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Murat Reis the Elder (Turkish language: Koca Murat Reis, c.1534-1638) was an Albanian privateer and admiral of the Ottoman Navy. He is regarded as one of the most important Barbary corsairs.[1]

Early career

Born into an Albanian family in Rhodes or Albania in 1534 he began his career when he joined the crew of Turgut Reis at a very young age.[2] He also fought alongside Piri Reis in several expeditions. In 1534 Murat Reis accompanied Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha to Constantinople where they were received by Suleiman I and appointed to take command of the Ottoman fleet. While in Constantinople, Murat Reis participated in the construction of new warships at the naval arsenal on the Golden Horn.

Battle of Preveza

Murat Reis fought in the center-rear wing of Turgut Reis at the naval Battle of Preveza in 1538

Murat Reis took part in all of the early naval campaigns of Turgut Reis. On September 25 and 26, 1538, he was assigned with the task of preventing the ships of the Holy League under the command of Andrea Doria from landing at Preveza, and he successfully repulsed them from the shoreline. On September 28, he took part in the main combat and played an important role in the Ottoman victory at the Battle of Preveza, where he fought along with Turgut Reis in the center-rear wing of the Ottoman fleet which had a Y shaped battle configuration. He continued to accompany Turgut Reis until being assigned as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Ocean fleet.

Commander of the Ottoman Indian Ocean Fleet

In 1552 Suleiman I assigned Murat Reis as the Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman Indian Ocean Fleet (hence his commonly known title Hint Kaptanı, i.e. Captain of the Indian Ocean.) He was the third commander to take this post after Hadım Süleyman Pasha and Piri Reis. The fleet was based in Suez (Egypt) on the Red Sea, with other homeports in Aden (Yemen) and Basra (Iraq) on the Persian Gulf. The homeport in Basra, which Murat Reis used while fighting the Portuguese forces in the Indian Ocean, consisted of 26 galleys and several smaller vessels. Murat Reis repaired these ships and, leaving 8 of them in Basra, set sail with 18 galleys to the Indian Ocean. There he encountered a Portuguese fleet of 25 galleys, which had set sail from their base in Goa. Murat Reis successfully engaged the numerically superior Portuguese force and after bitter fighting until nightfall, which ended in a stalemate with heavy losses on both sides, the Portuguese fleet retreated back to Goa and Murat Reis retreated back to Basra. The result, however, didn't please Suleiman I, who was expecting a decisive victory, and Murat Reis was removed from his post; which would be taken by another famous admiral, Seydi Ali Reis. Murat Reis rejoined Turgut Reis and continued to operate with him until the death of the famous seaman at the Siege of Malta in 1565.

Siege and conquest of Cyprus

In 1570 Murat Reis, in command of a fleet of 25 galleys, was assigned with the task of clearing the area between Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus for the build-up of the naval siege and eventual conquest of Cyprus. He was also assigned with the task of blocking the Venetian ships based in Crete from sailing to Cyprus and assisting the Venetian forces in that island. He continued to undertake this task until the eventual surrender of Famagusta, the final Venetian stronghold on the island.

Canary Islands

In 1585 he led the first expedition of the Barbary corsairs in the Atlantic ocean and captured several of the Canary Islands. During the attacks among others he captured the Spanish governor of Lanzarote, who was later ransomed and released.

Mediterranean campaigns

Murat Reis Mosque in Rhodes

Murat Reis was later assigned with the task of controlling the lucrative trade routes between Egypt and Anatolia which were often raided by the Venetians, the French and the Maltese Knights. In 1609, he heard of the presence of a joint French-Maltese fleet of ten galleys, including the famous Galeona Rossa, a large galleon armed with 90 cannons which was known among the Ottomans as the Red Inferno, under the command of a knight named Fresine, off the island of Cyprus, and sailed there to engage them. After successfully striking the enemy ships with cannons from both long distance and close range, he severely damaged the Red Inferno and captured the ship. Six out of the ten French-Maltese galleys were captured, along with the 500 soldiers aboard, and the total of 160 cannons and 2000 muskets which they carried. During the battle Murat Reis was seriously injured. In 1638 he took part in siege of Vlorë, during which he died.[1]


Murat Reis was buried in Rhodes in accordance with his will. His tomb in Rhodes, which still stands, became a popular shrine for Ottoman sailors in the following centuries, who visited his grave for good luck before setting sail to distant places. Several submarines of the Turkish Navy have been named after Murat Reis (see Oruç Reis class submarine). One of the municipalities that form the City of Algiers, which was once the regional capital of the Ottoman Vilayet of Algeria (1517–1830), is named Bir Mourad Raïs (Murat Reis' well) in his honor.

See also

References and sources

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