The seventh Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, as you know, entered history under the nickname Fatih - Conqueror.
Paolo Veronese. Portrait of Sultan Mehmed II
It was during his reign in 1453 that Constantinople fell, and the territory of the Ottoman state for 30 years (from 1451 to 1481) increased almost 2,5 times - from 900 thousand to 2 million 214 thousand square kilometers. Desperate to organize a new Crusade against Mehmed II, Pope Pius II organized several assassination attempts against this sultan (some researchers count up to 15 attempts). Since Mehmed II died quite early - at the age of 49, there are sometimes suggestions about his poisoning, but no confirmation of this version has yet been found.
But, in addition to military successes, Mehmed also became famous for the publication of the Kanun-name code of secular laws.
In the second section of Kanun-name, among others, there is the famous "Law of Fatih", which had a tremendous impact on the course of the history of the Ottoman Empire and the fate of many sons of the Turkish sultans. Its later unofficial name was “the law of fratricide”.
From the article Timur and Bayazid I. Great generals who did not divide the world You must remember that the first shahzadeh who ordered to kill his brother after the death of his father was Bayazid I. Then, in the internecine war, Bayazid's three sons - Isa, Suleiman and Musa, perished. Murad II, the grandson of Bayezid, having come to power, ordered to blind two of his brothers, one of whom was 7 years old, the other - 8. His son, Sultan Mehmed II (who had not yet become the Conqueror), outlived his older brothers, and the only remaining younger one was born three months before his father's death, ordered to kill immediately after accession to the throne in 1451. He himself was 17 at the time. And it was Mehmed II who issued the law officially allowing the sons of the deceased sultan to kill each other "for the public good" (Nizam-I Alem) - to avoid confusion and internecine wars:
And which of my sons will get the sultanate, in the name of the common good, the killing of brothers is permissible. This is supported by most of the ulama. Let them act accordingly.
"Extra" princes, of course, were killed "without shedding blood" - strangled with a silk cord.
This rule was so shocking that a number of historians considered it a slander invented by Europeans. The very fact of the murders of brothers by the Ottoman sultans during their accession to the throne was not denied: they doubted that such fratricides were enshrined at the legislative level. Since for a long time the only complete copy of Kanun-name available to researchers was kept in Vienna, assumptions were made about its falsification for propaganda purposes. However, it was Turkish historians Khalil Inaljik and Abdulkadir Ozcan who found and published new lists of Kanun-name with the “Fatih law” included in the second section, and came to an unequivocal conclusion about its reliability.
You will probably be surprised that the seniority of the applicant and his origin from one or another wife or even a concubine in the Ottoman state did not matter: the power should have passed to that of the brothers who “fate helps”. Suleiman I Qanuni wrote to his rebellious son Bayazid:
The future had to be left to the Lord, because kingdoms are not ruled by human desires, but by God's will. If he decides to give the state after me to you, then not a single living soul will be able to stop him.
According to tradition, the sons of the Sultan were appointed by the rulers of various provinces of the empire, called sanjaks (the mother of the shehzadeh went with him to rule his harem and dispose of his servants). The princes were strictly forbidden to leave their sanjaks. Everything changed after the death of the Sultan: his successor was the one of the brothers who, after the death of his father, managed to be the first to get from his sandjak to Constantinople, take possession of the treasury and conduct the ceremony of enthronement "Julius", having taken the oath from officials, ulema and troops. Supporters of the aspirants in Constantinople, naturally, tried to help their candidates: messengers sent to other brothers were intercepted, the gates of the city were closed, the roads were blocked, sometimes the Janissaries rose up, the great viziers perished. In general, during the periods of interregnum in the Ottoman Empire it was often very "interesting". The closest province to the capital was Manisa - the sons of all sultans fiercely competed for the appointment to this sanjak.
Manisa on the map of modern Turkey
Later Manisa became the unofficial capital of the heirs to the throne.
In 2019, the дажеehzadeler Park was even opened in Manisa, where you can see statues of Ottoman princes and small copies of the city's historic buildings:
But the stay of the shehzade in Manisa, as we will see later, did not guarantee the ascension to the throne: out of 16 princes who ruled (independently or formally) this sanjak, only 8 became sultans.
The Fatih law was systematically applied until 1603: during this time, 37 princes were killed for reasons of Nizam-I Alem. But even after 1603, the Ottoman rulers sometimes recalled this law - until 1808.
The power struggle of the sons of Mehmed Fatih
Meanwhile, Mehmed II himself had three sons from different wives. One of them, Mustafa, died in 1474 at the age of 23 while Mehmed was still alive. After the death of his father in 1481, Shehzade Bayazid II (born in 1448) and his younger brother Cem (or Zizim, born in 1459) entered the struggle for the throne of the Ottoman Empire.
