Mehmed II

Mehmed II, Mehmet II, or Muhammed II (also known as el-Fatih (الفاتح), "the Conqueror", in Ottoman Turkish, or, in modern Turkish, Fatih Sultan Mehmet) (March 30, 1432 – May 3, 1481) (Arabic: محمد الثاني) was first the sultan of the Ottoman Empire for a short time from 1444 to 1446, and later from 1451 to 1481. He was also the first Ottoman ruler to claim the title of Caesar of the Roman Empire (supreme ruler of all Christians), besides such usual titles as king, sultan (ruler of a Muslim state), Khan (ruler of Turks), etc. He made this claim after his conquest of Constantinople, and assumption of that imperial regalia along with his own.

Early reign

Mehmed was born in Edirne, then the capital city of the Ottoman state, on March 30, 1432. His father was Sultan Murad II and his mother Huma Hatun was a daughter of Abd`Allah of Hum, Huma meaning a girl/woman from Hum. When Mehmed was 11 years old he was sent to Amasya to govern and thus gain experience, as per the custom of Ottoman rulers before his time. After Murad made peace with the Karaman Emirate in Anatolia in August 1444, he resigned the throne to his 12-year-old son Mehmed.

During his first reign, Mehmed asked his father Murad to reclaim the throne in anticipation of the Battle of Varna, but Murad refused. Enraged at his father, who had long since retired to a contemplative life in southwestern Anatolia, Mehmed wrote: "If you are the sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the sultan I hereby order you to come and lead my armies." It was upon this letter that Murad led the Ottoman army in the Battle of Varna in 1444. It is said Murad's return was forced by Chandarli Khalil Pasha, the grand vizier of the time, who was not fond of Mehmed's rule, since Mehmed's teacher was influential on him and did not like Chandarli. Chandarli was later executed by Mehmed during the siege of Constantinople on the grounds that he had been bribed by or had somehow helped the defenders.

Conquest of the Byzantine empire

Two years after reclaiming the throne in 1451, Mehmed brought an end to the Byzantine Empire by capturing its capital during the Siege of Constantinople. After this conquest, he conquered the Despotate of Morea in the Peloponnese. This last vestige of Byzantine rule was absorbed by 1461. The conquest of Constantinople bestowed immense glory and prestige on the country- the Ottoman state began to be recognized as an empire for the first time.

The historian Steven Runciman recounts that during the siege of Constantinople Mehmet promised his men "the women and boys of the city." Upon its conquest, he ordered the 14 year old son of the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras be brought to him for his personal pleasure. When the father refused to deliver his son to such a fate he had them both decapitated on the spot. (Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453. Cambridge University Press, 1965). This story was originally recorded by Doukas, a Byzantine Greek living in Constantinople at the time of the fall of the city and does not appear in accounts by other Greeks who witnessed the conquest. Some modern scholars believe that the tale is merely one of a long series of attempts to portray Muslims as morally inferior, and point to the story of Saint Pelagius as its probable inspiration.

Other explanations for this alleged departure from Mehmet's nominal amnesty were that Lucas Notaras, a treasury official, had attempted to ingratiate himself with Mehmet by retaining money from the Byzantine treasury as a gift for the sultan. Mehmet was neither impressed nor grateful, instead suggesting it should have been used for the defense of the city and viewed it as treason.

Conquests in Asia

The conquest of Constantinople allowed Mehmed to turn his attention to Anatolia. Mehmed tried to create a single political entity in Anatolia by capturing Turkish states called Beyliks and the Christian Empire of Trebizond in northeastern Anatolia and allied himself with the Golden Horde in the Crimea. These conquests allowed him to push further into Europe.

Conquests in Europe

With Anatolia secure and Constantinople as his capital, Mehmed advanced into Europe. Mehmed thought of himself as the heir to the throne of the Roman Empire - which, technically, he was after capturing Constantinople - and, as a result, adopted the title "Kayser-i-Rûm" (Roman Caesar) and invaded Italy in 1480. The intent of his invasion was to capture Rome and reunite the Roman Empire for the first time since 751, and, at first, looked like he might be able to do it with the easy capture of Otranto in 1480. However, a rebellion led by a former Janissary named Skanderbeg in Albania between 1443 and 1468 and later in 1480 cut into his military links, allowing a massive force led by Pope Sixtus IV to defeat and evict his army in 1481. He led successful campaigns against small kingdoms in the Balkans. Mehmed advanced toward Eastern Europe as far as Belgrade, and attempted to conquer the city from John Hunyadi at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. He also came into conflict with his former ally, Prince Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia in 1462. In 1475, the Ottomans suffered a defeat at the hands of Stephen the Great of Moldavia at the Battle of Vaslui.

Administrative actions

Mehmed amalgated the old Byzantine adminsitration into the Ottoman state, as he gathered Italian humanists and Greek scholars at his court, kept the Byzantine Church functioning, ordered the patriarch to translate the Christian faith into Turkish and called Gentile Bellini from Venice to paint his portrait. He was extremely serious about his efforts to continue the Roman Empire, with him as its Caesar, and came closer than most people realize to capturing Rome and conquering Italy. He also tried to get muslim scientists and artists to his court in Constantinople, started a University, built mosques,waterways, and the Topkapi palace.

His reign is also well-known for the tolerance with which he treated his subjects, especially among the conquered Byzantines, which was very unusual for Europe in the middle ages. Within the conquered city he established a millet or an autonomous religious community, and he appointed the former Patriarch as essentially governor of the city. However, his authority extended only unto the Orthodox Christians of the city, and this excluded the Genoese and Venetian settlements in the suburbs, and excluded the coming Muslim and Jewish settlers entirely. This method allowed for an indirect rule of the Christian Byzantines and allowed the occupants to feel relatively autonomous even as Mehmed began the Turkish remodeling of the city, eventually turning it into the Turkish capital, which it remained until the 1920s.

Other Facts

He is also recognized as the first sultan to codify criminal and constitutional law long before Suleiman the Magnificent (also "the Lawmaker" or "Kanuni") and he thus established the classical image of the autocratic Ottoman sultan (padishah). After the fall of Constantinople, he founded many universities and colleges in the city, some of which are still active.

It is claimed[citation needed] that he spoke about seven languages when he was 21 years old (the age he conquered Constantinople), and early Ottoman historians claimed that the prophet of Islam praised him with the quote "They will conquer Kostantinaya. Hail to the prince and the army to whom that good fortune will be given." (Babinger, 1978, p.85).

His tomb is located at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul; the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge is also named after him.

See also

References

  • Runciman, Steven (1990). The Fall of Constantinople, 1453, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521398320.
  • Lord Kinross (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise And Fall Of The Turkish Empire, HarperCollins. ISBN 0688080936.
  • Babinger, Franz (1978). Mehmed the Conqueror and his Time, Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691010781.

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