbos (Midilli) from the Genoese in 1462, and as a reward, was granted the fief of the Bonova village in the island. He married a local Christian Greek woman from Mytilene, the widow of an Orthodox priest, named Katerina,[20] and they had two daughters and four sons: Ishak, Oruç, Hızır and Ilyas. Yakup became an established potter and purchased a boat to trade his products. The four sons helped their father with his business, but not much is known about the daughters. At first Aruj (Oruç) helped with the boat, while Hızır helped with pottery.

Early career

All four brothers became seamen, engaged in marine affairs and international sea trade. Aruj was the first brother to be involved in seamanship, soon joined by the youngest brother Ilyas. Hızır initially helped their father in the pottery business, but later obtained a ship of his own and also began a career at sea. Ishak, the eldest, remained on Mytilene and was involved with the financial affairs of the family business. The other three brothers initially worked as sailors, but then turned privateers in the Mediterranean, counteracting the privateering of the Knights of St. John of the Island of Rhodes.[citation needed] Aruj and Ilyas operated in the Levant, between Anatolia, Syria and Egypt, while Hızır operated in the Aegean Sea and based his operations mostly in Thessaloniki.

Aruj was a very successful seaman. He also learned to speak Italian, Spanish, French, Greek and Arabic in the early years of his career. While returning from a trading expedition in Tripoli, Lebanon, he and Ilyas were attacked by a galley of the Knights of St. John. Ilyas was killed in the fight, and Aruj was wounded. Their father's boat was captured, and Aruj was taken prisoner and detained in the Knights' Bodrum Castle for nearly three years. Upon learning the location of his brother, Hızır went to Bodrum and managed to help Aruj escape.

Aruj the corsair

Aruj captures a galley.

Aruj later went to Antalya, where he was given 18 galleys by Shehzade Korkud, an Ottoman prince and governor of the city, and charged with fighting against the Knights of St. John who inflicted serious damage on Ottoman shipping and trade. In the following years, when Shehzade Korkud became governor of Manisa, he gave Aruj a larger fleet of 24 galleys at the port of İzmir and ordered him to participate in the Ottoman naval expedition to Puglia in Italy, where Aruj bombarded several coastal forts and captured two ships. On his way back to Lesbos, he stopped at Euboea and captured three galleons and another ship. Reaching Mytilene with these captured vessels, Aruj learned that Shehzade Korkud, brother of the new Ottoman sultan, had fled to Egypt in order to avoid being killed because of succession disputes—a common practice at that time in the House of Osman. Fearing trouble due to his well-known association with the Ottoman prince in exile, Aruj sailed to Egypt where he met Shehzade Korkud in Cairo and managed to get an audience with the Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri, who gave him another ship and charged him to raid the coasts of Italy and the islands of the Mediterranean that were controlled by Christian powers. After passing the winter in Cairo, he set sail from Alexandria and operated along the coasts of Liguria and Sicily.

In 1503 Aruj managed to seize three more ships and made the island of Djerba his new base, thus moving his operations to the Western Mediterranean. Hızır joined Aruj at Djerba. In 1504 the two brothers asked Abu Abdullah Mohammed Hamis, sultan of Tunisia from the Beni Hafs dynasty, for permission to use the strategically located port of La Goulette for their operations. They were granted this right, with the condition of leaving one third of their booty to the sultan. Aruj, in command of small galliots, captured two much larger Papal galleys near the island of Elba. Later, near Lipari, the two brothers captured a Sicilian warship, the Cavalleria, with 380 Spanish soldiers and 60 Spanish knights from Aragon on board, who were on their way from Spain to Naples. In 1505 they raided the coasts of Calabria. These accomplishments increased their fame and they were joined by a number of other well-known Muslim corsairs, including Kurtoğlu (known in the West as Curtogoli). In 1508 they raided the coasts of Liguria, particularly Diano Marina.

In 1509 Ishak also left Mytilene and joined his brothers at La Goulette. The fame of Aruj increased when between 1504 and 1510 he transported Muslim Mudéjars from Christian Spain to North Africa. His efforts of helping the Muslims of Spain in need and transporting them to safer lands earned him the honorific name Baba Oruç (Father Aruj), which eventually— due to the similarity in sound— evolved in Spain, Italy and France into Barbarossa (Redbeard in Italian).

