Poll: Who was the greatest Ottoman Sultan in History?

The Ottoman Empire made its name known all over the world. There are many things to wonder about this state, which dominated both European and Middle East politics for hundreds of years.

One of the most important questions is: Who were the Greatest Ottoman Sultans in history?

In this Poll, we invite you to decide who was the Greatest Ottoman Sultan in history. Your vote counts.

Since the Ottoman Empire dominated the world for a long time, it had many influential Sultans.

Since the Sultans were the central figures of the Ottoman state, it is impossible to neglect their impact, influence in the politics of the Empire.

When we usually hear about the Ottoman sultans, most of the time we think about political-military rulers who draw swords and fight.

This is only a simplistic view of the Ottoman rulers, who had in reality very complex personalities, from skilled politicians to patrons of arts.

Because the Sultan was the equivalent of the European absolute monarch, their reigns are usually and in most cases rightfully associated with periods of ascensions and declines of the Ottoman Empire.

We present you a list of the greatest Ottoman Sultans and their most important achievements.

Osman Ghazi(1280-1299)
Osman I

The foundation of the Ottoman Empire and the life of its first ruler have something in common; both are surrounded by mystery.

Because of the scarcity of written sources for this time, it is very difficult to separate the myth/legend from reality.

What we know today about Osman I could be as true as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey stories about the Trojan War.

According to the official agreed chain of events, Osman’s father, Ertogrul was an emir in the service of the Seljuks.

Because Osman’s father helped the Seljuks in an important battle against the Mongols, the Seljuks rewarded him with a principality in North-Western Anatolia, close to the Byzantine province of Bithynia.

The strategic location of Ertogrul’s new domain would prove to be later vital for the expansionist plans of his son, Osman I.

When Osman I took the power in 1280, he started raiding and capturing nearby Byzantine lands.

To prevent a war on two fronts at the same time, Osman I, maintained peaceful relations with the other Turkoman/Seljuk tribes from Anatolia.

Though initially successful in capturing small Byzantine villages, Osman knew that he had to capture 3 major Byzantine towns if he wanted to secure his place in history and the success of his kingdom.

The 3 Byzantine cities to be conquered were: Nicaea, Nicomedia, and Bursa.

The first major Ottoman victory would be achieved near Nicaea(Iznik).

Depending on the sources the Battle of Baphaeon took place either in the year 1301 or 1302.

Without success Osman I attempted to capture the city, the Byzantine emperor sent a force of 2000 soldiers to stop Osman I and his followers.

Osman and his army successfully repelled the Byzantine army and earned a great victory, the success on the battlefield helped Osman’s expansionist plans.

Benefitting from the fame gained after this battle, ghazis from all over Anatolia, rallied under the banner of Osman’s beylik, considerably reinforcing his forces.

At the same time, the Byzantines realized that Osman’s beylik was a threat that could not be ignored.

The pinnacle of Osman’s expansionist campaign would be achieved during the fall of the Byzantine city of Bursa in 1326, after a long 9-year siege.

The city of Bursa will become the first major capital of the Ottoman state.

Again the sources are conflicting, while some tell mention that Osman died before the end of the siege of the city, others suggest that the Ottoman ruler lived long enough to see the victory and was buried afterward in the conquered city according to his own wishes.

Mehmed I(1413-1421)
Mehmed I ottoman sultan

After the disastrous battle of Ankara in 1402, the Ottoman Empire could’ve easily disintegrated into many pieces and never recover.

Not only that the Ottoman Empire didn’t collapse, but the Ottomans manage to miraculously reunite and recover in a short time frame, by 1415 the Ottoman Empire resumed its military expansion, and by 1453 the major city of Constantinopole had fallen into their hands.

Much of this success can be attributed to Sultan Mehmed I, the fourth son of Bayezid I, the defeated Ottoman Sultan during the battle of Ankara.

