The great Ottoman Empire, spread over three continents-Europe, Asia, and Africa-was like a tongue, surrounded by 32 teeth-the Christian European States—which were continuously plotting against it. It was headed by a succession of six brilliant rulers, who, side by side with braving the onslaughts of Christian monarchs, extended the boundary of the Turkish Empire up to the gates of Vienna. The greatest of all Ottoman Emperors was Sulaiman I, better known in history as Sulaiman, the “Magnificent”, or Sulaiman, the “Lawgiver”.
Sulaiman, son of the Ottoman Emperor Salim and Aisha Sultan, was born in 1494-95 A.C. He was given a thorough education, both in the arts of war and peace, by his illustrious father. Later, he was appointed the Governor of Maghnisa and ascended the throne on September 20, 1520, A.C., eight days after his father’s death.
Thereafter, started a career, which was brilliant both in war as well as in peace and won for Sulaiman an honored place amongst the greatest rulers of the world. A man of indomitable will and untiring energy, as he was, he proved his greatness on the battlefield and at the conference table alike. He was essentially a man of peace who ceaselessly strove for the peace and prosperity of his people, but when the call for war came, he was never found wanting and always took the field in person.
Sulaiman took part in 13 major campaigns-ten in Europe and three in Asia. The first campaign against Belgrade was provoked by the ill-treatment by the King of Hungary of the Turkish Envoy who had gone to collect annual tribute from him. The Ottoman army advanced under the Grand Vizier Piri Pasha and captured Belgrade on August 29, 1521. This was preceded by the fall of Sabacz, Danubian town, to the Ottoman forces. Sulaiman, the Magnificent, entered Belgrade on August 30 and stationed a Brigade there.
The following year he captured Rhodes, a strategic island, from the knights of St. John who had been for long a “menace to the Ottoman power because they supported the Christian Corsairs”.
The Grand Vizier Piri Pasha was replaced by Ibrahim Pasha who remained a faithful companion of the Sultan till his sudden execution in 1536.
In 1524 Sulaiman set out with the Grand Vizier, arrived in Belgrade on July 15, took Peterwarden, and crossed the Drave at Eszed. Here in August 1524, was fought a bloody battle against the Hungarian army which was routed with terrible losses. The Hungarian resistance was completely crushed. The Sultan advanced further and occupied Hungarian Capital, Budapest, on September 11. The Capital was in flames despite Sultan’s orders to the contrary.
The victorious Sultan returned to Constantinople in November to deal with trouble in Asia Minor. Meanwhile, the war continued in Bosnia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia.
Disturbed conditions in Hungary, obliged the energetic Sultan to set out in May 1529 for his new expedition, known as the Vienna campaign. Budapest capitulated on September 8 and the Sultan installed Zapolya as King of Hungary. The Turks reached the gates of Vienna and laid siege to the famous city on September 27 which was raised on October 15. In the following two years, the war with Austria continued.
In 1532, Sulaiman undertook a campaign against Charles V, King of Spain, and captured Guns after a long-drawn siege. The Sultan remained in Syria for the next few months and the Spanish King did not dare to face him.
The Sultan’s return to Constantinople was soon followed by an armistice with Austria signed on January 14, 1533.
His sixth campaign was directed against Persia, which was caused by Ottoman claims to Bitles and Baghdad. The Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, occupied Tabriz in July 1534. The Ottoman army marched towards Baghdad via Hamadan without meeting any resistance. The Sultan made a ceremonial entry into Baghdad on November 30, 1534. During his four months stay in the historic city he built the mausoleum of Imam Abu Hanifa and meanwhile visited a number of historic cities including Kufa, Najef, and Karbala.
The next two campaigns in 1541 and 1543 took him again to Hungary, where the death of Zapolya in 1540 had put that country into commotion. The Sultán entered Budapest in August 1541 and placed the country under the direct Ottoman Administration. In 1543, he captured a number of towns including Valpo, Siklos, Funfkirchen, Gran, and Stunl-Weisenberg.
His relations with Persia had become more strained, while the Hungarian war had come to an end through a seven-year truce with Ferdinand of Austria who undertook to pay an annual tribute of 30,000 ducats. The Persian campaign of 1548-49, provoked by the Shah of Persia’s brother Elkas Mirza ended following the latter taking refuge in the Ottoman Court. Sulaiman entered Tabriz, spent his winter in Aleppo, while his Vizier had made some conquests in Georgia.
The Sultan’s outstanding campaign was directed against Austria on account of the Ottoman claim over Szigeth which was besieged in August 1565. The city capitulated on September 8, 1565, while the Sultan died on September 5/6 and did not live to witness it.
The last few years of the Sultan were darkened by the death of his son Khurram and the conflict between his sons Salim and Bayazid, which ended with the execution of the latter. Hence the Sultan’s death was kept a secret for three weeks in order to prevent trouble in the army and to enable Salim Il to ascend the throne. The Sultan was buried in the Sulaimaniya Mosque at Constantinople.
