Suleiman I, popularly known as Suleiman the magnificent, was born probably on 6 November 1494, in Trabzon, a town along the east coast of the Black Sea. As he was the only son of Şehzade Selim (later Selim I) and Hafsa Sultan, a convert to Islam of unknown origins, his succession was insured from his early childhood. At the early age of seven, he was sent to the schools of the imperial Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, where he studied literature, history, science and military tactics, under the guidance of the famous scholar Karakizoglu Hayreddin Hizir Efendi. At seventeen, he was appointed as the governor of Kaffa, then Manisa, with a short tenure at Endire. Finally, after the death of his father in 1550, he ascended to the throne as the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Suleiman was a military genius and soon after succeeding his father, he started a long series of military conquest. After suppressing a revolt led by the Ottoman-appointed governor of Damascus in 1521, he turned his eyes toward the west. As he correctly reckoned that the Hungarians and Croats were the only formidable forces, who could block further Ottoman gains in Europe, Suleiman began a series of heavy bombardments in Belgrade from an island in the Danube. Belgrade, with a garrison of only 700 men, had no other way, but to surrender in the month of August 1521. During this time, when the road to Hungary and Austria lay open, Suleiman left the front, without attacking them and turned to the Eastern Mediterranean Island of Rhodes, the base of the Knights of Hospitaller. He dispatched an armada of some 400 ships with an army of 100,000 soldiers to Rhode and besieged the Marmaris Castle. Following the brutal five-month Siege of Rhodes in 1522, Rhodes finally surrendered and Suleiman allowed the Knights of Rhodes to leave the island.
Suleiman resumed his campaign in Central Europe after his victory at Rhode and on 29 August 1526, defeated Louis II of Hungary at the Battle of Mohacs. With the collapse of the Habsburgs rulers of Austria, some Hungarian nobles wanted Ferdinand, the ruler of neighbouring Austria, to take the empty throne of Hungary, as he was tied to the family of Louis II by marriage. But, Suleiman supported the other nobles, who turned to a local noble, John Zapolya. However, under Charles V, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and his brother Ferdinand I, the Habsburgs reoccupied Buda and took possession of Hungary.
Suleiman soon retaliated and kicked back, when in 1529 he marched his armies through the valley of the Danube, took back Buda and then laid siege to Vienne, the capital city of Austria. However, the Austrians pushed the Ottoman armies back and thus, started the bitter Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry that lasted until the 20th century. His second attempt to conquer Vienne in 1532 also failed, as he was compelled to retreat, due to the harsh weather, delayed by the siege of Guns and insufficient food supply. Nevertheless, he had the opportunity to avenge his defeat, when in 1541 the Habsburgs attempted to lay siege to Buda but were defeated and lost more fortresses to the Ottomans by their two consecutive campaigns in 1541 and 1544. In 1544, Ferdinand was forced to conclude a humiliating five year treaty with Suleiman, when he Ferdinand renounced his claim to the Kingdom of Hungary and was forced to pay a fixed yearly sum to the Sultan for the Hungarian lands he would continue to control.
Suleiman was apprehensive about the ever-present threat of the Shi’a Safavid Dynasty of Persia. Shah Tahmasp killed the governor of Bagdad, who was loyal to Suleiman and replaced him with one of his followers. The governor of Bitlis had also defected and sworn allegiance to the Safavids. To solve and settle matters in his favour, Suleiman at first ordered his Grand Vizier Pargali Ibrahim Pasha to take back the control of Bitis and occupy Tabriz. After that, in 1534, Suleiman himself joined his force to lead the armies into Persia. To his utter surprise, the Persians avoided a direct confrontation. Instead, they used the scorched earth tactic to harass and weaken the Ottoman army, as it proceeded along the harsh interior of the country. By the end of 1535, Suleiman managed to take control of Erzurum and finished the campaign.
