Barbarossa carrying a Trident. He was just good like that.
The Battle of Preveza in 1538 was a major turning point in the history of naval power in the Mediterranean. Taking place on the same body of water where Caesar Augustus claimed final power during the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, this climactic battle of the ongoing Turkish-European war would be an epic conflict that would definitively determine jurisdiction over the Greek coast, ultimate dominion over the planet's most coveted and lucrative naval trade routes, and near-infinite bragging rights around the beer coolers at the next annual Turkish-Venetian Super Bowl Barbeque Bash.
On one side was the great Italian Admiral and perpetually-shirtless egomaniac Andrea Doria. Widely believed to be the most brilliant seaman Christianity had to offer, this dauntless, self-aggrandizing gut-buster had been whomping Turkish asses up and down the coast of Southern Greece for years, crushing Ottoman warships into sawdust and whacking babies in the face with his pimp-cane, and he now sought to finally exert his power over his hated rivals once and for all by incinerating all that remained of the Turkish Fleet. At his command was a seemingly-endless Death Armada of crusading vessels from the European nations that comprised the powerful Holy League; 300 badass warships from Papacy-Approved locales like Spain, Venice, Genoa, and Malta. Hell, when the Pope heard about the assbeating that was about to go down, he decided to get in on the action himself, sending over a dozen of his own battleships to fight the heathen Turks, and prove once and for all that the Christian God indeed was an Awesome God.
This of course was back in the day when the Pope had his own army and navy. Can you imagine what the world would be like today if Benedict XVI could send a strafing run of A-10s every time somebody pissed him off?
Well this masturbatory Grand Showcase of naval might was great and all, but as Harvey Keitel would say, "let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet, gentlemen." You see, across the Gulf of Arta stood the most badass Muslim warlord to ever sail the high seas - a man known to his countrymen simply as Kheir-ed-Din – The Defender of the Faith. Outnumbered and heavily outgunned, on this day the Grand Admiral of the Turkish Navy remained unimpressed by his enemies' vulgar display of power. This brilliant tactician and naval asskicker was determined to smite the fuck out of the infidel crusaders to the fullest extent of his impressive abilities. His beleaguered fleet of 122 battle-hardened warships stood at the ready, eagerly waiting his command. It wouldn't be long before they'd have an opportunity to show the European Nations what it was like to be on the receiving end of a Turkish shoe to the fucking face.
The boy who would become the Defender of the Faith was born on the Isle of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea at the end of the 15th century. Coming from lower-class parents on a tiny, isolated island more well-known for its etymological association with the word "lesbianism" than for it's penchant for producing epic skull-crushing hardasses, young Hizir Reis was more or less received as just one in a long line of male children produced by a nondescript family of little to no importance. His rise to prominence as Grand Admiral started from very humble beginnings - with minimal opportunity for fiscal advancement through legitimate means, the young Reis boys initially opted to turn to adventure, glory, fame, and money by buying a boat, recruiting a crew of cutthroats, and turning to a life of badass piracy on the high seas of the Mediterranean.
Operating of the Tunisian coast in the early 1500s, Hizir Reis and his band of bloodthirsty buccaneer brothers got busy bashing peoples' faces in with their scimitars on a daily basis. Over time, these enterprising asskickers built up a pretty sweet pirate empire, preying on European shipping, kicking the heads off of the Knights Hospitaller, and plundering with relative impunity all over the place like crazy whoah. As news of their success spread, they gained the support of local Moorish seafaring warriors, fought against Spanish expansion into North Africa, and pummeled a bunch of Christian knights unconscious with their own crucifixes.
Hizir eventually took over control of the ever-expanding criminal enterprise after the death of his older brother, and decided to ally himself with the Ottoman Turkish Empire. You see, back in the 16th century, the Turks really had their shit together. The Sultan basically went around to the most badass Muslim pirates in the Middle East and told them, "Hey dude if you promise only to fuck up the Christians and leave Turkish shipping alone, I'll give you a bunch of troops, cannons, supplies, and money in return." This government-sanctioned piracy worked out pretty well for everybody - the Turks gained a powerful ally, and corsairs like Hizir Reis pretty much had free reign to wreak havoc on anybody and everybody who was pissing them off. It was as a badass Turkish privateer that this ferocious corsair made a name for himself as a serious face-melting assbeater, crushing the enemies of the Ottoman Empire like empty soda cans and basically crotchpunching the European powers up and down the coastlines of the Mediterranean.
