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Suleiman I
Suleiman the Magnificent

1494 - 1566

Suleiman I 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.

Eastern Campaigns

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.

Court Intrigues

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 Role

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 sub-courts 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.


Suleiman I (1494/95–1566; ruled 1520–1566), tenth Ottoman sultan, born in Trabzon, the son of Hafsa, a Crimean Tatar princess, and the future sultan Selim I (ruled 1512–1520). Under Suleiman, the Ottoman Empire became the Islamic world's Sunni exemplar. Suleiman spent his childhood in Trabzon, where Selim was governor. As a prince, Suleiman himself received the governorship first of Kefe (Fedosiya) and then, in 1513, of Manisa. In 1514–1515 he acted as regent during his father's campaign against Iran. In 1516–1517, he oversaw the defense of Edirne while his father campaigned against the Mamluks in Syria and Egypt.

Suleiman suceeded to the throne in September 1520. In Syria, he immediately suppressed the revolt of a former Mamluk governor, Janberdi Ghazali, and then, using as a pretext the Hungarian maltreatment of his ambassador, he attacked Hungary in 1521, capturing Belgrade. In 1522, he conquered Rhodes, allowing the Knights of St. John to depart freely. In 1526 he invaded Hungary again, defeating and killing King Lajos (Louis II) at Mohács. Following Suleiman's departure, the Hungarian Diet elected János Szapolyai (John Zapolya) as king of Hungary, but later in the year, the Diet of Bratislava elected the Habsburg counter-claimant, Ferdinand of Austria. In 1529, Ferdinand occupied Buda. Suleiman, however, expelled him from Buda, re-enthroned Szapolyai, and unsuccessfully besieged Vienna, the highwater mark of Ottoman expansion efforts. In 1530, Ferdinand again besieged Buda, and Suleiman again invaded, forcing Ferdinand to an agreement that left Szapolyai as king of central and eastern Hungary and himself as king in the west and north, both ruling as Suleiman's tributaries.

The truce freed Suleiman to attack the Shi‘ite Safavids of Iran, for which a series of defections on both sides of the frontier gave a pretext. In 1533, Suleiman's grand vizier Ibrahim Pasha reoccupied Bitlis, whose lord had defected to Shah Tahmasb. Next year he occupied Tabriz and, after the sultan had joined him, Baghdad. By 1536, the sultan had added Baghdad, Erzurum, and, temporarily, Van to his empire. In 1533, recognizing the need to counter the threat especially of Spanish power in the Mediterranean, Suleiman had appointed as admiral the privateer-ruler of Algiers, Hayreddin (Khayr ad-Dīn) Barbarossa, admiral of the Ottoman fleet. The Spanish threat materialized with the conquest of Tunis by Charles V—king of Spain, Holy Roman emperor, and brother of Ferdinand—in 1535. This was a factor persuading Suleiman to agree in 1536 to an anti-Habsburg alliance with France, which lasted until the Franco-Spanish treaty of 1559. A proposed Franco-Ottoman campaign in Italy in 1537 failed to materialize. Instead Suleiman unsuccessfully besieged Venetian Corfu. In 1538, by contrast, Barbarossa captured most of the Venetian islands in the Aegean and defeated a combined Spanish, Venetian, and papal fleet in the Gulf of Prevesa. The war ended in 1540, concluding the period of Suleiman's major conquests.

In Hungary, meanwhile, Szapolyai's death activated Ferdinand's claim, and in 1541 and 1542 he besieged Buda. Suleiman responded by converting central Hungary to an Ottoman province and Transylvania in the east to a kingdom under Ottoman suzerainty for Szapolyai's infant son, John Sigismund. In 1543, he led a campaign to Hungary, securing a line of fortresses along the western border. The war ended in 1547, but Ferdinand's claim to Transylvania continued. It was not until 1556, following campaigns in 1551 and 1552 and the Ottoman occupation of Temesvár, that the king and his mother could return to the kingdom. In the Mediterranean, too, the war with the Habsburgs continued. Charles V's failure to capture Algiers in 1541 encouraged Francis I to renew the Ottoman alliance, and in 1543 a Franco-Ottoman force stormed Nice. The Spanish occupation of Monastir and Mahdia on the Tunisian coast in 1550 encouraged further cooperation, but when in 1551, the French fleet failed to appear for a joint campaign, the Ottoman admiral, Sinan Pasha, instead seized Tripoli from the Knights of St. John. Ottoman expansion in North Africa continued with the capture of Wahran and Bizerta in 1556–1557 and the expulsion of the Spaniards from Jerba in 1560. However, Suleiman's last major naval campaign against the Knights on Malta, in 1565, was a failure.

