|Portrait of Sul1yman the Magnificent by Titian, c.1530
Attribution: After Titian, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EmperorSuleiman.jpg
Süleiman and his nobler title
The Editors wrote the following words in the March/April 1964 edition of Aramco World:
‘Unity was the prize that a great sultan won in conquests from Budapest to Baghdad. In the year 1690, a Turkish visitor to Versailles wrote down these words in his travel diary: “The King of France is the Sultan Suleiman of our time.”
This is a startling observation in view of the fact that Louis XIV of France was himself usually the standard by which the crowned heads of Europe were measured. Versailles, the Sun King, the Royal Court, French rule across much of Europe—such are the distinguishing marks of Louis’ great reign during the seventeenth century.
Who was this man Suleiman to whom the mighty Louis was compared, this man who ruled from the banks of the Bosphorus long before Louis was born? With Suleiman’s name go the words Constantinople, the Grand Turk, the Imperial Divan, as well as his sovereignty from Budapest to Baghdad, from Mesopotamia to Morocco. Suleiman the Magnificent beat Louis XIV by more than a century in creating a personal and political supremacy that others imitated as a model but could never hope to equal.
Europeans who saw him at the height of his power left no doubt of his effect on them. This passage is from a report by the Venetian Ambassador, Bernardo Navagero, writing in the year 1553. “The Turkish Court is a superb sight, and most superb is the Sultan himself. One’s eyes are dazzled by the gleam of gold and jewelry. Silk and brocade shimmer in flashing rays. What strikes one about Suleiman the Magnificent is not his flowing robes or his high turban. He is unique among the throng because his demeanor is that of a truly great emperor.”
Similar reports flowing from Constantinople back to the capitals of Europe caused the Turkish Sultan to be known as “Suleiman the Magnificent.” Within the borders of his own empire, a nobler title was heard. His subjects called him “Suleiman the Lawgiver.”
What was Süleiman?
Born on 6th November 1494 and the only son of Sultan Selim I, Süleiman succeeded his father on the throne of the Ottoman Empire in 1520. After embarking on a series of military campaigns that expanded and consolidated his domain, his reign is now regarded as the pinnacle of Ottoman influence:
- The first campaigns were against the Christian kingdoms of eastern Europe.
- Belgrade was conquered in 1521.
- Rhodes was conquered in 1522-3.
- The Hungarian forces were defeated at the decisive Battle of Mohács in 1526.
- Süleiman also undertook three major campaigns in Persia, defeating Iraq and occupying Baghdad.
Süleiman’s naval forces became a major power in the Mediterranean, establishing their influence after the battle of Preveza in 1538 under Ottoman commander Barbarossa. In the East, Süleiman became known as the “Lawgiver” in recognition of his efforts to reform the Ottoman law system.
Süleymaniye and Selimiye mosques
Although dominated by military campaigns, Süleiman’s rule was also a rich period for art and architecture. Under Süleiman’s reign, his chief architect Sinan was responsible for constructing the famous Süleymaniye and Selimiye mosques.
The Süleymaniye Mosque
The Süleymaniye Mosque is an Ottoman imperial mosque located on the Third Hill of Istanbul, Turkey. The mosque was commissioned by Süleiman the Magnificent and designed by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. An inscription specifies the foundation date as 1550 and the inauguration date as 1557. Behind the qibla wall of the mosque is an enclosure containing the separate octagonal mausoleums of Süleiman the Magnificent and his wife, Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana). The Süleymaniye Mosque was the largest mosque in the city for 462 years but was surpassed by the Çamlıca Mosque in 2019. It is one of the best-known sights of Istanbul, and from its location on the Third Hill, it commands an extensive view of the city around the Golden Horn.
The Selimiye Mosque
Selimiye Mosque (Turkish: Selimiye Camii) is an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the city of Edirne (formerly Adrianople), Turkey. The mosque was commissioned by Sultan Selim II and was built by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan between 1568 and 1575. It was considered by Sinan to be his masterpiece and is one of the highest achievements of Islamic architecture as a whole and Ottoman architecture in particular. The mosque, together with its külliye, was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011.
Süleiman personally led Ottoman armies in conquering the Christian strongholds of Belgrade and Rhodes, as well as most of Hungary, before his conquests were checked at the siege of Vienna in 1529. He annexed much of the Middle East in his conflict with the Safavids and large areas of North Africa as far west as Algeria. See the next page for details of Süleiman’s military exploits.
