Turgut Reis (1485 - 23 June 1565) was a Turkish
privateer and Ottoman admiral as
well as Bey of Algiers; Beylerbey of the Mediterranean; and first Bey later Pasha of Tripoli.
different languages under such names as Dragut or
Darghouth, the original name in Turkey is Turgut
Reis (reis = captain) or less commonly Torgut Reis as his
name appears in several old Turkish and foreign
born near Bodrum, on the
Aegean coast of
Turkey, as the son of a Turkish farmer named Veli.
At the age
of 12 he was noticed by an Ottoman
army commander for his extraordinary talent in using spears and
arrows and was recruited by him as an apprentice, with the consent
of his parents, to be trained as a cannoneer
and master of siege
, which would play an important role in Turgut's
future success and reputation as a superb naval tactician.
accompanied his master in the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517 and
participated in the fighting as a cannoneer. He further improved
his skills in this field during his presence in Cairo.
the death of his master, Turgut went to Alexandria and began his career as a sailor after joining the
fleet of Sinan
He immediately became one of the favourite crewmen
of the famous corsair
due to his success in
hitting enemy vessels with cannons. Turgut soon mastered the skills
of seamanship and became the captain of a brigantine
, while given 1/4 of its ownership.
After several successful campaigns, he became the sole owner of the
brigantine. Turgut later became the captain and owner of
a galliot, and arming it with the most
advanced cannons of that period, he started to operate in the
targeting the shipping routes between Venice and the
belonging to the Repubblica Serenissima.
In 1520 he joined the fleet of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha
would become his protector and best friend. Turgut was soon
promoted to the rank of chief lieutenant by Barbarossa and was
given the command of 12 galliots. In 1526 Turgut Reis captured the
fortress of Capo Passero
. Between 1526 and 1533 he landed several times
at the ports of the Kingdom of
Sicily and the Kingdom of
Naples, while intercepting the ships which sailed between
Spain and Italy, capturing
many of them. In May 1533, commanding four fustas and 18 barques, Turgut
Reis captured two Venetian galleys near the
island of Aegina.
and July 1538 he accompanied Barbarossa on his pursuit of Andrea Doria in the Adriatic Sea, while capturing several fortresses on the coasts
of Albania as well as the Gulf of Preveza and the island of Lefkada. In August 1538 Turgut Reis captured Candia in Crete as well as
several other Venetian possessions in the Aegean Sea.
Battle of Preveza
In September 1538, with 20 galleys and 10 galliots, Turgut Reis
commanded the center-rear wing of the Ottoman fleet that defeated
the Holy League
the command of Andrea Doria
Battle of Preveza
. During the battle,
with two of his galliots, he captured the Papal galley under the
command of Giambattista Dovizi, the knight who was also the abbot
of Bibbiena, taking him and his crew as prisoners.
commanding 36 galleys and galliots, Turgut Reis recaptured Castelnuovo from the Venetians, who had taken the city back from the
During the combat he sank two Venetian galleys and
captured three others. Still in 1539, while landing on Corfu, he
encountered 12 Venetian galleys under the command of Francesco
Pasqualigo and captured the galley of Antonio da Canal.
later landed at Crete and fought against the Venetian cavalry
forces under the command of Antonio Calbo.
Governor of Djerba
that year, when Sinan
Reis, the Governor of Djerba, was
appointed by Suleiman the
Magnificent as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman
Sea Fleet based in Suez, Turgut Reis
was appointed as his successor and became the Governor of
1540 Turgut Reis captured several Genoese ships off the coast of Santa
Margherita Ligure. In April 1540, commanding two galleys and 13
galliots, he landed at Gozo and sacked
the island. He later landed at Pantelleria and raided the coasts of Sicily and Spain with a
force of 25 ships, inflicting so much damage that Andrea Doria was
ordered by Charles V
to chase him with a force of 81 galleys. From there, Turgut
Reis sailed to the Tyrrhenian Sea and bombarded the southern ports of Corsica, most notably Palasca. He later captured and sacked the nearby
island of Capraia.
