Analysis of Episode 2 of Barbaroslar- The plot and its historical accuracy
After having discussed the origins of the Barbarossa brothers in the blog for the first episode, we will now discuss the plot of the Barbaroslarseries and analyze the historical accuracy of this plot. We have reviewed the first two episodes of Barbaroslar covering almost 5 hours and taken extensive notes (yes as an academic exercise!!!) of the series up until this point.
The Plot of the first two episodes
There are three main locations where the Barbaroslar series takes place; Midili (Mitylene in the island Lesbos where the Barbarossa brothers were born), Alexandria in Egypt, and the Greek Island of Kalimnos. Aruj lives with his wife in Alexandria and makes a living guarding ships for the Venetian Lodge of Unita along with his brother Ilyas. The evil Pietro and the archenemy of the Ottomans and Barbarossa brothers is based out of the Island of Kalimnos along with his army.
Khizr arrives in Mityleneand meets his brother Ishaq who is the eldest from the brothers. He then goes to see Master Sulayman and discusses a ‘sacred secret’ and the location of a key to a treasure. Khizr learns that this key is in in the possession of a former Ottoman prince named Murad who was captured by the enemy and who is now living in the island of Kalimnos. Khizr travels to Kalimnos, disguises himself, locates the prince, obtains the sacred key, fights the enemy, and finally jumps off a cliff into the ocean and escapes.He brings the key to Master Sulayman and the viewers will later find out the significance of this sacred key.
Ilyas and Aruj are traveling aboard a ship and encounter pirates. An epic battle ensues between the two ships and Aruj killsthe pirate captain Henrico and captures his ship. Henrico’s brother Antuan (Poseidon) vows revenge and plots to kill all the four brothers.
The old corsair, KiliRais visits Alexandria and pledges his support to Aruj. However, his son Shahin bears a deep grudge towards Aruj, and conspires with Jafar to have Aruj and Ilyas killed once and for all. Jafar hires a group of slaves and promises them their freedom if they successfully can ambush Aruj and Ilyas and kill them. A major fight scene ensues and Aruj and Ilyas are able to defeat the enemy and escape with their lives.
Poseidon enlists the services of the Ottoman traitor Yorgo who has an old feud with Aruj, and he is able to secretly raid the Ottoman city of Mitylene in Lesbos. Poseidon killsIshaq’s wife and children and then capture Ishaq. He leaves a note for them. He also sends news to Alexandria and the nearby regions baiting the remaining Barbarossa brothers and taking responsibility of murdering Ishaq’s family and his kidnapping. He tortures Ishaq and takes him to a nearby island with the intent of setting an ambush for the three brothers and drawing them all to the island towards their deaths.
Khizr leaves from Mitylene with Niko to look for Poseidon and rescue Ishaq from the enemy. Aruj’s wife is pregnant and is worried about his safety and wants him to stay near home and not go out for sea battles. Aruj and Ilyas receive news about their brother Ishaq’s kidnapping and immediately borrow a small oar ship and head to Poseidon’s hideout.
Khizr and Niko arrive at the island first and look for their brother. Aruj, Ilyas, and their comrades arrive shortly after and start attacking the enemy soldiers. The brothers head towards a large cave where Ishaq is being held and where Poseidon has set a trap. All three brothers are are surrounded and captured,,but Niko stages a diversion and a major fight scene ensues. The three brothers are able to defeat the enemy and rescue their brother Ishaq. The second episode ends with Ishaq avenging the death of his family by thrusting the spear through Poseidon and causing him to fall off a cliff into the ocean. The four Barbarossa brothers are united together once again and are ready to take on the enemy in Kalimnos and embark on new adventures.
Historical analysis of the first two episodes
The time period of the first two episodes is when the Barbarossa brothers were still living in Lesbos in Greece or in the nearby vicinity in the Eastern Mediterranean and had not yet migrated to the Western Mediterranean. We had mentioned previously in the first blog that Sultan Muhammad Fatih liberated Lesbos in 1462 and the father of the Barbarossa brothers, Yaqub Agha was with this army. He remained on the island as a sentry and his four sons were born there around 1466-1474. They later migrated to North Africa around 1512 and spent the rest of their lives there. Therefore, the time period under question is roughly from 1490-1512. Unfortunately, the most reliable Ottoman and Spanish historical sources do not provide much information about this time period.
