By Matija Šerić
In 1536, the first treaty of friendship was concluded between the Ottoman Empire and the French King Francis I. France was prompted to take this step by the constellation of relations in Europe. In the conflict with the Habsburg monarchy, France lost its Italian possessions in 1525, and the Habsburgs also squeezed it. With the French-Ottoman treaty concluded in 1536, called the capitulation, both opponents of the Habsburgs found themselves in a friendly alliance. The partnership with France is a definite indication that the Ottoman Empire has become a European power. The agreement included free trade and navigation of citizens of both countries without special taxes. The agreement brought tangible advantages to both sides. France gained an advantage in trade in the Levant that would last for centuries, and the Porte hoped that the activity of French businessmen in Ottoman territory would revive its foreign trade and increase customs revenues. The Ottomans almost never traded in non-Islamic countries, and the increasingly strong trade on the Atlantic robbed the Ottoman Empire of its income.
Intrigues at court
The conclusion of the treaty with the French was the pinnacle of Grand Vizier Ibrahim’s diplomatic achievements. In the meantime, the sultan fell completely under the influence of his new wife, Hurrem Sultan, a former slave and a Christian, who converted to Islam, and the sultan and the sultan were married according to Sharia rules and had six children together. Europeans called Hurrem Rokselana because of her East Slavic (Ruthenian, Ukrainian) origin and red hair. She had a great influence on Sulejman when creating his state policy and especially his foreign policy. She was against the friendship between Ibrahim and Sulejman. She opposed the influence of the grand vizier on the sultan and the extraordinary power that Ibrahim gradually managed to acquire. Rokselana is responsible for the highly talented politician and diplomat Ibrahim, an intimate friend of the sultan, being summarily executed in March 1536. Undoubtedly, it’s Rokselana’s credit that no future grand vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent could achieve as much power as Ibrahim achieved. Along with the conflict between Hurrem and Ibrahim, harem intrigues began at the Ottoman court, which later, in the period of decline, would contribute not to the weakness of the Ottoman central government.
The law of expansion continued to define and direct Ottoman foreign policy. The raid on southern Italy in 1537 didn’t bring the desired success, but a year later the Venetian fleet near Preveza suffered a decisive defeat. That war broke out because the Republic of San Marco couldn’t get over being overtaken by the French in the Levant trade. With the conclusion of the peace in 1540, Venice lost its possessions in Dalmatia, the Peloponnese and the Aegean archipelago, but for that reason it was granted trade privileges that essentially coincided with the provisions of the treaty with France.
In 1538, the largely independent Principality of Moldavia was also forced to recognize Ottoman suzerainty. In the same year, Aden was conquered by the efforts of the Ottoman fleet, and in 1547, large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sana, were conquered by the action of the Ottoman land force. Later, the Ottomans managed to reach the neighboring African coast. With the seizure of southern Arabia, the almost complete incorporation of the Arab world into the Ottoman state was achieved. One expedition to India, directed against the consolidation of Portugal on the subcontinent, passed without tangible results.
When Ferdinand of Habsburg wanted to occupy the whole of Hungary after the death of the Ottoman vassal Ivan Zapolja, the Ottoman troops started fighting again against the Habsburg Monarchy. Buda was annexed together with the central part of Hungary in 1541. The western part of the country remained under the control of the Habsburgs and will henceforth be called the Kingdom of Hungary. The eastern part was handed over by Sulejman to Ivan Zapolja’s son, Ivan Sigismund. The Ottoman vassal Principality of Erdelj (Transylvania) later developed from the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom.
The battles with the Habsburgs dragged on until 1547, when they temporarily ended. Instead, the Ottoman leadership tried to annex Persia again in 1548. The Safavids, at the same time in the east of their country under pressure from the Uzbeks, a Sunni Turkish people, then, as before, avoided an open battle with the Ottomans. And that campaign passed without a lasting effect. In 1551, the fight against Austria flared up again, because the Habsburgs succeeded in conquering the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom, which was under Ottoman supreme authority. However, that war brought the Ottomans only a slight increase in their territory in Hungary.
