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Suleiman and the Ottoman Empire: History, Culture & Exploits

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has an M.A in instructional education.

Suleiman rose to power as a sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1520, renowned for his successful rule and reign. Learn about the transition of power to Suleiman from his father, and explore his military exploits against Belgrade, Rhodes, and the Habsburgs, leading to cultural domestic prosperity. Updated: 03/10/2022

Suleiman's Father

Greece had Alexander the Great, France had Napoleon, and the Ottoman Empire had Suleiman, the star of today's lesson. To the West, Suleiman is known as the 'Magnificent,' a fierce conqueror for the Islamic religion. To the East, he is known as the 'Lawgiver,' a brilliant ruler who brought the Ottoman Empire to its pinnacle of power and prosperity.

To begin, the Islamic Ottoman Empire of the 16th and 17th centuries encompassed a massive area. Before the birth of Suleiman in 1495, the Empire was ruled by his father, Selim I. Selim I, known as the Terrible, was responsible for great expansion but was also a feared ruler with a ferocious temper and the propensity to execute those who got in his way. Except for having a rather ruthless father, little is known about Suleiman's younger life. We do know that by the age of 16 he was already governing some cities in his father's empire. This prepared him to ascend to the role of Sultan, or the Muslim sovereign, upon his father's death in 1520.

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  • 0:05 Suleiman's Father
  • 1:17 Suleiman Comes to Power
  • 3:19 Conquering Belgrade and Rhodes
  • 4:37 War Against the Habsburgs
  • 6:26 Improvements on the Home Front
  • 7:36 Lesson Summary
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Suleiman Comes to Power

With his ruthless father dead, Suleiman's new subjects wondered what his rule would hold. One dignitary stated of Suleiman, ''He is twenty-six years of age, tall, but wiry, and of a delicate complexion. His neck is a little too long, his face thin, and his nose aquiline. He has a shade of a moustache and a small beard; nevertheless, he has a pleasant mien (which means manner), though his skin tends to be a light pallor. He is said to be a wise Lord, fond of study, and all men hope for good from his rule.''

Lucky for the Ottomans, this dignitary's appraisal proved to be correct. While his father was only interested in war, Suleiman filled his palace with music and poetry. At the beginning of his reign, Suleiman ruled his people with kindness. He freed hundreds of slaves, even making one of them his most trusted advisor. He showered military officers with gifts and erected schools. In turn for these acts of kindness, he demanded complete loyalty from his subjects.

Although kind to his people, Suleiman also had his father's conquering blood coursing through his veins. Upon his ascension, Suleiman set out to improve his military. To his weapons pile, he added hundreds of cannons. He also expanded his army of Janissaries, the elite Turkish warriors, which were oddly former war captives and Christian youths pressed into service. Of course, all of these soldiers were forcibly converted to Islam and trained under the strictest discipline.

Suleiman also improved his navy, resulting in control over the Mediterranean, where his sailors raided and terrorized passing ships. He also had fleets of warships built, which yielded an impressive navy. With this navy, the Turks controlled the Mediterranean, raiding and terrorizing passing ships.

Conquering Belgrade and Rhodes

With his military and navy finely tuned, Suleiman led his forces in a campaign to destroy the Ottoman's Christian enemies at the edge of the Empire. Due to his skilled forces, the Ottomans captured the Christian city of Belgrade in less than thirty days! This win not only gave Suleiman access to the important Danube River, it also spread fear of the name Suleiman across all of Christian Europe.

Although the chance to invade further into Europe was within his fingertips, Suleiman turned his attention toward the Island of Rhodes, located in the Mediterranean. Rhodes was the home base of the Knights Hospitaller, a group of Christian knights who swore to protect the Holy Lands. However, in protecting the Holy Lands, they attacked Ottoman trading ships, which led to Suleiman launching an attack against the knights in 1522.

The Knights fought hard for months, but with over 400 ships, a land force of over 100,000 men, and more cannons than any battle had ever seen, Suleiman was determined to capture the Island of Rhodes. After about five months of being trounced, the knights gave in, and Suleiman allowed the survivors to depart.

War Against the Habsburgs

With Rhodes now under Ottoman control, Suleiman's sights turned back to Hungary and Eastern Europe. War again waged against the Hungarians. In the 1520s, Suleiman defeated and killed the Hungarian Louis II at the Battle of Mohacs. With the death of Louis II, the Hungarians will to fight was gone, giving the Ottoman Empire control of Eastern Europe.

However, this control would soon be tested when remaining Hungarians decided Ferdinand of the Habsburg Dynasty, the ruler of Austria, should be the new Hungarian king. With the support of his brother Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and the guy in charge of Spain and much of central Europe, Ferdinand regained control of Hungary.

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