Immediately after 1547, Suleiman's main concern was the eastern front and Iran. In 1548, the flight of Shah Tahmasb's brother to Istanbul gave Suleiman the opportunity to invade, but again without conquest apart from the recapture of Van. A third Iranian campaign in 1553–1554 was equally unproductive, concluding with the treaty of Amasya in 1555, fixing the borders between the two empires. After 1564, the sultan's attention turned to Hungary again. With the bulk of Ottoman forces at Malta, Ferdinand's son Maximilian pressed his claim to Transylvania: Suleiman's response was to launch a major campaign in 1566. In September 1566 he died during the siege of Szigetvár.

During his reign, Suleiman had added central Hungary, Iraq, and territories in eastern Anatolia, the Aegean, and North Africa to the Ottoman Empire, while from the 1530s his fleets dominated the eastern Mediterranean. The kings of France, Muslim rulers in India, and the sultan of Aceh (Sumatra) sought him as an ally, emphasizing his stature as ruler of a world empire. His reach into the western Mediterranean, however, depended on cooperation with the French and the semiautonomous Algerians. After 1540, Habsburg power in central Europe and the Mediterranean, and the Safavids on his eastern border, together with geographical constraints, limited the scope for further conquest and, in the age of Iberian maritime empires, the Ottoman Empire remained essentially land-based. Despite a memorandum of 1525 urging Suleiman to establish an Ottoman hegemony in the Indian Ocean, efforts to disrupt Portuguese shipping at sea and to dislodge the Portuguese from Diu in 1538 and Hormuz in 1552 were unsuccessful.

Despite incessant warfare, the reign was a period of prosperity in the Ottoman Empire. Tax censuses indicate a rising population, with an increase in the number and size of settlements. The treasury remained in surplus, and the standard of the silver currency relatively stable. There were, however, discontents, particularly in Anatolia, leading to a series of popular revolts in the 1520s. In particular, the Safavid shahs made messianic claims, and their many adherents in the Ottoman East posed a constant threat of rebellion, which the sultan controlled through a network of informers.

Suleiman's reign brought conflict within the dynasty. The royal family reproduced through concubines: the practice of marriage, abandoned after 1450, had served political, not reproductive ends. It had also been customary to limit each concubine to one son, with civil war and fratricide deciding which one was to succeed. As an only son, Suleiman had succeeded to the throne unchallenged. However, early in his reign Suleiman became infatuated with his Slavic concubine Hurrem (known as Roxelanna in the West) who bore him more than one son and, in 1534, became his wife. In 1553, when rivalry for the succession increased, Suleiman, probably with the collusion of Hurrem and her faction, executed Mustafa, his son by the concubine Mahidevran, leaving Hurrem's sons Bayezid and Selim as sole contestants. After her death in 1558, Bayezid rebelled. Suffering defeat in 1559, he fled to Iran, where, after Shah Tahmasb had extracted a peace agreement and a payment from Suleiman, he was executed, leaving Selim as sole heir.

Suleiman was intensely conscious of his image. A number of European engravings, all deriving from a single original, give a sense of his appearance, which he clearly tended, applying make-up in his old age to hide blemishes. To his ordinary subjects, however, he would appear only occasionally as a distant figure in a magnificent cavalcade. More enduring are his titles. To Europeans, he is "the Magnificent" in reference to the extent of his empire, and to his youthful ostentation, best known to the Venetians in his commission of a bejewelled triple tiara in 1532. To Muslims he is "the Lawgiver," a title first attested in the eighteenth century, but presumably used earlier. This reflects his promulgation of a new recension of the "feudal" code compiled circa 1500, under Bayezid II, but more importantly his co-operation with the chief mufti, Ebu’s-su‘ud, in systematizing some areas of of Islamic law, and Ebu’s-su‘ud's reformulation of "feudal" land law in Islamic terms. It was under Ebu’s-su‘ud's influence that Suleiman became conspicuously pious in the second half of his reign. Suleiman was the first Ottoman sultan to adopt formally the title of caliph, implying leadership of the Islamic world. The impetus for the claim came from his overwhelming power, his status as guardian of the Holy Cities, and the need to counter Safavid claims and to emulate Charles V's status as Holy Roman emperor. After the Ottoman-Habsburg treaty of 1547, where Charles V no longer used the title "Emperor," Suleiman also adopted the epithet "Caesar" or "breaker of Caesars." In the same year, he began the construction of the Suleimaniye Mosque in Istanbul, a masterpiece of his chief architect Sinan, as a monument to his imperial pretensions. Its completion in 1557 coincided with Bayezid's rebellion, an event that undermined his caliphal-imperial image. Nonetheless, his death on the battlefield secured him the posthumous title of "Holy Warrior and Martyr."


