RELIGIOUS SUPREMACY ESTABLISHED UNDER SELIM THE DESTROYER
FIRST SIEGE OF RHODES (FROM AN ANCIENT MANUSCRIPT.)
[Authorities: As before, also Muir, "The Mameluke or Slave Dynasty of Egypt"; Lane-Poole, "History of
Egypt in the Middle Ages"; Samuelson, "Bulgaria Past and Present."]
MAHOMET II, through his capture of Constantinople, is perhaps better remembered by Europeans than is any other of the
Turkish monarchs. Hence the typical idea of his race is taken from him, one of its most unfavorable specimens.
The career of the Osmanli had dawned with glorious promise. Their noonday splendor only furnishes us with
another instance of a nation admirable in the rude strength and virtue of its youth, but sinking into
degeneracy under the enervating influences of wealth and victory.
Much of what is most evil in the Turkish empire, much that has led to its decay, was inaugurated by Mahomet.
He was undoubtedly an able man, shrewd and strong, but as false as he was cruel, and self-indulgent, and
enamoured of every vice. In the murder of his infant brother, he had chosen for his model, not Orchan and
Aladdin, the brethren of the generous strife, but Bajazet, the monster, and like Bajazet he found a hideous
pleasure in licentiousness, in the ruin and destruction of innocent young lads and maidens.
Having mastered Constantinople, Mahomet in the pride of youth, strove to earn and justify still further his
title of the Conqueror. He easily gained possession
 of the remaining fragments of the Greek Empire, the cities of Sinope and Trebizond in the far East, and the
Peloponessus and the islands of the Ægean in the West. The unhappy Greeks fled from their homes in multitudes,
often without waiting the approach of the enemy and without any idea whither to turn for shelter. They
perished by thousands of starvation and exposure. Mahomet then gave play to his craft and subtlety against
Servia and Bosnia, never as yet wholly submissive in their dependency.
We are told that when Hunyadi negotiated with these states, he was asked what terms he would give them if they
aided him against the Turks. He answered frankly that he would compel them to abandon every doctrine of Greek
Christianity and conform to the Roman Church. The despairing people then asked the same question of the
Sultan, who, less bigoted and less honest, assured them of full protection in their own religion. This may not
be true, but it is certain that the Bosnian king and his sons came to Mahomet under a sworn promise of safety
and he used against them the very doctrine that Hunyadi had adopted against Murad. No pledge, he declared, was
binding toward unbelievers. He slew his guests.
THE TURKS ENTERING THE CHURCH OF ST. SOPHIA.
The next year (1456) the Conqueror advanced against Hungary. Belgrade, the famous frontier fortress, was
besieged, and Mahomet boasted that he would take it as easily as he had Constantinople. Another religious
crusade was preached against him, and Hunyadi with a band of desperate adherents forced an entrance into the
beleaguered town. Then heading a sally against the Turks, the great Hungarian chieftain won his last and most
important victory. Mahomet saw his troops put to flight by a fanaticism beyond their own. In his fury he
struck down his closest adherents and wielded his sword almost, alone against the advancing foe. He was
wounded and carried from the field, still raging and resisting in the arms of his devoted followers.
Twenty-five thousand Turks perished, and not for many years did the Osmanli venture any further advance
Never again do we hear of Mahomet the Conqueror appearing in person on the field of battle, nor did he for
nearly two decades attempt any military movement of importance. He developed, however, a strong and
intelligent interest in civil matters and in art, establishing a widespread system of law and life among his
people. Religious doctrine he placed under the charge of a special order of learned men called mufti. The
whole system of government was made so elaborate and minute that it had much to do with checking the progress
of the Turkish race. It took away the necessity and also the incentive to initiate new methods of action, it
destroyed the power of invention, and the "march of civilization" ceased. The Turks remain to-day almost
exactly where Mahomet II left them.
In middle age the Conqueror turned again to military glory, but sought it
 along an easier path. Hunyadi was long dead, but Murad's other great antagonist, Scanderbeg, still reigned
over Albania. The strife between him and the Turks had never wholly ceased, and gradually they wore his
followers down by numbers, took his fortresses one by one, and compelled him to flee from Albania, which
became a Turkish province. When, a little later, Turkish invaders came upon his grave in a Venetian city, they
broke open the tomb and devoured the hero's heart, hoping thus to become as brave as he.
