Childhood & Early Life
Suleiman I was presumably born on November 6, 1494, in Trabzon, Ottoman Empire to Şehzade Selim, who later became Sultan Selim I, and his wife, Hafsa Sultan, a converted Muslim, as their only son.
When he was seven years old he was sent to the regal schools of the ‘Topkapı Palace’ in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) where he studied literature, history, science, military tactics and theology.
In his youth he became friend with a slave Pargalı Ibrahim. Ibrahim later emerged as one of the most trustworthy advisors of Suleiman I who inducted him as the first Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire during the latter’s reign.
During the rule of Bayezid II, Suleiman I’s grandfather, he was made the sancak beyi (governor) of Kaffa in Crimea at the age of seventeen. He also became the governor of Manisa during his father’s reign.
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After his father’s death on September 21/22, 1520, he became the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire on September 30, 1520.
According to the Venetian envoy Bartolomeo Contarini, 'Suleiman was friendly, good humoured, enjoyed reading, knowledgeable and made good judgments'.
According to some sources, he was an admirer of Alexander the Great and was inspired by the latter’s vision of developing a world empire comprising the West and the East.
Campaigns & Conquests
His early crusades saw him personally leading the Ottoman army to vanquish the Christian strongholds in the Mediterranean and central Europe. These included invasion of Belgrade in 1521 and Rhodes in 1522.
He also conquered most of Hungary in the Battle of Mohács, one of the most significant battles in the history of Central Europe that took place on August 29, 1526.
He defeated the Hungarian King, Louis II, in the Battle of Mohács and after childless Louis II was killed in the battle, his brother-in-law, Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria, claimed the vacant throne of Hungary and succeeded in winning recognition from western Hungary.
On the other hand, a noble, John Zápolya, who also claimed the throne, was recognized as a vassal king of Hungary by Suleiman I. Thus, by 1529, Hungary was divided into Habsburg Hungary and the Eastern-Kingdom of Hungary.
Suleiman I’s first attempt to conquer the Austrian city of Vienna in what is famous as the ‘Siege of Vienna’ that occurred from September 27 to October 15, 1529 was an indication of supreme helm of the Ottoman Empire as well as the extent of its expansion in central Europe.
Christian Coalition victory concluded the siege with Suleiman I failing to conquer Vienna in the face of resistance from the Christians complimented with bad weather, inadequacy of supplies and bogged down war equipments.
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He met with same fate while making his second attempt in overtaking Vienna in the Siege of Güns that occurred from August 5 to August 30, 1532.
Meanwhile, he focussed on the ongoing threat inflicted by the Persian Shi'a Safavid dynasty. Two incidents triggered conflicts between the two empires - assassination of Baghdad governor, who was loyal to Suleiman I, on the order of Shah Tahmasp, and change of loyalty of governor of Bitlis towards Safavids.
The first campaign between the two Iraqs saw Suleiman I ordering Grand Vizier Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha in 1533 to attack Safavid Iraq resulting in recapture of Bitlis and capture of Tabriz. Pasha was then joined by Suleiman I in 1534 that resulted into the capture of Baghdad by the Ottomans.
His reign saw dominance of Ottoman navy in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Mediterranean. In 1538, Khayr al-Dīn, famous as Barbarossa in the West, was made admiral or kapudan of the Ottoman fleet, succeeded in winning the Battle of Preveza against the Spanish navy. This helped them in securing eastern Mediterranean for the next three decades till 1571 when they faced defeat at the Battle of Lepanto.
The far-reaching strength of the Ottoman navy was palpable from the fleet it sent from Egypt to India to capture the town of Diu from the Portuguese in September 1538 during the Siege of Diu for re-establishing trade with India. However, their attempt remained unsuccessful.
Admirals of his empire like Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis, Seydi Ali Reis and Hadim Suleiman Pasha travelled to the regal ports of the Mughal Empire, such as Janjira, Surat and Thatta. Suleiman I was also known to have exchanged six documents with Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great.
Following John’s demise in 1540 the Austrian forces made attempts to advance into central Hungary in 1541 to lay siege to Buda. In retaliation, two successive campaigns were laid by Suleiman I in 1541 and 1544. This led to the division of Hungary into Habsburg Royal Hungary, Ottoman Hungary and the semi-independent Principality of Transylvania, a division that remained till 1700.
Subdued by the power of Suleiman I, Charles V and Ferdinand were compelled to sign a humiliating 5 year treaty with him.
A second campaign was undertaken by Suleiman I against Shah Tahmasp during 1548-1549 that resulted in Suleiman I making temporary gains in Persian ruled Armenia and Tabriz; making an enduring presence in the Van Province; and dominating over some forts in Georgia and the western part of Azerbaijan.
While such campaigns were on, Shah Tahmasp remained elusive and resorted to scorched earth strategy.
In 1551, he conquered Tripoli in North Africa and succeeded in retaining it from a strong Spanish campaign in 1560.
Suleiman I embarked on his third and last campaign against Tahmasp in 1553 that saw him losing and then regaining Erzurum. His campaign concluded after he signed the ‘Peace of Amasya’ treaty with Tahmasp on May 29, 1555.
The treaty saw him returning Tabriz but retaining Baghdad, a portion of the Persian Gulf coast, the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, western Georgia, western Armenia and lower Mesopotamia. The Shah, on the other hand, made a promise to stop raids in the Ottoman territory.
A true warrior, Suleiman I was also famous as the Kanuni Suleiman or "The Lawgiver" to his own people. He introduced significant reforms in legislation covering areas like taxation, land tenure and criminal law in a way that these harmonise the association between the Islamic law or Sharia and the regal law or Kanun of the Ottomans.
He was a promoter of education and built several mektebs or primary schools during his rule. The Ottoman civilisation under the patronage of Suleiman I, who was a distinguished poet himself, reached its pinnacle in the realms of art, literature, architecture, theology, philosophy, education and law.