September 30

1520 Accession of Suleiman the Magnificent

The longest-serving and probably greatest of the Ottoman emperors was Suleiman, known in the West as “the Magnificent” and to the Turks as “the Lawgiver”. Born in 1494 to Sultan Selim the Grim, he followed his father’s policy of aggressive expansion of his empire and Sunni Islam.

In 1521 Suleiman struck into Serbia and captured Belgrade. The next year he took the important fortress of Rhodes from which the Knights of St John had bedevilled Islamic shipping in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1526 he smashed the Hungarians at Mohács and killed their king, but in 1527 he received a setback in his war on Christian Europe — his forces were turned back after an unsuccessful siege of Vienna. Fortunes in the battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire would ebb and flow for centuries.

Next to face Suleiman’s armies were the Persians, recently made subject to the Shi’ite Safavid dynasty. A series of wars for the next three decades would advance the Turkish realm deeper into western Asia. 

At sea Ottoman navies battled the Portuguese in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean as far away as what is now Indonesia. In the Mediterranean Turkish fleets and their allies in the pirate states of North Africa had success against the ships of the Italian city states and Spain — a cynical alliance (is there any other kind?) with the French made that task easier.

In Turkey Suleiman was best known for codifying non-Sharia Islamic law and for sponsoring a flowering of arts and architecture. He himself was a poet of note.

Unlike previous Ottoman sultans, Suleiman married one of his concubines, a blonde Ukrainian beauty, daughter of an Orthodox priest, captured in a slaving raid and sold to the palace. Though their love affair was of epic proportions it did the empire no good. Under Roxelane’s influence, Suleiman killed two of his abler sons by other women in order to make her child, Selim, his heir. On his death in 1566 the apex of Ottoman grandeur had been reached, never again to be surpassed.

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