Herzegovina also yielded to the Turkish advance. Mahomet then, in 1475, quarrelled with Genoa, which was still
a powerful maritime republic, owning most of the northern shore of the Black Sea, what is now southern Russia.
The people there were "khazak" or cossacks, wanderers, Turkish nomads such as the followers of Ertoghrul had
been. They were at enmity with the Genoese and eagerly aided an army sent by Mahomet to attack Kaffa, the
chief seaport of the Crimea, a Genoese colony so opulent as to be known as "the lesser Constantinople." Kaffa
and all the Crimea fell easy victims to the Turkish arms.
Finding there was little real strength in these Italian city republics, Mahomet quarrelled with Venice, and
his troops plundered her territories along the Adriatic, venturing almost to the site of the venerable city of
the doges itself. In 1480, the last year but one of his life, his generals attacked Italy from its southern
end and captured the famous stronghold of Otranto.
Only one repulse checked the Ottoman arms during this period. The same year that Otranto was won, Mahomet sent
a formidable fleet and army against the island of Rhodes, which was held by the Knights of St. John and formed
the last bulwark of Christian power in the East, the last remnant of the conquests of the Crusaders. Both the
attack and the defense of the citadel of Rhodes were conducted with noteworthy skill, but the final Turkish
assault failed just when it promised to be successful. The reason assigned by the Turks for the repulse is
that at the very moment when their troops reached the summit of the ramparts. their general issued a command
that there must be no plunder, that all the spoils were reserved for the Sultan himself. Indignant and
disgusted, the bulk of the Turks abandoned their advance; their comrades on the ramparts were left unsupported
and were hurled back. The siege failed and Rhodes for the time escaped.
Mahomet died rather suddenly the next year, in the midst of the preparation of a vast armament whose
destination no one else knew. Treacherous himself, he was always suspecting others and concealed his purposes
from even his closest councillors. Consequently the great expedition stood still, and the Grand Vizier tried
to keep secret the death of his master while he dispatched hurried news of the event to the Sultan's sons,
Bajazet and Djem. These two were each in command of a distant province, and as the Vizier was specially
devoted to Djem, the younger, he arranged that the word should reach his favorite first. Djem had
 many partisans in Constantinople; he was known to be as energetic as Bajazet was quiet; and since, under their
father's law, one of them was likely to die, Djem might prefer being Sultan himself.
THE FALL OF ALBANIAN FREEDOM—DEPARTURE OF SCANDERBEG.
The Vizier's scheme failed because the Janizaries suspected the Sultan's death. Mahomet had increased both the
number and the power of these famous troops. Their turbulence had grown greater in proportion, and now,
finding that the master-hand was indeed removed, they broke out into open rioting. They slew the Vizier who
would have deceived them, and began, as at Mahomet's first accession, to plunder their more peaceful and
milder fellow citizens. In the general tumult, the messenger to Djem was slain. So Bajazet got the news first
after all, and came post-haste to Constantinople where the Janizaries declared in his favor, being still angry
with the Vizier who they knew befriended Djem. The troops even condescended to entreat the new Sultan's pardon
for their outbreak, though at the same time they demanded from him a large sum of money to pay them for their
Bajazet II (1481-1512) was at the time thirty-five years old; he might in childhood have seen the members of
this same troop crowding in passionate devotion round his grandfather, Murad; but those old days of obedience
had passed away under Mahomet. Bajazet, perforce, submitted to the insolence of his servants and paid the
money they exacted. Thereafter this became the custom, and the Janizaries insisted on a donation from each
Djem, however, was not yet disposed of. His whole career reads like a romance and has been much enlarged on
and embroidered by the poets of the East. He was himself a poet of no mean order, and his works are still
cherished by his countrymen. He was, moreover, if not one of the ablest members of his race, at least a
warrior and statesman of no mean merit. He may well have felt that he was fighting for his life, Mahomet's
specious legalizing of murder being well fitted to produce death and discord, but never peace. So Djem
maintained the mastery of his own province and raised civil war against his brother. The ablest generals of
his father were dispatched against him by Bajazet; and these with all their forces found the conquest of the
rebel no easy task. When driven from his province, he sought aid from the Sultan of Egypt and renewed the
struggle. Crushed a second time, he turned to the Knights of Rhodes, but they while promising him alliance and
assistance made him prisoner. He was hurried from one European court to another. Bajazet paid an enormous
price for his detention, and each of the Western monarchs, under pretense of aiding the fugitive, sought to
secure his person and thus receive a portion of the spoils. The Pope urged him to turn Christian, promising in
that case a real support; but Prince Djem
haugh-  tily refused and dragged out in foreign lands a weary exile of thirteen years. At last, he fell into the hands of
the worst of all the Popes, Alexander Borgia, and was by him poisoned, Bajazet having promised for his
brother's death a reward even larger than for his restraint.
