Khayr al-Din, after having pledged allegiance to Selim I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and Khaadim al-Haramayn (aka The Servant of The Two Holy Cities), inherited his brother’s mantle, his name: Barbarossa, and his lifelong, undying mission of holy jihad against the terrorizing monarchs of Europe.
Barbarossa, ever the cunning strategist, continued to bring mudéjars, Muslims of Spain, to North Africa, thereby assuring himself of a sizable following of grateful and loyal followers, who bore an intense hatred for their former oppressors. At the same time, his heart would find more contentment by showing compassion to all those that seek help when no one can provide it.
Some historians mention that at one point, tribes from neighboring Algerian towns sensed that the Ottomans were planning to fully annex the entirety of Algeria, so they conspired with each other to overthrow any Ottoman presence within Algeria. Despite the conspiracies of neighboring tribes to crush the newly-arrived Ottoman soldiers, Khayr al-Din, the great leader and strategist, was always one step ahead.
As the day of the grand bazaar in Algiers approached, rumors of a rebellion began to circulate. The tribes that inhabited the neighboring plains secretly entered the city of Algiers with their weapons, intent on burning the Ottoman ships anchored on the coast. They planned to lure the soldiers away from the city by setting fire to Ottoman ships at the harbor and attacking them when their numbers were few and divided.
But Khayr al-Din, with his keen insight and extensive network of spies, was not to be outwitted. He quickly uncovered the plot and arrested the conspirators, meting out harsh punishment in the form of beheadings and mutilation as a reminder to anyone else that dares to stand in the way of the honorable cause. The sight of the conspirators’ corpses hanging from the palace doors served as a powerful deterrent to any further rebellion from here on out.
With the rebellion quelled, the people of Algeria began to accept and even embrace Ottoman rule. Under the wise and just leadership of Khayr al-Din, prosperity and stability slowly made their way into the region.
Lay Your Hands Off Algeria
“As of now, this wasn’t the time to show weakness, defeat, or being broken, for we did not have a single moment to shed a tear, for we, in (North) Africa, are no more than a handful of Turks whereby we could get crushed by the blink of an eye (if we were to not show our strength)… (and for that matter) I spent the winter preparing endlessly, and I didn’t give myself a single moment of free time (ie., kept occupying myself) so that I avoid thinking about my deceased brother.”
– From the memoirs of Khayr al-Din
As the winter chill set in, Khayr al-Din took great care to ensure that he and his men were fully prepared for the battles to come. He labored tirelessly to repair and upgrade his ships, cannons, and equipment, and to restock his arsenal. He knew that the European powers, led by the arrogant Charles V, would not rest in their attempts to conquer and subjugate the Islamic lands. It is reported that the envoy of Charles V came to him saying:
“Your brother has died and most of his soldiers have been killed, so your wing has been broken. Who do you think you are to stand up to the most powerful Christian king without your brother? What can you do? Take your ships and your men and get out of Algeria immediately, and never set foot in Africa again. This is my last warning to you. I will fill the sea with ships and return to Algeria soon.”
Khayr al-Din refused to be cowed by Charles’ disdainful attitude. He knew that he must respond with strength and determination to show the world that the Muslim people would not be bullied or oppressed. And so, when the time came and Habsburg ships anchored off the coast of Algeria, Khayr al-Din was ready.
The previous defeats at the hands of the legendary pirate Oruç over the years had left the Spaniards seething with anger and a burning desire for revenge. The news of Algeria’s accession to the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of the formidable Khayr al-Din only served to fan the flames of their fury. The prospect of the Ottoman threat extending to the western Mediterranean, which was then under complete Spanish control, only heightened their sense of impending doom.
The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who held sway over the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in addition to Spain, had a keen interest in the coastal cities of Algeria, which he considered to be his rightful possessions. The Spaniards began to conspire with Abu Hamo, the ruler of Tlemcen, to eradicate the threat posed by Khayr al-Din and his rapidly-growing state. They planned to launch a surprise attack on the sea, with the army of Abu Hamo advancing from land. The Spanish campaign consisted of forty large ships carrying five thousand fighters. They arrived in Algeria on Shaaban 19, 925 A.H. (August 17, 1519 CE). They chose the coast extending to the left of Wadi al-Harash as their point of attack.
Khayr al-Din, fully aware of the Spanish plans, devised a brilliant strategy to counter their attack. He intended to make the battle as similar as possible to the previous year’s encounter which resulted in a crushing defeat for the Spanish army. He planned to lure the enemy into landing at a point of his choosing, where they would disembark with their weapons and equipment, only to be ambushed by Khayr al-Din’s valiant forces. They would then be surrounded on all sides, and gradually worn down by fatigue, before being engaged in a decisive battle at a time of Khayr al-Din’s choosing. And that is exactly what happened.
On a bright and sunny day, the powerful Spanish armada landed on the shores of the Harrach Valley, southeast of the city of Algiers. The might of their soldiers and equipment was impressive, but little did they know that their reckoning awaits.
The Spaniards, eager to establish their dominance over this new terrain, quickly set to work building a castle over Al-Kedia, which they named The Emperor’s Castle; they then equipped it with powerful long-range heavy cannons to intimidate the city of Algiers. However, Khayr al-Din’s strategic mind and expert war tactics proved to be too much for the Spanish, as their cannons were unable to cause significant damage to the city walls.
As the Spaniards were busy constructing their fortress, they waited for the arrival of the Zayani army of Tlemcen, who were expected to play a crucial role in the upcoming battle. But their wait was in vain, as the Zayyan army never appeared, leaving the Spanish forces to their own devices. It took about 6 days for the castle to be built, and still, there were no signs of the Zayyan army.
In the next two days, the Spanish commanders planned the initiative to attack, but feeling the weight of exhaustion and fatigue, they began to withdraw. Little did they know that Khayr al-Din had already prepared a surprise attack. On the third day, Khayr al-Din launched an assault on the Spanish camp from behind with a squad of five hundred fighters, destroying their equipment and burning their boats. The Spanish were caught off guard, and many were forced to surrender without a fight, while others scattered, abandoning their defensive positions.