In 1510 the three brothers raided Cape Passero in Sicily and repulsed a Spanish attack on Bougie, Oran and Algiers. In August 1511 they raided the areas around Reggio Calabria in southern Italy. In August 1512 the exiled ruler of Bougie invited the brothers to drive out the Spaniards, and during the battle Aruj lost his left arm. This incident earned him the nickname Gümüş Kol (Silver Arm in Turkish), in reference to the silver prosthetic device which he used in place of his missing limb. Later that year the three brothers raided the coasts of Andalusia in Spain, capturing a galliot of the Lomellini family of Genoa who owned the Tabarca island in that area. They subsequently landed on Minorca and captured a coastal castle, and then headed towards Liguria and captured four Genoese galleys near Genoa. The Genoese sent a fleet to liberate their ships, but the brothers captured their flagship as well. After capturing a total of 23 ships in less than a month, the brothers sailed back to La Goulette.

There they built three more galliots and a gunpowder production facility. In 1513 they captured four English ships on their way to France, raided Valencia where they captured four more ships, and then headed for Alicante and captured a Spanish galley near Málaga. In 1513 and 1514 the three brothers engaged Spanish squadrons on several other occasions and moved to their new base in Cherchell, east of Algiers. In 1514, with 12 galliots and 1,000 Turks, they destroyed two Spanish fortresses at Bougie, and when a Spanish fleet under the command of Miguel de Gurrea, viceroy of Majorca, arrived for assistance, they headed towards Ceuta and raided that city before capturing Jijel in Algeria, which was under Genoese control. They later captured Mahdiya in Tunisia. Afterwards they raided the coasts of Sicily, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland, capturing three large ships there. In 1515 they captured several galleons, a galley and three barques at Majorca. Still in 1515 Aruj sent precious gifts to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I who, in return, sent him two galleys and two swords embellished with diamonds. In 1516, joined by Kurtoğlu, the brothers besieged the Castle of Elba, before heading once more towards Liguria where they captured 12 ships and damaged 28 others.

The Ring of Red Beard

During Red Beard's battle for Spider Island in 1505, it's rumored he lost his legendary ring somewhere along the lakeshore of Spider Island. When the battle ended on July 4, 1505, Red Beard went insane searching for his lost ring. It's said that he who finds the ring will bear the strength and good fortune of Red Beard himself. However, anyone who attempts to steal the ring while in the ring bearer's possession is said to experience a type of electrical shock. In 2005, a search for Red Beard's ring turned up nothing and it is now believed lost forever.

Ruler of Algiers

In 1516 the three brothers succeeded in liberating Jijel and Algiers from the Spaniards, but eventually assumed control over the cities and surrounding region, forcing the previous ruler, Abu Hamo Musa III of the Beni Ziyad dynasty, to flee.[citation needed] The local Spaniards in Algiers sought refuge in the island of Peñón near Algiers and asked Emperor Charles V, King of Spain, to intervene, but the Spanish fleet failed to force the brothers out of Algiers.

After consolidating his power and declaring himself the new Sultan of Algiers, Aruj sought to enhance his territory inlands and took Miliana, Medea and Ténès. He became known for attaching sails to cannons for transport through the deserts of North Africa. In 1517 the brothers raided Capo Limiti and later the Island of Capo Rizzuto in Calabria.

Algiers joins the Ottoman Empire

For Aruj the best protection against Spain was to join the Ottoman Empire, his homeland and Spain's main rival. For this he had to relinquish his title of Sultan of Algiers to the Ottomans. He did this in 1517 and offered Algiers to the Ottoman Sultan. The Sultan accepted Algiers as an Ottoman Sanjak (province), appointed Aruj as the Bey (Governor) of Algiers and Beylerbey (Chief Governor) of the West Mediterranean, and promised to support him with janissaries, galleys and cannons.

Final engagements and death of Aruj and Ishak

The Spaniards ordered Abu Zayan, whom they had appointed as the new ruler of Tlemcen and Oran, to attack Aruj by land, but Aruj learned of the plan and pre-emptively struck against Tlemcen, capturing the city and executing Abu Zayan in the Fall of Tlemcen (1517). The only survivor of Abu Zayan's dynasty was Sheikh Buhammud, who escaped to Oran and called for Spain's assistance.

