The Pioneering Turkish Sailor Emir Çaka Bey

In 1071, the Oguz Turks began to settle in Anatolia led by the Seljuk’s Sultan Alparslan. The territories of the first Turkish principalities were extended to the coasts of the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara. In the beginning, these rough seas was a terrifying and bewildering sight for those Turks who had come from Central Asia, a region largely covered by steppes. However, within a short time they became accustomed to the seas and started to find a place for themselves on the blue waters.

Emir Çaka Bey was the first pioneer, who introduced the maritime environment to the Turks. He was one of the most courageous raiders of the Seljuk’s Army, but was captured by the Byzantine Empire in 1078 when the Turks were marching towards the West. He was sent to İstanbul as a prisoner of war.

Emir Çaka Bey managed to escape from İstanbul by taking advantage of the confusion which emerged during the dethroning of the Byzantine Emperor in 1081. Subsequently, he gathered his men and captured İzmir, Urla, Çeşme, and Foça in Western Anatolia and finally, he established a unique principality in that region.

Çaka Bey constructed a shipbuilding facility, a kind of shipyard, deemed very modern for that era. The region around this facility developed to become a naval base. After this phase, ship-constructing activities commenced and the first Turkish Fleet of 50 sailing boats and rowboats was built in 1081. That year is extremely important in the history of the Turkish Navy, since it has been regarded as the foundation year of the Turkish Naval Forces. In the same year, Emir Çaka Bey sailed into the warm waters of the Aegean Sea with the first Turkish Fleet. That was not an ordinary voyage; it was the beginning of the story of the Turkish Navy, which has an illustrious and glorious history. That voyage was the precursor of the marriage of the Turkish Navy with the Mediterranean and its powerful presence in the seas as a major player. The first Turkish Fleet conquered Lesbos and Chios Islands in 1089 and in 1090, respectively.

On 10 May 1090, Çaka Bey’s Fleet confronted the Byzantine Fleet off the coast of the Koyun Islands in the Central Aegean Sea. That there would be a battle was inevitable.

Çaka Bey had motivated himself for this day during his imprisonment in İstanbul: he saw that the sea was the embodiment of his ingenuity. He commanded his fleet of 33 sailing boats and 17 rowboats skillfully and he probed repeatedly at the weakest points of the enemy. Having suffered heavy losses, the Byzatine Fleet was forced to withdraw.

Thanks to the first Turkish Admiral Emir Çaka Bey, the Turks were honored by this first maritime victory and from then on, they commenced to assert a powerful presence on the seas with great hope and trust. After this victory, Emir Çaka Bey broadened his control zone in the seas and approached Çanakkale with his fleet. The method that the Byzantine Empire used to stop Emir Çaka Bey was redundant: to incite the Seljuk Sultan of Anatolia, Kılıç Arslan, to challenge Emir Çaka Bey.

The sudden death of Emir Çaka Bey slowed down the development of the Turkish Maritime. Çaka Bey was not only a skilled admiral, but also a maritime intellectual. Because of this decrease in Turkish maritime activities, may be the Conquest of İstanbul was delayed almost for 350 years.

The Turkish settlement in Anatolia incited the movements against the Turks and the Muslims in particular, which led the formation of the Crusader Army. During the period of intensive Crusades starting from 1096 in Anatolia, the Turks were kept under pressure. For this reason, they had to settle in Central Anatolia; also, they had to protect themselves against the Mongol invasions.

Alanya Shipyard Constructed by the Seljuk Sultan of Anatolia, Alaeddin Keykubat I (1220)

This sequence of events remarkably hindered the sea-oriented activities of the Seljuk Sultanate of Anatolia. Maritime activities were limited to a few ship construction and maintenance facilities in Sinop, Antalya, and Alanya. However, in this period, the Seljuk Sultan of Anatolia, Alaeddin Keykubat I, who was reputed to be "The Sultan of the Two Seas ", set up fleets with the ships constructed at the Alanya and Sinop Shipyards. The Alanya shipyard was considered to be the first organized shipyard constructed by the Turks. Alaeddin Keykubat I struggled against the Byzantines on the seas and even captured some ports on the coast of the Sea of Azov. In 1308, after the collapse of the Seljuk Sultanate of Anatolia, as a result of Mongol invasions, frontier principalities were established, particularly in the Western Anatolia.


The frontier principalities of Karesi, Saruhan, Aydın, Menteshe and Candarids accelerated the development process of Turkish Maritime History, which had been at a standstill after the passing of Çaka Bey. The principality of Karesi (1302-1361) was founded in Balıkesir and attached a particular importance to maritime. They constructed a shipyard in Edincik on the coast of the Sea of Marmara and the ships built in that shipyard threatened the operational efficiency of the Byzantine Navy in both the Northern Aegean and the Sea of Marmara. The Ottomans later annexed the principality of Karesi and this fleet became the core of the Ottoman Navy.

The principality of Aydın (1300-1403) made significant progress in maritime issues especially in the period of Umur Bey. The principality of Saruhan (1313-1390) was founded in Manisa and continually provided support to Umur Bey’s maritime activities. In particular, Süleyman Bey, by providing ships, bases and maintenance facilities, contributed remarkably to Umur Bey’s fleet.

Umur Bey, the Chieftain of the Principality of Aydın

In parallel with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, the principalities in Anatolia had lost their authority and, during the period of Mehmet II the Conqueror (1451-1481), all were annexed by the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire benefited from the experiences, facilities, shipyards and harbors of these principalities. The Ottoman Navy, which had played an important role in the rise of the Ottomans, acquired a strategic dimension by adding firearms to its inventory during the reign of Mehmet II the Conquer.

The maritime knowledge and the experiences of the principalities was the core of the foundation of the Ottoman Navy, which would, later, dominate the Mediterranean.