As the battle came to a close, the sea began to churn and rage, making it impossible for the remaining Spanish ships to approach the shore. More than 4,000 Spaniards drowned, while 3,000 surrendered; the majority of those who were captured were slaughtered like pigs in retaliation for the death of Khayr al-Din’s brother, Ishaq ibn Yaqub, who was intentionally killed by the invading Spanish forces after he surrendered to them.
The Battle of Tlemcen lasted eight days, ending on Shaaban 26, 925 A.H., corresponding to August 24, 1519 CE. In the end, twenty-four ships from the Spanish fleet were washed up on the coast, and the entire Spanish army was left in shambles. The victory once again belonged to Khayr al-Din, who had once again proven to be a formidable enemy to the invading forces. Thus, the Islamic army solidified its power and strength in the Maghreb region. The brilliance of Khayr al-Din, who had the foresight to prepare for the Spanish’s retaliatory attack serves as a testament to his excellent military prowess.
Another source claims that only a few hundred survivors were left to surrender out of twenty thousand men and that Charles’ commanders returned to him in bitter disappointment with their tails between their legs, having learned a powerful lesson about the courage and determination of the mighty Barbarossa.
It is also reported that also in the same year, Khayr al-Din embarked on a daring raid of Provence, Toulon, and the Îles d’Hyères in southern France. The following year, he set his sights on the Balearic Islands, capturing several Spanish ships returning from the New World off the coast of Cádiz. Shortly thereafter, Khayr al-Din decided that Tunis should be liberated from worldly-loving emirs.
In the spring of 927 A.H. (1520 CE), Khayr al-Din sent a force to Ténès to bring it back to his sphere of influence, so its cowardly ruler asked the Spaniards for help, and so, fifteen Spanish ships were sent by Charles V to support him. Khayr al-Din, however, sent eighteen ships to support the main fleet which he would be leading thereafter. Khayr al-Din then went directly to Ténès and immediately annexed its castle, captured five Spanish ships, and then returned to Algeria triumphant.
In his memoirs, Khair al-Din recounts a momentous event in the history of Bani Zayan. Prince Masoud approached him seeking his support in a struggle against his older brother, Moulay Abdullah. Without hesitation, Khair al-Din rallied a mighty force of three thousand horsemen and a thousand footsoldiers to aid Prince Masoud in his quest for righteousness. Through the intelligence gathered by his spies, Khair al-Din learned that Moulay Abdullah, the ruler of Tlemcen, was spreading lies and inciting rebellion against Prince Masoud. But Prince Masoud would not be deterred; as soon as Moulay Abdullah caught wind of Khayr al-Din’s approaching army, he fled to the Spanish in Oran, seeking their aid. But it was too late for Moulay Abdullah, for Prince Masoud and his army, with the support of Khayr al-Din and the brave Arab volunteers, achieved a glorious victory without shedding a single drop of blood.
Prince Masoud entered Tlemcen and rightfully claimed the throne. In gratitude for their efforts, Prince Masoud bestowed upon Khair al-Din and the Arab volunteers a generous reward of 50,000 gold pieces, the equivalent of the annual tax, as well as a bountiful selection of gifts. Afterward, Khayr al-Din sent a written note to Masoud, telling him:
“And beware of oppressing the Muslims, and do not disobey my commands by one inch, and do not delay in paying the annual tax by one day, and I do not want to hear of you having any kind of relationship with the Spaniards, for they will destroy you when they have power over you. And remember that your two elder brothers in Oran are refugees with the Spanish. And if you don’t want to see either of them sitting on your throne, then take the necessary measures to protect yourself and your throne.”
As Khayr al-Din recounts in his memoirs, upon ascending to the throne, Prince Masoud immediately began to unjustly oppress and exploit his people, even going so far as to tear up Khayr al-Din’s book upon reading it. However, the prince’s cowardly brother, who had taken refuge with the Spaniards in Oran, heard of his actions and reached out to Khayr al-Din for help, promising to submit to his command rather than relying on the ungodly Spaniards.
Khayr al-Din, anchored in Mostaganem near Oran, had recently conquered the area from the Spanish without difficulty. At the same time, he was occupied with the resettlement and housing of 2,285 Morisco immigrants who had been brought to Mostaganem on his ships from Andalusia. Khayr al-Din’s generosity knew no bounds as he provided them with land to claim and work on.
When Prince Moulay and a thousand of his men arrived in Tlemcen seeking Khayr al-Din’s assistance, he received them graciously and used his strength and resources to aid them in overthrowing the oppressive rule of Prince Masoud. Khayr al-Din’s unwavering commitment to justice and compassion for his fellow Muslims is a shining example of true Islamic leadership.
With great determination and strength, Prince Moulay arrived in Tlemcen and claimed his rightful place as ruler. His brother, Masoud, sought refuge in the castle for a quarter of a month, but ultimately met his downfall. The sailors who were sent by Khayr al-Din employed a clever stratagem as they were lacking in cannons. They (pretended) lifted the siege and feigned retreat, catching Masoud off guard and ultimately leading to the fall of the castle.
Masoud, a coward and traitor, fled with only a handful of men, leaving behind the six thousand Bedouin fighters who had stood by his side. Masoud’s fate remains unknown, as he slipped away unnoticed. In this great battle of Tlemcen, the sailors of Khayr al-Din emerged victorious with minimal loss of life. They showed mercy to those who laid down their arms and surrendered, ultimately claiming the lives of only five thousand Bedouins.
On the holy day of Friday, the Ottoman Sultan Selim I’s name was read in the sermon, signaling the city’s submission to Ottoman jurisdiction. Khayr al-Din, a true leader and servant of the Ottoman Empire, garrisoned Tlemcen with a hundred soldiers as per the order of the Sultan. His victory was not only a triumph for the Ottoman Empire but for the Islamic community as a whole, for it sent a message to all puppet rulers that injustice won’t be tolerated.
