Suleiman the Magnificent: History, Facts, & Major Accomplishments

Suleiman I

Suleiman I, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, ranks up there as one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman Empire. | Image: Suleiman by Nakkaş Osman.

Popularly known in Europe as Suleiman the Magnificent, Ottoman Emperor Suleiman I was the 10th and longest-reigning sultan who ruled for 46 years. Son of Sultan Selim I, Suleiman the Magnificent was widely known for his effective administration prowess, military intelligence, and foreign policy genius. His reign was so impactful that many historians like to credit him with ushering in the Golden Age of the Ottomans. It’s therefore not surprising that he earned epithets like Grand Turc and Magnifique from his contemporaries in Europe. Later Ottoman sultans would invoke his name and derive great pride from being related to him.

What else was Suleiman the Magnificent most known for? Why was he such an important figure in history? What were some of his major contributions to the Ottoman Empire and the world at large? Worldhistoryedu.com delivers to you the life, family history, and 10 major achievements of Sultan Suleiman I – Ottoman Empire’s longest-serving monarch.

Quick facts about Suleiman the Magnificent

Names: Süleyman Şah bin Selim Şah Han

Date of birth: November 6, 1494

Place of birth: Trabzon, Ottoman Empire

Died: September 6, 1566

Place of death: Szigetvár, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy

Cause of death: Natural causes

Buried: Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul (present-day Turkey)

Religion: Sunni Islam

Father: Selim I

Mother: Hafsa Sultan

Siblings: Üveys Pasha, Hatice Sultan, Beyhan Sultan, Şah Sultan, Fatma Sultan

Spouses: Mahidevran, Hurrem Sultan

Children: Şehzade Mahmud (1512-1521), Şehzade  Mustafa (1515-1553), Şehzade Murad (1519-1521), Şehzade Abdullah (1523-1526), Şehzade Selim (later Sultan Selim II) (1524-1574),  Mihrimah Sultan (1523-1578), Şehzade  Bayezid (1525-1561), Şehzade  Cihangir (1531-1553), Ayse Humasah Sultan (1542-1595).

Sword girding: September 30, 1520

Reign: 1520-1566

Predecessor: Selim I

Successor: Selim II

Epithets: Suleiman the Lawgiver (Ḳānūnī Sulṭān Süleymān), Suleiman the Magnificent

Most known for: ushering the Ottoman Empire into its golden age

Birth and early life

On November 6, 1494, Suleiman was born in Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast of northeastern Anatolia (present-day Turkey).

His parents were Ottoman Prince (Şehzade) Selim (later Sultan Selim I) (1470-1520) and Hafsa Sultan (1478-1534). His father Selim was the governor Trebizond Sanjak before going on to succeed Sultan Bayezid II (1447-1512) as the Ottoman Sultan in 1512.

Suleiman’s mother, Hafsa, was the daughter of the Crimean Khan. She is said to have converted to Islam after marrying Selim.

He was a very well-educated prince, having been tutored by some of the best teachers in the empire on a variety of disciplines – including history, theology, literature, and military tactics.

When he was around 17, he was appointed by his father to serve as the governor of Kefe (Caffa, also known as Feodosia) – on the Crimean Peninsula. He would later serve as the governor of Manisa and then Edirne.

Suleiman the Magnificent’s quote

Suleiman the Magnificent’s reign

During a campaign in Egypt, Selim I, Suleiman’s father, got struck by illness and died on September 22, 1520. He was 49. Suleiman, 26, ascended to the throne, becoming the 10th sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The sword girding ceremony for Suleiman the Magnificent was done on September 30, 1520. One of his first decisions as sultan was to lift the trade ban on Iran. The ban, which had been imposed by his father, caused quite a lot of havoc for many traders. Not only did Suleiman remove those trade restrictions with Iran, but he also gave out financial compensation to affected traders.

10 Major achievements of Sultan Suleiman I

Suleiman I

Suleiman – biography and achievements

During his reign between 1520 and 1566, Suleiman the Magnificent was able to accomplish a lot of outstanding things. Some of his major accomplishments are as follows:

Crushed the 1521 rebellion in Damascus

Suleiman hit the ground rolling upon becoming sultan with a number of military campaigns. Those initial conquests caused a powerful Mamluk nobleman in Damascus to revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The nobleman, who had been appointed by Suleiman’s predecessor, Sultan Selim I, received ample support from a group of powerful knights from Rhodes (i.e. Knights of Rhodes/Knights Hospitaller).

