Suleyman I (ruled from 1520-1566) is regarded as the greatest Ottoman ruler. Also known as Suleyman the Magnificent, he was the tenth Ottoman sultan and fourth one to rule from Istanbul. He presided over a large empire and ruled longer and more heroically than any other Ottoman sultan. The Ottoman Empire reached its peak under his rule both in terms of political and economic power and development of Turkish art and architecture. [Source: "The World of Suleyman the Magnificent" by Merle Severy, National Geographic, November 1987 (♂)]
Suzan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Under Süleyman, popularly known as "the Magnificent" or "the Lawmaker," the Ottoman empire reached the apogee of its military and political power. Süleyman's armies conquered Hungary, over which the Ottomans maintained control for over 150 years, and they advanced as far west as Vienna, threatening the Habsburgs. To the east, the Ottoman forces wrested control of Iraq from the Safavids of Iran. In the Mediterranean, their navy captured all the principal North African ports, and for a time the Ottoman fleet completely dominated the sea. By the end of Süleyman's reign, Ottoman hegemony extended over a great portion of Europe, Asia, and Africa. [Source: Suzan Yalman, Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, based on original work by Linda Komaroff metmuseum.org \^/]
Süleyman I was called the "lawgiver" (kanuni ) by his Muslim subjects because of a new codification of seriat undertaken during his reign. In Europe, however, he was known as Süleyman the Magnificent, a recognition of his prowess by those who had most to fear from it. His European contemporaries included tsar Ivan the Terrible and King Henry VIII. His official title was at home was Suleyman, Commander of the Faithful, Shadow of God on Earth, Protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, Lord of Lords of the World, East and West.
Suleyman the Magnificent enjoyed writing love poetry in his free time and was as the “lawgiver” because he streamlined the Ottoman legal system. A Venetian envoy that met him described him as “by nature melancholy, much addicted to women, liberal, proud, hasty, and yet sometimes very gentle."
Suleyman the Magnificent's Life
Suleyman was born two years after Columbus sailed to America. His father was Selim the Grim, a title he earned by slaying his father, two brothers and 62 other relatives. Suleyman himself had his son and best friend strangled before him with a silken bowstring. Some historians say he was manipulated into performing these deeds by his wife, Roxelena, a former slave girl from the the Ukraine, who maneuvered her son into position to be sultan.
Not much is known about the private of life of Suleyman and Roxelena, but they did leave behind some juicy love letters. Suleyman once wrote "I am the sultan of love." And, one time when he was away on a military campaign, Roxelena sent him a letter saying: "My soul, my sultan, sun of my state, treasure of my bliss, my heart burns with your absence, I beg of you to free me from this longing, this sea of waiting."
Suleyman wrote poetry under the pseudonym Muhabbi, meaning “beloved and affectionate friend." His poems have been described as “lyrical, mystical, humble and sincere. He wrote poems about the loneliness of his position, his servitude to state, his acceptance of destiny and his love of beautiful things. He loved most all to write poems to Roxelana. On one these he wrote: “My sheer delight, my revelry, my feast, my torch, ,y sunshine, my sun in heaven;/ My orange, my pomegranate, the flaming candle that lights up my pavilion."
Suleyman the Lawgiver
When Suleyman ascended to the throne in 1520, two of his first decisions were to free 1,500 Egyptian and Iranian prisoners captured by his father and compensate merchants for goods his father had confiscated. These and other similar actions helped him earn the title Suleyman the Lawgiver."
Under Sulyeman shariah law was elevated to higher level than in other Muslim states. It became the law of the land for all Muslims and it was practiced with a high degree of uniformity in Shariah courts throughout the empire by quadis (legal experts) and muftis (legal assistants). Not only did the courts meet out justice they also created a bond between the local people, especially in Arab regions, and the sultan. For the most part, Ottoman subject were happy tolive under shariah law.
Suleyman cracked down on corruption, reformed, simplified and codified the legal system. He passed laws that attempted to wipe out discriminatory practices against Christians and eliminated some of crueler punishments given of criminals. The United States Congress recognizes him as one of the grea lawmakes of history.
Suleyman also had his cruel and capricious side. He often ordered the execution of prsioners after a battle and began the customs of not speaking to foreign diplomats when they presented their credentials.
Süleyman the Magnificent's Conquests
Belgrade fell to Süleyman in 1521, and in 1522 he compelled the Knights of Saint John to abandon Rhodes. In 1526 the Ottoman victory at the Battle of Mohács led to the taking of Buda on the Danube. Vienna was besieged unsuccessfully during the campaign season of 1529. North Africa up to the Moroccan frontier was brought under Ottoman suzerainty in the 1520s and 1530s, and governors named by the sultan were installed in Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. In 1534 Kurdistan and Mesopotamia were taken from Persia. The latter conquest gave the Ottomans an outlet to the Persian Gulf, where they were soon engaged in a naval war with the Portuguese."
When Süleyman died in 1566, the Ottoman Empire was a world power. Most of the great cities of Islam--Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, and Baghdad--were under the sultan's crescent flag. The Porte exercised direct control over Anatolia, the sub-Danubian Balkan provinces, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Egypt, Mecca, and the North African provinces were governed under special regulations, as were satellite domains in Arabia and the Caucasus, and among the Crimean Tartars. In addition, the native rulers of Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, and Ragusa (Dubrovnik) were vassals of the sultan."