In Khayr al-Din’s memoirs, he also recounts the story of his victorious campaign against the Hafsid Sultan of Tunisia, a leader who dared to defy the supreme rule of the Ottoman Sultan. As Khayr al-Din gained access to the secret communications of the North African rulers (including Ibn al-Qadi) who were bickering and plotting together with the Hafsid ruler, he knew it was time to take action before they pose a serious threat later on. So, Khayr al-Din rallied his men, a formidable force of 12,000 warriors, and set out to quell the suspected rebellion.
With strategic precision, Khayr al-Din encamped in one of the fertile plains of Tunisia, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. The Hafsid Sultan, upon seeing Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Mutawakkil from afar, foolishly believed him to be an ally of the treacherous Ibn al-Qadi, one of the primary instigators of the plot. But Khayr al-Din was not to be underestimated.
With a barrage of missiles, Khayr al-Din’s army surprised and dispersed the Hafsid forces, sending them fleeing like scattered moths in the air. The Tunisian Sultan fell into Khayr al-Din’s captivity, humbled and defeated. But Khayr al-Din, in his wisdom and mercy, took the opportunity to advise and warn the Hafsid Sultan against repeating his treachery, before ordering his release.
As a result of this battle, Khayr al-Din’s army seized an impressive 300 tents, which he ordered to be sent to Algeria as a symbol of victory. He then stayed in the area for several days, cementing his authority and ensuring the continued loyalty of the North African rulers to the Ottoman Sultan.
Even More Memoirs
Khayr al-Din recounts in his memoirs yet another tale of treachery and rebellion. After successfully disciplining the Hafsid Sultan, he was ordered to return to his home in Algeria. However, on the way back, he was ambushed while crossing a narrow pass in between two mountains by the dubious Ahmed Ibn al-Qadi, a rogue and disobedient leader who sought to overthrow the rule of the Ottomans. With 750 of his seafaring men by his side, Khayr al-Din bravely battled against the ambush for over 3 and a half hours before finally breaking through the pass and reaching Algeria.
Despite this initial setback, Khayr al-Din remained vigilant and aware of the growing disobedience movements led by Ibn Al-Qadi. The rogue leader worked tirelessly to rally support and even wrote to all districts, calling for them to rebel against the rule of the Ottomans. Unfortunately, even some of Khayr al-Din’s own sailors, like Qara Hasan, were tempted by the prospect of taking Khayr al-Din’s place and turned against him. But Khayr al-Din’s sharp mind and spy network were always one step ahead, and he quickly discovered and expelled this treacherous sailor.
Not so long after, with an army of forty thousand men at his disposal, Ibn al-Qadi posed a significant threat to Khayr al-Din and Ottoman rule. But Khayr al-Din, ever the formidable leader, immediately rallied his own forces, sending ten thousand of his braves to confront the rebels. The ensuing battle was brutal and bloody, with Khayr al-Din losing two thousand men and a thousand more wounded. But in the end, the rebel leaders bent their knees to Ottoman rule, with only seven hundred survivors among them and the rest either dead or captured.
Khayr al-Din, ever the just leader, gathered 185 leaders of the rebellion, their hands tied, and sought the legal ruling on them from the scholars of Algeria. They declared that the ruling of death was appropriate for their rebellion, but also acknowledged that many among them were also enemies of the Spanish, leaving room for pardon. However, Khayr al-Din’s sea chiefs advised that it was not the time for kindness and that they must be killed to set an example for others. And so, with a heavy heart but a strong determination to maintain order, Khayr al-Din gave the green light and ordered the execution of the deceitful rebel leaders (all except Ahmad ibn Qadi).
Relocation to Jijel
In his memoirs, Khayr al-Din recounts a time (circa 927 A.H. / 1520 CE) when the people of Algiers were not fully invested in the rule of the Ottoman Empire and were discontent with their presence. He believed that by withdrawing from the city, the Algerians would come to realize the true value of Ottoman support in the face of their true enemy, the Catholic monarchs. He knew that once he withdrew, the Spanish would inevitably return and the Algerians would beg for his return.
One day, Khayr al-Din made the difficult decision to depart, taking his entire crew and their families and wealth with them. The scholars of Algiers pleaded with him to reconsider, but Khayr al-Din insisted on leaving to avoid further upsetting the local populace. Even Ahmad ibn al-Qadi was worried and wrote to Khayr al-Din apologizing for his recent disobedience, but Khayr al-Din did not accept his apology and continued on his journey.
Upon arriving in Jijel, the first city in Algeria that he and his brother Oruç had captured a while back, the people of Jijel held a grand celebration to welcome Khayr al-Din and his crew. They knew that the wealth of any future spoils would now shift to Jijel instead of Algiers.
Khayr al-Din’s actions, though difficult and met with initial resistance, ultimately led to the strengthening of the Ottoman Empire’s hold on Algeria and solidified their rule over the region. His strategic withdrawal and eventual return solidified his reputation as a wise and capable leader, one who truly understood the nuances of the region and its people.
With the winds of Allah at his back, Khayr al-Din then led his fearless sailors on a journey across the seas to spread fear into the hearts of the papists. Setting sail from the port of Jijel, they first attacked the Christian stronghold of Palermo, the capital of Sicily. The city trembled under the might of Khayr al-Din’s fleet as they pounded its walls and seized nine vessels filled with valuable goods, including wheat, olive oil, and lead ammunition.
But Khayr al-Din was not content to simply plunder and pillage. Upon returning to Jijel, he set about building barracks and houses for his men and sold an enormous amount of wheat at low prices to local bakers to aid the community. He even constructed a shipyard, further solidifying his naval power and capabilities.
With the summer sun high in the sky, Khayr al-Din and his men set out once more to raid the Gulf of Venice. They captured three ships carrying a fortune in gold and took hundreds of Italian prisoners while freeing Muslim prisoners held by the Venetians. Upon returning to Jijel, Khayr al-Din ordered that the cargo of one of the ships be given to the poor, and the rest was sold, with the sailors receiving their fair share.
The following spring, Khayr al-Din set out with fifteen ships, entering the Gulf of Genoa and raiding its coasts for fourteen days. They seized twenty-one ships, which were sent back to Jijel. He then passed through the Strait of Messina and entered the Gulf of Venice, where he gathered with his friend Sinan Reis and his ships. Together, they cruised around before returning to Jijel, capturing nine more Christian vessels along the way.
