With the release of the Barbaroslar series, there has been tremendous interest in the Barbarossa brothers and their lives. There are fan pages and groups dedicated to discussing the new series, the cast, and the plot. After watching the 2.5 hour first episode, it is strikingly clear that this historical series is loosely based on real events and does not tell the full story of the Barbarossa brothers. Unfortunately, viewers will need to refer to other sources for the real story. I have studied the life of the Barbarossa brothers from the authentic sources in Spanish and Ottoman for the last year and am currently working on translating Hayreddin Barbarossa’s official biography. As a result, I plan to share my observations and analysis after every episode to shed some light.
As many of us might have been introduced to the Barbarossa brothers for the first time in the first episode, it is fitting that we too begin with the origins of the brothers and their family history. The name Yaqub Aga was mentioned during the first episode in the context of the four brothers without further clarification and without being depicted by an actor on the show and with the assumption that he was dead. In reality, Yaqub was the father of the four Barbarossa brothers. The term ‘Aga’ refers to a commander or official. According to Hayreddin’s official biography, Yaqubaga was a Muslim who was originally from the Greek town of Giannitsa which at that time was under Ottoman rule. He was a soldier for the Ottoman army and was a Sipahi(feudal cavalryman). His father who was also the grandfather of the Barbarossa brothers was also a Sipahi soldier. See the map of Giannitsa below
Mitylene is one of the three main places where the Barbaroslar series is depicted. Mitylene is a city located in the island of Lesbos off the coast of Greece. Sultan Muhammad Fatih conquered this island in 1462, and apparently Yaqub Aga was one of the soldiers who participated in this conquest and was appointed to settle down in this island to maintain Ottoman order. He then married a local Christian Greek woman whose is referred to in Western sources by the name of Katerina and who was a widow of a Greek priest. In order to help the readers identify and place this island in terms of geography, please refer to the maps below.
According to Hayreddin’s official biography, Yaqub was a cultured man known for his bravery and ferocity. No doubt, the four brothers inherited this trait from their father, as we have already seen in the series! Their mother was a beautiful and noble woman. The couple was blessed with four sons, the eldest being Oruc as written in Turkish, pronounced Aruj. The show seems to portray Ishaq as the eldest. Ilyas was the second oldest, and Ishaaq was the third eldest. Hizir as written in Turkish, pronounced Khidhr, was the youngest. According to western sources, Yaqub was a potter, and his youngest son Hizir also helped his father in pottery. Elias was studying to become an Imam, and Orucworked on a boat. Throughout the show you will see the term ‘Rais’ added to the end of many names, such as OrucRais, Aydin Rais, Kemal Rais, etc. The word ‘Rais’ in Ottoman denotes the captain of the ship.
For more information, refer to the article, Lingering Questions regarding the Lineage, life & Death of BarbarosHayreddinPasa by Heath W. Lowry and the book, The Sultan’s Admiral; Barbarpssa –Pirate and Empire Builder by Ernle Bradford. Unfortunately, the book is out of print.
A good portion of the Barbaroslar series and the action scenes take place in the ocean and on ships. Therefore, it is important to know the names of the ships of the 16th century when the Barbarossa brothers lived to be able to place these names and context and to better understand the events in the show. Two such ship names were discussed in the first episode. The first was a ‘Kalita’ ship, and the context was one of the characters exclaiming, “I don’t even have Kalita!” Unfortunately, the subtitles are simply basic translations without further explanation, context, or even footnotes. A ‘Kalita’ is a turkicization of the Italian word galiotta, the diminutive of a galley ship. In other words, a Kalita was a smaller-than-average galley ship. A galley was an oar ship with 25-26 oar benches, with each oar bench seating multiple rowers. A kalita would typically have 19-24 oar benches. SvatSoucek has written an excellent article entitled, Certain Types of Ships in Ottoman-Turkish Terminology which I have referenced here and which I recommend as further reading. I have provided a picture of a galley ship below for reference.
Likewise, the Barbarossa brother Ilyas on multiple occasions dreams of owning his own ‘galleon’ ship. To put things into perspective, this would be the equivalent of a young person today dreaming of owning a million dollar yacht. Like a yacht, a galleon is a sailing ship. However, during the 16th century the galleon was the principle warship and dominated the great naval battles of the era. As seen in the first episode, these galleons were equipped with cannons and could hold large numbers of soldiers for battle. Thus, Ilyas’ dream of owning his own galleon in the series would indicate his desire of participating in his own major naval battles and using his galleon to capture other enemy ships and spoils of war.
Lastly, I do wish to mention that in TRT’s recreation of Barbarossa brothers, they have added numerous fictional characters to the story who are not mentioned in the authentic historical books. My objective is not to burst the reader’s bubble, but to try attempt to identify the fictional from the real. No doubt the four Barbarossa brothers did live and exist, but Niko, Antuan, Pietro, Dervis, Isabelle, Despina, Zeynep, Kurdoglu, Asiye, Yorgo, Kilic Bey, and Master Sulayman the teacher of Hizir do not seem to be real historical individuals who lived during the time of the Barbarossa brothers. The real archenemy of the Barbarossa brothers was Andrea Doria.
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Korkutwas the partron of ArujRais
Aydin rais and his nickname diablo
Using black seed and vinegar to treat the sick child
Kamal rais in eobea
Characters not reliably established in the life of the Barbarossas
Despina as Aruj’s wife
Murad son of Cem