Then, in 1553, the Porte again turned against the Safavid Empire. However, the result of that military venture did not meet expectations either. The peace of Amasya was concluded in 1555, according to which Armenia and Georgia were divided in two, Azerbaijan was left to the Safavids, while most of Iraq, including Baghdad, remained under Ottoman control. The border thus established went over the mountains that divided eastern and western Georgia (under native vassal princes), through Armenia and over the western slopes of the Zagros to the Persian Gulf. The peace also influenced the development of things in the west because Erdelj had to reckon with the possibility of a new Ottoman campaign, broke with the Habsburgs and in 1556 voluntarily recognized Ottoman supremacy again. At that time, the Ottoman fleet completed the conquest of the so-called a state of Barbary in the coastal area of northwestern Africa. Thus, the geographical framework of the Ottoman Empire acquires proportions that will mostly exist until the end of the 17th century. In contrast, in 1565, the siege of Malta, the new headquarters of the the Knights Hospitaller, finished without success.
Suleiman’s last European campaign was directed against the new Habsburg Emperor Maximilian II, who did not want to accept the loss of Erdelj and refused to pay tribute to the Porte. In 1566, the undertaking led to the conquest of the Siget fortress in southwestern Hungary, which closed the road to Vienna as part of the system of fortifications. The siege of Siget became legendary in Croatian history because it stopped the Ottoman advance towards Vienna, and the commander Nikola Šubić Zrinski and the other defenders perished in the battle. Suleiman was not destined to experience triumph because he died three days before the fall of the city. The then grand vizier Mehmet Pasha Sokolović covered up the death of the sultan, who was more than 70 years old, so that the troops would not prematurely end the siege. It was a Pyrrhic victory because the Ottoman plans to conquer a wider area in Central Europe failed.
Legislative activity and architectural achievements
The reign of Suleiman the Magnificent was important not only because of the significant expansion of the state territory, but also because of legislative innovations. That is why Turkish historiography gave Suleiman the nickname Kanuni (Lawgiver). The Great Code, which was named after him, dealt with land, financial and fiscal law. As part of the list of taxes, local customary law is also codified – mostly with regard to taxes. Such lists were occasionally compiled earlier, but the inclusion of the Ottoman Empire with a truly large-scale tax system, including the newly acquired territories, was undertaken only then.
A special code was drawn up for Egypt, which had a special status. In accordance with the territorial expansion of the state, several new vilayets were established, for example Buda or Timisoara in historical Hungary, Sivas, Erzurum and Van in eastern Anatolia, Baghdad in Iraq. Algeria, Tripolitania, Yemen and “Abyssinia” which should be understood as the coastal area of Sudan and Eritrea, were governed as vilayets with the obligation of tribute (saliyan). The local principalities in Gilan, on the southern shore of the Caspian Lake, and in Shirvan in the Caucasus, as well as the principality of Basra in the Persian Gulf, recognized the Ottoman supreme authority, while the former vassal principality of Zulkadr was already transformed into a regular, non-autonomous vilayet at the beginning of Suleiman’s reign. The development of diplomacy and legislation contributed to the growth of bureaucracy. In foreign policy, the Port made use of a circle of persons who had an impeccable command of European languages and were unlimitedly loyal to the interests of the Ottoman state. That is why during the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, the institution of Porta’s interpreters, which had existed since the reign of Bayezit II, was significantly expanded.