For a good reason Mehmed I is often considered the “second founder of the Ottoman Empire”.

It was Mehmed I who had the difficult mission of putting together all the pieces of the puzzle that was once the Ottoman Empire under his father, Bayezid I.

After the Ottoman defeat at Ankara, Mehmed I established his power base around the city of Amasya, while his brothers Isa and Suleyman controlled Bursa and Rumelia.

Since there was no clear rule of succession for the Ottoman sultans at that time, all sons of Bayezid could claim their right to be the next Ottoman sultans.

A 10-year long struggle for supremacy over the territories of the Ottoman Empire had begun(1403-1411).

This task was not an easy one, because external forces: the Timurids, Venetians, Serbians, Wallachians, Byzantines, attempted to maintain the 1402 status quo by intervening in the conflict between the sons of Bayezid I.

The first major obstacle, Isa was deposed and expelled from the city of Bursa in 1404. Now the fight was only between Suleyman and Mehemed.

Suleyman proved to be a better commander and initially defeated Mehmed by invading Anatolia and even capturing Bursa.

Mehmed found a brilliant solution to the military stalemate in Anatolia.

He arranged for the release of his brother Musa, who was still Timur’s prisoner.

Musa was then sent with an expeditionary force over the Black Sea and landed in the European territories controlled by Suleyman.

With his European possessions threatened, Suleyman was forced to withdraw from Anatolia and Mehmed recovered the lost ground.

The fight between Suleyman and Musa ended with the victory of the last.

With Musa now in charge of the European territories, he now became the biggest threat for the Byzantines.

In an attempt to consolidate his rule, Musa besieged Constantinopole, this move would soon backfire.

The Byzantines, would request the military aid of Mehmed and even provided ships to safely transport his forces into Europe.

The armies of Mehmed and Musa would ultimately clash on the plain of Chamurli(modern-day Bulgaria).

Musa’s forces were crushed, and later Musa would be captured, blinded, and strangled by Mehmed.

By defeating his brothers: Isa, Suleyman, and Musa; Mehmed secured his reign and reunified the Ottoman Empire.

After reunifying the Empire, Mehemed began a series of successful military campaigns again Wallachia, Albania, and even Hungary.

By the time of his death in 1421, the Ottoman Empire was not only reunified and consolidated but it was also resumed its expansionist policies.

Mehmed I officially ruled the reunified Ottoman Empire for only 8 years(1413-1421), but his achievements in this short time frame helped him earn a well-deserved place in history.

Selim I(1512-1520)
Selim I

Bayezid II’s rule consolidates the territorial gains of Mehmed II, while also paving the way for another glorious reign of another great Ottoman ruler, Sultan Selim I(1512-1520).

His reign, though very short, is one of the most important in the history of the Ottoman state, due to its impressive achievements.

By dealing with the threat represented by the Safavids and quickly crushing the Egyptian mamluks, Sultan Selim expanded the surface of the Ottoman Empire by approximately 70%.

Before the start of the Serbian and Egyptian campaigns, the surface of the Ottoman Empire was approximately 341,100 square miles.

By the end of Selim’s rule, the Ottoman Empire had a surface of 576,900 square miles.

Selim I, also began consolidating the Ottoman navy, which would be later used in combat by his son, future Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent.

Selim’s rule marked the transformation of the Ottoman Empire from a peripheral empire to an Empire with Universal aspirations, partly due to the annexations of the Holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

From now the Ottomans could claim that they are also the protectors of Islam, and as the protectors, they had the right to when or not to declare holy war.

The Ottoman Sultans were not only the protectors of the Ottoman state and its territories but also the guardians of the Islamic world, at least ideologically and religiously.

With the destruction of the Mamluk Sultanate, the Ottomans State effectively had become the dominant and undisputed power in the Muslim World.

Selim, I was not only preoccupied with military expansion.

He was also interested in the development of science and theology at the same time. This means that like other Great Ottoman Sultans he was not only preoccupied with military conquest.

