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The Barbarossa Brothers

Born: 1470's? Died: ?

While the details may be questioned, it seems the brothers Aruj and Hizir were born in Greece during the 1470s on the island of Lesbos. Sons to a girl local to the island and a retired soldier from the Ottoman empire.

The elder brother Aruj was the first to embark on his career of piracy by signing on a corsair galley based on the island, a haven for Greek and Moslem pirates. Captured by the Knights of Rhodes, he served several years as a galley slave, until purchased by an Egyptian emir. The brothers reunited in Alexandria, and backed by the Egyptian emir, the two proved to be successful raiders.

The two moved their operations to the western Mediterranean by 1505 and reestablished themselves in Djerba, near Tunis. They pursued a career of piracy against the Christian nations, capturing Papal galleys, Spanish warships and merchants. They once again changed bases to Djidjelli, near Algiers, after a quarrel with the Sultan of Tunis in 1511.

In 1512, Aruj lost an arm in an attempt to take a Spanish held fort on the north coast of Africa, and was again defeated two years later. This signaled a marked change in the brothers’ activity, such that their attacks concentrated more and more upon the Spanish. Attacks were directed against shipping and coastal settlements alike. When the sultan of Algiers failed to respond adequately to the Spanish threat in 1516, Aruj led a force of corsairs and after killing the sultan, proclaimed himself sultan.

1518 saw more fighting with the Spanish as they launched an attack from Algiers bay. Followed by Aruj leading an attack on the Spanish settlement of Oran. In this latter attack, Aruj was surprised and forced to hole up in the town of Tlemcen, where he was killed in an effort to break out of the trap.

Hizir , now called Kheir-ed-din, the Gift of God, allied himself with the Ottoman and was officially named sultan of Algiers. He continued to trade attacks with the Spanish. Losing Tunis in 1535, taking Majorca and Nice and defeating a Christian fleet that was threatening the eastern Mediterranean. He died in 1547, apparently favored in the Ottoman court and successful commander.

Throughout much of its history the Mediterranean Sea has been a home to pirates and corsairs. The battle was waged for centuries between the Moslem and Christian forces, as well as by less partisan groups, usually established in areas of the sea that provided relief from hostile parties. The Barbarossa Brothers, so called for their red beards, are two of the better know of these corsairs. Using galleys to full advantage, they were able to take on larger sailing ships in the calm winds of the sea.