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From Emirate to Empire

Belgrade was the gateway to Hungary and Central Europe; Rhodes was the stepping stone to the establishment of Ottoman supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea. Belgrade fell to Suleiman (the Lawgiver) on August 29, 1521, and on Christmas Day of the following year he made his triumphal entry into the citadel of Rhodes, which the Knights of St. John were forced to abandon after a long and terrible siege. Suleiman had succeeded where even Mohammed the Conqueror had failed.

. . . The Ottomans became locked in an unyielding struggle with the Hapsburgs that had all the overtones of a contest for world supremacy. After 1525, following Francis I’s defeat at the hands of the Hapsburg at Pavia, the French sought Ottoman support as a counterweight to Hapsburg power. The French-Ottoman alliance became a significant factor in the recognition and spread of Protestantism. Support for France and the Protestants, as well as for other anti-Hapsburg elements, such as the Muslims and Jews ejected from Spain, was the cornerstone of Ottoman policy in Europe at this time.

This anti-Hapsburg posture of the Ottomans is also discernible in the Mediterranean, where the holy ward was also waged. The Ottoman ghazi spirit, harnessed to the state policy of alliance with France, found a significant outlet against the Hapsburgs in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. The Ottoman admiral Khair ed-Din Barbarossa established control over Algeria and contended with Charles V over Tunis. . .

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. . . In addition to defending the Islamic world against its Christian enemies, the Ottomans also had to contend with the Persian Safavids, who were always ready to attack the Ottoman rear.

The European hope of a second front against the Ottomans was rekindled by Charles V, who sought to move the Safavids into action against the Ottomans. Suleiman could not afford to neglect the serious challenge and threat posed by the Safavids. The emergence of any power on their eastern flank, regardless of sectarian considerations, made the Ottomans uneasy. Suleiman mounted two full-scale campaigns against the Safavids, once in 1533 and the other in 1548. Both were preceded by peace or truce arrangements patched together in Europe that enabled the sultan to shift his forces eastward. In the first campaign Suleiman brought Tabriz and Baghdad under his control, along with the important trade routes that passed through those cities. . .

With the eastern border stabilized, Suleiman returned to the struggle in the west. The Mediterranean and North Africa became areas of almost constant warfare. In 1565 the Ottomans embarked upon a costly and eventually futile effort to conquer the island of Malta. The next year Suleiman decided to campaign in Hungary.

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