CONQUEROR, STERN, AND LAWGIVER: MEHMET II.

CONQUEROR, STERN, AND LAWGIVER: MEHMET II.

The second half of the 15th century begins with a contradiction for the great states. Since the dominant regime was empire for the period, the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires on the east; Mamluks on the south; Spain, Portugal, the French and British empires on the west; and Russia on the north were fighting with each other for the world domination. For this purpose, each one was building bureaucracies based on the requirements of mind, while they were arguing mythological justification to substantiate their claims. We can summarize the state of mind that was dominating all empires as the use of reality to materialize dreams. The world system was already born out of this contradiction.

The dawn of the 15th century
When we look back at us, we see that the Ottoman Beylic was wiped off the map shortly in the dawn of the 15th century. When Timur defeated Bayezid at the Battle of Ankara, the superiority of reality over dreams had been accepted. Bayezid’s sons would go to war for the throne, the only reality that they know of, not a dream. The result of this realism was the tremendous power to conquest Istanbul after half a century.

How did this rapid transition take place from the bottom to the top? We shall remember two sultans and their viziers for this. Although, Murat II personally did not love to fight, he was a great commander who achieved to defeat the Crusaders every time he entered war with them, bringing the Ottoman Empire into a state that determines the relations of the East and the West. It is only possible to compare Murat II with great veterans such as Mahmud of Ghazni and Babur in this aspect.

His son Mehmet II transformed the conquest legacy of Murat II into an imperial vision. Although, history records Mehmet II as “the conqueror of Istanbul” no one placed much emphasis on his ideal to dominate the whole world. 

A conqueror was born
Mehmet II was born on March 29, 1432 as the son of Murat II and Huma Sultan in Edirne, the Ottoman capital of the time. It is said that Huma Sultan has either French or Italian origins. When he was Shahzade, he had been in Amasya and Saruhan (today’s Manisa) districts. Mullah Gurani, one of the famous scholars, was responsible for training him. Shahzada Mehmet had a great curiosity to learn. He studied Islamic sciences and politics as well as Arabic, Persian, Latin, Greek and Italian languages. Besides his drawings of human figures, his notepad, which is exhibited at the Topkapı Palace Museum today, includes pieces written in these languages.

Mehmet’s ascending to the throne was not so happy. His father, Sultan Murad Khan II, who had spent a great deal of his life at battlefields, renounced the throne and stepped down to rest. Thus, Mehmet II became the Sultan when he was twelve years old. Alas, the beylics that were looking for an opportunity to create uproar on east and the Crusaders on west began to threaten the Ottoman and the insistence of the vizier Halil Pasha of Çandar to take the throne back resulted in Sultan Murat II’s ascension to the throne after two years, dethroning his son. When he died seven years later, Mehmet was nineteen years old.

We cannot find documents on that but ascending to the throne only to be dethroned two years later when he was a child must have left marks on Mehmet. He had a desire to become a greater veteran than his father ever was. The only way to do this was to conquer Istanbul. His first significant action would make his reign noncontestable and kill the sprouts of any competition both inside and outside.

Despite rejections of Halil Pasha of Çandar and the bureaucrats under his influence, Istanbul was conquered with the support of veterans such as Zaganos Pasha on May 29, 1453, and the Roman Empire was buried in history. The Conqueror’s first job was to execute Halil Pasha. He made his biggest supporter Zaganos Pasha his vizier instead. Zaganos Pasha would later achieve the title of the Chief Admiral to the Ottoman navy that would be established later on and would take place in the conquest of Trabzon.

From the worn Byzantium to Dersaadet (door to happiness -old nickname for Istanbul)
When Istanbul was conquered, it was a half-devastated city, where 50 thousand people lived, looking for its former glory. Still, it had a political connotation as the capital of the East Roman Empire. The Sultan, who had sworn an oath to bring the world to its knees, stepped in to rebuild the city and give it an Islamic identity. He turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Artists and scholars from all over the world were invited to Istanbul and he established the eight famous Madrasahs (Sahn-ı Seman.) This should be considered as a university with eight faculties. Istanbul University accepts Sahn-ı Seman as its date of establishment.

The second work of the Conqueror was legislating laws. The Codex of the Conqueror consists of four sections. The first part, which determines the position of the Sultan, underlines how the Sultan should be addressed; in a sense, it makes an Ottoman sultan an emperor. The second part is related to the court etiquette; we can say this is a law for the functioning of the bureaucracy summit. The third one is the criminal law; and describes criminal offenses and sentences. The fourth section is related to incomes, taxes, local executives, and territorial organization.

Law and order already existed in the Ottoman Empire before the Conqueror. In fact, all Islamic states are ‘nomocracy’ as Cemil Meriç phrased. Law and order rule. The Conqueror formalized the great state structure by means of his codex. This would play the role of one of the major powers in Eurasia, in fact, the major one in many cases over the next centuries and would enable the development of the Ottoman bureaucracy. The Codex of the Conqueror was the reflection of the state’s mind into writing.

The Conqueror ruled the East and the West unremittingly for thirty years from his second ascend to the throne until his death in 1481. He conquered the Aegean Sea countries and the Peloponnese (part of Greece,) Bosnia, Serbia, the Black Sea region, Wallachia (a portion of today’s modern Romania,) Crimea and some Italian coastal towns. He perfected the job that his father Murat Khan II started.

Some commentators are looking for secularism in the Conqueror. Reviews of this type would be going backwards in history, which wouldn’t be so smart to tell after a Sultan who had his own emirate legislations as well as Sharia. Separation between religion and politics has always been existed in the Islamic states at a level that was not as solid as the distinctions that would occur in the West later. After the first caliphs, a distinction between the Ulema (Muslim scholars) and Umera (Commanders) has emerged. The Conqueror opened Sahn-ı Seman to show that he was also the keeper of the Ulema and wanted to show that the Ottomans were even greater than the Mamluks. This should be called reign not secularism.

It appears that the Conqueror had the desire to conquer all of Europe. The way he captured the Italian castles indicates that. We can tell that he left this task to his grandsons. The Stern (Sultan Selim I) and The Lawgiver (Sultan Süleyman I, a.k.a. the Magnificent in the West) managed this huge task in half.