Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent
Byname SÜLEYMAN THE MAGNIFICENT, or THE LAWGIVER, Turkish
SÜLEYMAN MUHTEŢEM, or KANUNI (b. November 1494/April 1495 - d. Sept. 5/6, 1566, near
Szigetvár, Hung.), sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566, who not only undertook
bold military campaigns that enlarged his realm but also oversaw the development of what
came to be regarded as the most characteristic achievements of Ottoman civilization in the
fields of law, literature, art, and architecture.
Early life and reign
Süleyman was the only son of Sultan Selim I. He became sancak
beyi (governor) of Kaffa in the Crimea during the reign of his grandfather Bayezid
II and of Manisa in western Asia Minor in the reign of Selim I.
Süleyman succeeded his father as sultan in September 1520 and began his
reign with campaigns against the Christian powers in central Europe and the Mediterranean.
Belgrade fell to him in 1521 and Rhodes, long under the rule of the Knights of St. John,
in 1522. At Mohács, in August 1526, Süleyman broke the military strength of Hungary, the
Hungarian king, Louis II, losing his life in the battle.
vacant throne of Hungary was now claimed by Ferdinand I, the Habsburg
archduke of Austria, and by John (János Zápolya), who was voivode (lord) of
Transylvania, and the candidates of the native party opposed to the prospect of
Habsburg rule. Süleyman agreed to recognize John as a vassal king of Hungary, and in
1529, hoping to remove at one blow all further intervention by the Habsburgs, he laid
siege to Vienna. Difficulties of time and distance and of bad weather and lack of
supplies, no less than the resistance of the Christians, forced the Sultan to raise the
The campaign was successful, however, in a more immediate sense, for John
was to rule thereafter over most of Hungary until his death, in 1540. A second great
campaign in 1532, notable for the brilliant Christian defense of Güns, ended as a mere
foray into Austrian border territories. The Sultan, preoccupied with affairs in the East
and convinced that Austria was not to be overcome at one stroke, granted a truce to the
archduke Ferdinand in 1533.
The death of John in 1540 and the prompt advance of Austrian forces once
more into central Hungary drove Süleyman to modify profoundly the solution that he had
imposed in the time of John. His campaigns of 1541 and 1543 led to the emergence of three
distinct Hungarys - Habsburg Hungary in the extreme north and west; Ottoman Hungary along
the middle Danube, a region under direct and permanent military occupation by the
Ottomans and with its main centre at Buda; and Transylvania, a vassal state dependent on
the Porte and in the hands of John Sigismund, the son of John Zápolya.
Between 1543 and 1562 the war in Hungary continued, broken by truces and
with few notable changes on either side; the most important was the Ottoman capture of the
Banat of Temesvár (Timisoara) in 1532. After long negotiations a peace recognizing the
status quo in Hungary was signed in 1562.
The campaigns against Persia
Süleyman waged three major campaigns against Persia. The first
(1534-35) gave the Ottomans control over the region of Erzurum in eastern Asia Minor and
also witnessed the Ottoman conquest of Iraq, a success that rounded off the achievements
of Selim I. The second campaign (1548-49) brought much of the area around Lake Van under
Ottoman rule, but the third (1554-55) served rather as a warning to the Ottomans of the
difficulty of subduing the Safavid state in Persia. The first formal peace between the
Ottomans and the Safavids was signed in 1555, but it offered no clear solution to the
problems confronting the Ottoman sultan on his eastern frontier.
The naval strength of the Ottomans became formidable in the reign of
Sultan Süleyman. Khayr ad-Din, known in the West as Barbarossa, became kapudan
(admiral) of the Ottoman fleet and won a sea fight off Preveza, Greece (1538), against the
combined fleets of Venice and Spain, which gave to the Ottomans the naval initiative in
the Mediterranean until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Tripoli in North Africa fell to the
Ottomans in 1551. A strong Spanish expedition against Tripoli was crushed at Jarbah
(Djerba) in 1560, but the Ottomans failed to capture Malta from the Knights of St. John in
1565. Ottoman naval power was felt at this time even as far afield as India, where a fleet
sent out from Egypt made an unsuccessful attempt in 1538 to take the town of Diu from the
The later years of Süleyman were troubled by conflict between his sons.
Mustafa had become by 1553 a focus of disaffection in Asia Minor and was executed in that
year on the order of the Sultan. There followed during 1559-61 a conflict betweenthe
princes Selim and Bayezid over the succession to the throne, which ended with the defeat
and execution of Bayezid. Süleyman himself died while besieging the fortress of
Szigetvár in Hungary.
Süleyman surrounded himself with administrators and statesmen of unusual
ability, men such as his grand viziers (chief ministers) Ibrahim, Rüstem, and Mehmed
Sokollu. Ulama (specialists in Islamic law), notably Abu al-Su'ud
(Hoca Çelebi) and Kemalpaţazade, made the period memorable, as did the
great Turkish poet Bâkî and the architect Sinan.
Süleyman built strong fortresses to defend the places he took from the Christians and
adorned the cities of the Islamic world (e.g., Mecca, Damascus, and Baghdad) with mosques,
bridges, aqueducts, and other public works. In general, Süleyman completed the task of
transforming the previously Byzantine city of Constantinople into Istanbul, a worthy
centre for a great Turkish and Islamic empire.
- Hürrem Sultan (his wife)
- Mihrumâh Sultan (his daughter)