Greatest Nations: Turkey - C. F. Horne

The Splendor of Solyman the Magnificent

[Illustration] from Greatest Nations - Turkey by C. F. Horne


[Authorities: As before, also Knolles, "History of the Turks"; Clark, "Races of Europea Turkey"; Upham. "History of the Ottoman Empire."]

Mahomet II had enfeebled the creative power of his people and encouraged them in idleness; he had himself 1ed the way into paths of voluptuous vice. Now Selim drove them with whips of scorpions and taught them fear, with which comes always falsehood. Laziness and vice, cowardice and treachery! Philosophizing from a distance, one may see that the Turks were and under bad teaching, that already their degeneration had begun. When the absolute ruler of a people is a hero and a sage, an Osmano or a Murad, his headship is like that of a god and inspires his nation to a glorious imitation of himself. But when the despot falls ever so little below the highest rank, when he becomes mere man, his faults have far wider influence than his virtues, and his people breathe contamination. Hence the Turkish Empire, for all its seeming splendor and territorial advance, was an impossibility, a thing that could not continue to exist, whose power had only momentarily increased, because of the continued greatness and good fortune, the nobility and the wisdom of most of the members of that remarkable house of Osman.

The failure visible to us, had not, however, at the time of Sultan Selim's death become manifest to his contemporaries. On the contrary the reign of his son Solyman (1520—1566) is depicted as the acme of Turkish glory. The first half of sixteenth century was in many respects one of the most remarkable periods in history. It was the age of the Reformation; Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were preaching their doctrines. The Renaissance was in fullest flower; Raphael and Michael Angelo were beautifying the churches of Italy. Columbus had discovered America, and its riches were pouring into Europe. Ferdinand and Isabella had expelled the Moors from Spain, and their grandson, the Emperor Charles V., wielded a combination of Spanish and German power the most extensive since Charlemagne. Francis, called the Great, ruled over France, as the most munificent of art patrons, most chivalric of heroes, most sumptuous of monarchs. Yet amid all this rising splendor and power of the West, the Turkish Emperor was not eclipsed. Bickering sovereigns who heaped insults upon one another, united in admitting the greatness of the infidel, the most hated among them all. From Western Europe itself, Sultan Solyman received the name of "the Magnificent." His own people knew him by a yet more lordly appellation, perhaps not undeserved. They called him Solyman the Lord of the Age.



Let us see how far the title was merited. When the young prince at the age of twenty-six ascended the throne of his fathers, he ruled over an empire territorially as large as all Western Europe combined; His capital had been for a thousand years the centre of the culture of the world. His subjects, it is estimated, were forty millions in number, at a time when England contained only four millions, and even the German Empire, most populous of European lands, boasted of but thirty million subjects. Moreover, Solyman was absolute master of his realm, not constantly thwarted and antagonized by nobles almost as powerful as he, not bound by charters and constitutions, not antagonized by a Church that claimed from his subjects a still higher allegiance. Solyman was spiritual chief of a region even wider than his temporal domains. He bowed to no law except the Koran, of which he himself was the interpreter. No nobility existed in his land, except such as he created.

In personal character also, the young monarch was a worthy example of the Osmanli at their best. Even in the reign of his grandfather, Bajazet the Dreamer, Solyman's budding youth had been distinguished by military success. Selim had found him a valuable lieutenant. Moreover, he was an only son, hence his accession to the throne was undisputed. He was not driven to trickery and intrigue during his father's reign, and sudden fratricide at its close. He came into his great inheritance with hands unsoiled by crime, with heart in the first warm flush of youth, with a reputation already high for generosity as well as valor; and his people welcomed him with a hopefulness and enthusiasm, which measured the intensity of their relief in escaping the terror of Selim.

The very opening of his reign was marked by notable military achievements. The two great bulwarks of Christianity, Belgrade on the borders of Hungary, and the Island of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean, fell before his arms. From these two famous strongholds Mahomet the Conqueror had been repulsed. They had dealt him the two great defeats of his career; and for half a century the attack had not been renewed. The Dreamer had not dared attempt it. The Destroyer was himself too soon destroyed. The last effort of Selim's life had been the gathering with his customary thoroughness of a vast armament against Rhodes. While awaiting the completion of this, Solyman turned his attention to Belgrade.