Captivity and freedom
Reis later sailed back towards Corsica and docked his ships at Girolata on the western shores of the island.
by surprise while repairing his ships, Turgut Reis and his men were
attacked by the combined forces of Giannettino Doria (Andrea Doria
's nephew), Giorgio Doria and
Gentile Virginio Orsini. Turgut Reis was captured and was forced to
work as a galley slave in the ship of
Giannettino Doria for nearly four years before being imprisoned in
Barbarossa offered to pay ransom for his
release but it was rejected. In 1544, when Barbarossa was returning from
France with 210
ships sent by Sultan Suleiman to assist King Francis I in a Franco-Ottoman alliance against
Spain, he appeared before Genoa,
laying siege to the city and forcing the Genoese to negotiate for
the release of Turgut Reis.
Barbarossa was invited by Andrea
Doria to discuss the issue in his palace at Fassolo, and the two
admirals reached an agreement for the release of Turgut Reis in
exchange of 3,500 gold ducats.
Barbarossa gave Turgut his spare flagship
and the command of several other vessels, and in that same year
Turgut Reis landed at Bonifacio in Corsica and captured the city, inflicting
particular damage to Genoese interests.
Still in 1544 he
assaulted the island of Gozo and fought against the forces of
knight Giovanni Ximenes while capturing several Maltese
ships which were bringing
precious cargo from Sicily. In June 1545 he raided the coasts of Sicily
and bombarded several ports on the Tyrrhenian Sea. In July he ravaged the island of Capraia and landed at the coasts of Liguria and the Italian
Riviera with a force of 15 galleys and fustas.
Monterosso and Corniglia, and later landed at Menarola and Riomaggiore. In the following days he landed at the Gulf
Spezia and captured Rapallo, Pegli and Levanto. In 1546 he captured Mahdia, Sfax, Sousse and
Munastir in Tunisia, afterwards using Mahdia as a base to assault the
Knights of St. John in Malta.
April 1546 he raided the coasts of Liguria
still in Liguria, he captured Laigueglia, a province of Savona, with a
force of 1000 men. He later captured Andora and took
the podestÃ of the town as a
prisoner. There he and his troops rested for a brief
period, before resuming their assault on the Italian Riviera and
landing at San
Lorenzo al Mare. He also destroyed the village of Civezza.
From there he once again sailed towards
Malta and laid siege to the island of Gozo.
1546 Andrea Doria was appointed by Emperor Charles V to force
Turgut Reis away from Malta, and Doria based his forces at the
island of Favignana. The two admirals, however, did not meet up,
as Turgut Reis had sailed to Toulon in August
1546, staying there for several months and letting his men have
some rest in the security of a French port.
Commander-in-Chief of Ottoman Naval Forces in the
Barbarossa's death in July 1546, Turgut succeeded him as supreme
commander of Ottoman naval forces in the Mediterranean.
In July 1547 he once again assaulted Malta
with a force of 23 galleys and galliots, after hearing the news
that the Kingdom of Naples
shaken by the revolt against Viceroy Don Pietro of Toledo, which
would make a naval support from there to Malta rather unlikely.
Reis landed his troops at Marsa Scirocco, the extreme southern point of the island which
faces the shores of Africa.
From there the Ottoman troops
quickly marched towards the vicinity of the Church of Santa
Caterina. The guards of the church tower escaped as soon as they
saw the forces of Turgut Reis, which prevented them from igniting
the tub of gunpowderâ€”a common method used then to warn the local
inhabitants of attacks. After sacking the island, Turgut Reis
headed towards Capo Passero in Sicily, where he captured the galley
of Giulio Cicala, son of Duke Vincenzo Cicala. He later sailed to
Islands, and at Salina Island he captured a Maltese trade ship with valuable
cargo. From there he sailed to Apulia and
towards the end of July 1547 he assaulted the city of Salve.
He later sailed to Calabria
, forcing the local population to flee
towards the safety of the mountains. From there he went to Corsica
and captured a number of ships.