Suleiman I became famous for sponsoring a series of huge architectural buildings. Under him, the construction of a large-scale canal began, which aimed to provide the capital with water. The Sultan wanted to turn the capital of the empire, Constantinople, into the center of Islamic civilization through a series of projects including bridges, mosques, palaces and other buildings. The top buildings of his era were created at his desire and encouragement. The most famous buildings were built by the sultan’s architect Mimar Sinan, under whom Ottoman architecture reached its peak. Sinan built over 300 buildings within the empire including two masterpieces: the mosques of Suleimani and Selimi (built in the era of Suleiman’s son and successor Selim II). Suleiman rebuilt the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s city walls, renovated the Kaaba in Mecca and constructed a complex in Damascus. Both art and literary expression flourish. The Sultan was particularly fond of poetry.
Game of Thrones
The tragic fate of the Grand Vizier Ibrahim has already been mentioned. The execution of Grand Vizier Kara Ahmet in 1555 was also due to the influence of his wife Rokselana. The Sultan’s favorite wanted to release the highest position in the state for her son-in-law Rüstem Pasha (Croat born in Skradin, married Princess Mihrimah, daughter of Suleiman and Hurem). More or less at Rokselana’s instigation, in 1553 Prince Mustafa, the sultan’s son from his marriage to his real wife Gülbehar, was also removed, so that the succession to the throne would be ensured for one of her sons – Selim II. For the sultan, there was indeed a danger of being supplanted by his son Mustafa, popular and respected especially among the janissaries, as Suleiman’s grandfather Bayezit II once was. removed by Selim I.
The execution of Suleiman’s second son, Prince Bayezit, could not be avoided from the point of view of the state reason. That young prince, Roxelana’s son, also very popular, wanted to secure an inheritance for himself during his father’s lifetime against his brother Selim, who ascended the throne as Selim II after Suleiman’s death. After the military defeat, Bayezit first fled to the Safavids. But the shah handed him over to the Ottomans, so as not to jeopardize the recently achieved peace (1555). On this, Bayazit and his children fell victim to the executioner’s rope for strangulation (1562).
Epilogue and legacy
Many historians place the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman state at the moment of the death of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1566, because with him came the end of a series of capable rulers. Superficially, such an interpretation makes sense. His immediate successors in the position of sultan: Selim II was a drunkard, and his grandson Murat III. a weakling who was only interested in the harem. However, moments of decline began during the era of Suleiman. The end of the great conquests in Europe in the 1540s meant less economic booty, but also the fact that in the future the Porte did not have enough new land to give as gifts to the ever-growing Spahian army. In addition, high inflation, extraordinary taxation of peasants to compensate for the income from less and less military campaigns, corruption of high officials that began with Suleiman’s Grand Vizier and son-in-law Rüstem Pasha, and harem intrigues are all problems that began in Suleiman’s era, although they were not noticed. However, they would later be fatal to the empire’s power and influence on the Bosphorus.
The achievements of the Ottoman state during the era of Suleiman the Magnificent can be assessed as imposing. The area of Ottoman power was extended to southeastern Europe (including parts of Croatia) and a good part of the Carpathian basin, to Iraq, southern Arabia, and to almost all of northwestern Africa. The state territory was increased by half of the previous territory and almost the entire Islamic world was united. The main Muslim cities of Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad were placed under Ottoman control. To this should be added the vassal states: Crimea, Erdelj, Wallachia and Moldavia. The Ottoman state, until then considered a barbarian body, was tacitly recognized as an important power with which the Christian empires of Europe could cooperate when necessary.
Although the achievements of the Ottoman state during the time of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent were great, there were significant territorial conquests before during the time of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror or Selim the Strict. The involvement of the Ottomans in European politics is a phenomenon during the time of Suleiman, but it is a consequence of the conflict between European states. Suleiman didn’t create a state out of nothing like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, but came to power in an already organized state that he continued to build. Nevertheless, the achievements of Suleiman’s 46-year era are significant, and the Ottoman Empire lived on for another three and a half centuries after his death in 1566. Undoubtedly, Suleiman the Magnificent will be remembered as a great ruler whose legacy is cherished by the modern Republic of Turkey and who will always have a secured place in the hearts of the Turkish people as someone who made their homeland the superpower of its era.