Suleiman I, the Magnificent

Suleiman I, the Magnificent


The greatest ruler, lawgiver and warrior of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent was born in Trebizond, on the Black Sea. His father, a provincial governor, was elevated to become Sultan Selim I. Suleiman served as governor of Feodosia in the Crimea (1509-1512) and then the province of Magnesia, in western Turkey (1512-1520).

Learning of his father’s death, Suleiman hastened to Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), where he was installed as sultan in 1520. Extremely ambitious for him¬ self, the empire, and the Moslem cause, he began at once to make war on Christian Europe. Suleiman saw Emperor Charles V of Rome as his great rival in the quest to become the “ruler of the age. ”

Suleiman captured Belgrade from the Hungarians in 1521 and drove the Knights of St. John from the island of Rhodes in 1522. Both of these were landmark victories, since Suleiman’s redoubtable grandfather, Mehmed II, the Conqueror (see no. 40), had been unable to accomplish them.

Suleiman defeated the Hungarian nation at the Battle of Mohacs (August 29, 1526), where King Louis II of Hungary and many of his nobles lost their lives. Feeling his strength, Suleiman pushed his army all the way to Vienna in 1529. The siege (September 23—October 16) was hard-fought on both sides, but some 16,000 Christian troops were able to repel the 80,000-man Turkish army. Furious over the defeat, Suleiman marched back to Istanbul.

Suleiman turned his attention to naval warfare in the Mediterranean. His formidable admiral, Barbarossa (Khair ed-Din), harassed Christian shipping from Turkey to Italy but was prevented from entering the western Mediterranean by the noble Knights of St. John, who had established a new base on the island of Malta.

Meanwhile, Suleiman expanded eastward by land. He led his army all the way to Baghdad in 1534 and fought a long series of campaigns in the East before coming to peace terms with the Persians in1555.

Turning his attention once more to Christian Europe, Suleiman sent his entire fleet west to attack Malta in 1566. Lacking the inspired leadership of Barbarossa, who had died in 1546, the Turks came close to success but time and again were thwarted by the desperate bravery of the knights and the rocky defenses of the island. The campaign ended in disaster, with 20,000 men and many ships lost. Suleiman vowed to avenge the defeat, but he died later in the same year.