Arguably, the most important question regarding a historical television series is exactly how accurate is it. After analyzing 5 hours of theBarbaroslar series, a history expert on the lives of the Barbarossa brothers would conclude that less than 5% of the plot is historically accurate. The vast majority of events that occur in the Barbaroslar series are fiction and do not correspond with historical realities. The viewer and fan of this series should be aware of this and should factor it in. We will discuss this in more detail in the next blog article.
The main enemy of the Barbarossa brothers during this time period was not in Kalimnos but in the island of Rhodes. Yes, the Kalimnosisland was ruled by the Knights of St. Johns until 1522, but it was not their base. In fact, the official biography of Hayreddin Barbarossa makes no mention at all about Kalimnos. The Barbaroslar series does not make any explicit reference to the real enemies of the Barbarossa brothers during this time period who were the Knights of St. John. These knights were remnants of the crusaders of the Levant and were the archenemies of the Muslims and Ottomans. Here are some books to learn more about them.
- The Knights Hospitaller: A Military History of the Knights of St John Kindle Edition by John Carr
- Knights of the Order; St.John, Jerusalem, Rhodes, Malta Hardcover by Ernle Bradford
It was these very Knights of St. Johns who were cause of perhaps the most important and impactful event in the lives of the Barbarossa brothers and especially during the beginning part of the Barbarossa brothers’ journey. Ernle Bradford writes, “The first authentic story we hear of the early career of Aruj concerns a disastrous encounter with a galley of the Knights of St. John.” (The Sultan’s Admiral pg. 19) SPOILER ALERT: During this encounter, IshaqRais was shot and killed. Aruj was taken as a prisoner for a long period of time, tortured, and forced to be a galley slave that rowed the oars on the ships of the Knights of St. John. The Ottoman and Spanish sources describe this incident, the ensuing captivity of Aruj, and his dramatic escape in detail. Unfortunately, the Barbaroslar series seems to make no reference to this incident. I would recommend reading the relevant section from The Sultan’s Admiral by Ernle Bradford for more information.
Miscellaneous topics from Episode 2
The second episode introduces the art of navigation and its methods to the viewers. As Khizr, Aruj, and Ilyas travel to rescue their brother, they use various methods of navigation to reach the desired destination. Khizr has what seems to be a type of compass to help navigate, whereas Aruj has an expert navigator on board to direct the boat to the destination. The crew question this navigator and ask if he is sure regarding his calculations and estimated arrival time, to which he responds, “This is a reliable field of knowledge.”
Ernle Bradford provides a historical description on how ships would have assigned navigators that corresponds very closely with the depiction in the Barbaroslar series. He quotes a German monk, Feliz Faber, who was on a voyage to the Holy Land in 1483 and gave an interesting picture of the navigational methods in current use aboard a merchantman: ‘Besides the pilot, there were other learned men, astrologers… who considered the signs of the stars and sky, judged the winds and gave directions to the pilot himself.’ The monk’s description is interesting, for … he shows quite clearly how the navigation department of a large ship at that time was organized and run. Aboard a small Turkish galleot there would not have been such a complement of specialists – possibly two or three, including the Rais (captain) or master…. (The Sultan’s Admiral p. 127)
Navigation played a key role in successful naval campaigns and attacks, as we saw in Episode 2. It made all the difference in the world for the ship to be able to arrive at the desired location for attack at a strategic time and pre-determine time. The Barbarossas often timed their raids of enemy islands in the early morning to maximize the element of surprise and minimize the need to fight. Ernle Bradford writes, “Certainly there can be no doubt that the Turkish captains of Barbarossa’s time did not wander vaguely over the sea, were far from incompetent in their navigation, and were perfectly able to rendezvous at a chosen place without much difficulty. All this adds up to a fair skill in navigation and a fair skill in their chart-makers.” (The Sultan’s Admiral pg. 128)
We also see various characters in Barbaroslar using maps of the period and identifying places of interest on these maps. As a result, it is appropriate that we discuss Ottoman mapmaking and the sophistication and accuracy of the Ottoman maps of the Mediterranean at that time. I would encourage viewers to learn about the World Map of Piri Reis of 1513 and his famous KitabBahriye (Book of the Sea or Book of Maritime Matters). This World Map is one of the oldest surviving maps of the Americas and was copied from a map made by Christopher Columbus himself which is now lost. The Barbarossa brothers would have had access to these maps and most likely used them as well.
