SULTAN SULEIMAN IS KNOWN AS “KANUNİ” (THE LAWGIVER) IN THE MIDDLE EAST BECAUSE HE REGULATED THE LEGAL SYSTEM, AND AS “THE MAGNIFICENT” IN EUROPE BECAUSE OF THE POWER AND WEALTH, HE PROVIDED FOR THE OTTOMAN STATE.
In the Islamic tradition, Solomon is the sultan archetype. Turkish, Arabic, and Persian literature and history are full of references to Solomon’s magnificence, justice, and skills. According to the Quran, Solomon was a prophet upon whom sultanate was bestowed by God. That is why every Amir who captured the throne claimed that it was the faith drawn by God and took Solomon as a model to legitimize themselves. Record keepers and historians who promote their own sultans had always referred to them as “the shadow of Allah on earth.”
It was meaningful to name as Suleiman the only son of Yavuz (The Stern) Sultan Selim, who tripled the size of the Ottoman territory and fought with the Mamelukes and the Safavids to achieve that. If we tell that ‘Suleiman the son of Sultan Selim was born to become the magnificent, just, and skilful sultan of the Ottoman State that was rising over Asia, Africa, and Europe from Anatolia like the sun at that time’ we wouldn’t be exaggerating.
Lawgiver of magnificent?
Sultan Suleiman is known as ‘the lawgiver’ in the Middle East because he legislated laws to regulate the Ottoman legal system and as ‘the magnificent’ in Europe because of the wealth and power, the Ottoman State had captured during his reign.
The historians are in a disagreement about the birth date of the Magnificent Lawgiver. Some give his date of birth as November 4, 1494, as some others insist on April 29, 1495. We don’t know which one is correct; however, we know the birth place of Sultan Suleiman for sure. Suleiman was born in Trabzon of which his father Shahzade Selim was the sanjakbey at the time.
Ayşe Hafsa Sultan, the mother of Suleiman, was the daughter of the ruler of Crimea Sultan Menli. Suleiman would become the only heir to the throne when his father Sultan Selim ascended to the throne because he was coming from royal families on both mother and father’s side. To summarize, shahzade was living his faith; he was born for sultanate.
The magnificent ring of the golden chain
Shahzade Suleiman was sent to Enderun school within the Topkapı Palace customarily. At Enderun, which is counted as a state college in a way, sultans, viziers, and commanders were raised. There is no doubt that Suleiman studied theology and life sciences there. If we are to give some details, we see that he had studied logic, mathematics, hadith, literature, poetry, history, strategy, and Islamic law. Shahzade had studied many languages as well as these sciences. He used to speak five languages: Arabic, Serbian, Persian, Chagatai, and Urdu. Preferability of the eastern languages was appropriate for the period. Suleiman’s father, Selim was the conqueror of the east.
Suleiman was among the people who received the best education of his time. As he demonstrated his strategic skills at war, he displayed his poetic skills at peace. He used to write with his pen name ‘Muhibbi’. “There is no state in the world more valuable than a breath of health” belongs to him. During the long reign of Suleiman, the Ottoman court was overflowing with scientists, artists, and poets.
The Sultan had sincere connections with his coevals who were at the summit of their branches. We can count Baki, Sheik-ul Islam Ebussud, Admiral Piri Reis, Architect Sinan and Grand Vizier İbrahim among these talents.
Age of conquests
When Yavuz Sultan Selim died in 1520, Suleiman inherited a state with an expansive territory. The political state of the young Sultan was very clear and secure because there was no one else to claim rights to the throne. Suleiman’s way was wide open for conquests inside Europe, because the Mameluks and the Safavids had already fallen on their knees beyond the borders. In addition, Selim had left a very powerful fleet to his son and this was a first in Ottoman history.
The Lawgiver had organized 13 large expeditions during his 46 years of reign and fought battles about 10 years. Following the conquest of Belgrade, he swept the Knights Hospitaller. They are referred as the Knights of Rhodes or Malta sometimes in Turkey. It was a warrior Christian order born during the Crusades and they were keeping the spirit of the Crusaders alive. Their political existence continues even today; although, they don’t possess any territory, they are represented in the United Nations and they have political immunity in over one hundred countries.
We must also examine Kanuni’s conquest of Rhodes in 1522 within this aspect. By the conquest of the Aegean island that was the headquarter of the Knights Hospitaller, the young sultan delivered a major blow to the Crusader spirit of the West by the Ottoman sword to announce his name to the world.
War and strategy
Kanuni delivered another blow to Hungary at Mohacs and came to a position powerful enough to assign a king to the Hungarian throne. However, the Habsburgs came at once and changed the king immediately after noticing the danger. This was the beginning of the Ottoman-Habsburg strategy wars.
In 1529, Kanuni conquered a considerable part of Hungary and sieged Vienna to deal the actual blow on the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs held with all their strength and the siege remained inconclusive. The strategy wars between the two would continue for years. The Habsburgs couldn’t achieve much more than being a shield for Europe. Even though, the Ottomans didn’t gain new territories, they increased their power over the European politics by supporting France, England, and the Protestants that were a religious minority.
Irakeyn campaign and the tragedies
When the Western borders became secured, Kanuni once again turned to the east and launched his famous Irakeyn (meaning two Iraqs) expedition, in other words he declared war against today’s Iran and Iraq. He captured Tabriz and Baghdad as the fruits of this three-year long campaign and won a certain victory against the Safavids. Sea expeditions were continuing at the same time. During the reign of the Magnificent, the Ottoman navy dominated an enormous geography from Indonesia to Tunisia.
Unfortunately, Suleiman the Magnificent witnessed tragedies most of them caused by himself in the last decade of his reign. A great strategy recognizes only one leader, so the magnificent Sultan would have his eldest son Mustafa executed, causing a deep pain. Immortalized by the verses of the poet-Janissary Yahya of Taşlıca, Shahzade Mustafa incident takes place among the most painful events of history. The executions during the Kanuni’s reign are a subject deep enough to be a separate discussion.
The greatest ruler of the period in which he lived, Suleiman the Magnificent, died during a military campaign in today’s Hungary on September 5, 1566. The burial site of his internal organs were found nearby Szigetvar in 2015 with the efforts of the Turkish and Hungarian researchers.