Suleiman I, ‘the Magnificent’ (1494-1566), Ottoman Turk sultan who ruled from 1520, when Ottoman power was at its zenith. Lord of ‘the realms of the Romans, the Persians and the Arabs’, his empire stretched from Algiers to Azerbaijan and from Moldova to Yemen. One Venetian ambassador reported fancifully, if not inaccurately, that his empire bordered those of Spain, Persia, and of Prester John (the fabled emperor of Abyssinia).

Suleiman succeeded his father, Selim ‘the Grim’, on 1 October 1520. At first, the Christian West welcomed the accession of a man renowned as a scholar. But never would the Ottoman empire be as admired or feared as under Suleiman. He inherited a superb military machine which worked because, unlike western European armies of the time, the forces were promptly paid and supported by a superb administration. He could put an army of 100, 000 into the field centred on the professional corps of janissaries, Christian-born men from the Balkans, carefully selected and superbly trained, particularly in military—and therefore general—engineering. He was also helped by the schism in the Christian Church which coincided with his accession. The same year, Luther set the Reformation in train. Unlike Selim, who had directed Ottoman expansion east and south, Suleiman sensed it was time to move west. In 1521 he took Belgrade and moved against Rhodes, which had been an unwelcome Christian strong point in the eastern Mediterranean for 200 years. The knights withdrew to Malta on New Year's Day, 1523. In a characteristic aside, Suleiman said he was sad to make the Grand Master, an old man, leave his home and his belongings. In 1526 he defeated a foolhardy attack by the Hungarian army at Mohacs, and captured Buda, but delayed the formal annexation of Hungary for twenty years, allowing the Hungarians to squabble among themselves. In 1532 he perhaps met his match in the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V. The Ottoman army was held up unexpectedly by the stubborn resistance at Guns, 70 miles (113 km) south-east of Vienna, and Charles did not make the mistake of moving out to meet the Ottomans, as the Hungarians had.

The Ottoman army possessed some of world's most powerful artillery, but still preferred the powerful composite bow to the muskets now becoming dominant in western European armies. Suleiman's last campaign in 1566 was another incursion into Habsburg territory, with the largest army he had ever assembled. On 7 September he died in his tent, among his troops, in the siege of Szigeth. His grand vizier kept his death secret, embalmed the body, and carried it home as if it were alive. He was succeeded by his bibulous son Selim II, ‘the Sot’.


Sulayman the Magnificent, 1494–1566, Ottoman sultan (1520–66), son and successor of Selim I. He is known as Sulayman II when considered as a successor of King Solomon of the Bible and Qur'an. Under him the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) reached the height of its power and prestige. He continued his father's conquests in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, conquering Belgrade in 1521, expelling the Knights Hospitalers from Rhodes in 1522, and inflicting a crushing defeat on the Hungarians at Mohács in 1526. He unsuccessfully besieged Vienna in 1529 and supported John Zapolya (John I of Hungary) against Ferdinand of Hungary and Bohemia (later Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I). John's death in 1540 and the accession of John II were pretexts for the outright annexation of Hungary (except for Transylvania and the section held by Ferdinand) to the Ottoman Empire. In 1536, Sulayman entered a formal alliance with Francis I of France against the house of Hapsburg; this alliance remained the basis of Turkish foreign policy for more than three centuries.

Although Sulayman's vassal Barbarossa made the Turkish fleet the terror of the Mediterranean, Sulayman was, on the whole, unsuccessful in his naval warfare against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and against Venice. He lost Tunis to Charles in 1535 and failed to take Malta in 1565. Sulayman undertook several successful campaigns against Persia. An Ottoman naval expedition to the Red Sea resulted in the conquest of the Arabian coastlands.

Sulayman died during the siege of Szigetvar, having resumed warfare in Hungary in 1566. The later years of Sulayman's reign had been marred by family disputes over the succession. His favorite wife, Roxelana (or Khurema) intrigued against his eldest son, Mustafa, on behalf of her two sons, Selim and Beyazid. Mustafa built up his own faction, which seemed a threat to Sulayman. In 1553, Sulayman had him executed. Upon Roxelana's death, Selim and Beyazid quarrelled. Beyazid rose in revolt, met defeat, and fled to Persia. The shah of Persia was induced to return him for a large sum, and Beyazid was executed. Selim succeeded Sulayman as Selim II.

Sulayman's grand viziers, notably Ibrahim (who held office from 1523 until he was executed in 1536), Rustem, and Sokolli, were capable administrators and contributed to the greatness of his reign. In his government Sulayman was distinguished for his justice. His military, educational, and legal reforms earned him the name Sulayman the Lawgiver among Muslims. He was fond of pomp and splendour and was a lavish patron of the arts and of literature. Sinan, the great Turkish architect, worked under his orders.










This web page was last updated on: 20 December, 2008