The young King of Hungary had merited chastisement by putting a Turkish ambassador to a cruel and shameful death. Solyman advanced swiftly into Hungary, captured several fortresses, and by a vigorous siege made himself master of Belgrade (1521). He so strengthened its already enormous fortifications, that it remained for two centuries the chief bulwark of the Turkish Empire against Europe.

Returning next to his already formulated project against Rhodes, the Gibraltar of its day, Solyman invested the island with an overpowering force, and at the enormous sacrifice of one hundred thousand lives, gradually sapped the strength of the defenders. The tremendous artillery of the Turks was employed with its usual effect. The modern science of attack, by means of trenches slowly advanced and carefully protected, here first received its full study and development. After five months of a most memorable defense, the exhausted Knights of St. John surrendered; and the only remaining fetter which had been imposed upon the East by all the toil and bloodshed of the Crusades, was broken. No foe remained anywhere within the circle of the Turkish Empire. Its outspreading bounds were unified at last (1522).

Solyman the Magnificent


All the world recognized the valor which the defenders had displayed. The Sultan granted them honorable terms, and they were allowed to depart from Rhodes unmolested. Solyman even spoke to their Grand Master with characteristic generosity, reminding him of the varied fortunes of war, and saying that he grieved to drive from home so aged and so brave a gentleman. The Emperor Charles V conferred upon the Knights a new Mediterranean fortress to defend, the island of Malta; and to this they withdrew, making of it another memorable centre of defense against the Turks.

Having satisfied his martial ardor by these two celebrated achievements and by the suppression of revolts in the recently conquered regions of Syria and Egypt, the young Sultan betook himself to the pleasures of peace and to the improvement of the internal order of his empire. Ambassadors sought him from all the turbulent courts of Western Europe. Their letters to their homes make marvel of the splendor of his surroundings and the wisdom, justice, and generosity of his character. In 1525, Francis of France, held prisoner by the Emperor Charles, wrote to Solyman, Sultan of the infidels, entreating him to compel his release. Solyman answered in terms well befitting the "Lord of the Age," speaking of his own court as the asylum of sovereigns, the refuge of the world; and assuring Francis that, having appealed to him, he should have justice. "Night and day," says his letter, "our horse is saddled and our sabre girt."

The continued appeals of Francis had undoubtedly considerable effect in fomenting the wars which arose between the Turkish and the German Empires. Their immediate cause, however, was less romantic and more serious. The turbulent Janizaries protested against peace and began plundering Constantinople. Solyman hurried to the scene of their rioting and, after cutting down the leaders with his own hand, executed a number whom he suspected of instigating the disorder. But to quell it wholly and by the most effective means, he marched to war.

Hungary, with which no peace had been made since the capture of Belgrade, was the victim of his attack. Its young king hastily gathered his forces, but he directed them with little judgment or skill and was slain and his army annihilated by the overwhelming numbers of the Turks on the field of Mohacs (1526). This battle, still remembered as "the destruction of Mohacs," caused the downfall of the Hungarian kingdom, which for a century and a half had held back the European advance of the Osmanli. Now it lay helpless at the feet of the victor. "May Allah be merciful to this youth," he said as he gazed at the body of the dead king, "and punish the counsellors who have misled his inexperience. I had no wish to cut him off when he had but just begun to taste the joys of life and sovereignty."

Advancing up the Danube, the Turks seized Buda, the Hungarian capital; but the purpose of the Sultan seemed rather to punish the land by devastation than, to take permanent possession of it, and his army withdrew laden with plunder and burdened by a mass of one hundred thousand unhappy prisoners.

