Mehmed the Conqueror: 10 Major Achievements
Mehmed the Conqueror, also known as Fatih Sultan Mehmet, was the seventh Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who famously conquered Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in 1453. Then just 21 years of age, Mehmed II, who styled himself as “Caesar” of the Roman Empire, would go on to transform the Ottoman navy and army, allowing him to expand the empire into places in the Balkans and former Eastern Roman Empire territories.
What other feats and military conquests was Mehmed the Conqueror most known for? Below, World History Edu digs deep into the 10 major achievements of this Ottoman Sultan.
Mehmed II: Fast Facts
Born: Mehmed bin Murad Han
Date of Birth: March 30, 1432
Place of birth: Edirne, Turkey
Died: May 3, 1481
Place of death: Istanbul, Turkey
Cause of death: Gout
Father: Murad II
Mother: Hüma Hatun
Brothers: Ahmed Çelebi, Alaeddin Ali Çelebi, Yusuf Adil Shah, Orhan Çelebi, Hasan Çelebi
Sisters: Erhundu Hatun, Şehzade Hatun, Fatma Hatun, Hatice Hatun
Consorts: Gülbahar Hatun, Gülşah Hatun, Sittişah Hatun, ÇiÇek Hatun, Hatice Hatun
Children: Bayezid II, Cem Sultan, Gevherhan Hatun, Şehzade Mustafa
7th Ottoman Sultan:
First reign: 1444-1446
Second Reign: 1451-1481
Predecessor: Murad II
Successor: Bayezid II
Most famous for: Conquering Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey)
Other names: Fatih Sultan Mehmed; Mehmed II, Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, Muhammad the Conqueror
Epithets: Kayser-i Rum (Roman Caesar), “the Lord of the two lands and the two seas”, ‘the Father of Conquest
Major Achievements of Mehmed the Conqueror
With a reign that lasted for 31 years, Fatih Sultan Mehmed accomplished many remarkable things, not just on the battlefield but in many sectors of the empire, including architecture, education, arts, and culture. The following are 10 major achievements of the Ottoman sultan.
Helped in defeating the Christian Crusade led by John Hunyadi
As stated above, Mehmed II was Ottoman Emperor on two occasions. His first ascent to the throne came in late summer of 1444, when his father, fresh from securing a peace deal with Hungary, abdicated the throne. Reneging on their commitment to the Peace of Szeged in 1444, the Hungarians began making incursions into Ottoman territory. Although Mehmed II was only 12 at the time, he was still able to defend the Ottomans against the Christian Crusade led by John Hunyadi (c. 1406-1456), a Hungarian military commander.
Mehmed is said to have made passionate appeals to father, the previous sultan, to lead the Ottoman army against the Hungarians. Murad II ultimately answered his son call and led the Ottomans to victory at the Battle of Varna in November 1444.
Some historians have stated that the request to lead the army did not come from Mehmed II; instead it came from the very influential Ottoman grand vizier Çandarlı Halil Pasha (died July 10, 1453). In effect, Çandarlı deposed the young Mehmed II so that Murad II could be called back to handle the threats coming from European armies. This explains why Murad II returned to Edirne in 1446 to take the Ottoman throne. Although he kept the title of sultan, Mehmed II went back to his old position as governor of Manisa.
Defeated the Beylik of Karaman and many other beyliks in the region
Before the fall of Constantinople, the Karamanids were considered one of the most powerful Anatolian beyliks (Turkmen principalities) in the region. Their territories included places in modern-day Turkish Provinces of Konya and Karaman. Beginning around the mid 1460s, Mehmed began capturing many territories under the Karamanids, including Konya and Karaman. At the Battle of Otlukbeli in August 1473, Mehmed was able to secure victory against the Ak Koyunlu army led by Uzun Hasan, the sultan of Akkoyunlu. Steadily, Mehmed II embarked on a quest to bring other Turkish states in Anatolia into the Ottoman Empire.
Led the siege of Constantinople in 1453
Upon becoming emperor of the Byzantine Empire in 1449, Emperor Constantine XI resorted to using very cunning means to extort money and political concessions from the Ottomans. When Mehmed II ascended the throne (for the second time), the Byzantine ruler sent a letter threatening the Ottomans that they would proclaim the claimant Orhan as sultan if the Ottomans did not increase the annuity that was being made to the Byzantine Empire.
Rather than comply with the request, Mehmed II and his advisors began preparing the Ottoman army and navy to take on the Byzantine Empire. To help him actualize that goal, he built a very strong fortress named Rumelihisari on the Bosphorus Straits. With the strait firmly in the hands of the Ottomans, he could raise revenue by taking tolls from ships that went through the strait.