Portrait of Sultan Bayezid II, British Museum
Portrait of Jem by Pinturicchio
Bayazid knew Arabic and Persian, wrote poetry, was fond of calligraphy, played saz and even tried to compose music (notes of eight of his works have survived). However, Mehmed II probably favored Jem, since the sanjak allocated to this son was closer to the capital. And the grand vizier of Karamanli Mehmed Pasha also did not object to the accession of Cem, since he sent the news of the death of Mehmed II to his sons at the same time. Jem was supposed to arrive in Constantinople first, but the messenger sent to him was detained by the order of the beylerbey Anatolia Sinan Pasha. Therefore, Cem learned about the death of the Sultan 4 days later than his brother.
Bayezid was also supported by the capital's janissaries, who, in revolt, killed the grand vizier. Bayezid thanked them by increasing their content from 2 to 4 acce per day.
Upon learning that Bayezid had already entered Constantinople, Jem realized that in the near future the executioners with a silk cord would appear to him. He had nowhere to retreat, and therefore he seized the old capital of the empire - Bursa, declared himself sultan and began to mint money on his own behalf. Thus, Fatih's law "misfired" at the first attempt to apply it.
Cem suggested Bayazid to divide the state into two parts, which the new sultan was categorically not satisfied with. The strength was on his side: in a short-term military campaign, after 18 days, Jem was defeated and fled to Cairo.
Bayezid won, but his younger brother literally became a thorn in his heart for many years: he was a legitimate claimant to the throne and, since it was not possible to kill him, it was impossible to say unequivocally that “fate favored” Bayazid. Jem could still return to Constantinople: as a result of a palace coup, a revolt of the Janissaries, or with an enemy army.
Meanwhile, disappointed by the scale of the help provided to him by the Mamelukes, Jem, at the invitation of the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller Pierre d'Aubusson, arrived on the island of Rhodes.
Aubusson was a man known throughout Europe: it was he who in 1480 led the heroic defense of Rhodes from the huge Ottoman fleet, after which the Hospitallers received the proud nickname "Lions of Rhodes".
But Aubusson was not only a warrior, but also a subtle and unprincipled diplomat. Having obtained a rival Bayezid, he entered into negotiations with Sultan Bayezid, promising that Jem would never return to Constantinople. For this service, he asked for a mere "trifle" - an annual "subsidy" in the amount of 45 thousand ducats, an amount comparable to the annual income of the Order of John. The opinion and feelings of Jem Aubusson himself were interested in the last turn. Bayezid tried to organize the poisoning of his brother, but achieved only that the concerned hospitallers transferred him to one of their castles in France. Bayazid still had to agree to the payment of "subsidies", however, the price was brought down: 40 thousand instead of 45. After that, Pope Innocent VIII joined the game with Jem, who tried to organize a Crusade against the Ottomans, and a pocket contender for the throne seemed to him useful ...
Pope Innocent VIII
On the other hand, the Sultan of Egypt offered Aubusson 100 thousand for Jem. And Bayezid II offered French King Charles VIII assistance in the war with Egypt - in exchange for Jem, of course (recall that shehzadeh was on French territory at that time).
The victory in this struggle was won by Pope Innocent VIII, who, as compensation, elevated Aubusson to the rank of cardinal. In the spring of 1489, Jem was brought to Rome, where his conditions of detention improved significantly, but he still remained a prisoner, albeit very valuable. Innocent officially declared that Cem remained faithful to Islam and recognized him as the legitimate ruler of the Ottoman Empire. Bayazid, who evaluated this move, after another unsuccessful attempts to eliminate his brother, was now forced to “subsidize” the Pope, and even periodically send him various Christian relics that were at his disposal.
In 1492, Alexander VI (Borgia) was elected the new pope, who accepted Turkish money as willingly as his predecessor. Bayezid assured him in his letters:
Our friendship with the help of God will grow stronger day by day.
Then the sultan decided to raise the rates and offered 300 thousand ducats in case Jem's soul "replaces this vale of sorrow for a better world." So he seduced Alexander:
Your Holiness will be able to buy principality for your sons.
But Bayezid's ambassadors on their way to Rome were captured by Giovanni della Rovere, the brother of the cardinal who would later become Pope Julius III, and this caused a scandal that prevented the deal. Alexander now tried to sell Cem to the French king Charles VIII, but the Ottoman prince died unexpectedly (in 1495) - probably from natural causes, since his death was completely unprofitable for Alexander VI. After 4 years, Jem's body was handed over to Bayezid, who ordered to bury him in Bursa.
