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All about Dragut: 10 things you didn’t know about the man who ALMOST conquered Malta
The greatest pirate warrior of all time lay two official sieges on the Maltese islands

Caroline Curmi

Many locals smirk at the mention of Dragut’s name: known as the pirate lord who enslaved the majority of Gozo’s population in 1551, he also almost destroyed Malta during the Great Siege in 1565, before perishing during the same war.

For all locals know, Dragut was the prime terrorizing force in the Mediterranean in the 16th century, a belief enhanced by popular references to Dragut as ‘the uncrowned king of the Mediterranean’ and ‘the Greatest Pirate warrior of all time.’ But what else is there to know about the Turkish corsair?

1. His origins are unclear

Infamous for being a brilliant tactician and fighter within the Ottoman Empire’s fleet, historians are having trouble confirming the religion he was born into. Nevertheless, it is believed that Dragut was a practising Muslim throughout his adult life.

2. He was recruited at a very young age

Dragut was spotted by an Ottoman army commander when he was only 12 years old. Extremely talented with handling spears and arrows, he was recruited by the army and became a skilled sailor, gunner, cannoneer and master of siege artillery.

3. Dragut is not his real name

In popular culture today, and even amongst his peers back in the day, he was referred to by the nickname Dragut. His birth name is actually Turgut Reis.

4. His best friend was Barbarossa

A pirate’s best friend is rum, but Dragut was no ordinary corsair. His best friend was Hayredin Barbarossa, a fellow Ottoman corsair who later beame Admiral of the Ottoman Navy, securing Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean throughout the mid-16th century.

5. The slaver was enslaved himself

There are some parallels between Grand Master La Vallette and nemesis Dragut, and the main connection is that both were slaves at some point during their lives. Caught off guard as he was fixing his ships in Girolata, Dragut was imprisoned during a surprise ambush and spent four years as a galley slave.

There were multiple attempts by Barbarossa to free Dragut from slavery, but offers of ransoms were always rejected. It took a siege threat to secure a deal, and Barbarossa paid 3.500 gold ducats for his best friend’s freedom. That’s in excess of €500,000 in today’s money!

6. Dragut was one of the Ottoman Force's highest ranking officers 

During his lifetime, Dragut was appointed Bej, or ruler, of Algiers and Djerba, Beylerbey of the Mediterranean and Tripoli. In March 1556, the Turkish corsair was appointed Pasha (governor-general) of Tripoli where he strengthened the city and extended the Ottoman empire’s hold over North Africa.

7. Dragut had a thing for Gozo

Prior to the infamous siege of Gozo in 1551, Dragut had landed on the island at least twice before, raiding and ransacking the island every time.

8. He was really, really old when he died

Contrary to popular belief, Dragut was not a young(ish) soldier, but was almost an octogenarian at the time of his death. Although the year of his birth is known, the exact day and month are not recorded, meaning he would have been either 79 or 80 when he perished during the Great Siege of Malta.

9. His death granted the Knights of St John a victory

Dragut’s death was a major loss for the Ottoman empire, and caused internal squabbles amongst the remaining commanders, leading to a string of bad tactical decisions which led to a Maltese victory. Many historians believe that had he survived, the Great Siege’s outcome would have been completely different.

10. Dragut’s hometown was renamed to honour his great feats

Dragut’s hometown was named Turgutreis, and he continues to enjoy fame and respect in Turkey to this day. In Malta, a place within the Tigne area in Sliema was also named after him. Referred to as Il-Ponta ta’ Dragut, or Dragut Point, to mark the place where he established his first battery for the bombardment of Fort St Elmo in 1565, we doubt locals share the same admiration for the brilliant military strategist as his countrymen do.

What other person in local history would you like to know more about? Let us know in the comments below!

Name Ottoman Imperial Archives / Facebook, خالد محمد العسيلي / Facebook

2nd October 2022

Caroline Curmi
Written by
Caroline Curmi
When she’s not having a quarter-life crisis, Caroline is either drawing in a café, frittering her salary on sushi or swearing at traffic in full-on Gozitan. There is also the occasional daytime drink somewhere in the equation. Or two. A creative must be allowed at least one vice.

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