Suleyman I (Ottoman Turkish: سليمان Sulaymān, Turkish: Süleyman; formally Kanuni Sultan Süleyman in Turkish) (November 6, 1494 – September 5/6, 1566), was the tenth and longest‐serving Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, reigning from 1520 to 1566. He is known in the West as Suleiman the Magnificent and in the Islamic world, as the Lawgiver (in Turkish Kanuni;Arabic: القانونى, al‐Qānūnī), deriving from his complete reconstruction of the Ottoman legal system. Within the empire, Suleiman was known as a fair ruler and an opponent of corruption. As well as being a capable goldsmith and distinguished poet, Suleiman was also a great patron of artists and philosophers, overseeing the golden age of the Ottoman Empire's cultural development. Suleiman was considered one of the pre‐eminent rulers of 16th‐century Europe, a respected rival to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1519–56), Francis I of France (1515–47), Henry VIII of England (1509–47), Sigismund II of Poland (1548–72), and Ivan IV of Russia (1530–84). Under his leadership, the Ottoman Empire reached its Golden Age and became a world power. Suleiman personally led Ottoman armies to conquer Belgrade, Rhodes, and most of Hungary, laid the Siege of Vienna, and annexed most of the Middle East and huge territories in North Africa as far west as Algeria. For a short period, Ottomans achieved naval dominance in the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf. The Ottoman Empire continued to expand for a century after his death. Besides his military achievements, he had a literary bent, and was a disciple of Aristotle, he kept a daily diary when at war and wrote poetry when at peace.
Conquests in Europe
Upon succeeding his father, Suleiman began a series of military conquests, first putting down a revolt led by the Ottoman‐appointed governor of Damascus in 1521. Suleiman soon made preparations for the conquest of Belgrade from The Kingdom of Hungary — something his great‐grandfather Mehmed II had failed to achieve. Its capture was vital in eliminating the Hungarians who following the defeats of the Serbs, Bulgars and Byzantines, remained the only formidable force who could block further Ottoman gains in Europe. Suleiman encircled Belgrade and began a series of heavy bombardments from an island in the Danube. With a garrison of only seven hundred men, and receiving no aid from Hungary, Belgrade fell in August 1521.
News of the conquest of one of Christendom's major strongholds spread fear across Europe. As the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Istanbul was to note,
The capture of Belgrade was at the origin of the dramatic events which engulfed Hungary. It led to the death of King Lewis, the capture of Buda, the occupation of Transylvania, the ruin of a flourishing kingdom and the fear of neighbouring nations that they would suffer the same fate…
The road to Hungary and Austria laid open, however Suleiman diverted his attention to the Eastern Mediterranean island Rhodes whose proximity to Asia Minor and the Levant had posed a perennial problem to Ottoman interests. In the summer of 1522, taking advantage of the navy he inherited from his father, Suleiman dispatched an armada of some four hundred ships whilst personally leading an army of 100,000 across Asia Minor to a point opposite the island. Following a siege of five months with brutal encounters, Rhodes capitulated and Suleiman allowed the Knights of Rhodes to depart, forming their new base in Malta. As relations between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire deteriorated, Suleiman resumed his campaign in Eastern Europe and on August 29, 1526, he defeated Louis II of Hungary (1516–26) at the Battle of Mohács. In its wake, Hungarian resistance collapsed and the Ottoman Empire became the pre‐eminent power in Eastern Europe. Upon encountering the lifeless body of King Louis, Suleiman is said to have lamented:
Following the collapse of the Hungarian kingdom, a power struggle ensued. Some Hungarian nobles proposed that Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria (1519–64), who was ruler of neighbouring Austria and tied to Louis II's family by marriage, be King of Hungary, citing previous agreements that the Habsburgs would take the Hungarian throne if Louis died without heirs. However, other nobles turned to the nobleman John Zápolya, who was supported by Suleiman, and who remained unrecognized by the Christian powers of Europe. A three‐sided conflict ensued as Ferdinand moved to assert his rule over as much of the Hungarian kingdom as he could, resulting in a three‐way partition of the Kingdom by 1541: Suleiman claimed most of present‐day Hungary, known as the Great Alföld (see Ottoman Hungary), and after eliminating the threat of the rebellious Stephen Maylad, he had Zápolya's family installed as rulers of the independent principality of Transylvania, as a vassal state of the Empire. Ferdinand claimed "Royal Hungary", including present‐day Slovakia, western Croatia, and adjacent territories, temporarily fixing the border between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. Under Charles V and his brother Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, the Habsburgs occupied Buda and took Hungary. As a result, in 1529, Suleiman once again marched through the valley of the Danube and reoccupied Buda and in the following autumn laid siege to Vienna. It was to be the Ottoman Empires most ambitious expedition and the apogee of its drive towards the West. With a reinforced garrison of 20,000 men, the Austrians would inflict upon Suleiman his first defeat and sow the seeds of a bitter Ottoman‐Hapsburg rivalry which lasted until the 20th century. A second attempt to conquer Vienna failed in 1532, with Suleiman retreating before reaching Vienna. In both cases, the Ottoman army was plagued by bad weather (forcing them to leave behind essential siege equipment) and was hobbled by the overstretched supply lines.
Regardless of the defeat, Suleiman had assured the Ottoman Empire a powerful role in the political landscape of Europe.