Captured large parts of the Kingdom of Hungary

Using the territory of Belgrade as a base, Sultan Suleiman marched his army on the Kingdom of Hungary. The young sultan was able to bring large parts of Hungary under his control, a feat that his great-grandfather Mehmed II (also known as Mehmed the Conqueror) could not pull off due to the fierce resistance put up by Hungarian military general John Hunyadi (c. 1406-1456). Suleiman’s conquest of Belgrade in August 1521 allowed him to eliminate the major stumbling blocks, i.e. the Croats and the Hungarians, in his way to further conquests of other nearby Central European territories such as Austria.

Came out on top at the Battle of Mohács

Capitalizing on the declining power of the Kingdom of Hungary under the leadership King Vladislaus of Bohemia (reign – 1471-1516), the Ottoman Empire began making inroads into Hungary. In spite of Vladislaus’ successor Louis II’s stern warning to the very powerful nobles, the Kingdom Hungary failed to prepare itself adequately against the threat of Suleiman’s forces. Suleiman’s decision to go to war with Hungary not only stemmed from the perceived threat posed by Hungary’s alliance with Habsburg, but also due to that fact the Franco-Ottoman alliance at the time had wanted to diminish the power of the Holy Roman Empire. Hungary was a conduit to realizing that goal.

In June 1526, Suleiman marched his forces up the Danube (Europe’s second-longest river), taking Nándorfehérvár (present-day Belgrade, Serbia) along the way. As a result of a very weak resistance mounted by Hungary, Suleiman’s forces of between 60,000 to 100,000 successfully defeated Louis II on August 29, 1526. In addition to Louis II dying, the Battle of Mohács  resulted in the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty.

Where as Europeans knew him as Suleiman the Magnificent, his subjects called him “Kanuni” (“Lawgiver”). That title was used across the Empire much more than his sultan’s name.

Led a successful siege to Rhodes in 1522

After failing to defeat the Knights of Rhodes in 1480, many Ottoman rulers yearned for a day when they would successfully bring the Island of Rhodes to its knee. That responsibility fell to Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, who launched a siege to Rhodes in 1522.

Bent on taking the Eastern Mediterranean island, the Ottoman ruler set up Marmaris Castle as his base before launching a long and aggressive siege on the Knights of Rhodes who were led by Fra’ Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (1464 – 1534). It took Suleiman’s forces less than half a year to successfully expel the Knights of Rhodes from the Island, although suffering about 120,000 deaths in the process. By annexing Rhodes, Suleiman the Magnificent was able to dominate trading activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Made peace with Tahmasp I, the Shah of Iran, following the Ottoman-Safavid War of 1532-1555

After securing his eastern European frontiers, Sultan Suleiman directed his attention to Persia. In addition to being Shi’a, the Persian ruler Tahmasp I (1514-1576) had incurred the wrath of Suleiman because he had murdured Baghdad governor, a staunch loyalist of Suleiman, and then replaced him with a puppet regime. Suleiman also marched on the Persian Safavid dynasty because he hoped to bring the governor of Bitlis in line.

Under the command of Grand Vizier Pergali Ibrahim Pasha, the Ottoman forces entered eastern Asia Minor and brought Bitlis back into its control in 1533. Suleiman’s reputation among the city’s inhabitants increased after he paid restored and paid homage to the tomb of Abu Hanifa, an influential scholar of the Hanafi school of Islamic law.

Due to Tahmasp I refusal to engage Suleiman’s forces in any confrontation, the Ottomans struggled to secure any outright win. Tahmasp deployed purposely destroyed infrastructure in the area in an attempt to cripple the morale of the Ottomans. After a third campaign in 1553 produced similar result, the war in effect ended in a stalemate, with the two sides signing the Peace of Amasya in 1555.

Under the peace treaty, Armenia and Georgia was divided between the Sunni-based Ottomans and the Safavids Shia. With the peace treaty, Ottomans gained control most of Iraq, including Baghdad. Suleiman also gained access to the Persian Gulf. In return, the Persians were given permission to access holy sites in Mecca and Medina, as well as other Shia sites in Iraq. The peace treaty that was struck lasted for about 30 years.

Sultan Suleiman I wrote poems (i.e. diwan – a collection of poems) under the pseudonym “Muhibbi”. Popular quotes by Suleiman the Magnificent

“The Lawgiver”

During his over four-decade rule, Suleiman embarked upon a number of reforms, including social, education, taxation, and criminal law. Regarding the latter, Suleiman tasked his chief judicial officer Ebussuud Efendi to merge the two forms of law in the land – sultanic (Kanun) and religious (Sharia).