In May 1518, Emperor Charles V arrived at Oran and was received there by Sheikh Buhammud and the Spanish governor of the city, Diego de Córdoba, Marquess of Comares, who commanded a force of 10,000 Spanish soldiers. Joined by thousands of Bedouins, the Spaniards marched overland on Tlemcen where Aruj and Ishak awaited them with 1,500 Turkish and 5,000 Moorish soldiers. They defended Tlemcen for 20 days, but were eventually killed in combat by the forces of Garcia de Tineo.

The last remaining brother, Hızır Reis, inherited his brother's place, his name (Barbarossa) and his mission.


Aruj established the Ottoman presence in North Africa which lasted four centuries, de facto until the loss of Algeria to France in 1830, of Tunisia to France in 1881, of Libya to Italy in 1912 and de jure until the official loss of Egypt and Sudan to the United Kingdom in 1914, after the Ottoman Empire joined World War I on the side of the Central Powers. The Republic of Turkey officially renounced the remaining disputed Turkish rights in some territories of Egypt and Sudan with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Two submarines (TCG Oruç Reis and TCG Oruçreis (S-337)) of the Turkish Navy have been named after Aruj.

Barbarossa was the influence behind the character Captain Hector Barbossa from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. It was revealed that co-star Johnny Depp played a decisive part in providing the name. His last name is both a pun on the surname of Spanish origin "Barbosa"[21] and is based on Barbarossa, the Ottoman privateer. The word is a combination of the Italian words barba (beard) and rossa (red).

See also


  1. The early modern Ottomans: remapping the Empire, Virginia H. Aksan & Daniel Goffman, p.106, Cambridge University Press, 2007
  2. The Ottoman Empire and early modern Europe, Daniel Goffman, Cambridge University Press, p.145
  3. The last great Muslim empires: history of the Muslim world, Frank Ronald Charles Bagley et al, Brill Academic Publishers, 1997
  4. Cervantes y su mundo, Eva Reichenberger, page 134, 2005
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica, page 147, 1963
  6. Islam in the Balkans: religion and society between Europe and the Arab world, H. T. Norris, page 201, 1993
  7. Piri Reis & Turkish mapmaking after Columbus: the Khalili Portolan atlas, Svatopluk Soucek, Muʾassasat Nūr al-Ḥusayn, page 11, 1996
  8. Encyclopædia Britannica, page 147, 1963
  9. Islam in the Balkans: religion and society between Europe and the Arab world, H. T. Norris, page 201, 1993
  10. Early Habsburg Spain, 1517-1598, A. W. Lovett, p.132, Oxford University Press, 1986
  11. Piracy: the complete history, Angus Konstam, page 80, 2008
  12. Feeding people. feeding power: imarets in the Ottoman Empire, Nina Ergin, Christoph K. Neumann, Amy Singer, page 98, 2007
  13. Between Venice and Istanbul: colonial landscapes in early modern Greece, Siriol Davies,Jack L. Davis, p36, 2007
  14. The Turks: Ottomans, Hasan Celâl Güzel, Cem Oğuz, Osman Karatay, Murat Ocak, 2002
  15. Feeding people. feeding power: imarets in the Ottoman Empire, Nina Ergin, Christoph K. Neumann, Amy Singer, page 98, 2007
  16. Piracy: the complete history, Angus Konstam, page 80, 2008
  17. The Turks: Ottomans, Hasan Celâl Güzel, Cem Oğuz, Osman Karatay, Murat Ocak, 2002
  18. Between Venice and Istanbul: colonial landscapes in early modern Greece, Siriol Davies,Jack L. Davis, page 36, 2007
  19. Between Venice and Istanbul: Colonial landscapes in early modern Greece, p.36, Siriol Davies,Jack L. Davis, American School of Classical Studies, 2007
  20. Die Seeaktivitäten der muslimischen Beutefahrer als Bestandteil der staatlichen Flotte während der osmanischen Expansion im Mittelmeer im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert, p.548, Andreas Rieger, Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1994


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