Monday, March 25, 2013

Ottoman Sultans

Ottoman Sultans
By Paul Allen

Osman I, Osman Gazi (unkown-1324)
Osman I founded the Imperial Ottoman dynasty, also called the House of Osman. Osman’s Turkish tribe resided in central Anatolia in the fourteenth century. Little is known of Osman’s early life and instead myths and legends have arisen about his origins. However, what little is known of Osman’s early life is he was the son of Ertogrul, a Turkish tribal leader in Anatolia. Osman’s rule could be characterized by his ambitions and expansion of rule in western Anatolia during his reign. The Byzantium subjects in the region had grown tired of Byzantine rule and joined Osman. Byzantine saw the threat Osman posed on the Empire and the Byzantine emperor, Andronikos II Palaiologos, led a Byzantine army to meet Osman. Osman and the Byzantine Emperor met at Bapheus in 1301 and Osman prevailed over the Byzantine army. After Osman’s victory, he claimed control over the surrounding Turkish tribes in western Anatolia. There are not many primary sources on Osman’s reign but many secondary sources from the Byzantines, Ottomans, and other western scholars recorded the events of his reign.[1]
Ohran Gazi (1324-1362)
Ohran succeeded his father Osman I as ruler of the Ottoman Turks. More information and sources have survived on the reign of Ohran than his father. Ohran’s reign can be characterized by the conquest of new territory in Anatolia and Europe for the Ottomans during the mid fourteenth century. Ohran lead the Ottoman armies into the Balkans and the western part of the Byzantine Empire. He established the first Ottoman capital in the city of Bursa in northwestern Anatolia. Ohran conducted numerous raids on the Byzantine Empire and collected treasures and respect. The Byzantines attempted to retaliate to Ohran’s attacks but their army was defeated at Pelekanon in 1329. The Byzantine Emperor was forced to sign a peace treaty with the Ottomans and Ohran took the cities Bithynia, Nicaea, and Nicomedia from Byzantine. The peace between the Ottomans and the Byzantines proved to be unstable and the Byzantine Empire broke into civil war. Ohran took the side of the Byzantine Emperor, John VI Kantakouzenos, and married his daughter Theodora to seal an alliance. With Ohran’s marriage to the Byzantine princess, he gained new territory in the Balkans from the Byzantines. Ohran established ports along the Aegean Sea from conquered lands and established an Ottoman Navy. Ohran died in 1362, leaving a stable and growing empire after his rule. His reign also consisted of the assimilation of Byzantine and Islamic/Turkish culture. His subjects experienced a new society of shared ideas and customs. [2]    
Murad I (1326-1389), (r. 1362-1389)
Murad I became the successor of his father Ohran and served as the first sultan of the Ottoman state. During Murad’s reign he conquered new lands for the Ottomans but some if his territorial gains came by marriage to Christian and Muslim princesses to gain land and vassalage of allies. Murad also offered military fiefs to Christian nobility in the Balkans and gained their allegiance. The first sultan also created new military institutions, most notably the Janissaries that served as the sultan’s personal body guard and would play a large role in Ottoman warfare and politics. Murad conquered territory not only through marriage but also through conquest. He fought the Karamanids, the rival Turkish tribe in Anatolia, and advanced further into Europe. Murad won a great victory at the Battle of Kosovo against his European enemies however he lost his life in the battle. The end of his reign left a more centralized Ottoman state.[3]
Bayezid I, Yildirim (Thunderbolt) (1354-1403), (r. 1389-1402)
Bayezid I succeeded his father Murad I and his mother was a Byzantine princess.[4] Bayezid’s reign could be characterized by constant fighting in the western and eastern parts of the Ottoman state. Bayezid’s first involvement in Ottoman politics consisted of his marriage to a Turkish emir’s daughter to seal a vassalage for his father in Anatolia. He fought against the Karamanids in Anatolia and gained the nickname, Yildirim or “Thunderbolt.” With the death of his father in 1389, Bayezid became the next sultan of the Ottoman state. To eliminate any possible contest to the sultanate, Bayezid had is brothers executed. Bayezid focused on the expansion of the empire in the Balkans and Anatolia, which had been the trend set by former sultans. Bayezid proved to be successful against his Islamic and Christian enemies until he met Timur in eastern Anatolia, who claimed he came from the lineage of the Mongol Khans. Timur proved to be match for Bayezid and captured Bayezid at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. With the capture of the Ottoman sultan and his death while in captivity, the Ottoman state went through a period of decline.[5]
Mehmed I, Mehmed Celebi (Prince Mehmed), Kirisci (Young Lord) (1387-1421) (r. 1413-1421)
After the capture and death of the sultan Bayezid I, his sons contested for the throne between 1402-1413. Mehmed fought his brothers Suleyman and Musa for the throne. Mehmed acquired the support of the Byzantines, Christian nobles, and eastern Anatolian emirates. He defeated his brothers Suleyman and Musa and succeeded his father Bayezid I as sultan in 1413. Mehmed went on to conquer emirates and others that opposed him. He defeated the opposition of the Karamanids but he did not incorporate their lands into the Ottoman state. Mehmed’s successes alarmed the Byzantines and another brother of Mehmed’s, Mustafa, attempted to gain the support of the Balkan lords and challenged Mehmed. Mehmed however defeated his brother and his supporters into submission. Mehmed punished all those that opposed him including a Muslim judge, Sheikh Bedreddin, whom he hung publicly in 1416. In the latter reign of Mehmed, he became ill and sent his two youngest sons to the custody of the Byzantine Emperor. Mehmed promised that the Byzantine Emperor would be paid to upkeep his younger sons. Mehmed I died in 1421, leaving the sultanate to his son Murad II.[6]