The Brewery Never Stops
As the dust settled, the great Khayr al-Din turned his attention to internal affairs, determined to crush a bad egg before it hatches. The ruler of Tlemcen, Prince Abdallah Al-Zayani, had taken advantage of Khayr al-Din’s absence to cancel the currency minted in the name of the Ottoman Sultan and decided to mint his own coin instead. Furthermore, the prince had refused to send over overdue taxes to Khayr al-Din. In response, Khayr al-Din sent a stern warning and threatened to kill the prince if he did not comply. But Al-Zayani tore up Khayr al-Din’s letter, leaving him with no choice but to support the prince’s son, Prince Muhammad Al-Zayani, in his quest to depose his father.
With two thousand horsemen at his side, Prince Muhammad took to the mountains, and, when Khayr al-Din marched with his army by land, the two forces met at Mazuna. Khayr al-Din’s army was victorious; he then ordered the immediate execution of Prince Abdallah, while crowning the son as the new ruler. Four hundred of Khayr al-Din’s sailors were sent to accompany him to Tlemcen. Upon his arrival, the prince handed over the overdue taxes to the sailors who in turn sent them to Khayr al-Din.
Upon returning to Jijel, Khayr al-Din divided his fleet of 35 ships into small raiding parties and sent them on different raids. One such party, led by Sinan Reis, returned with a bountiful haul of spoils, including 6 trading ships captured from the Christians. Among the captured ships were ones loaded with valuable items such as gunpowder, ammunition, cannonballs, bronze cannons, oil, building materials, olives, olive oil, cheese, honey, sugar, and money. The first raiding party, led by Sinan, returned with the most spoils, and all 35 ships returned unharmed.
In 1522, the illustrious Khayr al-Din Barbarossa sent his personal fleet to aid the valiant forces of Kurtoğlu Muslihiddin Reis in the Ottoman Empire’s pursuit of righteousness and justice during the Ottoman conquest of Rhodes. The siege was a glorious victory for the Ottoman Empire, as it resulted in the expulsion of the vile Knights of St. John, who had unjustly occupied the island for far too long.
This siege was the second attempt by the Ottoman Empire to reclaim Rhodes, with the first attempt in 1480 being unsuccessful. But with the guidance of Mustafa Pasha and the bravery of Kurtoğlu Muslihiddin Reis, the Ottoman Empire was able to overcome the formidable defenses of the Knights of Rhodes. The walls of the island were relentlessly bombarded by Turkish artillery and mines for six months until they finally crumbled whereby the Ottomans claimed victory on the first day of the year 1523.
The conquest of Rhodes was not just a military victory for the Ottoman Empire, but a triumph for the Islamic faith, for there would be fewer terror activities in this part of the Mediterranean. It also secured Ottoman control of the Eastern Mediterranean and served as a reminder of the power and determination of the Islamic people.
A Sick Dog
Back when Khayr al-Din relocated to Jijel, the slithering Ahmed ibn al-Qadi and his soldiers descended upon Algiers. Historians have recorded that he committed heinous acts against the people, causing them to turn to the Ottomans for protection and support.
Despite not receiving any assistance from the Ottoman Empire during this period, Khayr al-Din worked tirelessly to regain his strength through his own efforts, good management, and wise policies. He assembled a strong force of volunteers from the people of the country and even gained the support of the judge of the Banu Abbasi castle. Delegations from Algiers continually came to him, begging for his return.
After five years from the date of his departure from Algiers, Khayr al-Din returned with an army of 12,000 volunteers and sailors, including 4,000 cavalrymen and 8,000 footsoldiers. Along the way, he was joined by thousands of tribal horsemen from the surrounding countryside. When he approached Medina, some of Ibn al-Qadi’s men confronted him in a fierce battle that resulted in the death of 800 of their men. Despite being outnumbered and uncertain of the loyalty of his men, Ibn al-Qadi put up strong resistance and even managed to raid three of Khayr al-Din’s camps.
But in the end, it was the deceitful Qara Hasan, one of Khayr al-Din’s former sailors whom he had expelled five years ago for conspiring against him, who ultimately sealed Ibn al-Qadi’s fate. With his death and the defeat of Ibn al-Qadi, the doors and paths of Algiers were finally opened to Khayr al-Din, who entered without resistance. This was a victory not just for Khayr al-Din, but for the people of Algeria who had suffered under Ibn al-Qadi’s ruthless oppression. Khayr al-Din’s leadership and valor, once again, serve as a shining example of the strength and resilience of the true Muslim spirit.
Back at Algiers
Upon his triumphant return to Algiers, the illustrious Khayr al-Din swiftly set to work to restore the city to its former glory during his reign.
June of 1525 saw Barbarossa raiding the coasts of Sardinia, and in May of the following year, he landed at Crotone in Calabria, sacked the city, sank a Spanish galley and a Spanish fusta in the harbor, then assaulted Castignano in the region of Marche on the Adriatic Sea before landing at Cape Spartivento. During this period, several uprisings occurred back home.
After returning to Algeria, Khayr al-Din began to crush one rebellious force after another, dedicating much of 1526 to this endeavor. He relentlessly pursued and eliminated the traitorous leaders in Ténès and Cherchell, re-establishing his unshakable control over the coast from Jijel to Oran.
In June of 1526, Khayr al-Din landed at Reggio Calabria, destroying the fort at the port of Messina before appearing on the coasts of Tuscany. But, upon seeing the fleet of Andrea Doria and the Knights of St. John off the coast of Piombino, he wisely chose to retreat. In the same year, Khayr al-Din made his presence known once more in the port of Messina, unleashing his fury upon the coastal regions of Campania.
The following year, in 1527, he laid waste to numerous ports and castles along the shores of Italy and Spain, striking fear into the hearts of every papist.
However, in 1528, the city of Constantine in Algeria rose up in rebellion, resulting in the tragic death of one of Khayr al-Din’s loyal subjects. The city was on the brink of falling into the hands of the rebels, forcing Khayr al-Din to take decisive action and deliver a crushing blow to the city and neighboring tribes. The area and its surroundings were left deserted for months, becoming a haunt for wild beasts, criminals, and social outcasts.
