Kemal Reis (c. 1451 – 1511) was a Turkish privateer and admiral of the Ottoman Empire. He was also the paternal uncle of the famous Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis who accompanied him in most of his important naval expeditions.
Background and early career
Kemal Reis was born in Gallipoli on the Aegean coast of the Ottoman Empire in circa 1451. His full name was Ahmed Kemaleddin and his father was a Turk named Ali from the city of Karaman in central Anatolia. He became known in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain, with names like Camali and Camalicchio.
Kemal Reis started his career as the commander of the naval fleet belonging to the Sanjak Bey(Provincial Governor) of Eğriboz (present-day Euboea) which was under Ottoman control. In 1487 theOttoman Sultan Bayezid II appointed Kemal Reis with the task of defending the lands of Emir Abu Abdullah, the ruler of Granada, which was then one of the final Muslim strongholds in Spain. Kemal Reis sailed to Spain and landed an expeditionary force of Ottoman troops at Malaga, capturing the city and the surrounding villages and taking many prisoners. From there he sailed to the Balearic Islands andCorsica, where he raided the coastal settlements, before landing his troops near Pisa in Italy. From Pisa he once again went to Andalucia and in several occasions between 1490 and 1492 transported theMuslims and Jews who wished to escape Spain to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire which welcomed them. The Muslims and Jews of Spain contributed much to the rising power of the Ottoman Empire by introducing new ideas, methods and craftsmanship. Kemal Reis continued to land his troops in Andalucia and tried to stop the Spanish advance by bombarding the ports of Elche, Almeria and Malaga.
In 1495 Kemal Reis was made an admiral of the Ottoman Navy by Sultan Bayezid II who ordered the construction of his large flagship, Göke, which could carry 700 soldiers and was armed with the strongest cannons of that period. Two large galleys of this type were built, one for Kemal Reis and the other for Burak Reis. In October 1496, with a force of 5 galleys, 5 fustas, a barque and a smaller ship, Kemal Reis set sail from Constantinople and raided the Gulf of Taranto. In January 1497 he landed atModon and later captured several Venetian ships at the Ionian Sea and transported them, along with their cargo, to Euboea. In March 1497 Sultan Bayezid II appointed him with the task of protecting the ships which carried valuable goods belonging to the religious foundations of Mecca and Medina from the frequent raids of the Knights of St. John who were based in the island of Rhodes at that time (in 1522 the Ottomans captured Rhodes and allowed the Knights of St. John to peacefully leave the island, who first relocated their base to Sicily and later to Malta in 1530.) Kemal Reis set sail towards Rhodes with a force of 2 barques and 3 fustas, and captured a barque of the knights near Montestrato. He later landed at Stalimene (Lemnos) and from there sailed towards Tenedos (Bozcaada) and returned to Constantinople. In June 1497 he was given two more large galleys and in July 1497 he made the island ofChios his base for operations in the Aegean Sea against the Venetians and the Knights of St. John. In April 1498, commanding a fleet of 6 galleys, 12 fustas with large cannons, 4 barques and 4 smaller types of ships, he set sail from the Dardanelles and headed south towards the Aegean islands that were controlled by the Republic of Venice. In June 1498 he appeared in the island of Paros and later sailed towards Crete where he landed his troops at Sitia and captured the town along with the nearby villages before sending his scout forces to examine the characteristics of the nearby Venetian castle. In July 1498 he sailed to Rosetta (Rashid) in Egypt with a force of 5 galleys, 6 fustas and 2 barques for transporting 300 Muslim pilgrims heading for Mecca, who also had with them 400,000 gold ducats which were sent to the Mamluk sultan by Bayezid II. Near the port of Abu Kabir he captured 2Portuguese ships (one galleon and one barque) after fierce fighting which lasted 2 days. From there Kemal Reis sailed towards Santorini and captured a Venetian barque, before capturing another Portuguese ship in the Aegean Sea.