Conquests in Asia
As Suleiman stabilised his European frontiers, he now turned his attention to the ever present threat posed by the Shi'a Safavid dynasty of Persia (Iran). Two events in particular were to precipitate a recurrence of tensions. First, Shah Tahmasp had the Baghdad governor loyal to Suleiman killed and replaced with an adherent of the Shah, and second, the governor of Bitlis had defected and sworn allegiance to Safavids. As a result, in 1533, Suleiman ordered his Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha to lead an army into Asia where he retook Bitlis and occupied Tabriz without resistance. Having joined Ibrahim in 1534, Suleiman made a push towards Persia, only to find the Shah sacrificing territory instead of facing a pitched battle, resorting to a harassment of the Ottoman army as it proceeded along the harsh interior. The following year, Suleiman and Ibrahim made a grand entrance into Baghdad, with its commander surrendering the city, cementing Suleiman as the leader of the Islamic world and the legitimate successor to the Abbasid Caliphs.
Attempting to defeat the Shah once and for all, Suleiman embarked upon a second campaign between 1548–1549. Just as in the previous attempt, Shah Tahmasp I avoided confrontation with the Ottoman army and instead chose to retreat, torching Azerbaijan in the process and exposing the Ottoman army to the harsh winter of the Caucasus. Suleiman abandoned the campaign with temporary Ottoman gains in Tabriz and Azerbaijan region of Iran, and a lasting presence in the province of Van, and some forts in Georgia.
In 1553, Suleiman began his third and final campaign against the Shah. Having initially lost territories in Erzurum to the Shah's son, Suleiman retaliated by recapturing Erzurum, crossing the Upper Euphrates and laying waste to parts of Persia. The Shah's army continued its strategy of avoiding the Ottomans leading to a stalemate from which neither army made any considerable gain. In 1554, a settlement was signed which was to conclude Suleiman's Asiatic campaigns, they included the return of Tabriz, but secured Baghdad, lower Mesopotamia, the mouths of the river Euphrates and Tigris, as well as part of the Persian Gulf, the Shah also promised to cease all raids into Ottoman territory.
Mediterranean and North Africa
Having consolidated his conquests on land, Suleiman was greeted with bad news that the fortress of Koron In Morea had been lost to Charles V’s admiral, Andrea Doria. The presence of the Spanish in the Eastern Mediterrenean concerned Suleiman, who saw it as an early indication of Charles V intention to rival Ottoman dominance in the region. Thus recognizing the need to re‐assert the navy's pre‐eminence in the Mediterranean, Suleiman appointed an exceptional naval commander in the form of Khair ad Din, known to Europeans as Barbarossa. Once appointed admiral‐in‐chief, Barbarossa was charged with re‐building the Ottoman fleet, to the point the Ottoman navy equalled in number all those of the other Mediterranean countries put together. In 1535 Charles V won an important victory against the Ottomans at Tunis, which together with the war against Venice the following year, led Suleiman to accept proposals from Francis I France to forge an alliance with Suleiman, both of whom for shared a mutual rivalry with Charles. In 1538, the Spanish fleet was defeated at the Battle of Preveza by Barbarossa, securing the eastern Mediterranean for the Turks for 33 years until the defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
East of Morocco, huge territories of North Africa were annexed. The Barbary States of Tripolitania, Tunisia, and Algeria became autonomous provinces of the Empire, and served as the leading edge of Suleiman's conflict with Charles V, whose attempt to drive out the Turks failed in 1541. The piracy carried on thereafter by the Barbary pirates of North Africa remained part of the wars against Spain, and the Ottoman expansion was associated with naval dominance for a short period in the Mediterranean Sea. Ottoman navies also controlled the Red Sea, and held the Persian Gulf until 1554, when their ships were defeated by the navy of the Portuguese Empire. The Portuguese would continue to contest Suleiman I's forces for control of Aden, in present‐day Yemen.
Francis I was persuaded to sign a peace treaty with Charles V in 1538, however he again allied himself with the Suleiman in 1542. In 1543 Charles allied himself with Henry VIII of England and forced Francis to sign the Truce of Crepy‐en‐Laonnois. Charles signed a humiliating treaty with Suleiman to gain some respite from the huge expenses of the war. In 1544, when Spain declared war on France, the French King Francis asked for help from Suleiman. He then sent a fleet headed by Barbarossa who was victorious over the Spaniards, and managed to retake Naples from them. Suleiman bestowed on him the title of Beyler Bey (Commander of Commanders). One result of the alliance was the fierce sea duel between Dragut and Andrea Doria, which left the northern Mediterranean European and the southern Mediterranean in Islamic hands.
When the Knights Hospitallers were re‐established as the Knights of Malta in 1530, their actions against Muslim navies quickly drew the ire of the Ottomans, who assembled another massive army in order to dislodge the Knights from Malta. In 1565 they invaded, starting the Great Siege of Malta, which began on May 18 and lasted until September 8, and is portrayed vividly in the frescoes of Matteo Perez d'Aleccio in the Hall of St. Michael and St. George. At first the battle looked to be a repeat of the one on Rhodes, with most of the cities destroyed and about half the Knights killed in battle, but a relief force from Spain entered the battle, resulting in the loss of 30,000 Ottoman troops.