War in the Mediterranean
In retaliation to the exploits of Admiral Doria in Greece and in opposition to Charles V’s ambitions in the Mediterranean Suleiman appointed Khair ad-Din, better known as Barbarossa, as the admiral of his fleet.Barbarossa exploited the raiding talents of the Turkish corsairs[i]. He was an advocate of working with France to suppress Spanish naval ambitions in the Mediterranean. In 1536 a Turco-French treaty was signed, with secret mutual defence clauses. François 1 hoped that the Turks would be able to assist in his fight for territory in northern Italy.
In 1534 Barbarossa sailed out with his fleet to ravage the coast of Italy and then on to Tunis; on his arrival such was the power of his name that the ruler, Muley Hassan, fled. Strategically important Tunisia was annexed to the Ottoman Empire. Charles V sent an envoy to Tunis, almost immediately, with instructions to raise a revolt, with the support of the deposed ruler, against the Turks. The plot was uncovered and Charles’ agent was put to death.In the summer of 1535 a Spanish fleet, under the command of Doria, landed at Carthage. They besieged the fortress that guarded the entrance to Tunis harbour and after 24 days the walls were breached. Barbarossa prepared to defend the city, but was hampered by the break-out of thousands of Christian prisoners, who captured the arsenal. Barbarossa fled as Muley Hassan was reinstated as ruler.
Barbarossa fled to Bone, on the coast, where his reserve fleet awaited. After reinforcing the fleet Barbarossa attacked the Balearic Islands. Flying Spanish and Italian flags the fleet sacked Mago[ii], carrying off captives and treasures to Algiers.
In 1536 Suleiman instructed Barbarossa to build a new fleet of 200 ships, which sailed the following year to attack Italy; in association with an army sent from Albania under Suleiman’s command. The plan counted on the intervention in the north by François, but unfortunately the French king had decided that for the present a truce with the Holy Roman Empire was more advantageous for his country.Instead of the planned convergence of army and navy Barbarossa attacked the Venetian islands in the eastern Mediterranean, who had been annoyed by the preferential treatment given to the French in trade matters. Barbarossa returned to Istanbul loaded with treasure to lay at Suleiman’s feet.
‘The Pasha dressed two hundred boys in scarlet, nearing in their hands flasks and goblets of gold and silver. Behind them followed thirty others, each carrying on his shoulders a purse of gold; after these came two hundred men, each carrying a purse of money; and lastly two hundred infidels wearing collars, each bearing a roll of cloth on his back.’[iii]In 1538 the fleet under Barbarossa defeated a crusader fleet commanded by Doria at Preveza. The stand-off between Doria and Barbarossa was to continue for many years. In 1541 Charles V took advantage of Barbarossa’s absence in Istanbul to attack Algiers. The attack was foiled by a hurricane. In 1543 Barbarossa was sent to attack Sicily and the western coast of Italy. When the fleet reached the French Mediterranean coast they were allowed to use Toulon as their naval headquarters.
War with the SafavidWhen Shah Tahmasp of Persia ascended to the Safavid throne in 1524 Suleiman wrote a revealing letter
‘If there still remained a spark of honour and ardour in a personality corrupted by error, you would long ago have vanished. I have decided to bear arms to Tabriz and into Azerbaijan and to pitch tent in Iran and Turan, in Samarkand and Khorosan.’[iv]
It was not until 1532 that Suleiman was finally able to turn his attention to the irritant in Baghdad. The divide between the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam was bitter and Sunni Moslems were persecuted within the boundaries of the Safavid Empire. As Suleiman saw himself as a protector of Islam his duty must have seemed clear to him. And there was reason to act.The Bey of Bitlis[v] placed his territory under the protection of the Shah. In a counter-action the governor of Baghdad sent the keys of the city to Suleiman, but was then assassinated. Suleiman believed that, as possessor of the keys, he was the ruler of Baghdad. After the assassination Tahmasp had retaken the city but this action was seen in Istanbul as dragging the city back down into the Shiite heresy.
In the autumn of 1533 Ibrahim took an army to annex Azerbaijan, en route he was sent the head of the former Bey of Bitlis. Several fortresses surrendered and Ibrahim then spent the winter at Aleppo. In the spring the army marched on Baghdad and Ibrahim entered the capital of the Safavid Empire on 16th July 1534. The city was a shadow of its former self. In 1437 one writer commented
‘Baghdad is in ruins. There are neither mosques, a faithful congregation, call to prayer nor souks; most of the palm trees are dried out. It cannot be called a town.’[vi]The Turkish system of administration was set up in Mesopotamia. Janissaries and Sipahis were garrisoned and a governor installed.