Leading an army of between 75,000 and 180,000, Mehmed II began laying siege on Constantinople in April, 1453. The ground Ottoman troops were complemented by a total of about 300 navy vessels. Inhabitants of Constantinople had no way out as both the sea and land routes had been blocked by the Ottomans. By so doing Mehmed caused the Byzantine troops to be stretched.
Using huge cannons designed by Hungarian engineer Orban, the Ottomans were able to inflict huge damage on Constantinople’s defenses. It took Mehmed about two months to bring the city of Constantinople under his control.
Set out to transform Constantinople into a city of cultural and scientific excellence
Following the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed transferred the Ottoman capital from Edirne to Constantinople, which later came to be called Istanbul. From then onward, he spent the remainder of his reign working very hard to revitalize the city. His goal was to make the Constantinople the cultural and political hub of the world. As a result, he invited many scholars, artists and scientists from across the Empire and beyond to the city. He also embarked on a massive project of repopulating the city, building many public infrastructures, including mosques, citadels, hospitals, schools, military barracks for his Jannisaries, and a palace.
Mehmed II is famous for encouraging the Greeks and the Genoese that fled from Galata following the conquest of Constantinople to return. He gave the returnees back their houses and businesses. He also put measures in place to guarantee their safety from official or unofficial persecution.
In order to ensure all that was safe from an invasion from any European nation, Mehmed the Conqueror set out to bolster the city’s defenses. He tasked his engineers and builders to repair all the damaged walls of Constantinople. The Sultan also set up the Tophane gun foundry on the outskirts of Galata (present-day Karakoy in Istanbul, Turkey).
Mehmed II promoted diversity and religious tolerance in Istanbul
He opened up his new capital, which he named Istanbul, to everyone, including Jews and Christians. Not only did he restore the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchy by placing Byzantine philosopher and theologian Gennadius II as the head, he also established a Jewish Grand Rabbinate, the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community. The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople was also established.
On many occasions he called on his senior officials and viziers to invest heavily into educational institutions, including Islamic schools and colleges of science and arts.
Mehmed the Conqueror’s goal was to turn Istanbul into a bastion of diversity, religious tolerance and the great scholarly work. His efforts paid off tremendously, as Istanbul quickly became one of the greatest imperial cities in the world at the time. The city could boast of having a religious demographic of 10% Jews, 22% Christian, and about 60% Muslim.
Mehmed the Conqueror was a huge patron of the arts, literature and science
A big admirer of arts, literature and other scholarly works, Mehmed took a bold decision by inviting Italian artists, Greek scholars and humanist to his court. It was said that he was particularly fond of Renaissance artists and Classical poets from Europe. He read many of the Classical history books that were available at the time.
Mehmed invited famous humanists and scholars of the era into his vast and expanding empire, including Italian humanist Ciriaco de’ Pizzicolli, Italian poet and historian Benedetto Dei, and Greek historian and scholar Michael Critobulus.
He commissioned many Italian Renaissance artists, most famous among them Matteo de’ Pasti and Gentile Bellini. The latter, an Italian painter from Venice, was commissioned to paint the Sultan’s portrait.
Mehmed the Conqueror created a personal library that gathered a wide array of books from different cultures, including works in Arabic, Greek, Persian and Latin. The library had a staggering 8,000 manuscripts. The library is said to had copies of books like Homer’s Iliad and Arrians’ Anabasis of Alexander the Great.
His patronage of Classical art and literature from different cultures augured very well for him on the international front. European rulers at the time were impressed by his taste for art and culture. This helped him enhance his imperial authority. To some historians and scholars at the time, those initiatives of the Sultan gave a bit of credence to his claim as the true successor of the Roman Empire. Some say he patronized Renaissance art and culture to make himself appear more as a Western-oriented monarch.
Declared himself Kayser-I Rum (Roman Caesar)
An ambitious sultan, perhaps one of the most ambitious to rule the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed the Conqueror gave himself the title caesar of the Roman Empire. This came after his conquest of the Byzantine Empire. To Mehmed II, the Roman Empire did not fall following the conquest of Constantinople; instead the Ottoman sultan believed that his Ottoman Empire was simply a continuation of the Roman Empire. His Caesar title was only recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, thus the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Increased his hold on the empire using a host of social and political reforms
Mehmed the Conqueror introduced a number of social and political reforms that were aimed at making his government more centralized. Some of those steps he took included establishing an imperial court and then resourcing it well-trained officials who shared in his vision for the Empire. He worked hard to make the selection process for those officials based on merit. He has been praised by historians as doing away biases and nepotism that saw officials solely picked from aristocratic families. This meant breaking away from the traditional systems and ancient traditions. All of those efforts allowed him to put the Empire on a path to becoming more centralized.
By doing away with the Ghazi-styled governance structure of the previous sultans, Mehmed II filled up his administrative positions and top military posts with well-trained personnel from the Devshirme, a system where young boys from Christian backgrounds were sent to educational institutions to be trained as an administrator or military official in the Janissaries. His first grand vizier, Zaganos Pasha, came through the devşirme system. As a matter of fact four out of five grand viziers of Mehmed came through that system.