Suleyman the Magnificent's Achievements
Suleyman was a great patron of the arts. Trained as a goldsmith, he personally oversaw the the work of craftsman in Topkapi and commissioned the great architect Mimar Sinan to build great mosques such as Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and Selimiye Mosque in Edirne and reconstructed the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Istanbul was the largest city in Europe and the Ottoman Empire was perhaps the most powerful politcial entity in the world. It acted as a protector for France and Poland and received envoys from India and Sumatra who asked for Ottoman help combating the Portuguese in Asia.
Medicine was practiced at a high level. An observatory was built in 1579. Communication channels were open with West. News of new discovereies in the New World poured in. Plans were made for a Suez Canal and a canals between the the Don and Volga rivers.
Art and Architecture Under Süleyman the Magnificent
Suzan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Along with geographic expansion, trade, economic growth, and tremendous cultural and artistic activity helped define the reign of Süleyman as a "Golden Age." Developments occurred in every field of the arts; however, those in calligraphy, manuscript painting, textiles, and ceramics were particularly significant. Artists renowned by name include calligrapher Ahmad Karahisari as well as painters Shahquli and Kara Memi. [Source: Suzan Yalman, Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, based on original work by Linda Komaroff metmuseum.org \^/]
“In architecture, the most outstanding achievements of this period were the public buildings designed by Sinan (1539–1588), chief of the Corps of Royal Architects. While Sinan is often remembered for his two major commissions, the mosque complexes of Süleymaniye in Istanbul (1550–57) and of the later Selimiye in Edirne (1568–74), he designed hundreds of buildings across the Ottoman empire and contributed to the dissemination of Ottoman culture. Apart from mosques and other pious foundations—including schools, hospices, and soup kitchens, supported by shops, markets, baths, and caravanserais—Süleyman also commissioned repairs and additions to major historical monuments. The tile revetment of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as well as several additions to sites in Mecca and Medina, the two Holy Cities of Islam, date from this period.
Books: Atil, Esin The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Exhibition catalogue.. Washington, D.C." National Gallery of Art, 1987. Necipoglu, Gülru The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire. London: Reaktion, 2005.
Suleyman the Magnificent's Military Campaigns
During battles was Suleyman wore in a white turban and jeweled robe, riding a black horse decked out in gold. In one battle, according to Ottoman historians, Suleyman was struck by arrows and wounded by the swords of three knights, who were eventually cut to pieces by the sultan."
Suleyman doubled the size of the Ottoman Empire. He extended its territory into Mecca and Medina and Yemen, and took Persian territory. He seized Belgrade (1521," captured Hungary (1526) and laid siege to Vienna (1529).
Suleyman won most of Hungary in the bloody battle at Mohac in 1526. At that time Hungary was a great power, and Europeans feared it was only a matter of time before Europe fell.
Duel before the Battle of Mohács
The siege of Vienna in 1529 sent a shudder through Europe. It was one of the scariest episodes and disruptive episodes in the history of western Europe. The Austrian Hapsburgs were their main rivals in the Balkans and eastern and central Europe. The Hapsburgs built a network of fortress in Hungary to hold off the Turks.
When Suleyman's army attacked the Castle of the Order of St. John on the island of Rhodes (Greece) in 1521, over 15,000 men died in one battle. When the castle was finally captured the knights of St. John were set free, a move that Suleyman would regret 12 years later."
Almost as famous as Suleyman himself was his admiral Barbarossa, who conquered much of the Mediterranean for the sultan. So notorious was his reputation that European mothers used to frighten their children out of misbehaving by telling them Barbarossa would get them if they weren't careful. The Turkish admiral was named after the pirate-infested Barbary Coast by Europeans who mistakenly thought that was where he was from."
Suleyman's navy under Barbarossa's command defeated the combined forces of Spain, Venice and the pope with important naval victories at Nice (1543) and Menorca (1558) and other places, thus expanding the Ottoman Empire into in Algiers, Oron and Tripoli in North Africa and taking the strategic island of Rhodes.
Defeat of Suleyman the Magnificent at Malta
Suleyman's most demoralizing defeat came at the hands of the Knights of St. John in 1533. Some 9,000 members of the order, holed up in Fort St. Elmo in Malta, held off a Turkish army of 40,000 men and a armada of 200 ships."
In this confrontation, the Turks poisoned wells, impaled the heads of knights, and nailed their bodies to crosses which were floated towards Fort Elmo. The knights responded by throwing down flaming hoops and boiling pitch, and cutting off the heads of Turkish prisoners and using them as cannonballs to fire back on the Turks. When a force of 7,000 Spaniards arrived to help the knights, only 600 defenders remained. By this time, with winter approaching and their morale and numbers dwindling dangerously low, the Ottomans had enough anyway and they headed back to Istanbul, humiliated.
Suleyman's Last Years and Legacy
The last years of Suleyman's rule were characterized by economic stagnation, dispossession as peasants couldn't pay their taxes and low agricultural production and unemployment. Brigands robed traders in Anatolia.
After Suleyman, the Ottoman empire began declining. Only five years after his death was the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Ottoman navy was destroyed by Venice and Spain and Ottoman lost control of the western Mediterranean.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Comptom's Encyclopedia, Lonely Planet Guides, Silk Road Foundation, The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin; History of Arab People by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library, 2000); and various books and other publications.