Combining truth and legend, with black eye patches and black skull flags, pirates are the fearful nightmares of sailors. Nowadays, pirates depicted in movies are barbarian haramis who seize the ships for the booty, especially in the open seas, and kill people mercilessly. However, the term Pirate in the Ottoman evokes many different meanings. Would it surprise you if we say that Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, the greatest commander of Turkish Maritime history, is also a pirate? For this reason, we will take a brief look at the history of piracy.
Pirates in History
As mentioned above, Pirates in history are considered as barbarians who waylay in the sea routes, commit theft, steal the goods of the ships and capture the people. There have been intense piracy activities particularly in Tunisia and Algeria. Interestingly, the great colonial states of the Middle Ages and the aftermath, England and the Netherlands, began to protect the pirates. The agreements, which are similar to today’s labor contracts, were made with pirates, determining the conditions under which they would be compensated, therefore using pirates for their own interests.
Pirates in the Ottoman Empire
Pirates in the Ottoman Empire are considered to be different. In that period, the term of pirate was used as a military class. The bravest and best marines in the navies were chosen from the pirates. Marine soldiers described as pirates were trained especially in Algeria and its circle. There were many important marines among the pirates who were equivalent to the commando class in land forces. The rules and duties were determined that the pirate class had to comply with. Accordingly, there was to be absolutely no attack on the ship of any state we were at peace with, although it was okay to attack the ships of the countries with which the Ottoman Empire was at war. The head pirate ship was immediately decapitated if the ship of a country that we were in peace with was captured.
The period in which the Turkish pirate class began to grow and gradually showed its presence in the Mediterranean is the period of Beyazit III. Yavuz Sultan Selim’s brother Şehzade Korkut tried to increase the Ottoman sovereignty in the seas. Great commanders such as Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, Oruç Reis and Turgut (Dragut) Reis were discovered during this period, and all of them emerged from the pirate class. The center of the pirate outset was in Algeria for a long time. Tunisia was also used as a pirate base in the period of Turgut Reis.
One of the greatest Ottoman marine commanders, Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, was known as “Hızır Reis”. Hızır Reis, who was discovered during the aforementioned period, was the brother of Oruç Reis. Europeans called him Barbarossa because of his brother Oruç Reis’s red beard. In time, this name was applied to Hızır Reis, and Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha served as Kaptan-ı Derya (Captain of the Seas) in the Ottoman Empire, which correspondences to today’s admiral. Mediterranean became a Turkish lake with the Battle of Preveza.
Oruç Reis, the brother of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, was a great pirate who had seized Algeria just before joining the Ottomans. He spoke several languages such as French, Spanish, Italian and Greek. He was captured by the famous Knights of Rhodes.
Turgut Reis was an admiral in the Ottoman Empire and was also known as the Tripoli Conqueror. Turgut Reis was born near Bodrum, a city in Turkey. He worked in the army and announced his name in the Eastern Mediterranean to Venice and later joined the fleet of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha.
Turkish Pirates like Burak Reis, Murat Reis, Koca Murat Reis, Piri Reis, Salih Reis, Seydi Ali Reis and Algerian Hasan Pasha served as officials in the Ottoman Empire and achieved very important successes.
Turkish Pirates of the 19th Century
In fact, the Turkish pirates we have mentioned above have always been described as Captain and Admiral and have acted as officials of the Turkish army in the history books. However, all Turkish Pirates have not always acted within ethical rules and official boundaries. Many pirates waylaid in the islands around İstanbul, especially in the 19th century.
French Doctor Pouqueville, who visited İstanbul in the 1800s, talked about these pirates in his memoirs. He did not mention Algeria, Tunisia, the Mediterranean Sea and the open seas, but spoke of the Marmara Sea. He frequently mentioned pirate raids in Heybeliada and Büyükada. Moreover, he addressed that the church named Aya Triada was seized and the pirates asked for blessings from the authorities in the church.
Today, Turkish pirates do not exist, although there are still pirates on the high seas.