Bey of Algiers
he was appointed Beylerbey
(Chief Governor) of Algiers by Suleiman
In that same year he ordered the
construction of a quadrireme galley at the naval arsenal of Djerba,
which he started using in 1549. In August 1548 he landed at Castellamare
di Stabia on the Bay of Naples and captured the city along
with nearby Pozzuoli. From there he went to Procida. A few days later, he captured a Spanish
galley loaded with troops and gold at Capo Miseno near Procida. In the same days he captured the Maltese
galley, La Caterinetta, at the Gulf of Naples, with its
cargo of 70,000 gold ducats which were collected by the Knights of
St. John from the churches of France with the aim of strengthening
the defenses of Tripoli, which was
then under Maltese control.
1549 he set sail towards Liguria with 21 galleys and in July he
assaulted Rapallo, later replenishing his ships with water and other
supplies at San Fruttuoso. From there he sailed to Portofino and landed at the port, before appearing at
Remo where he captured an Aragonese galley from Barcelona which was heading towards Naples.
there he first sailed towards Corsica and later towards Calabria
where he assaulted the city of Palmi.
February 1550, sailing with a force of 36 galleys, he recaptured
Mahdia along with Al
Munastir, Sousse and most of
In May 1550 he assaulted the ports of
and Spain and landed on their
coasts with a force of six galleys and 14 galliots. Still in May he
unsuccessfully tried to capture Bonifacio in Corsica. On his way
back to Tunisia, he stopped at Gozo to replenish his ships with
water and to gather information on the activities of the Maltese
Knights. He later sailed towards Liguria.
In June 1550, while Turgut Reis was sailing near Genoa, Andrea
Doria and Bailiff Claude de la
of the Maltese Knights attacked Mahdia in Tunisia. In
the meantime, Turgut Reis was busy assaulting and sacking Rapallo
for a third time, before raiding the coasts of Spain. He then sailed to the
Sea and towards the beginning of July landed at the
western shores of Sardinia, before returning to Djerba, where he
learned that Doria and Claude de la Sengle had been attacking
Mahdia and Tunis.
collected a force of 4500 troops and 60 sipahis
and marched on Mahdia to assist the local
resistance. He did not succeed and returned to Djerba with his
In September 1550 Mahdia surrendered to the joint
Spanish-Sicilian-Maltese force. In the meantime, Turgut Reis was
repairing his ships at the beach of Djerba. On October, Andrea
Doria appeared with his fleet at Djerba and blocked the entrance of
the island's lagoon with his ships, trapping the beached galleys of
Turgut Reis inside the Channel of Cantera. Turgut Reis had all
his ships dragged overland through hastily dug canals and on a
heavily greased boardway to the other side of the island and sailed
to Istanbul, capturing two galleys on the way, one Genoese and
one Sicilian, which were en route to Djerba in order to assist the
forces of Doria.
Prince Abu Beker, son of the Sultan of
Tunis, who was an ally of Spain, was on the Genoese galley.
arriving in Istanbul, Turgut Reis, authorized by Sultan Suleiman,
mobilized a fleet of 112 galleys and two
galleasses with 12,000 Janissaries, and in 1551 set sail with the Ottoman
admiral Sinan Pasha
towards the Adriatic
Sea and bombarded the Venetian ports, inflicting
serious damage on Venetian shipping. In May 1551 they
landed on Sicily and bombarded the eastern shores of the island,
most notably the city of Augusta, as revenge for the Viceroy of Sicily's role in the
invasion and destruction of Mahdia, where most inhabitants had been
massacred by the joint Spanish-Sicilian-Maltese force.
then attempted to capture Malta, landing with about 10,000 men at
the southern port of Marsa
. They laid siege to the citadels of Birgu and
Senglea, and later went north and assaulted Mdina, but
lifted the siege after realizing that it was impossible to capture
the island with the number of troops in hand. Instead, they moved
to the neighboring island of Gozo, where they
bombarded the citadel for several days.
governor there, Galatian de Sesse, realizing that resistance was
futile, surrendered the citadel, and the corsairs sacked the town.