In 1535 Suleiman led his army against Tahmasp in Tabriz[vii]. The Safavid Emperor retreated into the hills; while Suleiman took possession of the town but left after two weeks. The campaign although glorious, was costly in terms of men and mounts; circa 30,000 men died[viii]. Suleiman returned to Istanbul in January 1536, his army having suffered guerrilla attacks from the Persians throughout the return journey.In 1538 the Emir of Basra submitted to the Ottomans, who were now masters of the Persian Gulf as well as the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Renewal of the war in Europe saw a Safavid counter attack and Suleiman’s army marched against Iran. The war was finally resolved by treaty on 29th May 1555, whereby Baghdad was to remain in Ottoman hands.
Death of Ibrahim
Francois 1 with Suleiman
By the beginning of 1536 Suleiman and Ibrahim were back in Istanbul. On 18th February Ibrahim signed, in Suleiman’s name, the treaty with France. Less than a month later he was dead, garrotted in his bedroom in the Topkapi Palace. Ibrahim had fought for his life, evidenced by the bloodstains and torn clothing.The job of Grand Vizier had always ensured a high mortality rate for its holders. Suleiman was aware of Ibrahim’s arrogance and his boasting of his usurpation of his master’s authority.
‘Although I am the Sultan’s slave, whatever I want is done. On the spur of the moment I can give kingdoms and provinces to anyone I like, and my master will say nothing to stop me. Even if he has ordered something, and I do not want it to happen, it will not happen; and if I command something, and he happens to have commanded the contrary my wishes and not his are obeyed. I can make war and I can grant peace. I can make men rich.’[ix]Ibrahim had already brought about the death of the Minister of Finance, Iskender Chelebi, on charges of misuse of public monies and intrigues against the Sultan. After the minister’s death Suleiman persuaded himself that Iskender was innocent. Before his death Iskender had put pen to paper to accuse the powerful Ibrahim of conspiring against Suleiman.
It is believed that Roxelana, jealous of his influence, intrigued against Ibrahim and it was during 1536 that the Seraglio was moved into the Topkapi at Roxelana’s request. This move increased the influence of those living in the Seraglio. Suleiman’s mother, a protector of Ibrahim, had died the previous year and Roxelana may have used her access to the Sultan to poison Suleiman’s mind against his Grand Vizier.As a slave all Ibrahim’s possessions reverted to his master on his death.
In 1540 John Zapolya, Suleiman’s choice for king of Hungary, died; and Ferdinand marched into Hungary, with as many troops as he could raise on short notice. Zapolya and Ferdinand had recently concluded a secret treaty allowing Ferdinand to take the kingdom in the event of Zapolya dying without issue. Hearing of the treaty Suleiman commented
‘These two kings are unworthy to wear crowns, they are faithless men.’[x]On his deathbed Zapolya was informed of the birth of a son and the new king’s ministers appealed to Suleiman to support the new-born infant, King John Sigismund. Suleiman agreed in return for the payment of tribute.
That winter the Ottoman army prepared its return to Buda. Frederick had been repulsed from the city by Stephen’s adherent, a monk named Martinuzzi who had previously been his father’s chief adviser. Suleiman entered Buda on 2nd September 1541, having informed John Sigismund’s mother that he was going to annex Hungary. This decision was partly based on the difficulties that John Sigismund would face trying to hold onto his crown faced with an enemy in his prime and bankrolled by Charles V. Buda and its surrounding territory was turned into a Turkish province.Ferdinand sent envoys again demanding the return of Hungary. To which Suleiman’s Grand Vizier replied
‘Do you believe that the Padishah is out of his mind, that he would relinquish what he has won for the third time with his sword?’[xi]In 1543 Suleiman again marched into Hungary and captured Gran. It was fortified as the north-western outpost of the Ottoman Empire. His armies then turned and conquered much of the rest of Hungary which was to remain under Turkish rule for the next 150 years.
The next years saw another campaign in Persia, more land grabs in Hungary and in 1553 Suleiman’s final campaign in Persia following Persian attacks on the Turkish borders. Suleiman’s troops marched across the River Euphrates to take the fight to the enemy. They laid waste to Persian lands, but the Turkish supply lines were over-extended and eventually the two sides agreed a treaty.Bibliography
Suleiman the Magnificent – André Clot, Saqui Books 2012Lord of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998
The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1997The Ottoman Empire – Patrick Kinross, Folio Society 2003
Safavid Iran – Andrew J Newman, IB Tauris & Co Ltd 2006The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1991
[i] He had previously been their chief, with forty ships under his command