In the extremity of their despair, the Hungarians broke into civil war. One party sought the aid of Germany. To strengthen their resistance against Turkey, they gave the Hungarian throne to Ferdinand, brother of the Emperor Charles V. The other party, insisting on a native king, elected Zapolya, one of their nobles. Being defeated by Ferdinand, Zapolya appealed to the Sultan for assistance. The rival kings laid their claims before his court, where they were treated with arrogance as vassals of the Turks. "Thy master," the envoy of Zapolya was told, "is only king because we make him so. The crown does not make kings, it is the sword." The ambassador from Ferdinand, having been less submissive and having demanded the restoration of Belgrade, was assured that the Sultan would punish him even if the Turks had to march all the way to Vienna, the capital of the German Empire, to drag him from the protection on which he relied.

Zapolya meets with Sultan


Thus was the gage of battle fairly offered to the great German Empire; and over the prostrate lands of the Greek Empire, the Balkan States and Hungary, the Turks advanced into central Europe. In the spring of 1529, Solyman, with a quarter of a million men, began his threatened march from Constantinople. This time the elements were against him. Constant rains made the advance of his troops almost impossible, and much of his heaviest artillery had to be left behind. Not until September did he reach the Hungarian capital, which after a brief siege, surrendered. Ferdinand had fled, and Solyman, as he had promised, placed Zapolya upon the throne. Then, taking his vassal king with him, he continued his advance upon Vienna.

From that city also Ferdinand took flight, and the energies of the Emperor Charles V were absorbed elsewhere in his dominions; but fortunately for Christendom, its capital had more resolute defenders. Lacking heavy artillery, the Sultan could make no effective breach in the walls, and assault after assault was vigorously repelled. The weather grew more bleak, winter approached, and sickness spread through the camp of the warm-blooded Turks. After a single month of ineffectual siege, Solyman, recognizing that he had met the first check of his career, withdrew his troops. Vienna remained unconquered, but almost all Austria had been ravaged as had been Hungary three years before. Thousands of captives were slaughtered and other thousands carried away by the withdrawing Turks. Solyman boasted that the Christians dared not meet him in the field, and at Buda he held a great celebration of his triumph.

Three years later the Sultan invaded the Austrian territories again and laid all Styria in ashes. The little fortress of Guntz made a memorable defense against his arms, giving the Emperor Charles time to gather an imperial German army and march against him. It seemed as though a great decisive battle might again settle the fate of an entire continent. But Solyman had already weakened his forces by his long and trying campaign; he challenged Charles to lead the Imperial army against him, but did not himself march toward Vienna. The Emperor with even greater caution remained within reach of the sheltering walls of the capital, and saw his fairest provinces made desolate without an effort to protect them.

The next year, 1533, a truce was agreed upon. Solyman was too sensible to exhaust his armies by repeating such distant and profitless invasions. There was little left to plunder, no army would give him battle, and he only sacrificed his troops by thousands against the stone walls of the innumerable fortresses. Moreover, the old religious quarrel with the Persians had again broken out, so that from this time Solyman, like Selim, turned his attention mainly to the East. He fought at least six great campaigns against the Persians, broke their power, and wrested from them the fairest portion of their empire. The entire valley of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers with the great capital Baghdad, the last of the sacred places of the East, passed under the sway of the Osmanli, where it still remains. The "arch of Turkish Empire" curved from Baghdad in the east, to Belgrade and even to Buda in the west.

Fortunate indeed for Europe was the respite thus granted her from Solyman's attacks, and some of her sovereigns frankly recognized it as such. "Nothing but these Persians," writes Ferdinand's ambassador, "stand between us and ruin." And again, "This war affords us only a respite, not a deliverance."

Another important addition to Turkey's empire was acquired by her navy. Or rather the navy was presented to her as a voluntary tribute to her now recognized position as head of the Moslem world. The little Mahometan states of North Africa had long found in piracy their chief source of revenue. A Turkish sea-rover known to Europe as Barbarossa (Red-beard), and to his own people as Khaireddin, distinguished himself by establishing a piratical control over all Algiers. As the magnitude of his operations increased, he recognized his need of protection from the Christians he despoiled and, voluntarily placing himself under the protection of Solyman, became a "vassal of the Porte." His example was soon followed by other African states. Solyman, gladly accepting this addition to his empire, increased his own navy and made Khaireddin his chief admiral or Kapitan Pasha.

