Ottoman Empire

In the following, only a general overview of the history of the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 16th century will be given, as far as it seems necessary for the understanding of The Jew of Malta.1

Osman I Ghasi founded an empire named after him towards the end of the 13th century, which lasted until 1922 and extended over three continents in his heyday. It reached from Hungary in the north to Aden in the south and from Algeria in the west to Iran in the east. The Ottoman advance into south-eastern Europe began in 1354 with the occupation of Gallipoli on the European side of the Dardanelles. Only the defeat of the Mongol prince Tamerlan at the beginning of the 15th century posed a temporary threat. On 29 May 1453, Mehmet II took Constantinople, which meant the end of the Eastern Roman Empire. Selim I expanded his territory until the 20s of the 16th century to include Persia, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The empire achieved an even greater expansion under his son Suleiman I, called the Magnificent. He conquered Belgrade and expelled the Knights of St. John from Rhodes in 1522. In 1526, Louis II, the brother-in-law of the future Emperor Ferdinand I, fell in battle against the Ottomans at Mohacs. Three years later, the Ottoman army was at the gates of Vienna, where their advance was halted, however. Nevertheless, Suleiman I succeeded in conquering Hungary and the entire eastern Mediterranean.

Since Mehmed II, a rigorous form of succession to the throne prevailed in the Ottoman Empire. The sultan usually remained unmarried, but fathered numerous offspring with his harem ladies. If the sultan died, the usually first-born had all his male relatives killed. On the one hand, this prevented civil war-like disputes over the throne, on the other hand, it ensured that only the strongest came to power. When Suleiman I became Sultan in 1520, Selim I the Cruel had already eliminated all the uncles, brothers and nephews of his favourite son. Suleiman I had already fathered four children with his favourite, Gulbehar, but only Mustafa survived. Soon after his accession to power, he turned all his affections to the extraordinary Roxelane, who soon became his only love. She bore Suleiman four sons and a daughter. In 1530, the Sultan even married her. Under no circumstances was Roxelane going to allow any of her children to be killed by Mustafa. After Mahomet, her firstborn, died in 1543, she tried to influence her husband to arrange the succession to the throne in her favour. The sultan lived in constant fear of an uprising that could lead to his deposition. In 1553, rumours intensified that Mustafa was planning to do just that. The extent to which this conspiracy actually existed is no longer comprehensible. In any case, Suleiman I had Mustafa and his eleven-year-old son strangled. In the same year, Roxelane’s second son Giangir died of natural causes. However, the rivalries in the sultan’s house had not ended there. His remaining sons Selim and Bajazet fought for the throne while their father was still alive. After Roxelane’s death in 1558, Bajazet fell out with both his brother and his father. He fled to Persia, which, however, extradited him after the Ottoman sultan paid an enormous sum. In 1561, Selim had his brother and his sons strangled. Suleiman I died on 6 September 1566. Selim II, nicknamed the "drunkard", reigned for only eight years. His greatest success was the capture of Cyprus in 1570, his greatest defeat the naval battle of Lepanto. The affairs of state were in the hands of Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who had already become Grand Vizier in 1565.

Bradford, Ernle Dusgate Selby. 1979. Der Schild Europas: Der Kampf der Malteserritter gegen die Türken 1565. Vol. 1505. Dtv-Taschenbücher. München: dtv.
Clot, André. 1992. Suleiman the Magnificent. New York: New Amsterdam Books.

  1. Unless otherwise stated, the following literature was used: Bradford (1979); Clot (1992)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 22.05.2024

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