In January 1499 Kemal Reis set sail from Constantinople with a force of 10 galleys and 4 other types of ships, and in July 1499 met with the huge Ottoman fleet which was sent to him by Davud Pasha and took over its command in order to wage a large scale war against theRepublic of Venice. The Ottoman fleet consisted of 67 galleys, 20 galliots and circa 200 smaller vessels. In August 1499 Kemal Reis defeated the Venetian fleet under the command of Antonio Grimani at the Battle of Zonchio which is also known as the Battle of Sapienza of 1499 or the First Battle of Lepanto and was a part of the Ottoman-Venetian Wars of 1499-1503. It was the first naval battle in history with cannons used on ships, and took place on four separate days: on August 12, 20, 22 and 25, 1499. After reaching the Ionian Sea with the large Ottoman fleet, Kemal Reis encountered the Venetian fleet of 47 galleys, 17 galliots and circa 100 smaller vessels under the command of Antonio Grimani near Cape Zonchio and won an important victory. During the battle Kemal Reis sank the galley of Andrea Loredan, a member of the influential Loredan family of Venice. Antonio Grimani was arrested on September 29 but was eventually released. Grimani later became the Doge of Venice in 1521. The Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II gifted 10 of the captured Venetian galleys to Kemal Reis, who stationed his fleet at the island of Cefalonia between October and December, 1499.
In December 1499 the Venetians attacked Lepanto with the hope of regaining their lost territories in the Ionian Sea. Kemal Reis set sail from Cefalonia and retook Lepanto from the Venetians. He stayed in Lepanto between April and May 1500, where his ships were repaired by an army of 15,000 Ottoman craftsmen brought from the area. From there Kemal Reis set sail and bombarded the Venetian ports on the island of Corfu, and in August 1500 he once again defeated the Venetian fleet at theBattle of Modon which is also known as the Second Battle of Lepanto. Kemal Reis bombarded the fortress of Modon from the sea and captured the town. He later engaged with the Venetian fleet off the coast of Coron and captured the town along with a Venetian brigantine. From there Kemal Reis sailed towards the Island of Sapientza (Sapienza) and sank the Venetian galley "Lezza". In September 1500 Kemal Reis assaulted Voiussa and in October he appeared at Cape Santa Maria on the Island of Lefkada before ending the campaign and returning to Istanbul in November. With the Battle of Modon, the Ottoman fleet and army quickly overwhelmed most of the Venetian possessions in Greece. Modon and Coron, the "two eyes of the Republic", were lost. Ottoman cavalry raids reached Venetian territory in northern Italy, and, in 1503, Venice again had to seek peace, recognizing the Ottoman's gains.
In January 1501 Kemal Reis set sail from Constantinople with a fleet of 36 galleys and fustas. In February 1501 he landed at the Island of Euboea and at Nafplion before heading towardsCorfu in March and from there to the Tyrrhenian Sea where he captured the Island of Pianosa along with many prisoners. In April 1501 with a fleet of 60 ships he landed at Nafplion andMonemvasia, causing the Venetian regional commander based at Corfu to call back the Venetian ships heading towards Lebanon and the Levant in order to strengthen the defenses of the Repubblica Serenissima's remaining strongholds on Morea. In May 1501, with a force of 8 galliots and 13 fustas, he escorted the cargo ships carrying construction material for strengthening the Ottoman fortresses on the islands of Chios and Tinos, where he captured the galley of Girolamo Pisani, the local Venetian commander, including the official standard of San Marco (St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice) along with another Venetian galley named "Basadonna". From there he sailed to the port of Zonchio, near Navarino, with a force of 5 galliots and 14 fustas. The Ottoman forces landed there and captured the Venetian castle and the nearby settlements after a siege which lasted less than 10 hours. Kemal Reis also captured 3 Venetian galleys, a Venetian caravelle and several other local ships which were docked at the port of Zonchio. He took these ships first to Modon and later to the Island ofAegina, before sailing towards Euboea. He later captured Navarino from the Venetians, adding another important port to the Ottoman Empire. In June 1501 Kemal Reis sailed to theAdriatic Sea and strengthened the Ottoman defenses at Voiussa and Vlorë.
Final missions and death
Still in 1509 Kemal Reis sailed to the Tyrrhenian Sea and landed at the coasts of Liguria. He continued operating in the West Mediterranean for some time, until returning to Gallipoli. In September 1510 he set sail from Gallipoli with 2 galleys, 1 galliot and several fustas, and joined the Ottoman fleet of cargo ships in Constantinople which were heading to Alexandria and carried wood for building ships, sets of oars and cannons that were sent to the Mamluks for their fight against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. The cargo fleet that Kemal Reis was to escort amounted to a total of 40 ships, 8 of which were galleys.
In early 1511, after passing the lands of the Duchy of Naxos and being sighted for the last time in December 1510, 27 ships of the Ottoman cargo fleet were wrecked by a severe storm in the Mediterranean Sea, including the ship of Kemal Reis, who died with his men.