The Turkish sea power thus suddenly created, disputed with Venice and Genoa, with Spain and France, for the naval supremacy of the Mediterranean. Khaireddin, who had made himself master not only of Algiers but of Tunis also, was driven from the latter stronghold by a formidable fleet and army led by the German Emperor in person. In 1538 he avenged himself by a great victory over the combined fleets of the Emperor, Venice, and the Pope, off Prevesa. For a time thereafter he ravaged the Italian coast almost at will, plundering some of its fairest cities. In 1541, another elaborately planned Christian expedition attacked him in Algiers, but failed disastrously.

Encouraged by Khaireddin's example, the Turks became experts in the art of seamanship, and other admirals arose to emulate his deeds. The fleets of Solyman were, if not masters of the Mediterranean, at least far more powerful than those of any other single state. The Christians could withstand them only by uniting.

In 1539, Zapolya, the Sultan's vassal ruler over Hungary, died. Ferdinand of Austria, who had been allowed to keep a small portion of the country, at once laid claim to the whole. The widow of Zapolya appealed to Solyman to preserve the land for her infant son; and the great Sultan, postponing his Persian campaigns, hurried westward once more (1541). He drove Ferdinand and his Austrians out of the districts they had seized. As fortress after fortress surrendered it was garrisoned, not with followers of Zapolya, but with Turkish troops. Turkish officials were also installed in civic control, and thus almost the whole of Hungary sank to be a mere province of the Ottoman Empire. In 1547, a five-year truce was concluded between Solyman and the powers of Europe which lay beyond Hungary. Not only the Emperor Charles V, but also the Pope, the Doge of Venice, and the King of France were parties to this treaty, by which most of Hungary was formally surrendered to the Turks. For the small part of the land which King Ferdinand was allowed to keep, he was to pay a heavy annual tribute to the Sultan. This treaty marks the high tide of the power of the Osmanli. It may perhaps be regarded as justifying Solyman's claim to be "Lord of the Age."

Barbarossa the Turk


Nor was it through military successes alone that the great Sultan's reign won its renown. This was also the most noted period of Turkish literature. Solyman was its patron. A cultured admirer of the art of verse, he even dabbled in its mysteries himself, though without noteworthy success. Yet if not gifted with this special form of genius, he could recognize it in others. One of his poems addressed to the lyric poet, Abdul Baki, prophesied that future ages would name Baki, "the Immortal." He is so called to-day; and though the Sultan's prophecy doubtless helped to work out its own fulfillment, Baki is generally regarded by Turkish critics as the chief master of their language. On Solyman's death the poet whom he had so admired composed in his honor an ode accounted by the Turks the grandest paean ever uttered in human praise.

Nine other noteworthy poets adorned this culminating age of the Turkish race, in addition to a crowd of lesser singers, at least one great historian, and one great jurist, beside numerous minor writers on these themes, on philosophy and on religion. Architecture likewise reached its fullest development, as did the decorative arts. The luxury of the court of Solyman became such as only revenues vast as his could have supported.

To see the inevitable "other side" of the picture, the sorrows of the "Magnificent" Sultan's lot, we must turn to his domestic life. He was easily susceptible to the softer emotions. For the first time in the story of the house of Osman, we find a vast and baneful influence exercised over the entire realm by a woman. She was the daughter of a Russian priest, was brought to Constantinople by Cossack raiders, and sold into the Sultan's harem. She was called Khurrem, "the laughing one," though European courts spoke of her as Roxalana. She soon gained a great influence over Solyman. He valued her wisdom as highly as her charms and took counsel with her upon every subject. She was in fact an empress.

Before Roxalana's rise, the chief aids and counsellors of the Sultan had been his eldest son Mustapha and his Grand Vizier Ilderim. Ilderim was a Greek slave boy to whom Solyman had become attached in youth, and whose marvellous rise and great ability form a favorite theme of Turkish legend. His devotion to his master secured him by degrees a power second only to that master's own. He even signed himself "Sultan Ilderim." Ferdinand of Hungary when negotiating with the Porte, addressed Ilderim as "brother." Roxalana secured Mustapha's banishment from court and Ilderim's execution (1536).

She thus became unrivalled in her power, her strong nature impressing itself upon Solyman's as he grew old. When her two sons approached manhood, she resolved that they, not Mustapha, should succeed to their father's throne. For this purpose she secured the promotion of Rustem, her daughter's husband, to the office of Grand Vizier. Rustem was wholly under Roxalana's control; he was a miser, false and wholly venal, who corrupted the entire state by selling its chief offices to the highest bidders, men who naturally sought to recompense themselves by every method of extortion.

At the Sultana's urging, the Vizier systematically poisoned his master's mind against the distant Mustapha. Solyman, who had known his son well and loved him, long refused to believe the evidences laid before his eyes, but finally yielded and in 1553, probably in the father's presence, the son was executed.

Solyman the Magnificent


The grief of the entire empire was extreme. Mustapha had been one of the worthy members of his race, devoted to the service of his father, beloved and highly honored by the people. His very virtues wrought his destruction, for it was reported that the Janizaries of their own accord were planning to substitute him for his aging father upon the throne. To the necessity of fratricide which the house of Osman already felt, the rising power of the Janizaries thus added a further horror. Fathers began to slay each able son lest he depose them as Bajazet the Dreamer had been deposed. They adopted still another method of protection, keeping their sons in ignorance and seclusion, that the young men might lack both the ability and the influence to revolt. Under such policy as this the house of Osman was doomed!

Roxalana's eldest son, Selim, was declared heir to the throne, but so incompetent and so vicious did he prove himself, that many of his troops rebelled in favor of Bajazet, his younger brother. This Bajazet, of whom we have scant records, seems to have been an able and honorable youth; but Roxalana, with a mother's partiality, clung to her first-born. Bajazet was declared a rebel, and the royal army marched against his followers. Roxalana died while the campaign was in progress. Bajazet was defeated and executed. Thus in his old age Solyman was left alone. The friend of his youth, the hero son of his early manhood, the promising child of his later years, each had been slain by his orders. The siren at whose bidding he had acted was also gone; and to his desolation there remained only a ferocious drunkard, an imbecile, the false and worthless Selim. Such are the declining days of despotism.

Military reverses also came upon the aged Sultan. The Knights of St. John, whom he had expelled from Rhodes, had made of Malta another powerful citadel, where their ships reposed in safety, or rushed suddenly forth upon the Turkish fleets. If master of this island, Solyman felt that he would be master of the Mediterranean, and in 1565 he sent a tremendous armament against it. After a and bloody siege, the attack was repulsed, and though a second expedition was planned for the following year, it was perforce abandoned because of the renewal of the war on the German frontier.

King Ferdinand, who had become the Emperor Ferdinand, died; and his son, the Emperor Maximilian II, succeeded to his claims over the small remainder of independent Hungary. The Turkish vassal king who held the rest of Hungary, claimed the part which had been Ferdinand's, and so fell to fighting with Maximilian. Once more Solyman led an army across Hungary. He was now over seventy years of age and so feeble that he had to be borne in a litter. But he had no son that he could trust, to take his place.

Fortress after fortress in independent Hungary surrendered. The Austrians abandoned the hapless land to its fate. One of its own sons saved it at the sacrifice of himself. The count palatine Nicholas Zrinvi defended his town and fortress of Szigeth with such valor and ability that Solyman was compelled to settle down to a regular siege with his entire army. Month after month slipped by. September came, and the enfeebled Sultan one night complained with childish querulousness that he could no longer hear the beating of the huge drum of victory. Then turning his back upon a world that had grown dark to him, he died in solitude. With him departed the glory of the Turkish race.

Solyman the Magnificent