The causes of his death in 1520 are not very clear, while some historians mention a weird sickness, modern-day historians believe that he actually died of cancer.

Bayezid I(1389-1402)
Bayezid I

Bayezid I was the son of Murad I and Gulcicek Hatun, a Greek woman who had entered the Sultan’s harem.

Bayezid I was born in 1354 in Edirne, spending his childhood learning the art of war and efficient administration. He was an educated young man, but especially a warrior who did not prepare to lead his troops into battle.

In fact, Bayezid I became sultan in the middle of a major battle.

In 1389 he accompanied his father, Murad I, in his campaign in the Balkans against the Serbs. By then, Ottoman power had grown considerably, taking over territories in southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. During the battle of Kosovo against the Serbs, Sultan Murad was killed by Milos Obilic.

The weak and demoralized Ottoman troops were on the verge of losing the battle. Then Bayezid I, the new sultan consecrated on the battlefield, took command of the troops and, in a determined and bold maneuver, motivated his soldiers and massacred a large part of the Serbian army.

In retaliation for the death of his father, Bayezid I killed all Serb prisoners. However, the capital Kosovo could not be conquered, so the Turks withdrew.

What was left of Serbia received a large degree of autonomy from Bayezid I in exchange for vassalship and payment of tribute. Bayezid I then began to spread terror in the Balkans and had become a real threat to Christian Europe.

He conquered much of the Balkans and brought the Bulgarian territories to his knees. In 1393, Tsar Shishman lost Nicopolis, and Straţimir barely managed to keep Vidin, being a vassal of the Turks.

The Byzantine Empire was no longer an empire. After Bayezid I’s conquests, he was left with only the city of Constantinople and its massive walls.

In 1391 the city was already besieged by the Ottoman armies under the command of Bayezid I. The border between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe was getting closer and closer to Hungary, the gateway to the West. The Venetians, the Hungarians, the Wallachians felt directly threatened by the storm caused by Bayezid I.

In 1394, Pope Boniface IX called the great Western powers on a crusade against the Ottomans. In 1396 a large crusading army, consisting of troops from the Kingdom of Hungary, led by Sigismund of Luxembourg, but also important troops of French knights, commanded by Philip of Artois, Jean the Fearless, Jean de Vienne or Enguerrand VII de Coucy, gathered near the Hungarian capital of Buda. The Crusaders were soon joined by the Knights of Saint John, troops sent by the Venetian Republic, knights from the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, Poland, Bohemia, and Navarre.

In addition to the knights of the West, the Wallachian contingents led by Mircea the Elder appeared, as well as those of the Serbian despot Stephen II Brankovic. The crusading armies stopped at the gates of Nicopolis. Bayezid soon gave up the siege of Constantinople and reached Nicopolis with lightning speed. Following the battle, Bayezid’s troops destroyed the crusading army and inflict a crushing defeat on the Christian West.

The Balkans remained in the hands of the Ottomans, and Bayezid was already thinking of an expedition across the Danube. In fact, it was not the first time he had attacked a Christian state north of the river. In 1394 he launched an invasion against Wallachia. At Rovine he was beaten by Mircea the Elder, but he managed to drive away from the voivode of Muntenia twice.

Eventually, Mircea the Elder agreed to become a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. However, Bayezid immediate goal was not a campaign north of the Danube, but the conquest of Constantinople. For the third time, he launched a massive siege of the city. This time the city was on the verge of capitulating. The rescue came from the steppes of Central Asia.

As Bayezid I wreaked havoc in the Balkans and fought with Christians in Europe, a new hurricane was raging in Central Asia.

The Mongols had found a new warrior leader and set out again to conquer the world. His name was Timur Lenk or Timur the Lame.

His name meant “iron” and he was a famous steppe warrior, being a horse thief and mercenary over time. He became master of the hordes and in 1380 he began to conquer the surrounding lands. Horasan, Central and Western Persia, Armenia, Georgia, present-day Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan fall in front of his hordes.