Despite this evil bargain, Sultan Bajazet II was not at all a bloody or cruel-minded man. He only purchased
his brother's murder when the necessity of it was forced upon him. He was not even a soldier, disliked war and
devoted himself mainly to religion. He was called by his people "Sofi," which means the mystic or the dreamer.
Yet he was not without worldly wisdom. "Empire," he sent word to Djem, "is a bride whose favors cannot be
shared." He built up a navy which made him respected and feared by European powers, and which for the first
time gained victories for the Turks at sea.
On land, his armies were unfortunate. The success of Turkish soldiers depended always on their enthusiasm, on
the fanatic courage roused by the presence of their Sultan. The "dreamer" failed to aid them with this
inspiration. Hence no foreign conquests were achieved in his reign; and he failed to win the admiration of his
warlike people. He even abandoned Otranto, the foothold which his father had secured in Italy. Such wars as
Bajazet was compelled to undertake were in the East. He attacked the Persians, who from his time appear in the
place of the former Emirs of Caramania as the hereditary Asiatic rivals of the Osmanli. He was also forced to
fight against Egypt, then under the sway of the famous Mamelukes, a band of noted warriors who had broken the
power of the French in the last crusade of King Louis IX. The powerful Mameluke Sultans repeatedly defeated
the forces of the Turks, and acquired some portions of the Osmanli territory to the southward.
The old age of Bajazet the Dreamer was moreover long embittered by strife with his fierce son Selim, afterward
Sultan Selim, the Destroyer. He was neither the eldest nor the best-loved of Bajazet's sons, but he early
distinguished himself in war and became the favorite of the soldiers, who despised the peaceful Bajazet. The
latter, as we have seen, never possessed any real control over his people, such as made the earlier members of
his house so powerful and so beloved. Selim even dared to raise frequent rebellions against his father. Once
Bajazet was forced to lead against him such portion of the army as remained loyal, and Selim was decisively
defeated. His intrigues, however, never ceased, and at length the Janizaries insisted that he should be called
to the capital in preference to his brothers. Selim came with an army, and the turbulent troops, gathering
round the palace, shouted to the Sultan to come forth.
"What will you?" demanded the aged ruler as he calmly faced them.
"Our monarch," they answered, "is too old and too sickly, and we will that Selim should be Sultan."
 "So be it," said Bajazet philosophically, "I abdicate in his favor. God grant him a prosperous reign." Then
the deposed Sultan left the city in a litter, Selim walking respectfully by his side. Yet Bajazet must have
taken the matter more deeply to heart than he admitted, for within three days he was dead.
With the dethronement of a Sultan by the Janizaries, we enter a new phase of Turkish history. The servants
have grown as powerful as their master; the unquestioning devotion to the ancient line of Osman has
disappeared. Hereafter it is always a disputed point as to which shall rule, the Sultan or the Janizaries,
whichever is stronger and more subtle holding temporary control.
Selim the Destroyer (1512–1520) was eminently fitted to cope with the corps which had raised him into power.
If they were fierce, he was fiercer. They slew with little hesitation, he with none at all. They were
passionate for war, he devoted his life to it. Once more the Turks became a nation of warriors on the march.
In his brief reign of eight years, Selim doubled the size of the Ottoman Empire.
