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Salih Reis (1488 ca. – 1568) was a Turkish privateer and Ottoman admiral. He is alternatively referred to as Salah Rais, Sala Reis, Salih Rais, Salek Rais and Cale Arraez in several European resources, particularly in Spain, France and Italy.[1]

In 1529, together with Aydın Reis, he took part in the Turkish-Spanish battle near the Isle of Formentera, during which the Ottoman forces destroyed the Spanish fleet, whose commander, Rodrigo Portundo, died in combat.

In 1538 he commanded the right wing of the Turkish fleet at the naval Battle of Preveza, where the Ottoman forces under Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha defeated the Holy League of Charles V under the command of Andrea Doria.

In 1551, due to his success in the conquest of Tripoli (Libya) together with Turgut Reis and Sinan Pasha, he was promoted to the rank of Pasha and became the Beylerbeyi (Ottoman equivalent of Grand Duke) of Algiers and the Bahriye Beylerbeyi (Admiral) of the Ottoman West Mediterranean Fleet.

Background and early career

Salih Reis was born in Biga,[2][3] a village between Çanakkale and Edremit, near Kaz Dağı (Mount Ida) to the south of ancient Troy,[4] on the Aegean coast of Turkey, in around 1488.[1]

At a very young age he joined the fleet of Oruç Reis (Aruj Barbarossa), the most famous of the Turkish corsairs and privateers from Anatolia who sought fortune in the West Mediterranean by operating from their bases on the Barbary Coast. He gained experience in seamanship as a crew member of the Barbarossa brothers, Oruç Reis and Hızır Reis, and soon became one of their chief lieutenants.

Salih Reis was around 30 years old when Oruç Reis died in 1518 during a battle against the Spaniards in Algeria. From 1518 onwards, he joined the fleet of Hızır Reis, who inherited the title of Barbarossa from his older brother, Baba Oruç (Father Aruj).

In 1520 he went to Djerba together with Hızır Reis and Turgut Reis, and later that year assaulted Bône, which was under Spanish control.

Career in the Ottoman Navy

In 1529, commanding a force of 14 galliots, Salih Reis assaulted the Gulf of Valencia before joining the fleet of Aydın Reis which took part in the Turkish-Spanish War near the Isle of Formentera, where the Ottoman forces destroyed the Spanish fleet, whose commander, Rodrigo Portundo, died in combat. During the war, Salih Reis captured the galley of Captain Tortosa and took the son of Admiral Portundo, the Spanish commander, as a prisoner of war.

When the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent summoned Barbarossa to Constantinople, who set sail in August 1532, Salih Reis took part in Barbarossa's fleet. Having raided Sardinia, Bonifacio in Corsica, the Islands of Montecristo, Elba and Lampedusa, they captured 18 galleys near Messina and learned from the captured prisoners that Andrea Doria, the Genoese admiral in service of Charles V, was on his way to Preveza. Barbarossa proceeded to raid the nearby coasts of Calabria and then sailed towards Preveza. Doria's forces fled after a short battle, but only after Barbarossa, accompanied by Salih Reis and Murat Reis, had captured seven of their galleys. Barbarossa arrived at Preveza with a total of 44 galleys, but sent 25 of them back to Algiers and headed to Constantinople with 19 ships, one of which was commanded by Salih Reis, who, along with Murat Reis, was one of the 19 men received by Suleiman the Magnificent at Topkapı Palace. Suleiman appointed Barbarossa Kaptan-ı Derya (Fleet Admiral) of the Ottoman Navy and Beylerbey (Chief Governor) of North Africa. Barbarossa was also given the government of the Sanjak (Province) of Rhodes and those of Euboea and Chios in the Aegean Sea. Salih Reis, on the other hand, was promoted to the rank of Navy Colonel. In 1533 Barbarossa and Salih Reis operated together against the Spanish-controlled ports in the Mediterranean Sea.