Until 1395 he subdued the Tartars of the Golden Horde. In 1398 he conquered Delhi, and in 1401 Baghdad and Damascus fell to Timur Lenk’s warriors. He reaches the borders of the Ottoman Empire and, after persuading many emirates subject to Bayezid to join him, confronts the Ottoman sultan directly.

The decisive battle took place in 1402, on the Çubuk plain in front of Ankara. Timur Lenk had more than 700,000 warriors, some sources say, and Bayezid only 300,000 fighters. Moreover, the Ottomans were tired, being taken directly from the siege of Constantinople.

Timur had strategically occupied the banks of the Çubuk River and managed to adapt his horses, but also to give a respite to his thirsty troops. Bayezid’s soldiers, on the other hand, were tired, thirsty, and hungry. Right at the beginning of the battle, the Anatolian nobles deserted from Bayezid’s army.

Even the sultan’s sons left their father at the sight of the Mongol juror. Only part of the loyal Turkish troops and Serb allies remained with Bayezid.

Historical sources show that, although he was aware that he would lose the battle, the Ottoman sultan and his body of elite horsemen threw themselves into the fire of the battle. He fought all day and killed a large number of enemies.

When it became clear that he would be surrounded by the Mongols, Bayezid, along with his bodyguards, tried to break the siege. Some sources show that his stallion fell to the ground with his rider, after stumbling over a stone. Bayezid was surrounded by enemies and captured. Bayezid’s reign was over, and Ottoman expansion and glory were temporarily halted.

Abdul Hamid II(1876-1909)
Abdulhamid II

Abdul Hamid II was born in Istanbul on September 21, 1842 in the ” Çırağan Palace”, as the son of Sultan Abdulmecid I and Sultana Tirimüjgan.

He was a student of the most famous teachers of his time and mastered Persian, Arabic, and French, in addition to receiving lessons in music, and visited Egypt and Europe with his uncle Sultan Abdul Aziz.

Abdul Hamid II ascended the Ottoman throne on August 31, 1876, to be the thirty-fourth sultan of the Ottoman sultans.

His ascension to the throne came after the deposing of his brother Murad V and his uncle Sultan Abdul Aziz, against the backdrop of efforts by statesmen and administrators to establish a constitutional management formula for the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Achievements.

During his reign, the first constitution of the Ottoman state was announced.

– Abdul Hamid gave priority to paying foreign debts and improving the economic sector

– He made great efforts to strengthen relations with the Islamic world and sought to spread Islam to the ends of the Earth such as South Africa and Japan

– He ordered the construction of the Hijaz railway extending from Damascus to Mecca.

– He refused an offer from the Zionists to pay off the foreign debts in exchange for the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine.

– He took important steps in the fields of education, housing, agriculture, and health

Sultan Abdul Hamid faced many problems immediately after ascending the throne, and perhaps the most prominent of these problems was Russia’s declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire on April 24, 1877.

Despite the victories achieved by the commander Osman Pasha in Pleven (the city of northern Bulgaria) and the commander Ahmed Mukhtar Pasha in the Eastern Front, the general course of the war did not change. The armies of the Ottoman Empire were forced to withdraw from large areas, and Istanbul and other Ottoman cities were subjected to waves of migration that brought with them tens of thousands of Muslim and Turkish immigrants.

Meanwhile, the Sultan announced that on February 13, 1878, the Council of Envoys (representing the House of Representatives in the Ottoman Empire) would be suspended indefinitely; due to war conditions.

On March 3, 1878, the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of San Stefano with Russia; To end the Russo-Ottoman War (1877-1878), which led to the emergence of the state of Bulgaria.

On June 4, 1878, Sultan Abdülhamid II reluctantly ratified a treaty signed by the Ottoman government regarding the temporary handover to the United Kingdom of the administration of Cyprus.