In coming out with a single legal code, the Sultan is said to have compiled all the major judgments taken by the nine Ottoman sultans that reigned before him. He made sure that the final legal code (“Ottoman laws” or kanun‐i Osmani) did not contravene Sacred Laws in Islam. Suleiman’s legal code remained in use throughout the empire for more than three centuries.

The idea behind the “Ottoman laws” (kanun‐i Osmani) during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent was to help the Ottoman Empire keep up with the changing times.

Sultan Suleiman’s accomplishment in this area is the reason he was referred to as “The Lawgiver” (Kanuni) in his kingdom. Historians note that he earned this epithet not necessarily because of his law-making prowess, but because of his complete devotion to the law as well as his ability to uphold justice and traditions.

Historians often consider Suleiman the Magnificent as one of the 23 greatest historical lawgivers in human history. He has been praised for coming out with new criminal laws that meant that specific offenses carried a set of fines or punitive measure.

Did you know: There is a relief painting of Sultan Suleiman in the U.S. Congress?

Protected Jews across his empire

Suleiman the Magnificent has been praised for the protection he gave to Jewish communities in his empire. In 1553, the Sultan issued a royal mandate (i.e. firman) outlawing blood libels against the Jews. Blood libels against Jews is said to have skyrocketed during the medieval period. It refers to antisemetic irrational fabrications which see the Jew falsely accused of murdering Christian children and the using the blood for religious rituals.

Built a strong Franco-Ottoman alliance

In 1535, the Ottomans suffered a defeat at the hands of Charles V at Tunis (in present-day Tunisia). This defeat influenced Suleiman’s decision to go into alliance with France against Charles, who had annexed many territories in North Africa. With the blessing of Suleiman, the Ottoman fleet under the command of Barbarossa responded by carrying out several pirate activities that targeted Spanish vessels. In 1542, France also solicited the help of Suleiman’s help to ward off threats from Habsburg.

In late spring of 1565, Sultan Suleiman began a siege to Malta. The Sultan’s goal was to dislodge the Knights Hospitaller from Malta. After they had been expelled from Rhodes, the knights settled in Malta. The 1565 siege was the second time Suleiman attempted to take Malta. Similar to the first siege of 1551, the second siege ended in a loss for Suleiman. With support from Spain, the knights fought bravely and were able to defend Malta against Suleiman’s forces.

Famed for ruling in a practical way, Suleiman the Magnificent was able to stretch the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. Image: Suleiman during the siege of Rhodes in 1522

Boosted trade with the Mughal Empire by capturing Aden in Yemen

Desiring to have a lucrative trade with the Mughal Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent captured Aden in Yemen. The goal was to get rid of the Portuguese in the region so as to have access to trading routes heading to the Mughal Empire. Suleiman used the city of Aden as a launch pad to attack Portuguese infrastructures. With time, Suleiman took the whole of Yemen, allowing the Ottoman Empire to seize control of the Red Sea. With that came increased trading activities with the Mughal Empire

A great patron of the arts, science and culture

His ascension to the throne in 1520 was met with massive amounts of joy from all over the empire. His reign is widely praised for lifting the Ottoman Empire to the zeniths of Turkish architecture, culture, art, and literature. Image: Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

Trained by a Greek master in the art of jewelry making, Suleiman is said to have grown up loving the arts, literature and science. His reign marked a sought of cultural renaissance for the Ottomans as many imperial artistic societies flourished in Istanbul and other places of the empire.

He was a patron of the arts, investing a sizable amount of resources into the arts. As a result, many of the best artisans, sculptors, and architects from all across the empire and beyond made their way to the Topkapi Palace. By mixing styles from different cultures, the Ottomans during the reign of Suleiman were able come out with a distinct style in the arts. His reign was blessed to have great artists like the Classical Azerbaijani poet Mahammad bin Suleyman (also known as Fuzuli) and Turkish poet Mahmud Abdülbâkî (also known as Bâḳî).

A very good poet himself, Sultan Suleiman is said to have written a number of poems under the pseudonym “Muhibbi” (“Lover”). Known as diwan (a collection of poems by an author), those poems established the Ottoman sultan as one of the most intellectually gifted ruler of his time.