Taking virtually the entire population of Gozo (approximately 5,000
people) into captivity, Turgut and Sinan set sail from the port of
MÄ¡arr ix-Xini in Gozo and headed towards Libya, where they shipped
the captives to Tarhuna Wa
. They later sailed towards Tripoli with the aim of
conquering the strategic port city and its environs.
Bey of Tripoli
In August 1551 Turgut Reis attacked and captured Tripoli
(Libya), which had been a possession of the Knights of St. John
since 1530. Gaspare de Villers, the commander of the fort, was
captured, along with other prominent knights of Spanish and French
origin. However, upon the intervention of the French ambassador
in Istanbul, Gabriel d'Aramon
, the French knights were
released. A local leader, AÄŸa Murat, was initially installed as
governor of Tripoli, but subsequently Turgut himself took control
of the area. In recognition of his services, Sultan Suleiman
awarded Tripoli and the surrounding territory to Turgut, along with
the title of Sanjak Bey
September 1551, Turgut Reis sailed to Liguria and captured the city
of Taggia, before
capturing other ports of the Italian Riviera, after Ottoman troops
landed at the beach of Riva Brigoso. Later that year, he
returned to Tripoli and sought to extend his territory, capturing
the entire region of Misratah all the way to Zuwarah and Djerba to the west.
Turning inland, he
enhanced his territory until reaching Gebel
Battle of Ponza and campaigns in the West Mediterranean
In 1552 Sultan Suleiman appointed Turgut Reis commander-in-chief of
the Ottoman fleet which he dispatched to Italy (on the basis of a
treaty between the Sultan and King Henry II of France
). Turgut Reis first
landed at Augusta and Licata in Sicily,
before capturing the island and castle of Pantelleria. In July 1552 he landed at Taormina and later bombarded and disabled the ports on the
Gulf of Policastro. He later landed at Palmi and
captured the city, before sailing to the Gulf of Naples in order to
meet with the other branch of the Ottoman fleet under the command
of Sinan Pasha and the
French fleet under the command of Polin de la Garde. After arriving at the
meeting location, Turgut Reis anchored his ships off the beach of
Formia, where he
met with the fleet of Sinan Pasha, but their French ally did not
show up in time.
After waiting for several days, Sinan Pasha
decided to return to Istanbul, following an order by Suleiman to do
so in case of a delay or postponement of the meeting. Turgut Reis convinced
Sinan Pasha to join him, and their combined fleet bombarded various
ports of Sardinia and Corsica, before capturing the island of
Ponza. From there the Turkish fleet sailed towards
Lazio and bombarded the ports belonging to the
States and the Kingdom of Naples, even though Henry II had
guaranteed the Pope that the Ottoman fleet
would not damage the Vatican's
possessions. Due to bad weather, however, Turgut Reis and
Sinan Pasha sailed back to the Gulf of Naples and landed at
Sorrento, capturing both towns. They later captured
Pozzuoli and the entire coastline up to Minturno and Nola.
In response, Andrea Doria set sail from Genoa with a force of 40
galleys and headed towards Naples. When the two fleets first
encountered off Naples, Turgut Reis managed to capture seven
galleys, with colonel Madruzzi and many German
soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire
The two fleets later went southwards, where, on 5 August 1552
, Turgut Reis
defeated the Spanish-Italian fleet under Andrea Doria at the
Battle of Ponza
Beylerbey of the Mediterranean
Following this victory, Suleiman appointed Turgut
(Chief Regional Governor
) of the
1553 Turgut Reis set sail from the Aegean Sea with 60 galleys, captured Crotone and Castello in Calabria, and from there marched
inland. Later he landed on Sicily and sacked most of
the island until stopping at Licata for
replenishing his ships with water. Afterwards he
assaulted Sciacca and Modica in
southern Sicily. From there he went to the island of Tavolara and to Sardinia, later headed towards Porto Ercole and landed on the coast, before setting sail
towards Elba, where he captured Marciana Marina, Rio and
Capoliveri. From there he sailed to Corsica and took
Bonifacio, Bastia and
Calvi on behalf of France, then ally of the Ottoman
Empire, which paid him 30,000 gold ducats for the expense of
ammunition in the conquest. Leaving Corsica, Turgut Reis returned to
Elba and attempted to capture Piombino and Portoferraio, but eventually gave up and captured the island
of Pianosa and recaptured the island and castle of
captured by Barbarossa back in 1535) before returning to
he sailed from the Bosphorus with 60 galleys and passed the winter in Chios.