During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Ottoman Empire was forced – according to the Treaty of Berlin signed on July 13, 1878 – to accept the payment of compensation to Russia for the years of war.

Sultan Abdul Hamid gathered the centers of state administration in Yildiz Palace, with the support and support of some statesmen, and established a powerful intelligence service known as the “Yıldız Intelligence Service”.

The difficulties encountered in foreign policy, especially the intrigues hatched by foreign countries against the Sultanate, forced Sultan Abdul Hamid II to implement a strict approach to the management of the state.

Abdul Hamid II believed in the necessity of reform and that the emergence of reform results required giving the reform movement sufficient time.

During his reign, Sultan Abdul Hamid II maintained a simple lifestyle, and he never hesitated to contribute to the state treasury with his own money and to reduce palace expenses to a minimum.

Abdul Hamid gave priority to paying foreign debts and improving the economic sector, and on December 20, 1881, reached an agreement with representatives of European creditors (known as the Muharram Agreement), according to which the “Ottoman Public Debt Administration” was established, to structure the state’s debts and meet them through some state revenue.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II made great efforts to strengthen relations with the Islamic world and began building and extending railways, and linking the cities of the country to each other by railways.

The foreign policy represents the most successful field of Sultan Abdul Hamid, who was keen to follow political developments in the world closely.

For this purpose, he created a center in the palace to collect information, to which all publications issued against Turkey around the world, and reports sent to the Sultan by foreign representations, are received for evaluation.

The main objective in foreign policy was to ensure that the empire could live in peace; Sultan Abdul Hamid benefited from the conflicting interests and ambitions of Western countries, and this is why foreign policy changed according to the changing circumstances in international relations, and he did not enter into a sustainable agreement with any country and carried out various diplomatic activities with the aim of splitting the ranks of the major countries as much as possible.

Sultan Abdul Hamid tried – through the policy of the Islamic Union – to confront the efforts of the British agents to spread Arab nationalist thought, and to appoint the Khedive of Egypt as a caliph, claiming that the caliphate belonged to the Arabs.

Sultan Abdul Hamid sought to spread Islam to the ends of the earth, such as South Africa and Japan, by sending scholars and ordering the construction of the Hijaz railway extending from Damascus to Mecca.

The issue of Palestine is one of the important issues in which Sultan Abdul Hamid demonstrated his steadfastness and achieved a partial success. Where he refused an offer from the Zionists to pay off foreign debts, in exchange for the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine.

Sultan Abdul Hamid also took a series of measures to prevent the immigration of Jews to Palestine from all over the world and their settlement there.

Sultan Abdul Hamid made important steps in the fields of education, housing, and agriculture.

The number of schools in their various stages increased dramatically, and the number of teachers’ homes (representing a higher institute for preparing teachers) increased to 32 between 1876 and 1908.

He also opened several higher institutes to graduate qualified cadres in the fields of agriculture, finance, law, veterinary medicine, trade, and others.

Thanks to this policy, primary and intermediate education according to the Western system has spread throughout the country, under the supervision of the state.

The reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid witnessed a special interest in sports and teaching them according to scientific foundations. During his reign, 3 of the most prestigious Turkish football clubs were founded: Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas.

The Sultan was also keen on developing the health sector and social assistance; During his reign, he witnessed the construction of the “Haydar Pasha” medical school, the children’s hospital in the Sisli neighborhood of Istanbul, which he built with his own money, and the nursing home, which covered part of its costs.

On the other hand, during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Chambers of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry spread throughout the empire.

Electric trams were operated in many cities, and telegraph lines were extended to the Hijaz and Basra.

Under the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid, military preparations were increased, and the weapons of the Ottoman army were modernized with modern weapons.

In the field of law, important developments have also been made; Criminal and commercial laws were passed, and the police apparatus was restructured, similar to the apparatus in the West.