Murad II (1404-1451) (r. 1421-1444, 1446-1451)
Murad II succeed his father Mehmed I as the next sultan of the Ottoman state and was born in 1404 in Amasya. Mehmed I sent his son to be the prince-governor of Amasya when he was young and Murad aided his father in the consolidation of the Ottoman state after the fall of his grandfather Bayezid I. When Mehmed I died in 1421, Murad took the sultanate. However, his father’s brother Mustafa resided in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and he claimed to be the successor to Mehmed I. Mustafa left Constantinople and took control in the Balkans. Mustafa attempted to cross into Anatolia to challenge Murad but Murad’s forces repelled Mustafa’s advance. Mustafa retreated and made his way back to the city of Edirne in the Balkans. However, on the outskirts of Edirne, Murad’s supporters hung Mustafa. Murad also faced other challengers such as his younger brother, named Mustafa as well. Murad’s younger brother, Mustafa, also attempted to challenge Murad. Murad defeated his brother and had him executed. Murad fought to keep his holdings in the east and western parts of the Ottoman state. Murad fought against European powers such as Venice and Hungary. Murad made a peace with Hungary in 1444 and abdicated the throne, leaving it to his young son Mehmed II. Murad went into retirement but had to be called back to lead the Ottoman armies against crusading armies threatening the Ottomans. Murad defeated the crusaders and took back to the throne after a Janissary revolt against his son. Murad died in 1451 after his victory over crusaders again at the second Battle of Kosovo.[7]
Mehmed II, Mehmed Fatih (1432-1481) (r. 1444-1446, 1451-1481)
The fourth son of Murad II, Mehmed did not expect to become the next successor to the sultanate. Mehmed was born in Edirne, the Ottoman capital under Murad II. Mehmed in his younger years went to the city of Amasya to be with his oldest half brother, Ahmed Celebi, the governor of Amasya. Another of Mehmed’s brothers also resided in Amasya, Alaeddin Ali. Ahmed Celebi died in 1437 and both Alaeddin and Mehmed became governors in the cities of Amaysa and Manisa. Alaeddin served as Murad’s favorite but he was assassinated in 1443 while fighting against Karaman. Mehmed became the next heir to the sultanate and he went to Edirne to learn the politics of the Ottoman court. Murad ventured to fight crusading armies and Mehmed served as regent in Edirne. After Murad returned, he relinquished the throne and Mehmed took over with the help of his advisors and father’s chief vizier Cadarli Halil Pasha. However, Mehmed’s first rule proved to be tumultuous and his father had to return in 1446 to put down a Janissary revolt and restore order. Mehmed served with his father in his last years as sultan and Murad II died in 1451. Mehmed took control again but it would differ the second time than before.[8]
In Mehmed’s second reign, he attempted to consolidate the Ottoman state, fight or sign treaties with his enemies in the west and east, and focus on conquering the Byzantines. The Ottomans had reduced the Byzantine Empire to Constantinople and its surrounding lands. Mehmed became set on conquering the great city and unifying the Ottoman east and west. The siege began in early 1453 and only lasted 54 days. The Ottomans outnumbered the Byzantine defenders and used cannons to bring down the walls of Constantinople.[9] Mehmed’s men plundered the city for three days before Mehmed entered the city himself as the conqueror.[10] Constantinople became the new Ottoman capital of Istanbul. The Ottomans had become an empire with the conquest of the Byzantines and Mehemd continued to campaign in Europe. He died in 1481 while campaigning in Anatolia but left a legacy of conquest.[11]
Bayezid II (1448-1512) (r. 1481-1512)
                  Bayezid II began his political career in 1456, when his father sent him to Amasya to serve as governor and protect the eastern part of the empire. Bayezid’s brother Cem became the favorite of their father and his Grand Vizier Karamani Mehmed Pasha.[12] After Mehmed died, Karamani wanted Cem to be the successor but the Janissaries killed Karamani. Cem claimed to be sultan in the Balkans but Bayezid defeated him and sent him into exile under the control of European powers. Bayezid’s reign can be described like his ancestors with conquest and war. He fought the Mamluks of Egypt for territory in Anatolia and the Venetians for naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. Bayezid’s two sons fought for control of the throne in Bayezid’s  final years as sultan. Ahmed was Bayzid’s favorite and pick to become the next sultan but his other son Selim pursued the sultanate as well. Bayezid died as his son Selim forcefully took the sultanate from him.[13]
Selim I (1470-1520) (r. 1512-1520)