Bayezid II turned out to be a very good ruler. He was in power for over 30 years, took personal part in 5 campaigns, won a four-year war against Venice, during which naval guns were first used in the naval battle of Sapienza. He went down in history thanks to two noble deeds. By his order, Turkish ships under the command of Admiral Kemal Reis evacuated from Andalusia part of the Sephardi Jews expelled by the "Catholic kings" Isabella and Ferdinand: they were settled in Istanbul, Edirne, Thessaloniki, Izmir, Manis, Bursa, Gelibol, Amasya and some others cities. Bayezid II also rendered great assistance to the population of Constantinople after the catastrophic earthquake of September 1509 (it went down in history under the name "The Little End of the World"). As a result, he even earned the nickname "Wali" - "Saint" or "Friend of Allah", but the end of his life was sad.
Selim I against father and brothers
Bayazid II had eight sons, but only three of them survived to adulthood: Ahmed, Selim and Korkut. Fatih Selim, who knew about the law, strongly suspected his father of sympathy for Ahmed. Therefore, he decided to act without waiting for the death of the Sultan: he moved the army of his sanjak to Constantinople, the center of which was Semendir (now Smederevo, Serbia). In August 1511, he was defeated and was forced to flee to the Crimea, where Kafa's beylerbey was his son Suleiman - the future sultan, whom the Turks would call Qanuni (Legislator), and the Europeans - Magnificent.
On this map you can see the Ottoman possessions in Crimea:
Here Selim also managed to enlist the support of Khan Mengli I Girai, to whose daughter he was married.
Crimean Khan Mengli I Giray
And the victorious sultan now did not trust Ahmed, whom he forbade to appear in Constantinople. Meanwhile, Selim and Mengli-Girey did not sit idly by: along the coast of the Black Sea, their army reached Adrianople, and in the capital at that time, the supporters of this shehzade revolted the Janissaries. In these circumstances, Bayezid II chose to relinquish the throne, giving it to Selim. Already 43 days after the abdication, on April 25, 1512, the former sultan unexpectedly died on the way to Didimotik's hometown. Well-founded suspicions are expressed that he was poisoned by the order of Selim, who still felt insecure on the throne and feared the return of the popular ruler to Constantinople.
Ahmed did not recognize his younger brother as a sultan. He retained part of his possessions in Anatolia and was not going to surrender to Selim's executioners.
On April 24, 1513, a battle took place near Yenisheher near Bursa, in which the army of Ahmed was defeated.
Battle of Selim and Ahmed at Yenisehir
Ahmed was captured and executed. Following him, Korkut, who recognized Selim as Sultan, was strangled with a silk cord.
Now no one could with weapons in the hands of challenging the power of Selim I. However, the new Sultan was not reassured by the death of his father and brothers: he ordered to kill all his relatives in the male line, for which he received the nickname Yavuz - "Cruel", "Fierce". Selim confirmed his cruelty when, in 1513, he ordered the extermination of up to 45 thousand Shiites in Anatolia between the ages of 7 and 70. This sultan was also very intolerant of his entourage: the order to execute dignitaries of even the highest rank could be given at any moment. In those days, there was even a proverb in the empire: "So that you can be a vizier with Selim." At the same time, he wrote poems (under the pseudonym Talibi), which were published in Germany on the initiative of Wilhelm II. He also composed music: I read that you can hear it during a tour of Top Kapa (I personally, however, did not hear it). There is a legend that during the stay of Shehzade Selim in the Trabzon sandjak, he, dressed as a simple wanderer, went on exploration to Iran, visiting Shah Ishmael, who allegedly did not refuse anyone who wanted to play chess with him. Selim lost the first game, won the second. It is said that the Shah enjoyed playing and communicating with an unknown partner so much that he gave him 1000 gold coins as a parting gift. Selim hid this money, later he surprised everyone when he ordered one of the military leaders who distinguished themselves in the war with Persia to take what he "finds under the stone."
Selim I ruled for only 8 years, but during this time he managed to increase the territory of the state he inherited by about 70 percent. During this time, the Ottomans captured Kurdistan, western Armenia, Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Egypt. Venice paid tribute to him for the island of Cyprus. It was during the reign of Selim I that the famous corsair Khair ad-Din Barbarossa entered the Ottoman service (which was described in the article Islamic pirates of the Mediterranean).
Hyr ad Din Barbarossa
At the same time, the Istanbul shipyard was built. Under Selim I, the Ottoman Empire gained control over two important trade routes - the Great Silk and the Spice Road. And Selim himself in 1517 received the keys to the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina and the title of "Ruler of the Two Shrines", but modestly asked to call himself their "Servant". They even said that he wore a "slave" earring in his left ear as a sign that he was "also a slave, but a slave of Allah Almighty."
This sultan died in September 1522, anthrax is considered the most likely cause of his death.
In the next article, we will continue our story about the law of Fatih and its sacrifices.