Suleiman’s architectural feats and developments

Driven by the goal to make the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, the hub of culture, arts, and science in the Islamic world, Suleiman tasked his chief architect Sinan to build a number of buildings, most notably the Sulemaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Image: Sulemaniye Mosque

Driven by the goal to make the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, the hub of not just culture, arts, and science but also architecture in the Islamic world, Suleiman tasked his chief architect Sinan to design and construct many amazing buildings. Sinan, who is considered by many historians as one of the greatest architects of all time, set about building mosques, bridges, and palaces across the Empire. Thus architecture attained its peak during the reign of Suleiman. Some of the buildings commissioned by Suleiman include the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. Built by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan, the Süleymaniye Mosque was completed in 1557.

Up until the construction of the Grand Çamlıca Mosque in 2019, the Süleymaniye Mosque was the largest mosque in Turkey. The mosque, which took seven years to complete, can boast of a many facilities, including a madrassa, hospital, imaret (soup kitchen), tabhane (sanatorium for ill people), school, and a bathhouse

Other notable architectural works during the reign of  Suleiman the Magnificent include:

  • The Şehzade and Cihangir mosques – for his two deceased sons
  • Baba Haydar Mosque in Eyüp;
  • Emir Buhari Lodge Mosque in Edirnekapı;
  • Haseki Sultan Mosque and complex in the name of Hürrem Sultan;
  • the Imam-i Azam Tomb in Baghdad and a mosque and imaret next to it; the Abdulkadir Geylani Tomb and mosque;
  • Waterways and porticoes around the Kaaba in Mecca;
  • Rebuilt the ruined Walls of Jerusalem;
  • Ordered the repair of Masjid Al-Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Mosque) in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Consorts and children

Hurrem Sultan

16th-century oil painting of Hurrem Sultan, chief consort of Suleiman the Magnificent

By his two consorts (i.e. Hurrem and Mahidevran), he had six sons, with four living to the time of his final few years on the throne. Those four sons were Mustafa, Bayezid, Selim, and Cihangir. With the executions of Mustafa and Cihangir in 1553 and 1561 respectively, the path was clear for Selim, Suleiman’s son with Hürrem, to succeed Suleiman to the throne in 1566.

He had two consorts – Hürrem Sultan (also known as Roxelana) and Mahidevran Hatun. Hurrem Sultan, whom the Sultan married around 1534, was the chief consort of the Sultan. Hurrem was said to be of an Orthodox Christian origin but later converted to Islam. All in all, Suleiman the Magnificent had 17 women in his harem.

Sultan Suleiman I had many children with not just his two consorts but other concubines in his harem. Some of those children include Şehzade Mahmud (1512-1521), Şehzade  Mustafa (1515-1553), Şehzade Murad (1519-1521), Şehzade Abdullah (1523-1526), Şehzade Selim (later Sultan Selim II) (1524-1574),  Mihrimah Sultan (1523-1578), Şehzade  Bayezid (1525-1561), Şehzade Cihangir (1531-1553), Ayse Humasah Sultan (1542-1595).

He had his sons Şehzade Mustafa and Şehzade Bayezid killed on October 6, 1553 and September 25, 1561 respectively. Mustafa met his tragic end after it was rumored that he was eyeing the throne. Following the death of Mustafa, his half-brother Cihangir died after being struck by grief. In the case of Şehzade Bayezid, his death came after Suleiman sided with Selim in a civil war between Selim and Bayezid.

How did Suleiman the Magnificent die?

On September 6, 1566, Ottoman Empire’s longest-reigning monarch Suleiman the Magnificent died while on military campaign in Hungary. The cause of his death was said to be of a natural cause. In his later years, the Sultan had to grapple with fatigue, dysentery, angina, and gout. It is also likely that he suffered from depression.

Suleiman’s death came before Ottoman victory at the Battle of Szigetvar in Hungary. It’s been stated tha his last words “Isn’t this damned fortress taken yet?”, a reference to fortress of Szigetvar. His death came a few months before his 72nd birthday.

Burial place of Suleiman the Magnificent at Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Not wanting to demoralize the Ottoman troops that were fighting, Suleiman’s courtiers purposely kept the death of the sultan a secret until the battle was won. His body was then quietly sent to Istanbul, where it was buried at the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. Owing to the blistering autumn heat at the time, the Sultan’s aides removed the heart, liver and other internal organs of the Sultan. They were then placed in a golden coffin and buried beneath in a tomb (Turbék) outside Szigetvár (present-day southern Hungary). Around the 1570s, the place was converted into a shrine only for it to be later destroyed when the Hapsburgs recaptured the area.