there he sailed to the Adriatic Sea and landed at Vieste near Foggia, capturing and sacking the city.
sailed towards Dalmatia and bombarded the
port of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), capital of the maritime Republic of Ragusa. In August 1554 he
landed at Orbetello and raided the coasts of Tuscany.
following year, in July 1555, he landed at Capo Vaticano in Calabria, and from there marched to Ceramica and San
Lucido, bombarding these cities, before capturing Paola and Santo Noceto. He then sailed to
Elba and captured the city of Populonia before assaulting Piombino.
From there he sailed to Corsica and
ransacked Bastia, taking 6000 prisoners. He later assaulted
Calvi before setting sail towards Sardinia and bombarding
the ports of that island. From there he turned towards Liguria and
landed at Ospedaletti, capturing the city and the coastline around
it. He later landed at San Remo before returning to Istanbul.
Pasha of Tripoli
In March 1556 Turgut Reis was promoted to the rank of Pasha
of Tripoli. There, he strengthened the walls of
the citadel surrounding the city and built a gunpowder bastion (Dar
el Barud). He also strengthened the defenses of the port and built
the Turgut (Dragut) Fortress in place of the old Fortress of San
Pietro. In July 1556 he again set sail and landed at
Cape Santa Maria at the island of Lampedusa, where he captured a Venetian ship which
transported ammunition and weapons for the defense of Malta.
landed in Liguria and captured Bergeggi and San Lorenzo. In December 1556 he captured Gafsa in Tunisia
and added it to his territory.
summer of 1557 he left the Bosphorus with a fleet of 60 galleys
and, arriving at the Gulf of Taranto, he landed in Calabria and assaulted Cariati, capturing the city. He later landed at
the ports of Apulia.
he added Gharyan, about 70 miles south of Tripoli, to his
He then defeated the Beni Oulid dynasty with a
force of janissaries and added their territories to the Ottoman
Empire. He later took Taorga, Misratah and Tagiora, before recapturing the island of
Djerba and adding it to his province. In June 1558 he
joined the fleet of Piyale Pasha at the
Messina, and the two admirals captured Reggio
Calabria, sacking the city. From there, Turgut
Reis went to the Aeolian
Islands and captured several of them, before landing at
Amalfi, in the Gulf of Salerno, and capturing Massa Lubrense, Cantone and Sorrento. He later landed at Torre del
Greco, the coasts of Tuscany, and Piombino.
August he captured several ships off Malta. In September 1558 he
joined Piyale Pasha, and the two admirals assaulted the coasts of
Spain before capturing Ciutadella (Minorca) and inflicting particular damage on the island's
he repelled a Spanish attack on Algiers and put down
a revolt in Tripoli. In that same year he captured a Maltese ship
Learning from its crew that the knights
were preparing for a major attack on Tripoli, he decided to sail
back there and strengthen the city's defenses.
Battle of Djerba
In the meantime, he had made enemies of many of the nominally
Ottoman, but practically independent rulers in Tunis and the
adjoining hinterland, and several of them concluded an alliance in
1560 with Viceroy Cerda of Sicily, who had orders from King
Philip II of Spain
to join his
forces in an effort to capture Tripoli. This campaign ended in
failure when the Ottoman fleet under the command of Piyale Pasha
and Turgut Reis defeated the fleet of the Holy League of Philip II
in the Battle of Djerba
1561 Turgut Reis and UluÃ§ Ali
Reis captured Vincenzo Cicala and Luigi Osorio near the island
of Marettimo. In June 1561 Turgut landed on the island of
In July 1561 he captured seven Maltese
galleys under the command of knight Guimarens, whom he later freed
for a ransom of 3,000 gold ducats. After stopping at Gozo to
replenish his galleys with water, he sailed back to Tripoli. In
August 1561 he laid siege to the city of Naples and blocked the
port with 35 galleys.
