Sultan S’leyman Han, the Lawgiver

From Caesar to Napoleon, from Nero to Peter the Mad, of all the emperors, czars, and sultans who ever reigned in Europe, the one who most justifiably prevailed for the longest time and in all his majesty and splendor was Sultan S’leyman Han, the Lawgiver.

Upon the death of his father, Sultan Selim the Grim, Sultan S’leyman the Lawgiver assumed the throne in 1520. He was a great ruler who, while strengthening the roots of the dominion which his forbears had begun on three continents, turned rather more towards the West, towards Europe. His first campaign was to Europe, in which he marched against Belgrade, located in a key position, the door to the main route which led to Europe. This lock which his ancestors had failed on numerous occasions to open he broke with a single blow of his sword, proceeding thence to Moha‡ from Moha‡ to Budin, to Central Hungary, ensconcing himself in Central Europe. The number of campaigns he undertook during his reign was thirteen. During the last of these campaigns he passed away on 7 September 1566 at the age of eighty in his royal pavilion set up beneath a huge linden tree alongside Elmal˛ Creek before Zigetvar.

The rule which he established in Europe was planned and put into effect not as a force of occupation but rather as a just, tolerant, and even paternal administration. He bound the local kings and princes to himself and his state and thus maintained his rule. He was eminently tolerant. It is still related as a legend in the provinces of Hungary that he regarded even the plucking of a single apple from a tree without payment as a major crime and had a soldier of his punished for it.

Though the Lawgiver was a devout Muslim, he was still a ruler who was able to rise above religious bigotry in his administration. During his reign, the Cross and the Crescent stood side by side, the sound of the call to prayer blending with that of church bells. In the land under Turkish Ottoman rule, there was no friction or conflict on account of religious fanaticism. King referred to S’leyman Han as "father", and he responded to hem as "son". Whenever such great powers of the period as Charles V or Fran‡ois I went at one another and got into difficulty, or one fell captive to the other, it was Sultan S’leyman upon whom they would call, entrusting themselves to his rule and asking for his aid. The reason was that Sultan S’leyman Han the Lawgiver, was known as far more than just the holder of the Turkish Ottoman throne, but rather as the "Ruler of the World."

Sultan S’leyman the Lawgiver planned to have the Turkish state which he wanted to establish on the European continent located in the region beyond the Danube River. The actual aim behind his final campaign, which terminated with his death at Zigetvar in 1566, was to capture the famous castle of Erlav (Eri) on the Danube. He regarded it as essential to take this place together with the strongholds of Raab and Komorn in order to make Turkish rule in Europe secure. Death however did not permit this, and the can quest of this place was to be the accomplishment of Sultan Mehmed II, thirty years later in 1596.

The Lawgiver was over eighty years old when he set out on the Zigetvar campaign. He was ill and suffered from cardiac insufficiency. This campaign was the Lawgiver's thirteenth, while his campaigns against Hungary had been the fifth. (For more detailed information, see the article "The Death of Sultan S’leyman Han the Lawgiver" by Midhat Sertolu in this issue of our magazine.)

During the siege, it was the Hungarian Count Miklo‘ Zrinski who defended the keep, the castle proper which had shown the longest resistance. The castle had bravely resisted four Turkish assaults. Zrinski was a courageous warrior, but there was no salvation. The outer castle fell and major breaches had been opened in the keep. Finally Miklo‘ Zrinski together with a handful of soldiers made a sortie from the castle and fell upon the Turks. At the same moment, his wife Ilona, who was famous all around for her beauty, set the ammunition store afire. Miklo‘ Zrinski died fighting, but Sultan S’leyman the Lawgiver never saw the castle taken, for he himself had died the night before in his tent, of cardiac arrest, delivering his soul to God.

His Grand Vizier, Sokullu Mehmet Pasha never let the army become aware of the Sultan's death. "They summoned the Chief Physician, split open the sovereign's belly, disembowelled and cleaned his body. They anointed him with musk and ambergris and wrapped him in oiled silk. They placed all but the dried corpse in golden vessels which they buried in a corner of the tent."

Sokullu Mehmed Pasha managed to conceal the death of the Sultan for forty-five days. When the Crown Prince (Selim II) arrived from Manisa, his first task was to have a monumental tomb constructed at the place where his father had passed away. According to old Turkish tradition, this structure was not so much a "tomb" as a "Monument to Immortality", whose columns were of monolithic marble and whose roof and eaves were of pure gold.

This monumental tomb later suffered damage twice by the Austrians. Its marble elements were carried off to a museum in Bari in Italy, the gold leaf was sold off at an auction of spoils in Vienna. What was even more painful than suffering this damage however was the fact that this work, which symbolized Turkish magnificence and grandeur in the very center of Europe also suffered the neglect of later generations. Today, all that is left is a tiny church made from the remains of the tomb, and on the wall of the church, a marble plaque indicating the spot at which the Lawgiver terminated his reign of forty six-years. Even today, this place in Hungary is known as T’rbek (the Turkish word for this type of tomb is t’rbe) and quite nearby is a village whose name means "the village of S’leyman."

The author of these lines ended the forty-odd years of his profession in the diplomatic service visiting, seeing, walking about, and feeling the old memories of our forbears in Hungary.

The voice, the breath, the legend of the Turks is still on the plains of Hungary.

Kosova got its name from the Turk back then in the fifteen hundreds. Look about you. You can still see the myriad tracks of horse. Listen. You can still hear their battle cries in the blowing wind.

The known and documented history of the Turks reaches back over four thousand years, during which time they have founded numerous states and given birth to numerous world conquerors. In the Ottoman branch alone, Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror didn't just bury the whole Byzantine Empire, he divided human history in two, closing the Middle Ages, and opening the way to the modern world. A magnificent ruler by the name of Sultan S’leyman the Lawgiver appeared and established an order of right and justice in the countries under his dominion. He denied no one the freedoms of thought and conscience-the loftiest of all freedoms; he set his hand against no one's language or religion, nor did he interfere with them. His neither deigned nor sought to exploit any country under his rule. On the contrary, out of his own Treasury he had mosques, religious complexes, caravanserais, khans, and public baths built in Hungary which even today stand as incontrovertible witnesses to the nobility and generosity of the Turks There is a belief in Hungray which has been handed down from generation to generation: "Had it not been for the Turks," they say, "today we might even have forgotten how to speak Hungarian." And they're right. Had it not been for the Turks, today they would be speaking nothing but German.

Some historians refer to the reign of Sultan S’leyman the Lawgiver as "the pinnacle of the rise of the Ottoman ideal and the beginning of its decline." In a sense perhaps they are right. It is difficult to remain, to come to rest on the pinnacle. If the period of decline in Ottoman history proceeded more rapidly than that of its rise, seeking the reasons for this will undoubtedly be of great benefit in taking a lesson from history.

The most magnificent example that can be derived from Ottoman history however can unquestionably be found in the half-century long reign of a magnificent ruler, Sultan S’leyman the Lawgiver.

Source: Antika, The Turkish Journal Of Collectable Art , February 1987 Issue:23 by : Oguz G÷kmen