Stretched the Ottoman Empire into places in the Balkans
Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II embarked on a series of military conquests that allowed him to stretch the Ottoman Empire westward. He also took many of the provinces that were under the Byzantine Empire. For example, about seven years after the fall of Constantinople, Mehmed II conquered the Despotate of the Morea, a province of the Byzantine Empire.
His westward expansion took him all the way to Western Anatolia and the Balkans. In 1461, the Empire of Trebizond, one of the few successor states of the Byzantine Empire, in Northeastern Anatolia fell to the Mehmed II’s Ottoman Empire after a month-long siege. With Trebizond incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II had successfully brought an end to the Byzantine Empire.
Mehmed II conquered Wallachia (modern-day Romania)
Sultan Mehmed II was able to pull of feat that many of his predecessors tried for many years to do but failed. Mehmed conquered Wallachia (a region in present-day Romania). The Wallachia rulers pay annual tributes in exchange for Ottomans staying out of their business.
Worried that the Hungarians were about to seize Wallachia, the Ottomans released Vlad III, a prince of Wallachia who had been held captive in Ottoman for a number of years. The goal was to allow Vlad III return to Wallachia and claim the throne. Vlad ended up partnering with the Hungarians to wage war against the Ottomans. In the end, Mehmed was able to conquer Wallachia and its capital Targoviste. He installed Radu the Fair, the brother Vlad III, as the ruler of Wallachia.
Other military conquests and campaigns by Mehmed II
In 1463, the Kingdom of Bosnia, which was ruled by Stephen Tomašević, fell to the Ottoman Empire after Mehmed marched on the kingdom and beheaded Stephen Tomašević.
Between 1463 and 1479, Mehmed II fought a brutal war against the Republic of Venice. Known as the Ottoman-Venetian War, Mehmed gained a number of territories under Venice rule, including places in Albania, Greece, and the island of Negroponte. Mehmed’s war efforts were facilitated by his expansion of the Ottoman Navy.
Sultan Mehmed II’s march on Serbia
Following the conquest of Constatinople and many other former Byzantine Empire territories, Fatih Sultan Mehmet cast his eyes upon Serbia. For many years, Serbia, a vassal state, was a semi-autonomous region that paid homage to Ottoman sultans. Incensed by Serbia’s ruler’s pact with the Hungarians, as well as the irregularity of the tributes from Serbia, Mehmed marched his Ottoman army on Serbia in 1454.
He laid siege to many cities in Serbia, including Smederevo and Novo Brdo. The latter city was a very profitable mining town. Mehmed would wage war with the Hungarians in Serbia until 1456. That same year, as he tried to conquer Belgrade, he came against fierce resistance from Hungarian forces led by John Hunyadi. Although he failed to take Belgrade during the Siege of Belgrade in July 1456, Mehmed was content with the relative peace that ensued along the border between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.
Ultimately, Suleiman the Magnificent, the great-grandson of Mehmed, conquered Blegrade in 1521.
Mehmed II’s parents
His father was the 6th Ottoman Sultan, Murad II (1404-1451). His father ruled the empire on two occasions; first time was from 1421 to 1441, while the second time was from 1446 to 1451. Murad II is credited with increasing the trading activities not just within the empire, but also beyond. His reign was truly one of real economic prosperity.
Mehmed the Conqueror’s mother, Hüma Hatun (1410-1449), was the fourth wife of Murad II. She was a slave girl who entered Murad II’s royal harem at a very young age. Her family background to this remains unknown. In an Ottoman inscription, she is described as the daughter of Abdullah. It is likely that her father had converted to Islam, hence the name Abdullah. Many converts preferred the name Abdullah, which means Servant of God. Historians today place her family origin of either one of Jewish or one of Serbian Christian. Others state that she was of either Slavic or Greek descent. She was around the age of 22 when she gave birth to Mehmed the Conqueror. She travelled with her son Mehmed to Manisa (formerly known as Magnesia), where Mehmed served as the prince governor of territory.
Growing up, he had a strong interest in Islamic education. One of his mentors was Molla Gurani. Akshamsaddin, a renowned Ottoman religious scholar and poet, was perhaps the tutor that had the most influence on Mehmed II’s life. Historians have stated that the Islamic tutor was probably the one who instilled in the future sultan that idea to conquer the Byzantine Empire.
When he was 12, his father sent him to Manisa (Magnesia), where he was tutored by two very distinguished teachers – viziers Şihâbeddin and Zaganos. It was common practice for Ottoman princes to be sent to different parts of the empire to serve as governors.