After the events that took place in the Balkans, Turkish officers pushed the authorities to re-activate the constitution, which had been suspended years ago. Sultan Abdul Hamid II announced on July 23, 1908, that the constitution came into force again.

This incident was called “the second conditionality”, and contrary to what was expected, it contributed to the faster dispersal of the Ottoman Empire.

On October 5, 1908, the Empire of Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the same day Bulgaria declared its independence, and one day later Grete declared its union with Greece.

A “rebellion” began in Istanbul on April 13, 1909, and the bloody events in Istanbul lasted for 11 days.

After the arrival of the Ottoman army from Thessaloniki, on the night of April 23, 1909, the “rebellion” was put down in Istanbul.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II rejected the proposal to confront the Ottoman army coming from Thessaloniki, through the first army that was loyal to him, and said at the time: “As the Caliph of the Muslims, I will not allow a trap among Muslims.”

On April 27, 1909, Parliament headed by Said Pasha decided to end the Sultanate of Abdul Hamid II.

On the night he was removed from the throne, Abdülhamid II was sent with his family to Thessaloniki on a special train.

Abdul Hamid II settled in a palace in Thessaloniki and spent his time there working in carpentry and blacksmithing.

On the approach of the rebellious Greek forces to Thessaloniki, Abdülhamid II was transferred to Istanbul, arrived there on 1 November 1912, settled in the Belar Bey Palace, and spent the rest of his life there.

On February 10, 1918, Abdul Hamid II died, and on the instructions of Mehmed V Reşâd, he was buried the day after his death in the tomb of Sultan Mahmud II, after a memorial ceremony for the sultans.

Orhan Ghazi(1323-1362)
Orhan Ghazi

Son of Osman Ghazi, Orhan would expand and consolidate the Ottoman beilyk founded by his father by continuing the war against the Byzantines led by Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos.

The initial phase of expansion under Orhan is represented by the complete subjugation of North-Western Anatolia to Ottoman rule.

The second phase, and the most important, started in 1352 when for the first time, the Ottomans gained a strong bridgehead into Europe.

After a reign of 36 years, one of the longest in the history of the Ottoman Empire, at the age of 80, Orhan passes out, and he is succeeded by his son Murad I.

Mahmud II(1808-1839)
Mahmud II

He was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. For the various reforms introduced to combat the decline of the Empire, he is often called “Peter the Great of Turkey”.

He is best known for destroying the Janissary corps and the introduction of the “Tanzimat” reforms.

By abolishing the conservative Jannisary troops, Mahmud eliminated the biggest obstacle in the path of reforming the Ottoman Empire.

After crushing the Jannisaries, Mahmud initiated a series of reforms in all major domains: state, army, taxation, land.

Mahmud II also started the first official newspaper in the Ottoman Empire in 1831.

With the Tanzimat reforms introduced in 1839, he even intended to create a Council of Ministers(Meclis-i Vukela).

Many European customs and traditions were introduced.

At the same time, laws for making life easy for the non-Muslim inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire were initiated.

Unfortunately for the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mahmud II died in 1839 while he still got many reforms to introduce.

Probably if he lived, the reforms introduced by him could’ve saved the Ottoman Empire from complete destruction.

Mehmed the Conqueror(1444-1446;1451-1481)
Mehmed the Conqueror

By conquering Constantinopole, at the age of only 21, Mehmed II secured himself a special place in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

The conquest of Constantinople is Mehmed II’s greatest achievement.

You may wonder why was Constantinople so important for both Mehmed and the Ottoman Empire?

First Constantinople was strategically placed at the crossroads between the Eastern and Western worlds. Due to its location, it had both economic and logistical importance.

The ruler who controlled the city could easily benefit from controlling and taxing the major trade routes between East and West.

Also by conquering the city, the Ottoman Empire would’ve eliminated a threat to its expansion in Europe.

For Mehmed II, the conquest of Constantinople was also politically important.

