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Suleyman the Magnificent

By cwithall Mar 14, 2011 1365 Words
Examine the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent. How large of an empire did he conquer? How was he able to build an empire that large? How powerful and wealthy was he? Discuss the magnificence of his court.

Introduction: Süleyman the Magnificent, the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, ruled from 1520 to 1566. As a ruler, Süleyman was heralded for greatness and longevity, due in a large part to his successes in geographic expansion, legislation and education, as well as his cultural and artistic interests. All of this helped to define the reign of Süleyman as a "Golden Age." From his massive territory gains, Süleyman secured universal respect and strengthened his influence in society with his laws. Soon taking on names as Süleyman 'The Law Maker".

Geographic Expansion: Every new sultan was expected to begin his reign by expanding the empire. Süleyman set his sights on Belgrade in Hungary, the stepping-stone to Europe. As the head of the Ottoman dynasty, he had to assert himself as such. A year after he ascended the throne, he and his army headed toward Belgrade and captured the historic City. It was from there that his army and territory could move west. A year later Süleyman switched his focus to Rhodes, a small island with a large Christian population in an otherwise Muslim and Ottoman sea. However, Rhodes was home to fifty thousand staunch defenders and one of the strongest forts in the world. In a large part, Süleyman's successes in expansion were due to his harnessing of gunpowder. The success of this technology can be clearly seen in the large and powerful cannons Süleyman's army was noted for [1]. However in the Rhodes battle Süleyman's men used gunpowder in explosives to undermine the underside of the supports to the walls of the large fort. This move was pivotal in the 145-day war on Rhodes, which ended in a truce and a win for Süleyman and the Ottomans. In addition to their new use of gunpowder, Süleyman's army learned that a battle could span many unforeseen days. This is understood in an account by Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, a Austrian author and herbalist, that observed:

...the invading army carefully abstains from encroaching on its supplies at the outset, as they are well aware that, when the season for campaigning draws to a close, they will have to retreat over districts wasted by the enemy, or scraped as bare by countless hordes of men and droves of baggage animals ...accordingly they reserve their stores as much as possible for this emergency... [3]

In keeping with the growth of his wealth, Süleyman took what he could from Rhodes and all other conquered areas and soon amassed one of the largest wealth known for the area [2]. In the end, Süleyman's army was able to conquer and control Hungary for 150 years, expand up to Vienna, and to the east the Ottoman’s held control of Iraq. As if that was not a great enough feat, Süleyman;s fleet captured all major North African ports in the Mediterranean. By the close of Süleyman's reign over the Ottoman Empire, control grew to cover a large portion of Europe, Asia and Africa. Süleyman's systematic expansion can be seen as it more than doubled under his control. [5] This proves the efficiency of his robust conquests in the day, but like so many things, the upkeep is dependent and in Süleyman's case, very little of the territory remained under Ottoman rule.

Legislation & Education: With large expansion, came new laws. While the already existing law of the empire, the Shari'ah, or Sacred Law, had to remain unchanged by any sultan or ruler. A distinct law known as the Kanuns (canonical legislation) was dependent on the views and choices of Süleyman. This legislation related to society, education, taxation, and criminal law. Even after his passing, his new laws (the Kanuns) remained unchanged for 300 years. Noted is his work to protect the Jewish subjects of his empire in late 1553 or 1554 as the Sultan issued a firman that denounced all blood libels against the Jews of his Empire. Süleyman the Magnificent also created legislation that dealt with criminal activity as well as outlined the power of his police force. Worth noting is his work to reduce the number of cases warranting death or mutilation. In respect to taxation, Süleyman levied taxes on animals, produce, mines and profit from trades as well as other various goods. This can also serve as an explanation for the riches he amassed during his rule. For those who were unable to keep up with these taxes, the sultan would lay claim to all their lands and personal goods. This was a change from the previous rulers of the Ottoman Empire as well in the Kanuns.

Cultural & Artistic Revival: In keeping with all things new, Süleyman married a harem girl, Roxalena who became Hürrem Sultan. This relationship is renowned in part because of the power she had over her husband. She also gave Süleyman and the Ottoman Empire the heir to the throne Selim II. [4] This appearance of such a strong female figure was very different from the private and shielded live of the previous sultan. This change signaled a change in gender roles by providing a “cultural breakthrough” in the role of a woman in the ruling family.

Under Süleyman's reign developments occurred in all fields of the arts, but those in manuscript painting, calligraphy, ceramics and textiles were especially significant. Most prominently seen however, were the outstanding successes of the public buildings created by architect Sinan, 1539-1588, who was the chief of the Corps of the Royal Architects. While he is often remembered for his major piece, the mosque complexes of Süleymanye in Istanbul 1550-57 [4], he designed hundreds of buildings across the Ottoman Empire and very much added to the distribution of Ottoman culture throughout the territory. In addition to mosques and other religious buildings, Süleyman also protected and restored many historical monuments, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. He also added additions to religious monuments in Mecca and Medina.

Conclusion: In all, with an already inflated view of his power prior to taking the throne, relentless large conquests for land, eye for all things valuable and artistic and an idea of permanence, Süleyman created an undoubtedly lasting effect on the West. With his inventive and highly effective armies Süleyman had no trouble conquering what would have been thought impossible, and with each successful conquest not only did his empire expand but so did his riches, a positive feedback loop Süleyman depended on. In true Süleyman fashion, his court stirred up the norm as his wife Hürrem Sultan, exerted power over her husband, never seen before this time. His additions and modifications of the Kanuns also greatly shaped the Ottoman Empire for years and influenced the laws of lands after the Ottoman Empire. Whether it was destiny or a firm driving force behind and idea, Süleyman the Magnificent proved to be just that, Magnificent.


[1] Aden cannon of Suleiman, founded by Mohammed ibn Hamza in 1530-31 for an Ottoman invasion of India. Taken in the capture of Aden in 1839 by Cap. H.Smith of HMS Volage. Tower of London.

[2] Bentley, Jerry H., and Herbert F. Ziegler. Traditions and Encounters : A Global Perspective on the Past. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. 665-93.

[ 3] Foster, C.T. and F.H. Blackburne Daniell. "Suleyman 'the Lawgiver.'" in The Life and Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. vol. 1. London: Hakluyt Society, 1881. pg. 152-156. DIGITAL ID: 13025

[4] Foster, C.T. and FH Blackburne Daniell. "Women in Ottoman Society," in The Life and Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. vol. 1. London: Hakluyt Society, 1881. pg. 219-221. DIGITAL ID: 13028

[5] The Ottoman Empire 1326-1914 Map." MHHE: Primary Source Investigator. Historicus Inc., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.



[5] Süleyman Mosque. "Buildings Across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture." Copyright (c) 2004, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. DIGITAL ID: 2905

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