Khayr al-Din’s determination and prowess knew no bounds. Ever since he vanquished Ahmed Ibn al-Qadi, the former ruler of the Emirate of Coco, he emerged victorious and unchallenged, no longer fearing any opposition from his adversaries. However, the looming threat of the Spanish at the Fort of the Rock (aka Peñón or Benyon) remained a constant reminder of the need for vigilant defense of Islamic lands.
The Great Capture
With great determination and purpose, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire’s most revered leader, declared war on the tyrannical Ferdinand of Habsburg in January 1529. He had a burning desire to expand the empire’s reach into the western Mediterranean, and to achieve this goal, he made the wise decision to renew his support for the legendary, and most beloved naval commander, Barbarossa.
Khayr al-Din was gifted with 2,000 janissaries, powerful artillery, and invaluable financial support from the mighty Ottoman Empire. Through his clever use of rhetoric, he was able to sway the allegiance of the supporters of the Algiers’ sheikhs and gain a foothold in the city.
In the holy month of Ramadan, at the beginning of May 1529, Khayr al-Din sent a letter to the commander of the castle, Don Martin de Vargas, offering him and his troops safe passage if they surrendered. However, the stubborn commander refused.
Undeterred, Barbarossa laid siege to El Peñón de Argel, the Spanish fortress at the entrance of the harbor. For 22 grueling days, the fortress was bombarded with Ottoman artillery, but the Spanish, led by Governor Don Martin de Vargas, held strong. However, on the 26th or 29th of May 1529, still in the holy month of Ramadan, the Spanish finally surrendered, with only 25 soldiers left and without any assistance from the Spanish mainland.
Khayr al-Din, in his memoirs, recounts how the Spanish, out of cruelty and spite, used to bomb the minarets whenever they heard the call to prayer. But under the wise and just leadership of the Barbarossa brothers, such heinous acts must never go unpunished.
With great strength and courage, Khayr al-Din successfully captured the castle from the tyrannic Spaniards. The commander of the artillery who was responsible for the destruction of many minarets and the death of many muezzins was brought before Khayr al-Din. Without hesitation, Khayr al-Din ordered this cruel and merciless Spaniard to be put inside a cannon and shot out to sea, where he met his gruesome demise.
Khayr al-Din then ordered the release of thirty thousand Muslim prisoners who were being held captive. He tasked them to collect the rubble of the castle and build a strategic breakwater connecting the island to the port.
Just ten days after the castle’s fall, reinforcements from nine Spanish ships loaded with supplies, weapons, and equipment arrived – at the request of the now-deceased castle commander. But they found nothing and no one, and as they approached the coast, they thought they had lost their way, assuming they arrived at the wrong location.
But little did they know, Khayr al-Din had been waiting for them. With 15 of his galleys, he suddenly surrounded the Spanish fleet from all sides. Most of the Spaniards aboard were killed, and only 335 were captured. This incident left a deep impression on the Spanish, and they no longer dared to approach the coast of Algeria as brazenly as they used to. The successful capture of this crucial part of Algeria cemented Khayr al-Din’s overall Algerian base and turned it into a major launch base for raids across the western Mediterranean.
Another Plight of the Andalusians
Khayr al-Din’s victory and solidified holding of Algiers served as a rallying call to the oppressed and downtrodden Andalusians, who requested his aid in crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. In response, Barbarossa devised a daring journey for the transportation of as many Moriscos to Algiers as he can. With a determined focus on the Spanish coast, the legendary Khayr al-Din dispatched one of his most accomplished captains, Aydin Reis, on a mission to patrol the western Mediterranean and liberate as many Andalusian refugees as possible. Aydin set sail with a fleet of ten ships, and as they journeyed through the Strait of Gibraltar, they encountered a formidable armada of five huge Spanish galleys. The ensuing battle was fierce, but under Aydin’s leadership, the Turkish forces emerged victorious, capturing all five galleys and adding them to their fleet.
Aydin then set his sights on the coastal cities and towns, bombarding them with powerful cannon fire and freeing as many Andalusian refugees as his ships could hold. With each vessel filled to capacity, Aydin’s fleet now headed back to Algeria, carrying with them the hope and freedom of countless Muslim families who had been forced to flee their homes. It was a mission of true heroism, led by a captain who was not only a skilled seafarer but also a compassionate liberator of his fellow Muslims.
As the news of the daring rescue mission reached the ears of Charles V, he knew that swift action was required. He summoned his most accomplished admiral, Rodrigo de Portuondo, and charged him with the task of intercepting the Andalusians on their return journey without haste. The emperor even sweetened the deal with the promise of a generous reward of ten thousand ducats should Portuondo succeed.
With a formidable fleet of eight gigantic galleys, Portuondo set out to sea in pursuit of Aydin Reis and his courageous seafarers. When the Spanish fleet came into sight, Aydin consulted with his trusted sea chief, Salih Reis, on how best to confront the powerful Spanish armada. The corsairs knew that the heavy load of refugees they carried would slow their ships and limit their ability to maneuver. But they were determined to outsmart their enemies and emerge victorious.
Salih and Aydin devised a cunning plan. They would disembark the refugees temporarily, allowing the corsairs to engage the Spanish fleet with the speed and agility of their lightly-laden ships. But the Andalusians, most of whom were women and children, were filled with terror at the thought of falling into the hands of the ruthless Spanish should the plan fail; they refused to disembark, their voices raised in weeping and protest.
The corsair leaders knew that they had to act fast. They urged the refugees to put their trust in Allah, and with firm resolve, they forced them to disembark on the island of Formentera. The Andalusians, though fearful, knew that the corsairs would stop at nothing to protect them, and so, with the help of Allah, they set out to outsmart the enemy and reclaim their freedom.
