Selman Reis

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Ottoman fleet in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century.

Selman Reis was an Ottoman admiral and former corsair who was active in the Mamluk Navy of Egypt and later in the Ottoman Navy against the Portuguese in the first half of the 16th century. Selman Reis was originally from the Aegean island of Lesbos.[1]

Mercenary for the Mamluk regime[edit]

Selman Reis entered the service of the Mamluks, and led a group of 2,000 armed Levantines, possibly against the own wishes of the Ottoman Sultan Selim I.[2]

Following the disruption of the spice trade between India and Mamluk Egypt by the Portuguese, Selman Reis led a Mamluk fleet of 19 ships into the Indian Ocean in 1515. He left Suez leading the fleet on 30 September 1515.[3] The fleet also included 3,000 men, 1,300 of whom were Turkish soldiers.[3] The fleet built a fortress in Kamaran, but failed to take Yemen and Aden on 17 September 1516.[3]

Selman Reis defended Jiddah against a Portuguese attack in 1517.

In 1517, he defended Jeddah against a Portuguese attack, soon before the fall of the Mamluk regime.[1]

Selman Reis was sent to Istanbul and imprisoned for disloyalty until 1520.[1]

Ottoman admiral[edit]

Selman Reis came back in favour with the arrival of Ibrahim Pasha in Egypt in 1524.[1] He was able to make a detailed report of the situation of the Indian Ocean at the time, suggesting the occupation of Ethiopia, Yemen and the Swahili Coast, and the eviction of the Portuguese from Hormuz, Goa and Malacca.[1] In 1525, the Portuguese raided the Red Sea, further bringing the threat of their fleet closer to Egypt.[4]

In 1525, Selman Reis was put at the head of an Ottoman fleet of 18 ships and 299 cannons as its admiral, with ships taken from the derelict Jiddah fleet and refurbished in Suez.[3][4] He was in association with Hayreddin al-Rumi, leading around 4,000 infantry.[4] They left Suez in 1526, and first returned Jiddah back to order.[4] Landing in Mocha in January 1527, they led an expedition into the interior of Yemen to subdue the area, which they succeeding in doing after beheading Mustafa Beg.[4] Aden remained independent but recognized suzerainty to Ottoman rule.[4] The fleet then left to establish a naval base in Kamaran.[4] This allowed the Ottomans to retake control of the Red Sea, and for the first time the Portuguese could not send a fleet in the Red Sea in 1527.[4]

Following these success, various potentates in the Indian Ocean asked for Ottoman help against the Portuguese: in 1527 the Vizier of Hormuz as well as the Zamorin of Calicut.[4]

By 1528, Ottoman mercenaries were present on Islamic shipping as far as Sumatra.[4]

After that time however, Selman Reis fell into a dispute with Hayreddin al-Rumi, which greatly weakened these efforts.[4]

Selman Reis was later involved in defending Muslim possessions in India against the Portuguese and their Hindu allies. He installed Pro-Ottoman forces under Captain Hoca Sefer in Diu, until the failed Ottoman attempt to expel the Portuguese in the 1538 Siege of Diu.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Ottoman Age of Exploration Giancarlo Casale p.39
  2. ^ The Ottoman Age of Exploration Giancarlo Casale p.32
  3. ^ a b c d An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Volume 1" by Halil İnalcik p.321ff
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k The Ottoman Age of Exploration, p. 42, at Google Books Giancarlo Casale
  5. ^ İnalcik, Halil. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire. p. 324ff.