                  Selim’s rise to power can be characterized by his fight against his father and his brother Ahmed.[14] He ruled as a governor on the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire against the Safavids. Selim gained an advantage with the support of the Janissaries and took the sultanate in 1512 from Bayezid II. The Janissaries did not favor Ahmed and prevented him from entering Istanbul when he attempted to take the sultanate. Selim gained control over Anatolia, conquered the Mamluks in Syria and Egypt, and took control over the holy cities Mecca and Medina. His conquests strengthened the rule of the House of Osman. Selim began plans to expand the Ottoman navy but with his death in 1520, his plans could not be met. With the death of Selim, his son Suleyman took the sultanate and under his rule the Ottoman Empire would experience further expansion and glory.[15]
Suleyman I, the Magnificent, Kanuni, the Lawgiver (1494-1566) (r.1520-1566)
                  Suleyman’s rule can be characterized as the climax of the Ottoman Empire. Suleyman extended the Ottoman Empire to its greatest extent in territory. The Ottomans during Suleyman’s reign warred against the Safavids in the east, the Habsburgs and Hungarians in the west, and conquered the island of Rhodes from the Order of St. John. The early part of Suleyman’s reign can be described mostly by conquest. Suleyman focused more on his European enemies by conquering Hungary and threatening Vienna twice. Suleyman’s attention in the east against the Safavids was not centered on conquest but rather restraining the Safavids from expanding west towards the Ottomans.[16] Suleyman lead 13 campaigns during his lifetime but his rule can also be characterized by social feats as well. Suleyman was known as “the Lawgiver” to his people and most Muslims because he complied the secular laws to coincide with the Shari’a law. Suleyman’s successes cannot be his credit alone but also the work of his advisors and viziers throughout his reign. Suleyman controlled the Holy Cities in Arabia and claimed the title of Caliph because he protected the pilgrimage. Suleyman’s health declined later in his life and died while on a campaign in Hungary when he was 72 years old.[17] Suleyman I served as a conqueror but also a leader that cared for his people and empire. [18]
Selim II (1524-1574) (r. 1566-1574)
The tradition of fighting for the Ottoman sultanate had defined past successions to the throne. For Selim, by 1559, all of his brothers had died and left only him as the heir to Suleyman I. When Suleyman died in Hungary, his Grand Vizier kept it concealed so as to prepare Selim for a smooth succession. Selim made his way to Belgrade to meet Suleyman’s army and give his father a proper burial.[19] The Grand Vizier, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, served Suleyman I and became Selim’s Grand Vizier as well. Sokollu gained much power serving under Selim. His reign is not characterized by much conquest or war. The sultan became less of a general and more a player in the rise of the court system in Ottoman politics. The court system would change the empire and the role of the sultan permanently after Suleyman I.[20]
Under Selim II’s reign, the politics of the Ottoman Empire changed from previous rulers. The sultan held a powerful position as the ultimate ruler of the Ottomans and the religious leader as Caliph. However, after the rule of Suleyman I, the role of the sultan became less of a conqueror and warrior. The rise of the Ottoman court began to share political power with the sultan. Also within the rising power of court politics, it became important to be a favorite of the sultan and therefore gain authority because of his favor. Suleyman I began the fusion of the government and the sultan’s household in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.[21] With the fusion of government and the royal household, the heirs to the sultanate ceased to become governors of provinces but rather grew up learning court politics within the palace in Istanbul. This new environment created the atmosphere that created the court system in Ottoman politics. With the rise of court politics, the sultan did not have time to be a conqueror nor be a warrior like his predecessors. The Ottoman sultan had to rule his empire mostly from his palace and through his aristocracy after Suleyman I.  

Agoston, Gabor, and Bruce Masters. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009.
Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizon: A History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1998.
Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923. New York: Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2005.


[1] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Osman I”
[2] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Ohran Gazi.”
[3] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Murad I.”
[4] Jason Goodwin, Lords of the Horizon: A History of the Ottoman Empire (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1998), 22.
[5] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Bayezid I.”
[6] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Mehmed I.”
[7] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Murad II.”
[8] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Mehmed II.”
[9] Goodwin, Lords of the Horizon, 34, 35.
[10] Ibid., 39.
[11] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Mehmed II.”
[12] Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923 (New York: Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2005), 100.
[13] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Bayezid II.”
[14] Finkel, Osman’s Dream, 102.
[15] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Selim I.”
[16] Finkel, Osman’s Dream, 118.
[17] Ibid., 151.
[18] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Suleyman I.”
[19] Finkel, Osman’s Dream, 152.
[20] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Selim II.”
[21] Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, s.v. “Suleyman I.”

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