Here are few recommended books on the subject of Ottoman Navigation and the Piri Reis World Map.
- Piri Reis The Book of Bhariye edited by Bulent Ozukan and published by Boyut
- Life and Works of Piri Reis by Prof. A. Afetinan
- Piri Reis & Turkish Mapmaking after Columbus by SvatSoucek
- The Piri Reis Map of 1513 by Gregory C. McIntosh
Galley Slaves and Converts to Islam
In the first blog, we discussed a few different types of ships and explained that generally ships of that time period were either sailboats powered by wind or ships powered by oars. The ships from the first episode were all sailboats, and in the second episode we are first introduced to oar-powered ships and their dynamics. Oars need to be manned by men and oar ships need a solid crew of oarsmen before they can depart. Aruj and Ilyas used to go attack Poseidon with such an oarship that they borrow from the Unita lodge, and they are forced to search for oarsmen for the trip. The general practice in the 16th century was to convert captured prisoners into galley slaves who would be chained to the oar bench and would man the oars.The Ottomans often used free men as well who tended to be more reliable and trustworthy.
In the second episode, the viewers witness a touching incident involving a galley slave who was captured during a previous battle with Arujand who has lost his entire family. He is an oarsman on ArujRais’ ship and to join Aruj and Ilyas as a soldier in the battle and fight alongside them to help reunite their family. Such an incident was fairly typical of the time and historically, many oarsmen and galley slaves often converted to Islam. The Ottoman captains would accept them with open arms and many of these converts rose to high ranks and became great naval captains in their own right.
Ernle Bradford writes, “An interesting point made by Haedo is that so many of the pirate captains who joined their lot with the Turks in North Africa were Christian renegades… Records show that in 1588 there were thirty-five galleys and galleots in the fleet of Algiers, twenty-four of them commanded by renegades and only eleven by Turks. Lane-Poole traced the following different nationalities represented among the renegades; “From France, Venice, Genoa, Sicily, Naples, Spain, Greece, Calabria, Corsica, Albania, Hungary, and a Jew.”… (The Sultan’s Admiral pg. 97-98)
Meaning of ‘Levend’
Unfortunately, the subtitles and translation of the Barbaroslar episodes is not always entirely accurate and reliable. There are sometimes difficult words that are left untranslated. In the second episode, the word ‘Levend’ is used multiple times without a translation and was specifically used in the context of who would accompany ArujRais and Ilyas in their rescue attempt of their brother from Poseidon. Joshua M. White has provided a detailed analysis of this word and others in his book, Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean. He has a subchapter entitled, “A pirate by any other name: the Ottoman vocabulary of Maritime Violence,” and in it he states, “The meaning of levend, a word of Persian origins sometimes translated as ‘adventurer’ or simply ‘young man,’ is ambiguous and varied according to context. It could denote officially recognized Ottoman corsairs, independent freebooters with no ties to the state, or naval auxiliaries more generally… It was usually, but not exclusively used for Muslims.”(Page 32).
Likewise, the word ‘Qarsan’ is mistranslated throughout both episodes as a ‘pirate,’ whereas the more accurate word is ‘corsair.’ The connotation of the word ‘pirate’ in our context is negative, and this mistranslation often reinforces stereotypes in the West about the Barbarossa brother solely being pirates. It is extremely important to clarify this difference and define exactly what a ‘corsair.’ We will discuss this in more detail in future blog posts.
I do plan to provide a recommended reading list for all Barbaroslar fans who are interested in learning more. In the next blog post, I plan to discuss the important issue of determining the historical accuracy of historical fiction television series in light of criteria established by academic experts.
For questions or feedback regarding this blog or the Barbarossa brothers in general, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org