In July 1535 Salih Reis was appointed by Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha for the task of defending Tunis. Accompanied by Cafer Reis and very few Turkish soldiers, Salih Reis encountered the forces of Girolamo Tuttavilla, Count of Sarno, whose fortress was near the city walls of La Goulette. Salih Reis pretended to retreat, and eventually routed and trapped the forces of Tuttavilla, who followed him. Tuttavilla was killed in combat, and his fortress was captured by the Turks. Still in July 1535, Salih Reis assisted Hasan Reis (later Hasan Pasha), the son of Barbarossa, in governing Algiers. In 1536 Barbarossa and Salih Reis were called back to Constantinople to take command of the Ottoman naval attack on the Habsburg Kingdom of Naples. In July 1537 the Turks landed at Otranto and captured the city, as well as the Fortress of Castro and the city of Ugento in Puglia.

In August 1537, Lütfi Pasha and Barbarossa led a huge Ottoman force, in which Salih Reis also took part, that captured the Aegean and Ionian islands belonging to the Republic of Venice, namely Syros, Aegina, Ios, Paros, Tinos, Karpathos, Kasos and Naxos. In the same year Barbarossa captured Corfu from Venice and once again raided Calabria. These losses caused Venice to ask Pope Paul III to organize a "Holy League" against the Ottomans.

Battle of Preveza

Salih Reis commanded the right wing of the Turkish fleet at the naval Battle of Preveza in 1538

In February 1538, Pope Paul III succeeded in assembling a Holy League (comprising the Papacy, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Republic of Venice and the Maltese Knights) against the Ottomans, which was to be commanded by Andrea Doria, the chief admiral of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

Salih Reis, now a Bahriye Sancakbeyi (Rear Admiral, Upper Half) commanded the 24 galleys which formed the right wing of the Ottoman fleet during the Battle of Preveza in September 1538, in which the numerically inferior Turkish forces of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha won an overwhelming victory over the Holy League under the command of Andrea Doria. In one of the most famous incidents of the battle, Salih Reis and his men boarded and assaulted the Galeone di Venezia (Galleon of Venice), the huge Venetian flagship under the command of Alessandro Condalmiero (Bondumier), together with two other Venetian galleys which were drifted away from the rest of the Venetian fleet due to the heavy loss of oarsmen which resulted from the bitter fighting.

Recapture of Castelnuovo and the conquest of Venetian islands in the Aegean

In June 1539 Salih Reis set sail from Constantinople with 20 galleys, and near Cape Maleo joined the fleet of Barbarossa which was appointed with the mission of recapturing Castelnuovo (Herceg Novi) from the Venetians. On the way to Castelnuovo their combined fleet captured the islands of Skiathos, Skyros, Andros and Serifos from the Venetians. In August 1539 Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, Turgut Reis and Salih Reis laid siege to Castelnuovo and took the city back. They also captured the nearby Castle of Risan and later assaulted the Venetian fortress of Cattaro and the Spanish fortress of Santa Veneranda near Pesaro. The Turkish fleet later took the remaining Christian outposts in the Ionian and Aegean Seas. Venice finally signed a peace treaty with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in October 1540, agreeing to recognize the Turkish territorial gains and to pay 300,000 gold ducats.

Operations on the French coast and Catalonia

According to some Turkish resources, in 1540, Salih Reis was together with Turgut Reis in Girolata, Corsica, where the two were captured by the combined forces of Giannettino Doria (Andrea Doria's nephew), Giorgio Doria and Gentile Virginio Orsini while repairing their ships at the harbour. These sources also mention that Salih Reis and Turgut Reis were both forced to become oar slaves in Genoese ships until they were liberated by Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in 1544, who threatened to attack the port of Genoa with his massive fleet of 210 ships.

French, Italian and Spanish sources, however, acknowledge the captivity (1540) and liberation (1544) of Turgut Reis, but make no mention of the captivity of Salih Reis. It is probable that the close friendship between Salih Reis and Turgut Reis and their numerous joint operations may have possibly caused a confusion.

