Suleiman the Magnificent


The Ottoman Empire was one of the great forces of history, lasting for over six centuries, till it was replaced by the modern-day nation of Turkey in the 1920s. And the greatest and longest-ruling of its sultans was this man, Suleiman the Magnificent, who reigned for nearly fifty years in the 16th century. The name is equivalent to the western Solomon, and aptly enough, since he is also called “The Lawgiver” for his comprehensive legal reforms. He was a poet, a patron, a polyglot, and a general who led his troops into battle personally. He also held the title of Caliph, leader (at least nominally) of the entire Muslim world.

By almost any measure, he was among the most successful rulers of all time.

And yet.

His firstborn son and heir-apparent, Mustafa, seemed destined to build on his golden legacy. Mustafa was a strong leader, an able commander, and well-liked by his men. But Mustafa’s mother fell out of favor with Suleiman, as he had his eye on a new concubine: Roxelana.

Suleiman the Magnificent became so tightly bound to Roxelana that he even took the unheard-of step of marrying her. She bore him more sons, and convinced him (so the story goes) that Mustafa was plotting against his reign. It was nonsense, but nevertheless – on Roxelana’s advice – Suleiman called Mustafa to meet him in his tent, where a group of professional assassins strangled him.

Suleiman’s new heir (and eventual successor) was his first son by Roxelina, a man named Selim. Suleiman the Magnificent’s son became known as Selim the Drunkard. Selim found battlefields boring, and much preferred orgies. He died after stumbling drunkenly on a wet floor and hitting his head.

Selim’s rule marked the beginning of a long, slow decline for the Ottoman Empire. The sultans who followed were pleasure-seekers, weak, obsessed with palace politics and their own concubines.

In a sense, the Empire’s greatest ruler was also its destroyer.

This is fascinating history (to me, at least), but it also seems like an excellent story, the framework for a brilliant tragedy. Yet as far as I’m aware, no major authors have tackled it. I wonder why?

Maybe I’ll give it a shot myself, someday. I’m not ready to try another novel yet, but it might make for a good short story…

5 responses to “Suleiman the Magnificent

  1. I understand Gabriel Bounin wrote a play on this in 1561. It is called La Soltane.

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