At the helm of an expanding empire, Süleiman personally instituted major judicial changes relating to society, education, taxation and criminal law. His reforms, carried out in conjunction with the empire’s chief judicial official Ebussuud Efendi, harmonised the relationship between the two forms of Ottoman law: sultanic (Kanun) and religious (Sharia). He was a distinguished poet and goldsmith; he also became a great patron of culture, overseeing the “Golden” age of the Ottoman Empire in its artistic, literary and architectural development.
Breaking with Ottoman tradition, Süleiman married Hürrem Sultan, a woman from his harem. She was an Orthodox Christian of Ruthenian origin who converted to Islam and became famous in the West by the name Roxelana due to her red hair. Their son, Selim II, succeeded Süleiman following his death in 1566 after 46 years of rule.
Although scholars prefer “crisis and adaptation” rather than decline after his death, the end of Süleiman’s reign was a watershed in Ottoman history. In the decades after Süleiman, the empire began to experience significant political, institutional, and economic changes – a phenomenon often referred to as the Transformation of the Ottoman Empire.
Campaigns against Persia
Süleyman waged three major campaigns against Persia:
- The first (1534–35) gave the Ottomans control over the region of Erzurum in eastern Asia Minor and also witnessed the Ottoman conquest of Iraq, a success that rounded off the achievements of Selim I.
- The second campaign (1548–49) brought much of the area around Lake Van under Ottoman rule.
- The third campaign (1554–55) served rather as a warning to the Ottomans of the difficulty of subduing the Safavid state in Persia. The first formal peace between the Ottomans and the Safavids was signed in 1555, but it offered no clear solution to the problems confronting the Ottoman sultan on his eastern frontier.
The Capture of Baghdad from the Safavid dynasty under Tahmasp I was part of the Ottoman–Safavid War (1532–1555). Baghdad was taken without resistance as the Safavid government fled, leaving the city undefended.
From 1527 until 1606, near-constant fighting took place on the long frontier in Hungary and Croatia, dividing the Ottoman Empire from the Habsburg monarchy. The conflict began when Süleyman invaded Hungary in 1526 and defeated King Louis II Jagellio, who died trying to escape.
Brittanica.com notes that:
‘The chief battlefields of Ottoman expansion in Europe under Süleyman were Hungary and the Mediterranean. The weak southeastern European enemies of Süleyman’s predecessors had been replaced by the powerful Habsburg dynasty, which was bolstered by the appeals of the pope throughout Europe against the menace (to Christians) of Islam. Süleyman’s main European ally was France, which sought to use Ottoman pressure in the south to lessen the pressure of the Habsburgs on its eastern frontiers. The land war with the Habsburgs was centred in Hungary and was fought in three main stages.’
Campaigns in the Indian Ocean
Ottoman ships had been sailing in the Indian Ocean since the year 1518. Ottoman admirals such as Hadim Suleiman Pasha, Seydi Ali Reis and Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis are known to have voyaged to the Mughal imperial ports of Thatta, Surat and Janjira. The Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great is known to have exchanged six documents with Süleyman the Magnificent.
Süleyman led several naval campaigns against the Portuguese to remove them and re-establish trade with the Mughal Empire. Aden in Yemen was captured by the Ottomans (in 1538) to provide an Ottoman base for raids against Portuguese possessions on the western coast of the Mughal Empire. Sailing on, the Ottomans failed against the Portuguese at the siege of Diu in September 1538 but then returned to Aden, where they fortified the city with 100 pieces of artillery.
With its strong control of the Red Sea, Süleyman successfully managed to dispute control of the trade routes to the Portuguese and maintained a significant level of trade with the Mughal Empire throughout the 16th century. From 1526 until 1543, Süleiman stationed over 900 Turkish soldiers to fight alongside the Somali Adal Sultanate led by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi during the Conquest of Abyssinia. After the first Ajuran-Portuguese war, the Ottoman Empire absorbed the weakened Adal Sultanate into its domain in 1559. This expansion furthered Ottoman rule in Somalia, thereby increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean to compete with the Portuguese Empire.
The Mediterranean and North African Campaigns
Having consolidated his conquests on land, Süleyman was greeted with the news that the fortress of Koroni in Morea (the modern Peloponnese, peninsular Greece) had been lost to Charles V‘s admiral, Andrea Doria. The presence of the Spanish in the Eastern Mediterranean worried Süleyman, who saw it as an early indication of Charles V’s intention to rival Ottoman dominance in the region. Recognising the need to reassert naval preeminence in the Mediterranean, Süleyman appointed an exceptional naval commander in the form of Khair ad Din, known to Europeans as Barbarossa. Once appointed admiral-in-chief, Barbarossa was charged with rebuilding the Ottoman fleet.
