Turgut Reis

Monument to Turgut Reis, located in Istanbul. Photo uploaded to Wikimedia by user Alexxx1979.

Born: 1485
Years of Service

Born on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey, Turgut Reis was recruited into the Ottoman military at the age of twelve after a army commander saw the young boy demonstrate particular aptitude with a spear and bow. Reis went on to be trained as a sailor and cannoneer, and proved adept in those fields. In 1517, he participated in the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, again demonstrating high proficiency with cannons. Three soon after, Reis joined the crew of the pirate Sinan Pasha, operating in the eastern Mediterranean, and he quickly moved up in the ranks with his skills. In 1520, he joined up with Hayreddin Barbarossa, and became a scourge on Sicily, Naples, and the shipping routes between Italy and Spain. Known as Dragut in Arabic, Reis was appointed governor of Djerba in 1539. From this new base, Reis was able to operate against the Italians at his leisure, and spent most of 1540 sacking the coasts of Sicily and Spain. However, while repairing his ships, he was ambushed by the Genoese, and captured, spending four years as a galley slave before Barbarossa secured his release. The four years hadn't slowed Reis down in the slightest. On the way home, he landed in Corsica and sacked the place, paying particular interest to the Genoese there. In 1546, Barbarossa died, and was succeeded as supreme commander of Ottoman naval forces in the Mediterranean by Reis. This was followed two years later with the title of Beylerbeyi (Governor) of Algiers, and, after Reis captured it, Bey of Tripoli. Finally, the Sultan just gave up and appointed Reis governor of the entire Mediterranean after he routed a Christian fleet in 1552. Reis became known as the Drawn Sword of Islam, and was one of the most successful naval commanders ever recorded. He finally met his match during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, when a cannonball exploded next to him during the fighting on 17 June. He died of his wounds five days later, and his death probably cost the Ottomans the siege. Reis was buried in Tunis.