Sulaiman made the Ottomans the most invincible power in the world, both on land and sea. In the battles fought on land, the Ottoman forces were mostly led by Sulaiman himself, while on the sea, his able Admiral Khairuddin Barbarossa had become a terror for the Spanish, Genoese, and Valentine fleets and had established Ottoman supremacy over the Mediterranean. He captured a number of islands in the Mediterranean and almost all important North African ports, including Tunis. He was responsible for the great naval victory of the Ottoman Fleet in the Mediterranean against the Spanish Fleet commanded by Admiral Andreas Doria and successive Ottoman victories on the African, Italian and Dalmatian coasts.
The enormous expansion of the Ottoman Empire under Sulaiman was the result of his untiring energy and exceptional military skill as well as the military system he had evolved. His great victories brought fundamental changes in the position of the Empire in international affairs. The Christians who lost all hopes of driving the Turks out of Europe concluded the famous alliance with Turkey through Francis I of France.
“He was a born ruler of remarkable dignity”, writes a Chronicler; “a striking figure in the midst of a brilliant Court”. He made the Ottoman Empire an undisputedly supreme power in the world—both among Christians and Muslims. He was fortunate to secure the services of brilliant men for Turkey, including Admiral Khairuddin Barbarossa, Mufti Kamal Pasha, and Architect Sinan. Each one played his brilliant role in making Turkey the most powerful State in the world.
Sulaiman’s contribution to the peace and prosperity of his people, to the cultural achievements and legislative reforms of his country, was as great as his territorial conquests. It was a period of intense literary and artistic creation in which the Ottoman civilization expressed its personality to the full. Constantinople became the centre of Islamic civilization and culture as well as the centre of its political power.
Sulaiman has been recognized as a great patron of art and literature. The Ottoman civilization gained its own special character in the fields of literature and art under him. A poet himself, Sulaiman recognized and encouraged talents in others, among them were the Turkish poets Baki and Fazuli whose works have become classics. Sulaiman himself composed several ghazals and diwans. In this way, his glorious reign developed art, poetry, literature, and architecture as never before.
Sulaiman is recognized as a great builder. The development of architecture owes much to his initiative and the famous Turkish architect Sinan raised some of the greatest Turkish architectures under his patronage. These included the mosques in Constantinople, namely the famous Sulaimaniya, built-in 1550-56 where Sulaiman, the Magnificent, Sulaiman II, and Ahmad II lie buried; Salimiya built-in 1522 in memory of Salim I; Shahzadi Jami, built-in 1547-48, in memory of Prince Muhammad and containing the mortal remains of Prince Jahangir; the Kassaki Jami, built-in 1539, in memory of Khurram Sultan. Two more mosques were built in Stanbool and Scutari, in memory of Princess Mehr-o-Mah, wife of the Grand Vizier Rustam Pasha. All these mosques, except the Salimiya, are the works of architect Sinan. The Amirs and dignitaries of the Ottoman Empire vied with one another in building a large number of mosques and works of Sinan included the aqueducts of Constantinople and the Sultan’s Palace at Scutari.
The Sultan did not confine his architectural works to Turkey alone. He built the mausoleum of Imam Abu Hanifa at Baghdad and the tomb of Maulana Jalaluddin Roomi at Konia. He built aqueducts at Makkah and was responsible for the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem, and the beautification of the Kaaba. Throughout Turkey, today, fountains, aqueducts, schools, and other monuments of public interest bear the stamp of Sinan and his school.
As a Legislator, he gave Turkey stable institutions and a legal system that remained unchanged for centuries thereafter. This earned him the title of Sulaiman, “the Law Giver” (Qanuni). His legislative system promulgated throughout the Empire, dealt mainly with the laws relating to the reorganization of the armed forces, military, feudality, landed property, the police, and the feudal code. Thus, by his enactments, he brought together a system of laws and reformed the administration of the army, the land tenure system, and the collection of taxes. He opposed the inheritance of high positions, hitherto followed in the Ottoman Empire and thus prevented the establishment of separate fiefs within the State.
His treatment of his Christian subjects was generous; he conferred on them some of the highest positions in the State.
Sulaiman was a pious and religious-minded ruler. The short and fervid prayer uttered by him before the battle of Mohacs and the humility with which he assisted the bearers of the bier of Gul Baba after the occupation of Budapest in 1529 is ample testimony to this fact. He had copied eighth volumes of the Quran which are preserved in the Sulaimaniya Mosque. He strictly followed the tenets of Islam. He was undoubtedly the greatest of Ottoman Sultans who ranks amongst the greatest rulers of the world. He was just and generous, capable and energetic, wise and prudent, and a real leader of his people in war and peace alike. With him ended the line of the great Turkish Sultans.