Suleiman I (1494-1566) was the tenth ottoman sultan, known to the Turks as Kunani, or lawgiver, and to the Western historians as "the Magnificent, " he ruled the Osmanli empire with undisputed strength and brilliance.
The only son of Selim I, Suleiman attended the palace school and served his apprenticeship as a governor, first at Bolu, where he was assigned when about 15, later at Kaffa, the homeland of his mother, daughter of a Crimean Tatar khan. He also supervised the state when his father was campaigning. In education and experience Suleiman surpassed every European ruler of his day.
Campaigns of Expansion
Suleiman continued Selim's expansionist activites, personally participating in 13 campaigns. This military activity was in part due to the nature of the state, since, without raiding, as the Sultan is said to have realized, the Janissaries lacked income and apolitical outlets for their energies. This was certainly a crucial cause of later Ottoman decline. The first of Suleiman's military moves was against Belgrade, captured on Aug. 29, 1521, in retaliation for the harsh treatment accorded a Turkish embassy seeking tribute of the king of Hungary. Thus the way into the heartland of central Europe was opened.
Rhodes, only 6 miles off the Turkish coast, was the Sultan's second military objective. The resident Knights of St. John had long protected Christian pirates harassing the sealanes to Egypt. The island capitulated in December 1522 after a bloody 6-month siege. Inhabitants not choosing to leave were given their full civil rights and a 5-year remission of taxes, an indication of Suleiman's just—and shrewd— nature.
Suleiman enjoyed the succeeding 3 years at leisure in or near the capital. However, the groundwork was laid at this time for two situations—harem influence and the elevation of favorites—which were to become disastrous for the empire in later centuries. A slave girl, Roxelana ("the Russian"), so attracted the sultan that he made her his legal wife. Khurrem Sultan, as she was formally called, had three children, his successor Selim II (born 1524), Prince Bayezid, and Princess Mihrimah.
Favoritism also appeared, undermining the morale of a government service in which promotions had resulted from meritorious service. The Sultan's favorite, Ibrahim, was a Greek, sold into slavery by pirates. His mistress educated him, and he became attached to Suleiman while the latter was still a prince. On June 27, 1524, Ibrahim was made grand vizier. He was remarkably capable, but those supplanted in service were disaffected. One of Ibrahim Pasha's first duties was to reorganize Ottoman affairs in Egypt in response to uprisings there. The new arrangements successfully combined a degree of local autonomy with overall ottoman supervision. Egypt's laws were later codified on the basis of Ibrahim's changes.
In the summer of 1526 Suleiman broke the power of Hungary. The Turks advanced into and temporarily occupied the capital in a major raid necessitated in part by Janissary restlessness over several years' inactivity. May 1529 saw Suleiman again in the Danubian area, now in support of the Transylvanian duke, John Zapolya, in opposition to the Austrians who had occupied Buda. Ousting them, Suleiman installed Zapolya as his vassal in Hungary and launched the famous siege of Vienna, Sept. 27-Oct. 15, 1529. On the very eve of the city's surrender, the Janissaries withdrew, perhaps because Turkish forces were limited in their military operations by climatic factors. No winter campaigns were undertaken because the rains made movement of artillery, men, and supplies too difficult.
The Sultan's fifth campaign was a minor one against the emperor Charles V in 1532. Then the wars moved East. In July 1534, the grand vizier, Ibrahim, took Tabriz and, in November, Baghdad. There the Sultan spent 18 months, settling the administration and visiting Kufa, Kerbala, and other holy places. Meanwhile his foe, Shah Tahmasp, reoccupied many of his conquered territories, thus necessitating Suleiman's return and leading to the sack of Tabriz in 1536.
That same year Ibrahim fell from favor. Favorite, confidant, adviser, policy maker, and even brother-in-law of Suleiman, Ibrahim was found outside the palace strangled the morning of March 15, 1536. He had apparently overstepped the bounds of his position, frequently assuming titles beyond his rank. Since he was still Suleiman's slave, his extensive property reverted to his master.