Aydin and Salih Reis masterfully outwitted the Spanish captain, Portuondo, by luring him away from the safety of the island of Formentera (and to avoid harm upon any of the refugees). As he drew near, they launched a slick surprise attack on his fleet, engaging in a fierce battle. Their bravery and skill proved victorious, as they captured seven of Portuondo’s massive ships and slaughtered him and his other captains. Aydin and Salih Reis also took 375 Spanish soldiers as prisoners, while thousands of others were killed in the battle. In the aftermath, many Muslim oarsmen who were being held in chains were also freed. The Andalusians, who watched the battle unfold across the seas, fell to their knees in gratitude, praising God for this glorious victory. They were then safely reboarded onto Aydin’s fleet.
The strategic brilliance and valor of Aydin and Salih in this battle earned them a reputation as formidable naval commanders, and it would forever be known as the Battle of the Balearics (October 28, 1529). The Europeans, who were defeated, began to fearfully refer to the Turks (in general) as “The Striking Devil” and “The Striking Infidel.” One source claims that Sinan Reis passed away this year, but that is highly unlikely since Sinan Reis accompanied Khayr al-Din on many future expeditions, all the way until the early-to-mid-1540s. Khayr al-Din also appointed Aydin as chief commander of the fleet and Salih as his deputy. Historians report that this mission helped rescue more than 70,000 Andalusians in seven consecutive voyages.
The Fun Has Just Begun
The year 1530 saw Barbarossa continuing his relentless efforts to the cause of jihad, raiding the coasts of Sicily in January, and later, in March and June, the Balearic Islands and the port of Marseilles. He then made his way to the shores of Provence and Liguria, capturing two Genoese ships in July. He did not rest, proceeding to raid the coasts of Sardinia in August and appearing at Piombino in October, capturing a barque from Viareggio and three French galleons before seizing two more ships off the coast of Calabria. The year ended with the capture of the Castle of Cabrera in the Balearic Islands, which he temporarily used as a logistic base for his operations in the region.
The recent conquest of El Peñón de Argel and its subsequent destruction sparked widespread anger and unrest throughout Spain. Coastal communities flocked to the Supreme Council of the State, desperately seeking relief from the brutal attacks of Khayr al-Din and his fearsome warriors. In response to the urgent pleas of the people, the Spanish council made the bold decision to invade Algeria.
Emperor Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, the most powerful and prosperous European entity at the time, with territories that included Lombardy in Italy, Austria, western Hungary, Bohemia, Burgundy, and the lowlands, as well as the German states, fully supported this decision. He knew that it was time to strike a decisive blow against the might of Barbarossa and his Ottoman backers, and he used all of the resources at his disposal, including those from his vast possessions in the Americas.
To lead this campaign, Charles V appointed the renowned Genoese captain Andrea Doria. Under Doria’s command, a fleet of 40 fine warships was gathered in Genoa and spent nearly a year preparing for the journey ahead. In 938 A.H. / July 1531 CE, Andrea set sail with his fleet towards the Algerian coast. The campaign began with a raid on the city of Cherchell, just 90 kilometers west of Algiers. The city, guarded by only a few hundred Muslim sailors, was caught off guard by the sudden appearance of the fleet. The sailors quickly barricaded themselves in the castle, but Doria’s men were able to loot the marina and the city. However, in the chaos, the Muslim sailors seized the opportunity and opened the gates, turning the tide of the battle.
In a swift and decisive move, the Muslims of the city tracked down the invading papists in the winding alleys and paths of the city. Through their valiant efforts, they were able to kill hundreds of enemy soldiers. Taking advantage of the enemy’s disarray and the fact that most of their soldiers were still onboard their ships, while others were busy looting here and there, the Muslims were able to capture many of the remaining Christians.
When Khayr al-Din learned of the attack on the city of Cherchell by the commander Andrea Doria, he immediately assembled a fleet of forty ships and set sail to confront him. Doria, upon hearing of Khayr al-Din’s imminent approach, quickly fled the city with whatever men he had left. But Khayr al-Din was determined to catch him and soon engaged in a fierce battle on the open seas. Despite being heavily outnumbered by Doria’s fleet, Khayr al-Din and his valiant warriors glorified the Almighty and dived into battle with their trust in Him.
During the heat of the battle, the Muslim galley slaves who were chained to the Spanish ships rose up and broke their chains, joining the fight. Though more than 300 Muslims were martyred in this fierce battle, Khayr al-Din was ultimately able to defeat Doria’s fleet and emerge victorious. After the battle, Khayr al-Din’s fleet had grown to sixty ships, many of which were anchored in Cherchell and put to repair. He also set free more than 2,200 Muslim prisoners and provided financial assistance to those who wished to return to their homes and reunite with their loved ones. The Christian prisoners, numbering 1,900 and including an admiral and other high-ranking officers, were forced to work as slaves on the ships regardless of their rank.
Khayr al-Din did not linger in Cherchell for long; he quickly set sail for Algeria, proud of his victory and the bravery of his men. He had successfully defended the city and the Muslim people from the invading Christian forces and honored the sacrifices made by the many Muslims who had given their lives for the cause.
Glory, and Even More Glory
Khayr al-Din recounts in his memoirs his steadfast determination and aspiration to capture the infamous Christian admiral, Andrea Doria. He charged Aydin Reis at the helm of a powerful fleet with the task of tracking down and capturing Doria. Setting sail from Algeria, Aydin Reis and his men bravely navigated to Ceuta, which had been under the tyrannical rule of the Portuguese since 1415, and then to Gibraltar in southern Iberia. Crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean, they launched a fierce attack on Christian holdings in the Canaries and other islands in the region. Aydin Reis and his men were continuously victorious, capturing a staggering three thousand captives throughout this voyage and penetrating deep into the heart of Iberia, even approaching the city of Barcelona.
When Aydin’s fleet neared the northeastern coast of Iberia, he raided a large monastery, a symbol of Spanish pride, and captured eighty monks, as well as thirty-six rich chests from its treasuries. Khayr al-Din notes in his memoirs that this attack dealt a crushing blow to the pride of Charles V. Throughout this campaign, Aydin Reis and his fleet were able to seize a total of 55 ships, both large and small, which were towed back to Algeria as war spoils.