Mehmed II’s ascension to the throne
Mehmed the Conqueror ascended the Ottoman throne on two occasions. The first came when he was 12 years after his father, Murad II, abdicated the throne as per a peace accord with powerful factions in the empire. The second came on February 18, 1451, when his father passed away.
Consorts and children
By his first wife Gülbahar Hatun, sister of Mustafa Pasha, Mehmed had two children – Bayezid II and Gevherhan Hatun. All in all he had about five wives, in addition to the numerous concubines in his royal harem.
Other notable achievements of Fatih Sultan Mehmed
Even before the reign of his great-grandson Suleiman the Magnificent made huge progress merging two forms of law in the land – sultanic (Kanun) and religious (Sharia) – Sultan Mehmed had begun the codification process of criminal and constitutional law. Those reforms of his supported his efforts in reviving the city of Constantinople’s appeal and splendor.
Sultan Mehmed II often gets a lot praise for inviting Muslim scientists and astronomers, most famous among them Ali Qushji, to Constantinople. He then encouraged his top officials and those scholars to establish universities, madrasas, and other educational facilities that ended up being center for the study of law, medicine, astronomy, physics, mathematics, and other sciences. With support from Mehmed II, the Timurid theologian and astronomer Ali Qushji founded Sahn-ı Seman Medrese or Semâniyye (meaning ‘eight courtyards’), an institution praised as the one of the first centers for the study of a wide array of traditional Islamic sciences in the Ottoman Empire.
In addition to the construction of mosques and educational institutions, Mehmed II built other infrastructures like waterways and palaces, most famous one being the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The Sultan’s library had assorted books written by Greek, Latin and Persian authors.
After the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II ordered his officials to desist from persecuting Jews and Christians. The Sultan thus created an environment conducive enough for people of different faiths to practice their religion freely within the Empire, with no persecution or disturbance whatsoever. For example, he kept the Byzantine Church opened and functioning with no persecution or disturbance whatsoever. Similar religious freedoms were extended to the Jewish community and other religious minorities during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II.
Following his conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II ordered the protection of many Greek antiquities, relics and statues. This came as no surprise as the Ottoman Sultan was himself a big admirer of Classical Greek artworks, literature, and culture. It was said that his heroes in Greek culture was the mythical Greek hero Achilles and the Macedonian king Alexander the Great.
After conquering Constantinople, Mehmed II made Byzantine philosopher and theologian Gennadius Scholarius the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Gennadius II, who served in that position from 1454 to 1464, was a huge critic of the West. As part of his efforts to make Constantinople a city open to all religious scholars and artists, he tasked Gennadius to translate Christian doctrine into Turkish.
After the fall of Constantinople, the nephews of deceased Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI were placed in the service of Mehmed II in his royal court. For example, one of the nephews of the Byzantine ruler, Mesih Pasha, served as an admiral in the Ottoman Navy and then later became grand vizier under Mehmed II’s successor Sultan Bayezid II.
More Mehmed the Conqueror Facts
En route to Constantinople, his advisor and sheikh Akshamsaddin discovered the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Mehmed II went on to erect a mosque – Eyup Sultan Mosque – next to the the tomb of Ansari. The mosque today is considered one of the most important sites for Muslims.
Just as he was about to make greater inroads into southern Italy in 1481, Sultan Mehmed II fell ill. It’s been said that he suffered a stroke before passing away on May 3, 1481. He was 49. His body was laid to rest in his tomb (türbe) near the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul.
Following his death, European countries were filled with much joy. In many of those Christian-dominated countries at the time, the Ottoman ruler was seen as an evil, war mongering emperor.
Fatih Sultan Mehmed remains one of the most revered Ottoman sultans of all time. His reputation in modern day Turkey is certainly uncontested. Some of the most famous items that bear his name today include the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge in present-day Istanbul. From 1986 to 1992, the Central Bank of Ghana had in circulation a 1000 Turkish Lira note.
Conversion of Hagia Sophia into a Muslim mosque
Following his conquest of Constantinople, he is said to have entered triumphantly into the city through the Topkapi Gate. The Ottoman ruler rode straight to the Hagia Sophia and asked that the building not be harmed. Shortly after he called for an imam to lead a Muslim prayer in the church, which later got converted into a Mosque. The reason he converted the Orthodox cathedral into a mosque was to announce the Ottoman Empire as real force to be reckoned with. By so doing, Mehmed was placing himself as the biggest promoter of Islam in the world at the time.
Did you know?
The exact place of his birth was in Edirne, formerly Adrianople, Thrace, Ottoman Empire. Edirne is today located in the northwestern part of the province of Edirne of Turkey.
Mehmed the Conqueror was the fourth son of Sultan Murad II. His mother, Hümâ Hâtûn, was an enslaved woman in the vast harem of Sultan Murad II.
In addition to Turkish, Mehmed the Conqueror was fluent in a number of languages, including Serbian, Arabic, Latin, Greek, and Persian.