In 1548, Suleiman launched a second attempt to conquer Persia in 1548 and once again the Persians avoided a direct confrontation with the Ottoman army and instead chose to retreat and allow the Ottoman army to march into the interior of the country to face the harsh winter of the the Caucasus. Naturally, Suleiman was compelled to abandon the campaign, only with temporary Ottoman gains in the Urmia and Tabriz region, a lasting presence in the province around Lake Van, control of the western half of Azerbaijan and some forts in Georgia. This time, Suleiman enhanced his prestige, as he arranged for the restoration of the tomb of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the school of Islamic law, which the Ottomans followed.
The third campaign in 1553 was not successful either, but in 1554, a settlement was signed which was to conclude Suleiman's Asian campaigns. Part of the treaty included and confirmed the return of Tabriz, but secured Baghdad, Lower Mesopotamia, the mouths of the River Euphrates and Tigris, as well as part of the Persian Gulf. The Shah also promised to cease all raids into Ottoman territory.
During the reign of Suleiman, the naval strength of the Ottomans became formidable. In an attempt to remove the Portuguese and reestablish trade with India, Suleiman led several naval campaigns against them. In 1538, the Ottomans captured Aden in Yemen and the Spanish fleet was defeated by Admiral Barbarossa at the Battle of Preveza, securing the eastern Mediterranean for the Turks for the next 33 years. East of Morocco, the Barbary States of Tripolitania, Tunisia and Algeria also became autonomous provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans also enjoyed some success at sea with wins at Nice in 1543 and Menorca in 1548 under the command of Admiral Barbarossa.
Apart from his military magnificence, Suleiman was also known and respected as the ‘Lawgiver’ in his realm. He freed 1,500 Iranian and Egyptian prisoners of war, captured by his father and also compensated the merchants for the goods, which were confiscated by his father, Selim I. During his reign Shari’ah Law was elevated to a much higher level, since he considered Shari’ah was Islam’s divine law and the Sultans were not supposed to make any change to it. However, there was also canonical law, known as the ‘Kanuns’, which the Sultan could bend, if necessary. He created a single uniform legal code, known as Ottoman Laws, which remained within the laws of Islam and lasted for over three centuries. By engaging the legal assistants (muftis) and legal experts (quadis), Suleiman ensured the uniform practice of Shari’ah law throughout his empire. Suleiman hated corruption and was determined to reduce the levels of corruption in his empire. He passed laws to prohibit discriminatory policy against the Empire’s Christian subjects and in the year 1553 or 1554, the Sultan also proscribed the blood libels against his Jewish subjects.
Suleiman was a man of refined taste. He was well educated and was an accomplished poet. With the intention to spread education, he attached schools to mosques and provided a largely free education to Muslim boys. Under his patronage, the Ottoman Empire entered the golden age of its cultural development. He transformed Constantinople into Istanbul. The old city was extended, remodeled and decorated with new gardens, aqueducts, bridges, mosques, monuments, baths and even with Coffee houses. He intended to turn Constantinople into the centre of Islamic civilization by a series of planned projects and during his rule, Istanbul became a jewel and the centre of Turkish culture and the Islamic world. He also reconstructed many other important cities like Mecca, Damascus, Baghdad and many others.
Suleiman the magnificent was the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566. Apart from his two official wives, Suleiman the Magnificent had an unknown number of concubines and bore many offspring. His first wife, Mahidevran Sultan, bore him his eldest son, the intelligent and talented Mustafa, while the second wife, the love of his life, was a Ukrainian former concubine named Hurrem Sultan, who gave him seven younger sons.
In 1566, the 71year-old Sultan led his army on a final expedition against the Hapsburgs in Hungary. On 7th September 1566, just a day before an Ottoman victory at the Battle of Szigetvar in Hungary, Suleiman died of a heart attack. To save his body from decomposition, his heart, liver and intestines were removed and buried in Turbek, outside Szigetvar in Hungary, while his body was transported back to Istanbul for burial.