Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Ottoman Empire - Suleiman, the Tenth Ottoman Sultan

The young Suleiman
In the early autumn of 1520 a Venetian envoy wrote:

‘He is twenty-five years of age, tall, but wiry, and of a delicate complexion. His neck is a little too long, his face thin, and his nose aquiline. He has a shadow of a moustache and a small beard; nevertheless he has a pleasant mien, though his skin tends to pallor. He is said to be a wise Lord, fond of study, and all men hope for good from his rule.’[i]
He was speaking of the new Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, Suleiman 1, son of Selim 1, who had died on 2nd September. Suleiman was to rule the Ottoman Empire until his death in September 1566.

Suleiman was born 6th November 1494 in the city of Trebizond on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia; one of the sons of Prince Selim. His mother was the 17 year old Hafsa Hatun; possibly one of the daughters of the khan of the Crimean Tartars. At the time of Suleiman’s birth Prince Selim, son of Bayezid II[ii], was governor of the province.

Suleiman was educated in the Topkapi palace school of Istanbul, where he was taught science, history, literature, religion and military tactics. Suleiman had a gift for languages and was taught goldsmithing, following the Ottoman practise of teaching princes to work with their hands. At 15 his grandfather Bayezid II made Suleiman governor of Karahisir, but his uncle Ahmed objected[iii] and eventually in August 1509 Suleiman left for Kaffa, where he was to stay three years.

During the last three years of Bayezid’s reign his throne was contested by his five sons. Ahmed, the eldest, and Korkud had a troubled relationship with the Janissaries[iv]. Following the deaths of two of the brothers Ahmed, Selim and Korkud were left to fight it out. It took three years, during which Korkud in Asia and Selim in Europe[v] revolted against their father and then Ahmed rose in rebellion too.
The Janissaries ‘persuaded’ Bayezid to abdicate and he left for retirement in Demotika, but failed to arrive there having died en route[vi]. Once Sultan Selim had Korkud and his deceased brother’s families strangled. He then defeated Ahmed in battle and again Ahmed and his family garotted.

Selim I
In 1511 Suleiman given the governorship of Istanbul and in 1512 was then sent to govern Sarukhan, where his main task was to be a scourge of the bandits in the region. He was also safely out of the way of his father’s notorious temper. Selim died suddenly during a journey from Istanbul to Edirne.
Suleiman was by this point Selim’s sole surviving son[vii] and his accession to the Ottoman throne was therefore unchallenged. As custom demanded Suleiman’s first act as Sultan was to make an accession gift to the Janissaries. The courtiers who supported him were recompensed and other military received gifts and pay rises.

As the tenth Ottoman Sultan Suleiman was viewed in Muslim eyes as the living incarnation of the ‘blessed number ten.’ Suleiman, whose religious convictions were sincere and unfanatical, was inclined to prove his worth as a warrior, attempting in the west what his father had achieved in the east[viii]. Suleiman also determined that his reign was to be one of peace; a message that was welcomed by his subjects, weary of the internal violence of Selim’s eight year reign.

The Mamluk Sultan of Egypt had been betrayed by one of his emirs, Ghazali who had been made Governor of Syria by Selim. With Suleiman’s accession to the throne Ghazali decided that the time was ripe for rebellion. He occupied Damascus, Beirut, Tripoli and the coast and then proposed to Hayra Bey, Governor of Egypt that he join the rebellion. Hayra Bey suggested to Ghazali that he lay siege to Aleppo and that he would send troops to assist the siege. Ghazali did as suggested, but Hayra Bey informed Suleiman of Ghazali’s plans.
Ghazali besieged Aleppo for six weeks, until an army arrived from Istanbul under the command of Ferhad Pasha. Ghazali lifted the siege and retired to Damascus with his troops. Having proclaimed himself sultan, the heavily outnumbered Ghazali was defeated by Ferhad, who was rewarded with the Governorship of Syria.


Charles V Holy Roman Emperor
In the west the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was at loggerheads with his rival Francois I of France, whom he had defeated in the contest for the imperial crown[ix]. The two countries were engaged in border disputes in northern Italy and France threatened the empire’s contacts with the Mediterranean, dividing the German possessions from the Hapsburg Spanish dominions. Disputes among the Christian Europeans meant that the Ottoman Sultans were viewed as potential allies as often as they were viewed as enemies.
Suleiman held the balance of power in Europe for much of his reign. The Ottoman Empire developed an intelligence service, using the Venetians amongst others as informants. Suleiman had studied European politics during his period as governor and was well aware that Charles V was pressuring for a crusade, believing that it was his duty as a Christian to unite the rulers of Europe against the infidel. He dreamed of retaking Constantinople for the west.

Francois I of France
Francois I had initially also preached for a crusade against the Turks, but the advantages of support from the Ottomans against a mutual enemy became more obvious. Francois attempted to hide his sacrilegious pact from his fellow European rulers. Suleiman subsidised the high spending Francois’s treasury.
‘In 1533 a sum of one hundred thousand gold pieces helped him [Francois] form a coalition against Charles V, with England and the German princes. Two years later Francois requested a subsidy of a million ducats.’[x]

In 1520 an Ottoman envoy, sent to demand the annual tribute[xi], was murdered by the Hungarians. The horse-tailed banners, signifying supreme power were displayed in the Imperial Palace, and six weeks later on 6th February 1521 Suleiman and his army departed for Belgrade.  
Piri Pasha had been encamped before Belgrade for several weeks before Suleiman arrived with the bulk of the army. The assaults on the city continued for three weeks before Suleiman ordered the destruction of the largest tower of the city’s defences. Religious hatred between Catholics and Orthodox led to the surrender of the Serbian defenders, while most of the remaining Hungarians were massacred. The main church was turned into a mosque and the fears of European rulers looked more plausible.

Thirty years later Ghiselin de Busbecq wrote
‘The capture of Belgrade was at the origin of the dramatic events which engulfed Hungary. It led to the death of King Louis, the capture of Buda, the occupation of Transylvania, the ruin of a flourishing kingdom and the fear of neighbouring nations that they would suffer the same fate.’[xii]

Suleiman the Magnificent – André 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] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[ii] Who he had usurped
[iii] Possibly attempting to keep the route to Istanbul in friendly hands, in the event of Bayezid’s death
[iv] Slave troops, captured in childhood and trained to serve as an elite corps, numbering about 10,000 in the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror.
[v] With the assistance of the Crimean Tartars
[vi] Possibly with the assistance of poison
[vii] One Turkish historian posits that Selim had three other sons, who were killed on 20th November 1514 – Clot p316 note 4.
[viii] Selim conquered the Safavid Empire and the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt
[ix] Suleiman was aware that Charles had borrowed staggering amounts of money from the Fugger bank to finance his victory.
[x] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[xi] In return for the renewal of the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary
[xii] Suleiman the Magnificent - Clot

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