This expedition was one of Khayr al-Din’s calculated responses to Andrea Doria’s failed raid on Cherchell. As a result, the number of Christian prisoners held in cells in Algeria reached a staggering sixteen thousand, in addition to the countless others forced to serve as oarsmen on galleys or to serve in Muslim households.
With great wisdom and foresight, Khayr al-Din carefully selected five hundred of the most skilled and capable rowers from among the captured Christian prisoners and had them divided across Aydin’s fleet. Aydin was then chosen to lead this mission with this fleet of 15 ships and was tasked with presenting these captives to the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, as a small gift from his many accomplishments in the Mediterranean.
Upon his arrival in Konstantiniyye, Aydin Reis appeared before the Sultan and personally read Khayr al-Din’s letter, detailing the great successes and achievements of the Muslim forces. The Sultan was deeply impressed by Aydin Reis’ dedication and bravery and bestowed upon Khayr al-Din the title of Beylerbek of the Eyalet of Algeria. He also ordered five large ships to be filled with much-needed supplies and war materials, as well as several skilled cannon engineers, to be sent to aid Khayr al-Din’s jihad efforts.
With renewed strength and determination, Aydin Reis set off on his journey back to Algeria. Along the way, he seized seven papist ships and used them to raid many cities, capturing seven hundred Christian prisoners. The paranoid Charles V, preoccupied with his own plans for Algeria, attempted to incite the ruler of Tlemcen to revolt, offering him money and promises of power.
Upon learning of the ruler’s treachery, Khayr al-Din ordered Dali Muhammad Reis to prepare for any incoming Spanish support by sea, while he himself marched to Tlemcen by land. The ruler of Tlemcen, realizing the futility of his rebellion, fled like a coward and begged for forgiveness. Khayr al-Din, in his great mercy, agreed to parley on the condition that the ruler comes to him personally and apologizes. The ruler came, apologized, and paid the late tax, humbly accepting his rightful place under the rule of the Ottoman Sultan.
Through his wisdom, bravery, and honorable leadership, Khayr al-Din Barbarossa continued to lead the Muslim forces to victory time after time against the terrorizing papists of the 16th century.
As for Dali Muhammad Reis, he spotted, encountered, and bravely faced over 35 incoming Spanish ships with his formidable fleet of forty ships. In a fierce naval battle, twenty-nine Spanish ships quickly succumbed to Dali’s tactics and surrendered, while the remaining six cowardly fled the scene. The Muslims of Andalusia, fueled by the news of their fellow Muslims’ victorious battles in Algeria, were strengthened in their resolve. More than eighty thousand Andalusian braves descended from the mountains and dealt crushing blows to the oppressive Spanish forces, in an event that is not publicly mentioned in modern sources.
Dali Muhammad Reis immediately began supplying the Morisco rebels on the Spanish coast with the necessary resources to continue their struggle. Under the fearless leadership of Khayr al-Din and his fleet, a total of twenty-one major rescue missions were carried out throughout his lifetime, each one freeing thousands of Andalusian Muslims from the brutal persecution of the Spanish Inquisition – may they be damned in the deepest hellfire for all eternity. These courageous efforts, led by Khayr al-Din himself and also by the valiant Aydin Reis and Sinan Reis, provided a new start and hope for the rescued Andalusians in North Africa.
Kapudan Pasha in the Making
Nearing the end of 1531, Khayr al-Din set his sights on the island of Favignana, where the flagship of the accursed Maltese Knights, under the command of Francesco Touchebeuf, previously launched an unsuccessful attack on his fleet. Barbarossa sailed eastwards and landed in Calabria. On his way back to Algiers, Khayr al-Din sank a Knights’ ship near Messina before assaulting Tripoli, which had been given to the vile Knights by Charles V in the previous year. In October, Khayr al-Din once again raided the coasts of Spain, and also pillaged the Îles d’Hyères.
In the year 1532, during the great expedition of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to the lands of Habsburg Austria, the cunning Andrea Doria succeeded in capturing the cities of Coron, Patras, and Lepanto along the coasts of the Morea (Peloponnese). In response, Sultan Suleiman dispatched the formidable forces of Yahya Pashazade Mehmed Bey, who heroically reclaimed these cities for the Ottoman Empire. But this event served as a harsh reminder to the Sultan of the importance of having a powerful commander at sea, which he already did, however, Khayr al-Din cannot be everyone at once; where one region is disciplined, another region brews with trouble.
In light of this realization, Suleiman summoned the legendary Khayr al-Din to the imperial city of Konstantiniyye in 1533. Khayr al-Din didn’t take long to depart North Africa; he began his journey by taking a small detour, raiding Sardinia and Bonifacio in Corsica, and the islands of Montecristo, Elba, and Lampedusa. He then captured 18 galleys near Messina and learned from the captured prisoners that Andrea Doria was headed to Preveza. Without hesitation, Barbarossa proceeded to raid the nearby coasts of Calabria and then set his sights on Preveza.
Upon seeing the legendary fleet of Barbarossa, Doria’s forces scattered and fled after a brief skirmish, but not before Barbarossa had captured seven of their galleys. He had arrived at Preveza with a total of 44 galleys, but sent 25 of them back to Algiers to keep the Western Mediterranean safe from any Spanish counterattack, and headed to Konstantiniyye with his remaining 19 ships. Khayr al-Din had left his stepson, Hasan Agha, in charge of Algiers, as per the Ottoman Sultan’s orders.
Upon his arrival at the imperial city of Konstantiniyye, Barbarossa was received with the utmost honor and ceremony at the Topkapi Palace by Sultan Suleiman himself. The Sultan, recognizing his exceptional abilities as a leader and naval commander, appointed him as Kapudan-i Derya, or “Grand Admiral” of the Ottoman Navy, and Beylerbey, or “Chief Governor” of North Africa. The ceremony for his promotion, however, most likely occurred afterward in Aleppo. Additionally, Khayr al-Din was granted the government of the sanjak (aka province) of Rhodes, as well as those of Euboea and Chios in the Aegean Sea. Eighteen of Khayr al-Din’s sea chiefs were also honored and celebrated by the Ottoman Sultan.
