Though there is no exact information about his birth date, Piri Reis was born between 1465 – 1470 in a small coastal town called Gallipoli known as the Turkish naval base at that time. His father was called Hadji Mehmet. The father named his child Muhiddin Piri.

Piri’s uncle, Kemal Reis was a famous sailor and later became one of the Mediterranean admirals of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish historian İbn Kemal used these words to describe the children born in Gallipoli during these years ‘All born in Gallipoli grow up in water like crocodiles. Their cradles are boats. Day and night they sleep at the sounds of ships like a lullaby.’ The future great sailor, Muhiddin Piri, lived in this small coastal town Gallipoli till he was eleven years old. He was educated just like other Turkish children of that age in the family according to traditions. He learnt however, how to read and write unlike other children. Afterwards, he took the first step into sailing on his uncle’s ships.

Sailing is a profession which firstly requires one to be physically and mentally strong and is gained as a result of long period of hard work and experience and it has its own rules. Piri worked on his uncle’s ship for 14 years and acquired the necessary knowledge and skills. Along with engaging in piracy, he served the Ottoman Empire. We learn this information from his book, ‘Kitab-ı Bahriye (The Book of Navigation)’ that he wrote later.

In this book Piri describes in his own style the places he sailed and the historic events. His uncle Kemal Reis engaged his first fourteen years in piracy as this period forced him to do. In !486s the Muslims in Granada, Spain demanded support from Tunisia, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, Kemal Reis, still a pirate, took these Muslims to Africa by his ship. Between the years of 1487-1493 Piri worked with Kemal Reis and conducted many studies on the seas. He battled against the other pirates on the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea, defeated them, and seized their ships. They used this area as a refuge in the winter. Piri also took notes about the islands and places in the areas he had been to. As we learn from ‘Kitab-ı Bahriye’, he made use of Colombus’ map of America made between the years of 1494 and 1496.

At that time, the son of Mehmed the Conqueror, Beyazıd II ruled the Ottoman Empire. Upon the death of his brother, Sultan Cem, he had no rival and focused on conquest and annexation. To that end, he put all the Turkish pirate ships under the control of the state to strenghten the naval and land forces. He invited Kemal Reis and his levents (sailors) for this purpose and Kemal Reis began his service to the empire in 1494 with the naval force he established.

During the naval warfares that broke out between 1499 and 1502, Piri gained fame. Kemal Reis was the commander of the fleet belonging to Davut Pasha, who was the chief admiral then. Piri was the commander of the battleship. The service and accomplishments of Piri Reis stood out at that time. Kemal Reis died in 1511 onboard his ship after a maritime disaster, the cause of which was unknown, Piri was not on the ship. After his death, Piri lost his greatest support. He learned everything about sailing and seas from his uncle and consequently, he became one of the most imminent sailors of his time. This unexpected and tragic death of his uncle affected him deeply. He took some time off and turned back to Gallipoli .This made it possible for him to stop working as a sailor and encouraged him to draw ‘The World Map’, his first work which immortalized him as a sailor and scholar. ‘Kitab-ı Bahriye’ (The Book of Navigation), which was the compilation of the notes he took before, is a significant guide for sailors.

During the Egyptian campaign of Selim I between 1516-1517, the Ottoman fleet was under the command of Cafer Bey and Piri Reis served as a commander of the naval force. After leaving the naval force which conquered Alexandaria, he went to Cairo by a fleet up the Nile and he drew the maps of these places and gave detailed geographical information about the places mentioned.

When Egypt was annexed to the Ottoman Empire, in 1517 Selim I went to Alexandria by a fleet and Piri got the opportunity to meet him in person. Piri presented his world map to the sultan. After the Egyptian campaign, he turned back to Gallipoli and continued his scientific studies there.

In 1520 Suleiman the Magnificient ascended to the throne after the death of his father, Selim I. During his rule, it was the period of great conquests. Piri was part of the crew on the fleet that conquered Rhodes Island. The sultan ordered Piri to accompany the grand vizier Ibrahim to Egytp. The fleet had to take a shelter in Rhodes Island upon a storm hitting it. This made it possible for Ibrahim to get to know Piri better. He suggested Piri to compile his studies in a book as he did understand the importance of this work. Piri improved his studies in Gallipoli and presented them to Suleiman the Magnificent through his Granz Vizier Ibrahim.

Piri continued his official duties. He served as a governor, as an admiral of the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf and carried out many more responsibilities as a sailor.

The second Egyptian campaign in 1552 brought detrimental changes in his life.. The final destination of the battle was Basra. Piri returned however, to Egypt with the ships carrying gold and jewels, for ships to be repaired and the soldiers to rest, leaving the main navy in Basra. Due to the attitude of the governor of Basra, Kubat Pasha and the governor of Egypt Mehmet Pasha, Piri was imprisoned as a result of his decision. The complaints made to the sultan about this situation caused Piri Reis to be beheaded in 1554 when he was about 80 years old.

Piri Reis was among the most important scientists of his time in sailing. It was clear that he knew Greek, Italian, Spanish, and even Portuguese besides his native language. While drawing his world map, he benefited from the resources written in these languages.


Kitab-ı Bahriye (The Book of Navigation)’ (The Guide for Aegean and Mediterranean Sea): Piri Reis had the chance to go on expeditions on Agean , Adriactic , Italian, French, Spanish and Tunisian ports at different times. He gave detailed geographical and naval information about these places. ‘The Book of Navigation (Kitab-ı Bahriye)’ was written between 1521-1525. The copies of the book are available in private and public libraries in Istanbul, Berlin, Dresden, Bologna, Paris, Vienna and London.

The first World Map of Piri Reis was created in 1513 and the second one made in 1528, was drawn colorfully on parchment and today we still have access to the original and copied versions.

Prepared by:

Dr. Nuri OLUR

Ataturk Principles and Revolution Histroy Academician

Resource :
Prof. Dr. Afet İNAN , Piri Reis’ in Amerika Haritası (Piri Reis Map of America)