In fact, according to French, Italian and Spanish sources, Salih Reis took part in the Franco-Ottoman conquest of Nice (Nizza) on 5 August 1543, which was commanded by Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha. According to the same sources, following the conquest of Nice, Salih Reis commanded the Ottoman force of 20 galleys and 3 fustas which assaulted the Costa Brava in Catalonia, Spain, in that same year. In early October 1543, Salih Reis landed his troops at Rosas and sacked the city. The following day, Salih Reis appeared at the Medas Islands (Illes Medes) about 1 km off the coast of L'Estartit, before proceeding to Palafrugell and Palamós, the latter being severely sacked following a fierce battle for its capture. From there Salih Reis proceeded to the nearby San Juan de Palamós, which was likewise sacked, and captured the Spanish galley Bribona off the coast of Calelh, a fishing village in the area. He later landed his troops at Empúries (Ampurias) and Cadaqués, capturing and sacking both cities, before sailing to Algiers. He was spotted sailing together with Barbarossa in the spring of 1544.

Operations in Sicily, Malta and the West Mediterranean

In mid June 1548 Salih Reis appeared at Capo Passero in Sicily with a force of 18 ships, before appearing at Gozo in Malta with 12 ships – having sent 6 of his ships to Algiers where they would join Turgut Reis, upon the order that he received from Hüseyin Çelebi.

In the Autumn of 1550 Andrea Doria contacted Salih Reis and attempted to convince him for serving Spain instead of the Ottoman Empire, but failed.

Conquest of Tripoli (Libya) and subsequent promotion to the rank of Bahriye Beylerbeyi of Algiers

In June–August 1551, Salih Reis joined the fleet of Sinan Pasha and Turgut Reis, and played an important role in the conquest of Tripoli (Libya), which had been a possession of the Knights of St. John since 1530, when it was given to them by Charles V of Spain. He bombarded the fortress of the Knights from a distance of approximately 150 steps, eventually forcing Gaspare de Villers, their commander, to surrender. Salih Reis returned to Constantinople, where, due to his success in the conquest of Tripoli, he was promoted to the rank of Bahriye Beylerbeyi (Admiral) of the Ottoman West Mediterranean Fleet and was appointed as the Beylerbeyi (the Ottoman equivalent of Grand Duke) of Algiers in 1551.

In April 1552 he reached Algiers, and later set sail towards Sicily, where he captured a Maltese ship. In the summer of 1552, he joined the forces of Turgut Reis who landed at the Gulf of Naples, and together with him later assaulted the coasts of Lazio and Tuscany. From there Salih Reis sailed to Marseille, before capturing and sacking the Island of Majorca (Mallorca).

Marching overland to the Sahara Desert (1552)

From Majorca he sailed back to Algiers, where he prepared his troops to march overland to the Sahara Desert and expand the Ottoman Vilayet (Province) of Algeria inwards. The troops advanced south and captured the city of Touggourt, built around an oasis in southern Algeria. From there the Turks marched towards Ouargla, finding a ghost city whose inhabitants fled upon hearing their arrival.

Reestablishment of the Wattassid King in Fes

In 1549, the new ruler of Morocco, Mohammed ash-Sheikh successfully ousted the Wattasid sultan Ali Abu Hassun, the latter ruled only over Fes and its region and had just declared himself a vassal of the Ottomans.[5] ash-Sheikh even captured Tlemcen ending the Abdelwadid dynasty rule over the city.[5] He was now advancing further east in Algeria and attacked the Ottoman Turks.[5] This triggered an Ottoman counterattack, who recaptured Tlemcen in 1552 and advanced to Fes where they reestablished the Wattasid king Ali Abu Hassun in 1554, in turn he rewarded them with the port of "Badis" on the Mediterranean coast, which had been previously captured from the Spanish in 1522.[5] But this lasted only a few months as in September 1554, Mohammed ash-Sheikh recaptured Fes and defeated Abu Hassun and his Ottoman allies, in the battle of Tadla.[5]