The notorious Muslim pirate, known to the Europeans as Barbarossa ("Red Beard", because he had, well, red hair. And a beard), became an overnight celebrity when he put together a massive pirate army and captured the heavily-fortified North African city of Algiers in 1517. The Sultan was so mega pumped-up about that awesome shit that he appointed Barbarossa Governor of Algiers and commander of the entire fucking Western Ottoman Fleet, and sent him out to do what he did best – smash European ships until they were no longer capable of flotation. The Empire’s newest admiral got his Darth Vader on pretty much immediately, conquering basically all of North Africa by 1529. The Hapsburg King-Emperor Charles V tried to retake the areas that had fallen to the Turks, but ended up getting kicked in the balls repeatedly by the unstoppable Peasant-turned-Pirate-turned-Admiral.
A sweet-looking Ottoman gunship.
It was around this time that our buddy Andrea Doria arrived on the scene. At this point in time, Doria’s name wasn’t yet synonymous with sinking ships, but that situation that would soon be remedied by Admiral Barbarossa and his cannon-laden, shit-wrecking warships.
Doria decided he was going to liberate Greece from the Turkish yoke, sailing into the port city of Coron in 1532 and capturing it with relative ease. After hearing about this defeat, the Turkish Sultan was like, "that’s fucking it." He slammed his fist down on a table, swore loudly in basically every language he could think of, and immediately promoted Barbarossa to the position of Grand Mega Super Inane Admiral of the Entire Goddamned Turkish Navy.
Barbarossa didn’t fuck around. He built a huge fleet, relentlessly trained his men, and set out for action. In 1535 he re-captured Coron, conquered Tunis, blew up Sicily, and plundered the shit out of the Italian coast. His raids and assbeatery pissed off the Europeans so badly that they sent Andrea Doria to dish out some much-needed retaliation. Doria assembled a massive Christian Fleet, sailed out to the afore-mentioned harbor of Preveza, and prepared to teach the Muslims a lesson in getting their faces kicked in with a chainmailed boot.
Well Andrea Doria needed to recognize that stepping to Barbarossa is a good way to get one's eye swole up. Off the coast of Preveza in 1538, the Allied galleys of the Holy League were face-smashed into driftwood by the gigantic nutbag of Hayreddin Barbarossa and his Ottoman Fleet. Outnumbered more than three-to-one (six-to-one according to some accounts), Barbarossa not only demolished the invasion force – he made the combined naval might of five mighty Christian nations look like that adorable fleet of rubber duckies that menaced the shores of New England a couple years ago. The Allies were crushed in a humiliating manner, their ships were sunk and/or captured, its galleys were plundered – shit, the Republic of Venice was fucked up so hard it was forced to pay war reparations to the Turks and publicly apologize for wasting Barbarossa’s time with such a pitiful, insignificant military effort.
For his success, Barbarossa was given the top honors of the Ottoman Empire. He was even awarded the right to sit on the Imperial Council and help run the higher-workings of the government. His victory also established the might of the Turkish Navy in the Mediterranean - from that point on, Ottoman ships dominated the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, and the Sultan held sole power over some of the world's most profitable trade routes. Barbarossa continued his adventures for a couple years, sacking Sicilian cities, meddling in petty European succession wars, and plundering Spanish galley squadrons. He eventually retired to a life of luxury, and died in 1546 at the age of 68, the greatest and most successful naval commander in the history of Islam.
Askan, Virginia H., and Goffman, Daniel. The Early Modern Ottomans. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007.
Glete, Jan. Warfare at Sea, 1500-1650. Routledge, 2000.
Jardin, Lisa. Worldly Goods. W.W. Norton, 1998.
Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977.
Somel, Selcuk. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
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