Who Was Oruc Reis / Sultan of Algiers?

Who Was Oruc Reis?

Oruç Reis was an Ottoman corsair who became Sultan of Algiers. The elder brother of the famous Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa, he was born on the Ottoman island of Midilli (Lesbos in present-day Greece) and died in battle against the Spanish at Tlemcen.

He became known as Baba Oruç or Baba Aruj (Father Oruç) when he transported large numbers of Morisco, Muslim and Jewish refugees from Spain to North Africa; folk etymology in Europe transformed that name into Barbarossa (which means Redbeard in Italian).

Family Of Oruc Reis:

His father, Yakup Ağa, was an Ottoman official of Turkish or Albanian descent. 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), named Katerina, who was the widow of an Eastern Orthodox priest.

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 Oruç helped with the boat, while Hızır helped with pottery.

History Of Oruc Reis:

Oruç was a very successful seaman. He also learned to speak Italian, Spanish, French, Greek and Arabic in the early years of his career. During a trading expedition in Tripoli, Lebanon, he and Ilyas were attacked by a galley of the Knights Hospitaller. Ilyas was killed in the fight, and Oruç was wounded. Their father’s boat was captured, and Oruç was taken prisoner and detained in the Knights’ Bodrum Castle for nearly three years.

Hizir tried to help Oruc by ransoming but failed and Oruc was tortured for the first few years of captivity and later he worked as a slave on the Rhodes Ship which transported prisoners. One night when conditions were favorable he managed to escape from the ship and was able to flee to a village where he lived for ten days. Later he joined Captain Ali.

All four brothers became seamen, engaged in marine affairs and international sea trade. Oruç 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 Hospitaller of the Island of Rhodes. Oruç 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.

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 Hammu Musa III of the Zayyanid dynasty, to flee. The local Spaniards in Algiers sought refuge in the Peñón of 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, Oruç 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 town of Isola di Capo Rizzuto in Calabria.

Oruç Reis made conquests in the eastern lands of Morocco, in 1518 he conquered and garrisoned Oujda and Tibda, he submitted the Beni Amer and Beni Snassen and imposed a tribute on them. He entered negotiations and concluded an alliance with the sultan of Morocco who was extremely frightened by the progress of the Turks.


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 Oruç and Ishak awaited them with 1,500 levents soldiers and 5,000 Moorish soldiers. Oruç Reis , who obtained Tlemcen in the east of Algeria , under the domination of Spain , defended the places he had won against the Tlemcen emir, who received help from the Spaniards. He defended his lands for six months. Betrayed by the natives, he tried to break through the enemy siege to return to Algiers.

He broke through the enemy and crossed the river with some of his levents. However, about twenty levents (sailors) remained on the enemy’s side. Oruç Reis, knowing that he had no hope of salvation, plunged into his enemies again in order not to leave his levents alone. While trying to cross the river, most of his levents died. One-armed Oruç Reis died as a result of the spear wound he received after seeing the last levent next to him die.

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