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The Ottoman Empire Expands to Egypt and in Europe, 1516-71

The Ottoman Empire's Sultan from 1512 to 1520, Selim I, moved against the Mameluk rulers who had allied themselves with the Persians. In 1516 his troops moved southward and captured Damascus, Beirut, Gaza and Jerusalem. In 1517 the Ottomans defeated the Mameluk Sultan, Tuman, outside Cairo. In Egypt, Selim's forces confronted the last of Abbasid authority, the Abbasid caliph having moved to Egypt after the conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. Under the Mamluks, the Abbasids had been making only a feeble show of authority in religious matters. Now the head of the Abbasid family was taken to Constantinople as prisoner. The Abbasids surrendered the title of caliph and the sword and mantle of Muhammad the Prophet, to Selim, who declared himself caliph. The Ottoman Empire now included all of Mesopotamia, Armenia, lands to the Caspian Sea, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. In nine years, Selim had almost doubled the size of the Ottoman Empire. He became known as a great conqueror. He was also an accomplished poet in three languages, but for the world it was his conquests, his use of violence, that was most celebrated.

Selim became ill in 1520. He died and was succeeded by his only son, Suleiman (Sulayman), who was twenty-six. Suleiman inherited a well-organized nation, a treasury filled with taxes drawn from far and wide, and a disciplined army. In Europe he was to be called Suleiman the Magnificent because of his wealth and grandeur, although amid his wealth he was thought to be a man of discipline and simplicity – in the tradition of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn-al-Khattab – aside from the harem that he had inherited, filled with 300 women under the age of twenty-five, almost all of them Christians, guarded by eunuchs. Suleiman was commander of the faithful, a man of sincere religious convictions, with more kindness and tolerance than his father. But he believed that he should conquer as had his father. He believed that he should unite the peoples of the East and West as had Alexander the Great.

During Suleiman's first year as sultan he moved against Belgrade. Europeans were too distracted by conflict amongst themselves to rally to Belgrade's defense. Suleiman surrounded the city and bombarded it with heavy cannon, and Belgrade fell to the Ottomans in August 1521.

Next, Suleiman aimed at conquest of the Christian island of Rhodes. The Ottomans viewed the knights there as cutthroats and pirates and were annoyed with their attacks on Ottoman ships taking goods to Egypt and pilgrims to Mecca. The conquest over Rhodes was to eliminate all threats to Ottoman naval power in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas.

The assault on Rhodes began in 1522, Suleiman sending an armada of 400 ships to Rhodes and leading 100,000 men over land to a point just opposite the island. The Ottomans employed their artillery again – known to be the best in the world - and they reinforced their bombardments with sappers and explosives. And after a siege of 145 days, Rhodes capitulated. The island's inhabitants were allowed to depart if they wished, and those who stayed were promised freedom of worship and freedom from taxation for five years.

Four years after his victory over Rhodes, Suleiman aimed at conquest in Europe. In 1526 he overran Buda and Pest on the Danube River in Hungary. He moved against Vienna, but lacking enough soldiers he returned to Constantinople and tried again in May 1529. His troops had to endure much rain. At Vienna's walls the Ottomans applied their light cannon, musketry and skilled archery. Suleiman's army made a gap 150 feet wide in Vienna's wall, but with ferocious resistance the Christians stopped the Ottomans from pouring through. Ottoman losses were heavy. Suleiman's army was essentially a summer force, and with winter approaching Suleiman lifted his siege against Vienna. The Ottomans set fire to their camps, massacred their prisoners except for those young enough to qualify for their slave markets and returned home, to be harassed by Christian cavalry and bad weather along the way. In Vienna, the sight of the Ottoman withdrawal was followed by the ringing of bells and great celebration. Suleiman had suffered his first defeat. Christian Europe saw itself as having been delivered from Islam and the Ottomans.

Under Suleiman, the Ottomans made further gains in empire along the coast of North Africa west of Egypt. In the early 1500s, Islamic pirates there, the most famous of which the Christians called Barbarossa, a Turk from Lesbos, had been in conflict with the Portuguese and Spanish. The pirates held territory along the coast of North Africa. Barbarossa's brother, Aruj, the ruling pirate, was killed by the Spanish in 1518. Barbarossa took over, assuming the title of Khayr ad-Din, and fearing loss of territory to the Spanish he offered homage to Suleiman. That same year, Suleiman sent Khayr ad-Din reinforcements. In 1529, Khayr ad-Din took control of Algiers and made it the base for piracy. Suleiman made Khaya ad-Din admiral-in-chief of his navy, and in 1534 Khayr ad-Din captured Tunis. Charles V, the Habsburg emperor of Spain, sent a force that retook Tunis. Then in 1538 Khayr ad-Din defeated Charles' navy at the Battle of Preveza. Twice -- in 1533 and 1544 – Khayr ad-Din defeated the Italian admiral Andrea Doria, giving the Ottomans control over the Mediterranean Sea. Khayr enjoyed a great presence at court until his death in 1546. Suleiman lived until 1566.

In 1570, the Ottoman Turks captured Cyprus from the Venetians. Christian communities along the eastern Mediterranean coast shook with fear. Pope Pius V allied the Church with Venice, and Philip II of Spain entered the alliance. In 1571, a force of more than 300 ships, supplied by Venice, Spain and a small squadron from the Papal states, met the Turks inside the Gulf of Lepanto – the last great battle with oar propelled vessels. The Christian alliance lost 12 galleys and around 8,000 men killed. The Ottomans lost an estimated 25,000 killed and 117 galleys. From the Ottoman ships the Christians seized 15,000 Christians said to have been slaves. It was the first defeat of an Ottoman force – a victory that Pope Pius V attributed to the intercession of Saint Mary. But it was not a totally effective intercession: the Ottomans immediately began to rebuild their navy. Ottoman naval superiority in the Mediterranean was soon restored, and Cyprus was not recovered.


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