The Barbarossa Brothers

Arguably the most famous of the Barbary corsairs were two brothers who served the Ottoman Turkish Empire, and whose adventures left an indelible mark on pirate history. The Barbarossa brothers were born on the island of Lesbos in Greece in the 1470s to a native woman who had married a retired Turkish soldier. The oldest brother, named Aruj, became a corsair as a young man and was captured by members of the Catholic Knights of Rhodes, whose historic objective was to provide protection to Christians in the Mediterranean region.

Aruj was enslaved as a galley hand until he was ransomed by an Egyptian prince in 1505 and transported to Alexandria. Reunited with his brother, Hizir, and backed by the Egyptian prince, the brothers began raiding trading vessels.

Along with gaining fame and fortune along the Barbary Coast as a corsair against Christian merchants, and particularly the Spanish, Aruj became well loved and respected for his kindnesses toward Muslims in need. To his fellow Muslims, he became known as “Baba Aruj,” or “Father Aruj,” which translates to Barbarossa in French and Spanish. After Aruj lost an arm during a battle with the Spanish, he and his brother made the ships of Spain their primary targets. In 1516, Aruj took exception to the apparent lack of enthusiasm with which the Sultan of Algiers supported their hatred of the Spanish, so he led a corsair fleet into the port of Algiers, murdered the sultan, and had himself proclaimed sultan.

Aruj continued to lead the Barbary corsairs against the Spaniards until he was finally killed in battle in 1518. His brother Hizir took his place, his name, and his title, and officially joined forces with the Ottoman Turk Empire against the Spaniards. With the help of the Ottomans, the corsairs of the Barbarossas helped foil the imperialistic aspirations of the Spanish in the Mediterranean for nearly fifty years, and in doing so became heroes who are revered to this day.

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