Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Ottoman Empire - Suleiman the Lawgiver

Campaigning in Europe

Hearing of Suleiman’s support for his rival; Ferdinand sent his envoy to Istanbul, where he demanded the return of all territories captured by the Ottomans. The envoy was imprisoned for nine months before being returned to his master with a message from Suleiman.
‘Your master has yet to experience what I am like as a friend and a neighbour – but he soon will. Tell him that I will come to find him in full force and I think I will be able to return to him with my own hands what he lays claim to. He should get everything ready to receive us.’[i]
On the 10th May 1529 Suleiman set out on his third foray into eastern Europe. He met with John Zapolya at Mohacs and then travelled on to Buda, which was filled with Ferdinand’s supporters. After a six day siege Buda was again in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The Janissaries were not allowed to sack the town; instead they carried off huge numbers of slaves. The following week John Zapolya was installed as king of Hungary, a vassal of the Ottoman Empire.

Suleiman now set his sights on Vienna and on 27th September 1529 the Ottoman army arrived before the gates of the city. The delay in arrival meant that the siege was abandoned with the onset of winter.
The Sultan’s Personal Life

Suleiman had two intimates, his Grand Vizier Ibrahim and his wife Hurrem Sultana[ii] a slave of Ruthenian origin. Roxelana bore Suleiman four sons. On her arrival in the seraglio Roxelana had a cat fight with Gulbahar, the Chief Sultana and the mother of Suleiman’s son Mustafa. After the fight Suleiman was no longer intimate with Gulbahar.

Following a fire in the Old Seraglio Roxelana moved bag and baggage into rooms in the Topkapi, ending the separation of the Harem and the state, with disastrous long-term consequences for the future of the empire[iii].
‘A most extraordinary event took place this week in the town, absolutely unprecedented in the reign of the sultans. The Great Lord Suleiman has taken for his empress a woman called Roxelane, of Russian origin, amid much rejoicing………………everybody is talking about the marriage, but nobody is sure what it means’[iv]

Roxelana’s influence started long before her wedding and continued to her death. She was a jealous woman and resented Ibrahim’s influence on her husband and she also resented her sons’ half brother Mustafa. Roxelana received gifts from foreign ambassadors and leading dignitaries of the empire, many of whom owed their appointments to her intercession.
In 1530 the Doge of Venice was invited to attend the festivities for the circumcision of Suleiman’s sons Mustafa, Selim and Mehmed. The Doge refused on account of his age, but sent an envoy extraordinary as well as the Venetian Ambassador. The celebrations went on for fourteen days and were possibly the greatest example of conspicuous consumption in the Empire’s history.

Reforms in Law, Religion and Education

Suleymaniye Mosque
As a religious man Suleiman upheld the belief that a ruler’s first duty was to protect his subjects against the abuses of his representatives. He was also the defender of Holy Law. Even Christians agreed that Suleiman had an elevated sense of justice.
Suleiman and his staff, including the Chief Ulema, worked to provide the empire with a new codification of the Islamic laws; that would be workable in three continents. The empire had expanded well beyond its original borders and the likelihood of most of Suleiman’s subjects being able to bring their complaints direct to their Sultan was now remote. Each province was considered individually and the laws tailored to suit each one. This was done in conjunction with the Ulema to ensure that the new legislation did not transgress the original Sacred Law.

One European visitor was astounded by the functioning of justice and the access that all citizens had to the law.
‘The Christian and the Jew are as free as the Turk to put forward the least complaint, without needing the eloquence of a lawyer to defend the truth……Being far less partisan, the administration of justice is also carried out more honestly.’[v]
Laws were passed relating specifically to Christian and Jewish subjects and a criminal codex was created. Many of the punishments were lighter than those handed out prior to the new legislation. Taxation was also diversified and widened; bachelors were taxed and there was a tax upon marriage.

‘No-one can exact taxes greater than those officially decided upon, nor forced labour and fines that have not been fixed by law.’[vi]
Suleiman’s reforms were hampered by the narrow field of advisers he relied upon. The decentralisation granted in his legislation in time led to official corruption in the provinces, allowing extortion and venality; another cause of the eventual implosion of the Ottoman Empire.

Suleiman confirmed the powers and privileges of the head of the Ulema, making him almost the equal of the Grand Vizier. The Ulema and judges were given freedom from confiscation of property and taxation, allowing the passing on of an inheritance from father to son, creating a hereditary class drawn from the legal and educational professions; a hereditary class that was to cause problems in the future.
Suleiman founded a number of schools and colleges and developed the educational system of the Ulema. Muslim boys were provided with a mostly free education. Those with ability could progress from primary school to attend colleges, built in the precincts of the eight principal mosques of Istanbul.

War in Europe
On 25th April 1532 Suleiman and his army set forth once again for Hungary en route for Vienna. Charles V, emboldened by the peace of Augsberg[vii], sent troops of the Holy Roman Empire to defend Vienna. The siege of Guns[viii] was fought bitterly; 800 defenders against the might of the Ottoman army; they did delay Suleiman. Charles V was in Vienna, awaiting the arrival of Suleiman, who instead turned towards Styria. Suleiman’s army ravaged Styria throughout September and met up with Ibrahim’s army in Belgrade.

Suleiman returned to Istanbul to receive bad news; the fortress of Koron in Morea[ix] had been taken by Admiral Andrea Doria, Charles V’s admiral. Doria then took Patras and the two fortresses guarding the Gulf of Corinth. Charles was determined to ensure Spain’s safety by domination of the Mediterranean; he was also interested in another crusade against the infidel Muslims.

Suleiman the Magnificent – AndrĂ© Clot, Saqui Books 2012
Lord of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998

The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1997
The Ottoman Empire – Patrick Kinross, Folio Society 2003

The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1991

[i] Suleiman the Magnificent - Clot
[ii] Known in Europe as Roxelana (the red-head).
[iii] Enabling the rule by favourites, rather than officials
[iv] Suleiman the Magnificent - Clot
[v] Ibid
[vi] Ibid
[vii] Which temporarily withdrew the demands that German Protestants rejoin the Catholic Church.
[viii] Koszeg circa 100km from Vienna
[ix] The Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece

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