Suleyman the Magnificent
1495 – 1566
Sultan of the Ottoman Empireby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Suleyman the Magnificent has been known as one of the greatest rulers of the Ottoman Empire. He is mostly remembered as a fierce conqueror of the Islamic religion. In Middle Eastern cultures, however, he is often referred to as a great builder. During his rule as sultan, the Ottoman Empire reached its peak in power and prosperity.
Suleyman was born in 1495 to Selim, who soon became sultan. Little is known about the prince’s younger life, but by the age of 16 he was governing certain cities in the empire. After Selim’s death on September 22, 1520, Suleyman, having no brothers, became the next sultan at the age of 25.
At the start of his reign, Suleyman performed many acts of kindness and mercy toward his people including freeing hundreds of slaves, bestowing his officers with gifts, and erecting a school for slaves. In return for his kindness, Suleyman demanded complete loyalty of all his subjects. Suleyman’s kindness was a sharp contrast to the acts of his cruel father, who had become known as Selim the terrible. While Selim had only been interested in war, Suleyman filled his palace with music and poetry. Suleyman himself came to write many poems of his own.
Within a year of his ascension to the throne, the sultan led a campaign against the Ottoman Empire’s Christian enemies, the Hungarians. Within twenty-eight days, the Turks led by Suleyman captured Belgrade, which was a strategically important city on the Danube. He then turned his attention toward the island of Rhodes, where lay a fortification of Christian knights, who had been terrorizing Turkish trading vessels. Suleyman gathered a huge army consisting of more cannons than had ever been amassed for any battle up to that time. The knights fought well and held the Turkish forces back for months. However, Suleyman was persistent and finally captured the fortification. The sultan’s first two victories at Belgrade and Rhodes were feats that had been attempted and failed by his predecessors, so Suleyman was honored with great festivities upon his return to Constantinople, the Turkish capitol. These distinguished victories were only the beginning of Suleyman’s grasp for power.
Suleyman strengthened his military a great deal from the start of his rule. He had hundreds of cannons constructed and expanded his army of janissaries, elite Turkish warriors, by several thousand. He also had fleets of warships built that yielded an impressive navy. With this navy, the Turks were able to control the Mediterranean and terrorize passing ships for their spoil.
During his forty-six year reign, Suleyman undertook thirteen military campaigns of conquest. He managed to conquer large parts of Hungary, Austria, and nearly Rome. The everlasting problem confronted by Suleyman’s military was cold weather. The strong points of the Turkish forces were its cavalry and cannons. The cavalry could not operate well in the harsh northern conditions, while the cannons became very difficult to transport. As a result, Suleyman found that he could only conquer as much ground as he could gain in good weather and then must return to his capitol.
However, through his many conquests, the piracy of his navy, and tribute and gifts from other nations, Suleyman became one of the richest men of all time. His lifestyle at his palace displays his wealth. He would never wear the same clothes twice, he ate out of solid gold plates encrusted with jewels, and his harem consisted of over 300 women.
When his empire reached a reasonably large size, Suleyman was content to build on his land. He had many extravagant mosques built for he was very loyal to Islam. Other constructions during his time included schools, city walls, and an aqueduct that surpassed any built in Rome.
Suleyman had a son, Mustafa, with “Rose of Spring”, a member of the royal harem. However, soon after, he met Roxelana, a slave newly captured from Poland. He immediately was taken with her and favored her above all other women. She bore him five children, three sons and two daughters. Roxelana’s only motive, however, was power. She influenced the sultan to send Rose of Spring away to live in a distant city. So, despite Rose of Spring being the ‘first sultana’, Roxelana was the favored one and held more power.
The only other person with more power below the sultan now was Ibrahim, the grand vizier of the empire. Roxelana saw him as a threat to her so she convinced Suleyman that Ibrahim was plotting to overtake the kingdom. Suleyman believed these lies and had Ibrahim executed.
In later years, when Suleyman was growing old, in his late fifties, Roxelana worked toward a new goal. By tradition, when Suleyman was to die, it would be the firstborn son, Mustafa, who would be the next sultan. However, Roxelana wished one of her sons to rule. She started rumors that Mustafa was plotting to kill Suleyman and take power for himself. When word reached Suleyman, he called his son to him and had him executed. Despite being able to conquer other nations in battle and ruling a large empire, he could not run his own household and this cost him dearly.
In 1566, at the age of 72, Suleyman set out on his last campaign against the Romans. He was in bad physical condition so he did not live to see the end of it. He died in his tent on September 5, 1566. Roxelana’s son, Selim became the next sultan. However, Suleyman had not raised his son well, nor had he taught him how to perform the duties of a sultan. As a result, Selim was weak and disinterested in political affairs. The succeeding sultans were no better, and this eventually led to the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
During his lifetime, Suleyman conquered many lands, constructed great wonders, and led his nation to prosper. His hostility towards the Christian empires was a major factor in the growth of Islam. However, he could not master his own household and this led to his downfall and the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.
1. Merriman, Roger. Suleiman the Magnificent. New York. Cooper Square Publishers, INC. 1996.
2. Barber, Noel. The Lords Of The Golden Horn. London. Macmillan London Limited. 1973.
3. Conquerors, Suleyman the Magnificent. TLC, The Learning Channel.
Discovery Communications, Inc. 1996.