Mehmed II wanted to surpass his predecessors, where other Ottoman sultans failed, he will be the one who will achieve the unthinkable.

So the conquest of Constantinople for Mehmed had strong political importance.

The conquest of the city would’ve consolidated his rule and strength his authority.

The city was so important for the Ottoman Sultan, that the actual battle was planned very meticulously.

Before starting the battle, Mehmed II made sure that no other major European power will intervene during the siege to help the Byzantines.

The Ottoman Sultan concluded peace treaties with Venice and Hungary to make sure that they will not attack during the battle or send reinforcements.

With the danger of a European crusade eliminated, Constantinople was completely isolated and at the mercy of the Ottoman Sultan.

With a massive army mobilized and aided with powerful artillery, Mehmed II started the siege of the city on April 6, 1453.

The great city would fall after a glorious resistance on May 29, 1453.

Thus Mehmed gained the title “Conqueror” and even proclaimed himself “Kayser-i Rum”(Caesar of the Roman Empire) claiming to be the successor of the Byzantine Emperors.

On the same logic, the Ottoman Empire from now would be the successor of the Byzantine Empire.

Mehmed the Conqueror wanted to conquer Italy and more lands in the Balkans but suffered major setbacks during the military campaigns in Rhodos, Wallachia, Moldavia, and in front of the gates of the city of Belgrade.

Where Mehmed II failed, his grandson Suleyman the Magnificent would rise and take revenge.

It would be wrong to judge Mehmed the Conqueror’s reign only by the Conquest of Constantinople.

Mehmed II was more than a brilliant military leader.

Harsh and authoritarian, Mehmed the Conqueror crushed any internal opposition to his laws and decrees, while also reorganizing the Empire.

During his reign, the Ottoman government was reformed and criminal law codes were enacted.

The finances of the Empire were consolidated and centralized, and with better tax collecting, by the time of Mehmed II’s death, the Ottoman Empire had a surplus of 3.5 million ducats, ready to be spent anytime.

Despite his authoritarian style in politics, Mehmed II was open-minded when it comes to education and knowledge.

Greek and Italian intellectuals were gathered at his court and many important Greek and Latin literary works were saved and preserved in his palace.

The Ottoman Sultan was fluent in Persian, Arabic, Greek, and Italian.

Due to his passion for science, history and literature, Mehmed II supported the creation of a vast multilingual library(Persian,Ottoman,Latin,Turkish,Arabic,Greek) with over 8000 works.

The Ottoman Sultan himself was a poet, he wrote under the pen name Avni.

Being an intellectual, probably Mehmed’s dreams of conquering the world were inspired by the stories of Alexander the Great’s military campaigns.

The reign of Mehmed II left a strong mark on the history of both the Ottoman Empire and the world.

His strong legacy and achievements still live today.

Mehmed IV(1648-1687)
Mehmed IV

Mehmed IV ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire when he was only 6 years old.

The first and last years of his 39-year reign were marked by political conflicts and instability, but overall his rule is associated with the revival of the Ottoman Empire.

The economic, administrative, and military revival of the Ottoman Empire under Mehmed IV can be attributed to the Grand Viziers from the Köprülü family.

With the support of the capable Grand Viziers, the Ottoman Empire successfully defeated Venice and recovered the Aegean Islands during the Cretan War(1645-1669).

The military operations of the Ottoman Empire have been extended again into Transylvania and Poland.

Kara Mustafa Pasha, an important Grand Vizier during Mehmed IV rule, even led successful military campaigns against both the Cossacks and the Russians.

Unfortunately for Mehmed IV, the series of military successes, ended disastrously at the gates of Vienna in the year 1683, when the Polish army under John III Sobieski arrived to rescue the city.

The disaster forced the Ottomans to retreat even from Hungary.

Because of this military failure, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed at the orders of the Sultan.

However, this action didn’t prevent the downfall of Mehmed IV.