Suleiman and Pargali Ibrahim Pasha

Engraving of Pargali Ibrahim Pasha – 28th Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire

His first grand vizier was Pergali Ibrahim Pasha, also known as Frenk Ibrahim Pasha (“the Westerner”). Ibrahim served Sultan Suleiman for about 13 years, from 1523 to 1536 when was executed at the Topkapi Palace on March 14, 1536. Ibrahim, a former slave of Christian origin from Parga (present day Epirus, Greece), was killed on the orders of the Sultan.

More Sultan Suleiman I facts

Suleiman the Magnificent

At the height of Suleiman’s rule, the Ottoman had many major cities under its control, including Baghdad in Iraq and other places in North Africa. Image: Suleiman’s marble portrait in the US Capitol

In The Merchant of Venice, written by renowned English playwright and actor William Shakespeare,  Suleiman the Magnificent is praised as an intelligent military leader.

Contrary to popular opinion that existed before the 1980s, the Ottoman Empire did not enter into a period of decline after the death of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Suleiman the Magnificent was able to exert considerable influence in Europe’s political and social environment by virtue of the fact that the Ottoman sultan had stretched the boundaries of the Empire into many Balkan provinces and parts of southeastern Europe.

His chief consort Hurem Sultan was known in the West as Roxelana due to her red hair.

With regard to his physical features, Suleiman I was described as a tall man with broad shoulders, open forehead, aquiline nose, and smooth mouth. In some accounts he was said to have round cheeks, thin, and long neck, and reddish beard.

In addition to being a well-trained swordsman, hunter and horseback rider, he was also a master calligrapher. In his lifetime he transcribed the Quran eight times.

It’s been estimated that he spent close to 11 years of his 46-year reign on horseback.

Due to his massive military campaigns and political and social reforms, his reign saw the Ottoman economy run a budget deficit.

Through out the 16th century, many plays, novels, and books were written about him.

As it was part of the tradition for Ottoman crown princes and heirs to have skills in one form of handicraft, Suleiman was trained in the art of jewelry making.

The Ottoman Empire’s hold on trading activities from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea was a major reason in Western European’s venturing out to discover alternative trading routes to the Indian subcontinent.

The Siege of Vienna in 1529 was Sultan Suleiman’s first attempt to conquer the city of Vienna, Austria. Under the leadership of Niklas Graf Salm (1459-1530), Vienna was able to properly repel the Ottomans after about two weeks. It’s been stated that Suleiman wanted to use Vienna as launch pad to conduct further attacks into Europe. Three years later, the Austrians would hand Suleiman another defeat.

In 1552, Hungarian soldier István Dobó (c. 1502-1572) led a successful defense against the Ottomans at Eger in Northern Hungary.

Austrian ambassador Ogier Busbecq warning Europe to be on alert due to the likelihood of Suleiman the Magnificent marching on and conquering all of Western Europe

Other notable achievements of Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman the Magnificent

The Ottoman Empire at the time of the death of Suleiman I.

His reign saw the Ottoman Empire increase from a size of 6.5 million square kilometers (2.5 million square miles) to 14.9 million square kilometers.

Suleiman was praised for his respect of the cultures and people that he conquered. For example, he did not try to convert Hungarians into Muslims as he respected their beliefs.

At the time of his reign, the Ottoman Empire had 25 million people across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. During his reign the Ottoman empire reached its zenith in terms of economic, military, and political power.

Suleiman was able to repel an attack by the Habsburgs during a siege to Buda. The Ottoman sultan further captured a number of Habsburg castles and fortresses in 1541 and 1544, which in turn resulted in a five-year peace treaty with the Holy Roman Empire – present-day Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. In addition to the peace treaty, the Holy Roman Empire had to fork out yearly tributes to the Ottoman Empire.

During the reign of Sultan Suleiman, the Ottomans brought the Somali Adal sultanate, a Sunni sultanate, into its territory. This allowed the Empire to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans could therefore compete properly with the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean.

Suleiman the Magnificent entrusted Ottoman naval commander Khair ad Din, also known as Hayreddin Barbarossa, to rebuild the Ottoman fleet. This was needed to halt Charles V of Spain from gaining a foothold in the Mediterranean.

In what was known as the biggest naval battle in history up to that time, the Battle of Preveza in September 1538 saw Suleiman’s chief admiral Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha command 122 ships and 20,000 soldiers to defeat the crusader fleet of 600 ships and 60,000 soldiers near Preveza in northwestern Greece.

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