In 1535, Charles V led a Holy League of 26,700 soldiers (10,000 Spaniards, 8,000 Italians, 8,000 Germans, and 700 Knights of St. John) to victory against the Ottomans at Tunis, which, together with the war against Venice, the following year, led Süleyman to accept proposals from Francis I of France to form an alliance against Charles. Huge Muslim territories in North Africa were annexed. The piracy carried on afterwards by the Barbary pirates of North Africa can be seen in the context of the wars against Spain.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, when the Knights Hospitallers were re-established as the Knights of Malta in 1530, their actions against Muslim navies quickly drew the ire of the Ottomans, who assembled another massive army to dislodge the Knights from Malta. The Ottomans invaded Malta in 1565, undertaking the Great Siege of Malta, which began on 18th May 1565 and lasted until 8th September of that year, and is portrayed vividly in the frescoes of Matteo Perez d’Aleccio in the Hall of St. Michael and St. George. At first, it seemed that this would be a repeat of the battle on Rhodes, with most of Malta’s cities destroyed and half the Knights killed in action; but a relief force from Spain entered the battle, resulting in the loss of 10,000 Ottoman troops and the victory of the local Maltese citizenry.
The Final Campaign
In January 1566, Süleyman, who by then had ruled the Ottoman Empire for 46 years, went to war for the last time. Although he was 72 years old and suffered gout to the extent that he was carried on a litter, he nominally commanded his 13th military campaign. On 1st May 1566, the Sultan left Constantinople at the head of one of the largest armies he had ever commanded. Nikola Šubić Zrinski‘s success in an attack upon an Ottoman encampment at Siklós, and as a consequence, Süleyman’s siege of Szigetvár, blocked the Ottoman’s line of advance towards Vienna. Although the outcome was an Ottoman victory, the battle stopped the Ottoman push for Vienna that year as Süleyman died during the siege.
Poetry and Quotations
Süleyman the Magnificent was a creative conqueror who wielded both sword and pen. At his death, he left behind a more sprawling Ottoman dominion than ever before – and more verses than any other Sultan. The literary historian Elias John Wilkinson Gibb observed that “at no time, even in Turkey, was greater encouragement given to poetry than during the reign of this Sultan“. Süleiman’s most famous verse is: 
‘The people think of wealth and power as the greatest fate,
But in this world, a spell of health is the best state.
What men call sovereignty is a worldly strife and constant war;
Worship of God is the highest throne, the happiest of all estates.’: 84
‘I, the sultan of sultans, and the strongest ruler, the loftiest king who defeats the kingdoms around the world, and the shadow of Allah in the Earth, am the son of Sultan Selim who is the son of Sultan Beyazid, Sultan Suleiman, Caesar of Rome, the sultan of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, and Thrace, and Anatolia, and Karaman and the City of Dulkadir and Diyarbakir and Kurdistan, and Iran and Damascus and Aleppo and Egypt and Mecca and Medinah and Jerusalem and the whole Arab land and Yemen and many more lands that our lofty ancestors conquered with their crushing powers and I conquered with my fire-scattering sword…’
‘I am Suleiman the Magnificent. I AM the Ottoman Empire.’
‘The people think of wealth and power as the greatest fate, But in this world, a spell of health is the best state.’
‘What men call sovereignty is a worldly strife and constant war; Worship of God is the highest throne, the happiest of all estates’.
Sources and Further Reading
- YouTube Video: Süleyman the Magnificent, 1987 – From the Vaults, at: https://youtu.be/1uTGy_meBFg
- YouTube Video: Suleiman the Magnificent – Hero of All That Is, at: https://youtu.be/JGZSkLq3Eng
- YouTube Video, The Life and Death of Süleiman the Magnificent, at: https://youtu.be/cMJgYzgpsrY
- Book: Süleiman the Magnificent: The Life and Legacy of the Ottoman Empire’s Most Famous Sultan, by Charles-River-Editors, independently published, 24th December 2018, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Suleiman-Magnificent-Legacy-Ottoman-Empires/dp/1792653115/
- Book: Süleiman the Magnificent, by Andre Clot, published by Saqi Books, 13th February 2011, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Suleiman-Magnificent-Andre-Clot/dp/0863564984/
- Book: Süleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566, by Roger Bigelow Merriman, available at: https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674421059
- Book: Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1923, by Caroline Finkel (2005), published by New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02396-7.