He trusted no one. Among his followers the executioner was ever at work, until the common curse with his
people grew to be, "May you be made Grand Vizier to Sultan Selim." The average term of life of these Viziers
is said to have exceeded scarcely a single month.
"Will your highness grant me a few days to arrange my affairs?" queried one of them, venturing a jest in the
moment of his greatest prosperity. "You are sure to order my execution some day or other."
Selim laughed with grim appreciation. "You are right," he said; "in fact I have been intending to order it for
some days, but have not found any one fitted to take your place."
Yet this ferocious man was in his way deeply religious, a fanatic in his devotion to his faith. He found no
enjoyment in voluptuous ease, and when not engaged in war devoted himself to hunting. All his pleasures were
of the sterner sort. Nevertheless, he was an admirer of literature. A "royal historiographer" accompanied his
campaigns, and other men of letters were given high posts in his service. Selim even displayed in himself
something of the genius which glowed in so many of his race, and composed poetry of no mean order.
THE FLIGHT OF DJEM.
A ruler of such varied ability could not fail to make his impress upon the world. Bajazet had left several
sons and grandsons; Selim promptly slew the seven who were within reach. Then he attacked the others, until
all had been defeated and killed in civil war, On Selim's first entrance into Constantinople as the
acknowledged sovereign, the Janizaries planned to form a double line and cross their swords above his head as
he passed between. This, while it would show their loyalty, would also be a hint to the Sultan of the power
which had made and could unmake him. Sooner than submit to their yoke, Selim avoided them entirely, passing
 through the city by another route. To pacify the turbulent warriors he sent there an immense present or
"donation" which well-nigh emptied his treasury. Afterward, one by one, he executed all whom he suspected of
being leaders in the movement. Once when His religious teachers ventured to remonstrate against his endless
slaughters, he put, them gravely by. "My people," he said, "can only be controlled by sternness."
The Mahometan world, then as now, was divided into two religious sects, the Sunnites and Shiites. The Osmanli
were Sunnites, but the other sect had begun to spread from its stronghold in Persia and to take root in their
dominions. Selim arranged a vast and subtle system of police spies who enveloped his empire as in a net, and
made record of every Shiite. They found seventy thousand of the heretics; and on a single day, without
warning, these were all made prisoners. Forty thousand were slain, while the remaining thousands met the even
crueller fate of being immured for life in the fanatic's dungeons. Thus did the holy Sultan purge his domains
of heretics at a single stroke. It was a massacre of St. Bartholomew, only of earlier date and, more
successful issue than that which later stirred Christianity to its depths. The Turkish orthodox writers hailed
the slaughter with enthusiasm. Its perpetrator is styled "the devout," "the just,'' "the humane."
The "humane" Sultan was planning a still more comprehensive effort of religious zeal. The Shah of the Persian
Empire, who was, a Shiite, had sheltered one of his rebellious brothers. Selim sent the Shah a long, eloquent
letter pointing out the wickedness of all Shiites and of the Shah in particular, and explaining to the latter
that he was a reprobate needing chastisement, a tyrant who abused his people, a criminal who slew them without
justice. All these atrocities, declared the mild and clement Selim, he meant to put an end to; and he invaded
Persia with an army of nearly two hundred thousand troops, perfectly organized and equipped.
The management of the Turkish armies of this period, the preparations for their supplies, their nourishment
and the care taken for their health, demand admiration even in our own day, and were centuries in advance of
the commissariat arrangements of European troops. Selim's invasion of Persia would have been impossible to any
other monarch of his time. It was difficult even for him. His army crossed deserts, and marched hundreds of
miles without serious loss. The Persians wisely fell back before; them, devastating the land on their
approach, until the Janizaries complained loudly of their hardships. Selim turned on them with furious scorn,
and taunted them with having become children, who only clamored for war when it was at a distance. Some of the
murmurers he slew with his own hand; then he offered to let each soldier go home who found himself unable to
endure what their Sultan was suffering, with them. Not one accepted the contemptuous proposal.
 Meanwhile, Selim was sending one taunting message after another to the Shah, until the latter's rage
overmastered his generalship. On the plain of Calderan he attacked the Turks with an army almost equal to
their own, but unprovided with the artillery which had become the chief weapon of the Osmanli. The Shah was
defeated and fled, wounded, leaving Tabriz, his northern capital, to the plunder of the enemy (1514).