1562 he sent scout ships to explore all corners of the island of
Malta. Still in 1562 he laid siege to Oran which was
under Spanish control.
he landed at the shores of the province of Granada and captured coastal settlements in the area like
AlmuÃ±Ã©car, along with 4,000 prisoners. He later landed at
MÃ¡laga. In April 1563 he supported the fleet of
Salih Reis with 20 galleys during the
Ottoman siege of Oran, bombarding the Fortress of Mers-el-Kebir. In September 1563 he sailed to Naples and
captured six ships near the island of Capri, which carried valuable goods and Spanish
He later landed at the Chiaia
neighbourhood of Naples and captured it.
there he sailed to Liguria and Sardinia, raiding the coastal towns,
particularly Oristano, Marcellino and Ercolento.
sailed to the Adriatic Sea and landed on the coasts of Apulia and
. He later landed twice at San
Giovanni near Messina with a force of 28 galleys. In October 1563
he sailed towards Capo Passero in Sicily and later landed once more
on Gozo, where he briefly fought against the knights.
Siege of Malta and Death
The statue of Turgut Reis in Istanbul
When Sultan Suleiman ordered the Siege of
in 1565, Turgut Reis joined Piyale Pasha and the Ottoman
forces with 1,600 men (3,000 according to some sources) and 15
ships (13 galleys and 2 galliots; while some sources mention 17
ships) on 31 May 1565. He landed his troops at the entrance of
, a cape which is
now named 'Dragut Point' after Turgut Reis. There he met with
, commander of
the Ottoman land forces, who was besieging Fort St. Elmo
. He advised him to first
capture the citadel of Gozo and Mdina (the old capital city of
Malta) as soon as possible, but this advice was not taken. He also
arranged for more cannon fire to be concentrated on the
recently-built Fort St. Elmo which controlled the entrance of the
and seemed weaker than
the other forts; joining the bombardment with 30 of his own
cannons. In only 24 hours the Ottomans fired 6000 cannon shots.
Realizing that Fort St. Elmo and Fort
(the main headquarters of the Knights on the other
side of the Grand Harbour) could still communicate with each other,
Turgut Reis ordered a complete siege of Fort St. Elmo with the aim
of isolating it from Fort St. Angelo. On 17 June 1565, during the
bombardment of the fort, a cannon shot from Fort St. Angelo across
the Grand Harbour struck the ground close to the Turkish battery.
Debris from the impact mortally injured Turgut Reis, who lived
until 23 June 1565, just long enough to hear the news of the
capture of Fort St. Elmo.
Turgut's advice to capture Mdina and Gozo was never taken, to the
detriment of the Ottomans. Maltese forces, from Mdina in particular,
harried the Turkish troops for the remainder of the siege, and at
one point prevented the key city of Senglea from falling into Ottoman hands.
His body was taken to Tripoli by UluÃ§
and buried there.
Several warships of the Turkish Navy
and passenger ships have been named after Turgut Reis.
Reis continues to enjoy great fame and respect in Turkey, where the
city of his birth is named Turgutreis.
several coastal towns of Liguria in Italy, Turgut Reis
is remembered with the annual Dragut Festival.
of the Tigne promontory (Malta) is called
Dragut Point, where Turgut established his first battery for the
bombardment of Fort St. Elmo in
References and sources
- E. Hamilton Currey, Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean,
- Bono, Salvatore: Corsari nel Mediterraneo
(Corsairs in the Mediterranean), Oscar Storia Mondadori.
- Corsari nel Mediterraneo: Condottieri di
ventura. Online database in Italian, based on Salvatore Bono's
- Bradford, Ernle, The Sultan's Admiral: The life of
Barbarossa, London, 1968.
- Wolf, John B., The Barbary Coast: Algeria under the
Turks, New York, 1979; ISBN 0-393-01205-0
- The Ottomans: Comprehensive and detailed online chronology
of Ottoman history in English.
- Comprehensive and detailed online chronology of
Ottoman history in Turkish.
- Turkish Navy official website: Historic heritage of
the Turkish Navy (in Turkish)