- Book: Süleyman the Second and His Time. Istanbul:by Halil İnalcık, Cemal Kafadar, eds. (1993), published by The Isis Press. ISBN 975-428-052-5.(deals with Suleiman 1494 to 1566)
- Book: Süleiman the Magnificent Sultan of the East (1951) by Harold Lamb, online at https://archive.org/details/suleimanthemagni001564mbp
- Book: The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire, by Necipoğlu, Gülru, published by Princeton University Press, 2005.
- Book: Roxolana in European literature, history and culture, by Galina I Yermolenko ed., published by Routledge, 2016)
 At: https://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/196402/suleiman.the.lawgiver.htm (pages 8-10 of the March/April 1964 print edition of Saudi Aramco World).
 Source: Ágoston, Gábor (2009). “Süleyman I”. In Ágoston, Gábor; Masters, Bruce (eds.). Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire.
 Explanation: The Siege of Vienna, (17th July to 12th September 1683), was a military expedition by the Ottomans against the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor Leopold I that resulted in Ottoman defeat by a combined force led by John III Sobieski of Poland. The lifting of the siege marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman domination in eastern Europe. Source: https://www.britannica.com/event/Siege-of-Vienna-1683
 Explanation: The Safavid dynasty was one of Iran‘s most significant ruling dynasties reigning from 1501 to 1736. Their rule is often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history, as well as one of the gunpowder empires. The Safavid Shāh Ismā’īl I established the Twelver denomination of Shīʿa Islam as the official religion of the Persian Empire, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safavid_dynasty
 Source: Finkel, Caroline (2005). Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300–1923. Basic Books. p145.
 Sources: (1) Hathaway, Jane (2008). The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule, 1516–1800. Pearson Education Ltd. p. 8. historians of the Ottoman Empire have rejected the narrative of decline in favor of one of crisis and adaptation. (2) Tezcan, Baki (2010). The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern Period. Cambridge University Press. p9. the conventional narrative of Ottoman history – that in the late sixteenth century the Ottoman Empire entered a prolonged period of decline marked by steadily increasing military decay and institutional corruption – has been discarded, and (3) Woodhead, Christine (2011). “Introduction”. In Woodhead, Christine (ed.). The Ottoman World. p. 5. Ottomanist historians have largely jettisoned the notion of a post-1600 ‘decline’
 Sources: (1) Şahin, Kaya (2013). Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and (2) Tezcan, Baki (2010). The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern Period. Cambridge University Press. p10.
 Source: Cavendish, Marshall (2006). World and Its Peoples: The Middle East, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, p193. Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 978-0-7614-7571-2.
 See: The Jagiellonian dynasty, or simply Jagiellon, was a royal dynasty, founded by Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, who in 1386 was baptized as Władysław, married QueenJadwiga of Poland, and was crowned King of Poland as Władysław II Jagiełło. The dynasty reigned in several Central European countries between the 14th and 16th centuries. Members of the dynasty were Kings of Poland (1386–1572), Grand Dukes of Lithuania (1377–1392 and 1440–1572), Kings of Hungary (1440–1444 and 1490–1526), and Kings of Bohemia and imperial electors (1471–1526). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagiellonian_dynasty
 Source: Özcan, Azmi (1997). Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877–1924. BRILL. pp11. ISBN 978-90-04-10632-1.
 Sources: (1) Özcan, Azmi (1997). Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877–1924. BRILL. pp11. ISBN 978-90-04-10632-1, (2) Farooqi, N. R. (1996). “Six Ottoman documents on Mughal-Ottoman relations during the reign of Akbar”, Journal of Islamic Studies. 7 (1): 32–48, and (3) Farooqi, Naimur Rahman (1989). Mughal-Ottoman relations: a study of political & diplomatic relations between Mughal India and the Ottoman Empire, 1556–1748. Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli.
 Ibid, and İnalcik, Halil (1997). An economic and social history of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge University Press. p326. ISBN 978-0-521-57456-3.
 Source: History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey by Ezel Kural Shaw p107.
 Source: Clodfelter, Micheal (9 May 2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015, 4th ed. McFarland. ISBN 9780786474707 – via Google Books.
 Source: Mitev, Georgi. “History of Malta and Gozo – From Prehistory to Independence”.
 Ibid, p56-57.