Angry Jannisaries and other high commanders organized a coup d’etat and arrested Mehmed IV.

Mehmed IV was deposed, and his brother Suleyman II was proclaimed the new sultan.

The deposed Ottoman sultan lived peacefully in Edirne Palace for the rest of his days until 1693.

Suleiman the Magnificent(1520-1566)
Suleiman the Magnificent

No list of great Ottoman Sultans would be complete without mentioning Suleyman I, known as Magnificent to the Europeans, and Kanuni(Law-Giver) for the Ottomans.

Suleyman the Magnificent’s reign is the longest in the history of the Ottoman Empire and the most important.

During his reign, the Ottoman Empire reached its maximum territorial expansion.

It is estimated the Suleyman personally led 13 military campaigns against the enemies of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman sultan ingeniously used the geopolitics of its time to his advantage.

His biggest antagonist was Emperor Charles V(1519-1556) who had one major objective, to unite Europe under his banner and start a major Crusader against the Ottomans.

Anticipating this move, Suleyman supported the biggest enemies of Emperor Charles V, the King of France: Francis I, and the protestants.

By preventing the unification of Europe, both religiously and politically, Suleyman proved to be a true statesman of his time.

While preventing Charles from unifying Europe under his rule, Suleyman rushed and quickly occupied during his first years of reign the city of Belgrade, and ousted the Knights of Saint John from the Island of Rhodes.

With these early achievements, Suleyman avenged the failures of his great predecessor, Mehmed II the Conqueror.

These victories consolidated his image in the eyes of the European powers as a formidable foe.

With the city of Belgrade now in Ottoman hands, the road to Hungary and Vienna was open.

When Francis I was captured by Charles V during the Battle of Pavia in 1525, the French King asked the Ottoman Sultan for military support.

Suleyman saw this moment as the perfect opportunity to prevent Europe from being dominated by a single power.

The first major step in achieving this was to completely crush the Hungarian Kingdom.

In 1526, during the Battle of Mohacs, Suleyman the Magnificent achieved his greatest victory against the Hungarian King.

The victory was so categorically, that the Hungarian Kingdom quickly ceased to exist.

Upon the capture of Hungary, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, who claimed his kinship with the deceased Hungarian king, claimed the Hungarian lands and occupied Buda. As a consequence, Suleyman organized an expedition to Hungary again. Buda was recovered by the Ottomans. However, the main goal of Suleyman was Vienna.

Although the Ottoman army besieged the city, it did not succeed in seizing it (1529). Encouraged by the inconclusive siege of Vienna, Ferdinand occupied Buda again. He took back the occupied places by reacting with the famous “German Expedition”. An agreement was made with Ferdinand in Istanbul. According to this agreement, Ferdinand would not claim rights over Hungary and would recognize the Ottoman dominance, and would pay taxes to the Ottomans for the lands he held in Hungary (1533).

Under the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire also expanded eastwards, by annexing modern-day Azerbaijan, Iraq, and even parts of Iran.

In total, under the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, the surface of the Ottoman Empire increased by approximately 50%, from 576.900 square miles in 1520 to 877,888 square miles in 1566.

In addition to the military conquests in Europe, the Ottomans dominated the Mediterranean sea. Under the leadership of the skilled admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa, the Ottoman Empire won a great naval battle at Preveza(1538) against the forces of Charles V.

Internally, Suleyman sought to gain legitimacy by initiating a series of political, social, and economic reforms/

The construction and restoration of many religious buildings in Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and other provinces contributed to the image of the Ottoman Golden Age under Suleyman.

SOURCES:

  1. Douglas A.Howard; A History of the Ottoman Empire,  Cambridge University Press

2. Halil Inalcik; The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600, Phoenix 

3. Stanford J. Shaw; History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey; Volume I: Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808,  Cambridge University Press 

4. Gábor Ágoston&Bruce Masters; Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, Facts on File; 1st edition

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