Return to Algeria

In 1555 the French Navy, then allied with the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent, sent a detachment to Algiers for asking the assistance of Salih Reis against the Spaniards. Salih Reis accepted the request and conceded 22 of his galleys, carrying Turkish soldiers and cannons, to the service of the French fleet. Later, with his remaining force of 40,000 men, he laid siege to Bougie. After 14 days of continuous artillery bombardment, he destroyed the two main defenses of the city walls: the Fortress of Vergelette which controlled the entrance of the port, and the Spanish castle which stood right in front of the city walls. The Spanish Governor of Bougie, Alfonso di Peralta, decided to make peace with Salih Reis instead of continuing to defend the city until the bitter end. According to the pact, the Turks allowed all the surviving Spanish inhabitants of Bougie to safely return to Spain with their belongings, and the Spanish forces to take away their cannons and weapons. However, even though the Governor, Alfonso di Peralta, could sail safely to Valencia, together with 20 of his high-ranking officials, on a French ship, some of the Spanish civilians (around 400 men, 120 women and 100 children) were captured and enslaved by the corsairs operating in the area. Alfonso di Peralta was arrested as soon as he entered the port of Valencia and Charles V ordered his execution for treason, which took place in a public square of Valladolid.

Later that year, Salih Reis conquered Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera from the Spaniards, before sailing to Constantinople where he was received by the Sultan.

Sieges of Oran, 1556 and 1563

In 1556 he left Constantinople and set sail towards the Spanish stronghold of Oran in Algeria, which he assaulted with a force of 30 galleys. He destroyed the Spanish forts defending the entrance of the port, but could not capture the city itself due to the fierce resistance by the local population as well as the Spanish army garrison. He then retreated his fleet to Algiers.

In April 1563, commanding a force of 10,000 soldiers, he once again laid siege to Oran and Mers-el-Kébir, this time also with the assistance of Turgut Reis who supported him with a force of 20 ships and 20 pieces of siege artillery. Oran once again defended itself to the bitter end, until it was saved by a large Spanish force which arrived in June, but the Turks bombarded and destroyed the Fortress of Mers-el-Kébir.

Siege of Malta, 1565

In August 1565 Salih Reis took part in the Turkish Siege of Malta and commanded a force of 15,000 soldiers which attacked Fort Saint Michael. Towards the end of August he managed to set up a powerful mine which breached the walls of Castiglia, and attacked the bastion with 4,000 men. In the meantime, Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha commanded the main attack against Fort Saint Michael, until he was almost killed by a cannon fire which severely wounded him. Salih Reis then took his place and placed his troops around the ruins of the Bastion of Castiglia. The Turks managed to capture Fort Saint Elmo on the main island, but at the cost of too many casualties, including the famous Turgut Reis who was 80 years old when he died in Malta, shortly before the capture of Fort Saint Elmo. The siege was eventually lifted when a large Christian fleet that was assembled to support the Maltese Knights reached the island.

Death in Algiers, 1568

The Siege of Malta was also the final mission of Salih Reis, who was around 77 years old at that time. He died in Algiers 3 years later, in 1568, close to the age of 80, just like his lifelong friend Turgut Reis.[4]

Interestingly, Turgutlu and Salihli are two neighbouring town centers within the Province of Manisa in the Aegean Region of Turkey.


Salih Reis was from the generation of great Turkish seamen in the 16th century such as Kemal Reis, Oruç Reis, Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, Turgut Reis, Kurtoğlu Muslihiddin Reis, Piri Reis, Piyale Pasha, Murat Reis and Seydi Ali Reis.

He played an important role in the Battle of Preveza (1538) which secured the Turkish domination of the Mediterranean during his lifetime, until the Battle of Lepanto (1571) which took place 3 years after his death.

He vastly enlarged the Ottoman territories in northwestern Africa and extended them to the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean.

Several warships of the Turkish Navy have been named after Salih Reis.

See also



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