An extensive portion of Persia was thus added to the Turkish Empire; but Selim, yielding to the protests of
his soldiers, ventured no farther through the deserts to complete the conquest of the East. He turned
southward instead. The Mahometan world had long been divided among the rulers of Turkey, Persia and Egypt. One
of the Turks' rivals having been overcome, they attacked the other,—Egypt, the land of the Mamelukes, a
band of famous slave soldiers like the Janizaries, only that the Mamelukes—bolder than the
Janizaries—had long since overthrown their master and established in Egypt a government and Sultan of
SELIM'S ENTRY INTO CAIRO.
Bajazet the Dreamer had quarrelled with them and been defeated. Hence they despised the Osmanli. When Selim's
forces invaded Syria, they met him with little preparation; they were disputing among themselves and
considered their internal strife far more important than any menace from the invaders. Through the power of
artillery, the Turks gained an easy victory near Aleppo (1516), and all Syria with its celebrated holy cities,
Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, passed into their possession.
No longer underestimating the foe, the Mamelukes retreated into Egypt. They awoke to the vast difference
between Janizaries taking orders from a dreamer in his capital, and the same troops headed by Selim in the
field. The Egyptians placed their mightiest warrior on the throne; they had still the desert for defense, and
prepared to guard its passage, to hurl troops fresh and strong against the exhausted warriors who would come
staggering out of its burning wastes. But the thorough preparations of Selim thwarted them. He gathered
thousands and thousands of camels to carry water and make the journey easy for his men. Not only soldiers but
cannon were successfully transported across the sands. The Mamelukes were defeated at Gaza, and again in a
last desperate stand at Ridania, near Cairo their capital. So furiously did they charge in this last battle,
that Selim was himself in danger. The warrior Sultan of Egypt pierced to the very centre of the Turkish army,
where mistaking the gorgeously apparelled Grand Vizier for the Sultan, he slew the lesser man, wheeled horse
and escaped. The Turkish artillery, however, once more decided the fortune of the day. Twenty-five thousand
Mamelukes fell, and the Osmanli became lords of Egypt (1517).
His new empire brought to Selim authority over Arabia also, and the guardianship of Mecca and Medina, the holy
cities of his faith. More attractive still to
 the religious devotee (or was it the subtle statesman who saw the value of the change?) he became master of
the nominal religious chief of all the Mussulmans, a feeble descendant of the Prophet Mahomet, who dwelt in
empty state among the Egyptians. This chief "caliph" was induced or compelled to transfer his authority to
Selim and his descendants, and the house of Osman, children of the wandering khazak Ertoghrul, became Caliphs
as well as Sultans, religious as well as temporal heads of the greater part of the Mahometan world.
Selim himself assumed the sword, the mantle and the standard of the Prophet. Now, indeed, was he armed against
heresy. Only the Shiites of Persia still opposed him and denied his authority; and there can be little doubt
that had Selim lived he would have completed the conquest of the Persian Empire.
Having organized a government for Egypt, he returned to Constantinople in 1518, loaded down with spoils. He
had resolved to compel the Greeks within his domain to join also in his faith, planning to slaughter the
refractory ones, as he had the Shiites. "Which is better," he asked a mufti, his leading spiritual adviser,
"to conquer the world, or to convert its nations to the true faith?" The mufti pronounced eagerly in favor of
conversion; and the Sultan promptly ordered every Greek church to be changed into a mosque, every Christian to
become a Mahometan or die. The Greek Patriarch protested, and appealed to the pledges made by the conqueror of
Constantinople. He quoted passages from the Koran itself which forbade such violence as Selim's. Even the
Mahometan preachers remonstrated with their new Caliph at his excess of zeal, and he reluctantly resigned the
truly stupendous pleasure which he had promised himself in the slaughter or conversion of six millions of his
The restrictions upon the Christians became, however, increasingly severe, and only the sudden death of Selim
in 1520 relieved them, and indeed the entire empire, of an ever-increasing burden of fear. The "Destroyer," as
all men knew, was not yet glutted with bloodshed, not yet weary of forcing his own fierce way upon the world.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics