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Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleyman I, also called Süleyman I and nicknamed the Lawmaker or the Magnificent, was the sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 and successor to Selim I. He was born on November 6, 1494 at Trabzon, Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire reached its zenith and became a world power during his reign. Although the empire continued to expand one century after his death, this period was followed by a very long decline.

At the age of seven he was sent to study science, history, literature, theology, and military techniques in Istanbul. His early experience of government was to be as governor of several provinces.


After succeeding his father on his death, Süleyman began a series of military conquests, starting with the captured of Belgrade in 1521. In 1522 he captured Rhodes after a siege, allowing the Knights of St. John to evacuate to Malta.

On August 29, 1526 Süleyman defeated Louis II of Hungary at the battle of Mohacs, occupying most of Hungary before giving it to John Zápolya, prince of Transylvania to govern. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and his brother Ferdinand Archduke of Austria retook Hungary, in response to which Süleyman twice tried to re-invade, twice being beaten by the weather after reaching Vienna in 1529 and 1532. In 1533 a treaty was signed with Ferdinand, splitting Hungary between the Hapsburgs and Zapolya. On Zapolya's death, Ferdinand was left the Hungarian territories, prompting Süleyman to annex Hungary, resulting in several struggles and peace treaties restoring the status-quo.

In the following two decades, huge territories of North Africa west to Morocco and all Middle East north to Persia were annexed. This quick expansion was associated with naval dominance for a short period in the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. In 1562 he conquered Transylvania.

While he may have been seen as dangerous to the outside world, he was known as a fair ruler within the empire, fought corruption, and was a great patron of artists and philosophers. He was also noted as one of the greatest Islamic poets, and an accomplished goldsmith. He earned his nickname the Lawmaker from his complete reconstruction of the Ottoman law system. The laws that he gathered covered almost every aspect of life at the time.

Süleyman died in 1566, the night before victory at the battle of Szigetvar, in Hungary. He is buried in a mausoleum with his wife Khourrem at the Süleymaniye Mosque.

At the time of his death, the major Muslim cities (Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Baghdad), many Balkan provinces up to today’s Austria, and most of North Africa were under the control of the empire.

The succession struggle

Süleyman broke with convention by raising two slaves to positions of power. One, Ibrahim Pasha (İbrahim Paşa) was to rise to become Grand Vizier for 13 years. The other, a captured Ukranian and daughter of a Russian Orthodox priest, Aleksandra Lisowska (also known by several other names including Khourrem), was to rise through the ranks of the Harem to become his favorite wife, to the surprise of the empire and the international community. By her he had one daughter, Mihrimar (Mihrumâh), and the sons Mehmed (who died young), Selim, Bayezid and Cihangir (born physically disabled).

In power struggles apparently instigated by Khourrem, Süleyman had İbrahim (a supporter of Süleyman's firstborn son Mustafa) murdered and replaced with her son-in-law Rustem Pasha (Rustem Paşa). Later, apparently believing that his popularity with the army threatened his own position, he had Mustafa strangled too, leaving the way clear for one of Khourrem's sons.

In anticipation of Süleyman's death which, under the ruling practice of fracticide would also bring death to either Selim or Bayezid, in 1559 the brothers engaged in a series of succession battles, resulting in Süleyman ordering the death of Bayezid, who was killed on September 25 1561, after he was returned to the empire by the Shah after fleeing to Iran. Therefore it was Selim who eventually succeeded Süleyman, though he was to take little interest in government.

Preceded by:
Selim I
Suleiman I
1520 to 1566
Succeeded by:
Selim II