With the guidance of the great Suleiman, the Ottoman Empire’s navy reached new heights under the leadership of Khayr al-Din. After being summoned to meet with the esteemed Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, in Aleppo, Khayr al-Din’s official appointment was now affirmed, and he was inducted into the Sultan’s Court. As captain, Khayr al-Din was granted immense power and resources to improve shipbuilding and the organization of the fleet. He quickly proved himself to be a valuable asset, becoming one of Suleiman’s closest advisors and playing a crucial role in the immediate construction of sixty-one impressive vessels at the Kostantiniyye arsenal.
Suleiman’s naval strategy was a perfect complement to Khayr al-Din’s expertise. The Sultan’s ultimate goal was to build a fleet that was stronger than any other in the Mediterranean, and he trusted Khayr al-Din to make that a reality. Whether through numerical superiority or superior artillery and training, Khayr al-Din worked tirelessly to ensure that the Ottoman fleet was a formidable force to be reckoned with. He also played a key role in upgrading and modernizing the fleet, selling outdated ships, and equipping the new ones with the latest technology. The Islamic empire flourished under their collaboration and Khayr al-Din’s efforts allowed the Ottoman fleet to become one of the most powerful naval forces in the Mediterranean.
With the appointment of Barbarossa as the top seaman of the Ottoman Empire, the Muslims were now sure that they had the most powerful and feared leader at sea, one who inspired them with great hope, one who would strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. His existence surely marked a turning point in the naval power of the empire, and his leadership would prove crucial in securing Ottoman dominance in the Mediterranean for decades to come.
In the year 1533, the celebrated Khayr al-Din Barbarossa dispatched an embassy to the courts of Francia. It is said that a safe-conduct was obtained by the skilled Ottoman interpreter and agent Janus Bey through negotiations with the French ambassador Antonio Rincon, who at the time was in Venice conducting talks with the Venetian government.
The embassy, led by the illustrious Sherif Reis, arrived on galleys in the coastal regions between Hyères and Toulon, in July. They were greeted by a delegation of merchants in the bustling port city of Marseilles, and as a diplomatic gesture, the Muslims disembarked wild beasts, including the legendary “Lion of Barbarossa”. Khayr al-Din had also sent a hundred Christian prisoners to give to the French monarch as a gesture of goodwill.
The French Admiral Baron de Saint-Blancard extended a warm welcome to the Ottoman delegation and escorted them on their journey to the region of Auvergne, where they were to meet with the King of Francia, Francis I. Along the way, they were joined by the recently-arrived French ambassador to the Ottoman court, Antonio Rincon, and finally, they all arrived at the city of Puy-en-Velay on the 16th day of July 1533.
On July 19th, the Ottoman embassy was granted an audience with the King of Francia, in the presence of English ambassadors. The Ottoman ambassador delivered a “Declaration of mutual friendship between the Kingdoms of France and Algiers” and a three-year trade agreement was sealed, in the presence of all. The chains of the Christian prisoners were ceremoniously broken before the king, as a symbol of the newfound alliance between the Ottoman Empire and Francia.
King Francis I would later dispatch Antonio Rincon to the court of Khayr al-Din Barbarossa in North Africa and then to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman capital. News of this alliance reached the ears of Francis I’s bitter rival, Charles V, who expressed great concern at the beginnings of a Franco-Ottoman alliance.
The following year, in 1534, a second Ottoman embassy was sent to Francia, to prepare and coordinate Franco-Ottoman offensives for the year 1535, thus cementing the alliance between the two great powers and striking fear in the hearts of their mutual enemies.
“The Ottoman Empire is the only power capable of guaranteeing the existence of (other) European countries in the face of Charles V.” – Francois I
In the year 940 A.H. (1534 CE), the great Khayr al-Din set sail with an imposing fleet of eighty ships, determined to strike against Italy. In April, he began his campaign by seizing the cities of Koroni, Patras, and Lepanto, which were all recently taken by Andrea Doria. He then turned his attention to the western coast of Greece, and by July had reached the Strait of Messina. There, he launched a devastating attack on the city of Reggio Calabria, burning the castle of San Lucedo and razing the city to the ground.
With the Italian mainland trembling before him, Khayr al-Din continued his march of conquest, destroying the city of San Luca and burning eighteen ships in the port of Cetraro. He then sacked the islands of Capri and Procida and set his sights on Naples, bombarding the port, capturing the castle, and taking all of its inhabitants prisoner; over 7,800 captives were taken from Naples alone.
In August, he marched towards Lazio, laying siege to Gaeta before sacking Villa Santa Lucia, Sperlonga, Fondi, Terracina, and Ostia on the River Tiber, causing the church bells in Rome to ring out in alarm, signaling panic and fear as they were expecting Khayr al-Din’s fleet to sweep further up the river. In Sperlonga alone, he took 10,000 captives, and upon arriving in Fondi, his janissaries entered the city through the main gates, ransacking the palace of Giulia Gonzaga.
Through this campaign, Khayr al-Din was able to capture more than 20,000 prisoners and conquer 18 castles. He filled 40 of his ships with loot and prisoners and sent them off to Konstantiniyye while keeping the remaining 40 ships with him to carry on with his conquests.
His next target was the city of Serine, which he attacked and captured. The city of Vallecorsa was not spared from Barbarossa’s wrath either, as he sacked, torched, and destroyed it, slaughtering some of the townspeople and taking others captive. He then sailed south, appearing at Ponza, Sicily, and Sardinia. With his ships heavily burdened with cargo, loot, and prisoners, he sailed to Algeria to unload his ships. However, due to bad weather, he was forced to make port in Bizerte, west of Tunis. Shortly thereafter, the fleet made its way to Tunis, the capital of the Hafsids.
Some say that Khayr al-Din’s ultimate goal was to spread terror among the Spaniards, and divert their attention from his true aim of capturing Tunis and annexing it on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. However, some historians speculate by stating that as the commander of the fleet, Khayr al-Din would not have been able to attack Tunisia without prior permission and planning. It is more likely that he gathered military intelligence during his stay in Algeria the year before. Regardless of his intentions, Khayr al-Din’s campaign was a resounding success, striking fear into the hearts of the papist populace.