Corfu and Moldavia occupied Ottoman attention between 1537 and the reconquest and then annexation of Hungary in 1541. Austria's opposition to the latter act resulted only in further Ottoman annexations and an annual tribute payment established by peace treaty in 1547. Austrian treaty violations, however, led to Turkish acquisition of Temesvar in 1552, but Suleiman did not participate in that expedition—he was again in pursuit of Shah Tahmasp.
When, in 1553, full-scale operations against Persia resumed, Roxelana's politicking appeared. Rustem Pasha, the grand vizier and husband of princess Mihrimah, led the Ottoman forces but reported the Janissaries were talking of replacing an aging sultan with his more vigorous eldest son, Mustafa. At Roxelana's urging, the Sultan joined the army. He met and executed Mustafa at Eregli on October 16. Prince Jahangir, Mustafa's deformed brother, committed suicide when he heard the news. Since Mehmed, Suleiman's favorite, had died in 1543, only Roxelana's sons now remained alive.
After Mustafa's death, the Sultan continued the war with Tahmasp, finally settling the border in 1555 after prolonged treaty negotiations. The Ottomans retained Baghdad and the Persian Gulf port of Basrah.
The last years of Suleiman's life were marred by the death of Roxelana in April 1558 and the war, beginning the following year, between her sons, the sly, intriguing, alcoholic Selim and the younger Bayezid. Selim was aided by Rustem Pasha and Mihrimah, whose influence over the Sultan was considerable. Defeated in battle, Bayezid fled to Iran, vainly asking parental forgiveness; apparently his request was never received. He was surrendered to the Sultan's agent, in exchange for gold, and was executed.
Suleiman's last campaign, carried out when he was past 70, was again into Hungary. His forces besieged and took the last non-Turkish fortress, Sziget, in 1566. The Sultan died during the night of Sept. 5-6, his death kept secret over 3 weeks until Selim's succession.
Suleiman's military exploits and interest in the hunt indicate an indefatigable nature. He was also active as a legislator, bringing to its peak the administrative system of the burgeoning empire. The laws for which he is famed were necessitated by the rapid expansion of the state and the governing system. Predominating were such matters as inheritance rights, ceremony within the government, criminal punishments, and, in 1530, regulations to reorganize feudal grants in an effort to end corruption. Although the income of the state was extensive, the sumptuous nature of the court and the subcourts of the princes and slave viziers created problems which later led to widespread corruption.
Internationally, the expansion of the empire rearranged European politics. In 1536 the French king, Francis I, concluded an alliance with the Turks, raising France's position to that of Venice and others. Ottoman sea power was long established in the eastern Mediterranean; now, under Khair al-Din Barbarossa, Ottoman suzereignty over North Africa was firmed up. Barbarossa and his successors roamed the Mediterranean, raiding Spanish coastal areas at will. After the French alliance they often cooperated with French ships. The only setback occurred in 1565, when an attack on Malta failed. Ottoman sea power dominated the area long after Suleiman's death.
Other naval ventures in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean brought Yemen and Aden into the Ottoman Empire and even led to a siege of the Portuguese-held Indian city of Diu in 1538. Turkey produced several famous naval commanders during this period, including Piri Reis, noted for his cartographic work but executed for his failure to break Portugal's hold on Ormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Cultural progress was also made during Suleiman's reign. Foreign concepts receded as Ottoman civilization found its own footing. The Sultan himself, using the name Muhibbi, was quite a poet and beyond that a patron of poets and inspiration of historians. His diary is an invaluable record of his reign. He seems also to have been a humble religious man, composing prayers and eight times copying the Koran. His religious nature further is evidenced in the large number of mosques he commissioned.
Architecture was a major achievement of Suleiman's time, most of the domes and minarets of Istanbul dating from then. Works ordered by the Sultan include mosques for his father, Roxelana, Mehmed, Jahangir, Mihrimah, and himself; the aqueducts at Mecca and Istanbul; and a tomb for the Ottoman-favored Islamic legalist Abu Hanifa.
Further Reading on Suleiman I
Full-length biographical studies of the Sultan are Roger B. Merriman, Suleiman the Magnificent (1944), and Harold Lamb, Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the East (1951). An early but exhaustive examination of 16th-century Osmanli administration appears in Albert H. Lybyer, The Government of the Ottoman Empire in the Time of Suleiman the Magnificent (1913; repr. 1966).