"A man's destiny is written in his name", the Romans once said, but to keep Suleiman's destiny, two names were actually needed: "The Lawgiver" for the Muslims, "The Magnificent" for the Christians. Severity and sweetness, in fact, coexisted in Suleiman's soul, eternally dual, as was his empire, which rose between East and West.
It was the Qur'an that chose the fate of the greatest Ottoman sultan. On November 6, 1494 in Trebizond on the Black Sea, in the occupied palace of the last Byzantine emperors, a Tartar princess only 17 years old was holding her newborn son in her arms. One of the courtiers opened the holy book of Islam and it showed the name Suleiman, the Solomon of the Jewish people: mighty king and impartial judge. "The fate of a man lies in his name", the Romans once said, but to hold the fate of Suleiman, two names were actually needed: "The Lawgiver" for the Muslims, "The Magnificent" for the Christians. Strictness and sweetness, in fact, coexisted in Suleiman's soul, eternally dual, just like his empire, which rose between East and West.
The murderous father
At the age of 7, Suleiman was removed from his mother's care and trained as a prince, in body and soul. In addition to Turkish, he learned Persian, Arabic and Serbian; studied algebra, poetry, music and the Qur'an. He became fit and muscular with Turkic tribal warfare and learned to ride a horse and use the bow like his peers. But, as the prince that he was, the young Suleiman had to be well guarded: at that time, the law of fratricide applied to the Ottomans, according to which a sultan had the right and duty to kill male relatives who threatened the stability of the empire.
His father, Sultan Selim the Wild, had drowned his brothers and their sons, and perhaps poisoned his father as well. Selim died on September 21, 1520: Suleiman was the only heir left, and on September 30, 1520, at the age of 26, he became the tenth Ottoman sultan. His first acts were acts of meekness, so much so that the poets called him "heavenly dew on a sun-scorched pasture" and the pope rang the bells for the celebration. But a year later he showed his true temperament by conquering Belgrade, Hungary's stronghold in the Balkans.
His father, Selim, had devoted his life to the defense of Sunni orthodoxy, suppressing rebellions in Persia and Egypt: Suleiman would fatally withdraw from the West and aim at the heart of Christianity. In a language that is unfortunately very fashionable today, it could be said that the one between the Ottoman Empire and Europe was a clash of civilizations, but in reality it was more of a sticking point: in that wonderful century that was the Five Hundred, East and West saw each other as in an inverted mirror, seeing in the other what he lacked in himself.
If today we remember the Five Hundred for Michelangelo and Caravaggio, the Europeans of those years experienced a deep identity crisis: new geographical and scientific discoveries revolutionized knowledge, the Lutheran "heresy" shook religion, armies spread the plague fighting against each other. In these same years, harmony and unity prevailed in the lands bordering the Great God, and Christian observers were both fearful and admiring. An expert in Koranic law, Suleimani reformed the code of the empire and the efficiency of its courts left Western envoys speechless. In the eyes of Europeans, Suleiman the Magnificent's empire was invincible, efficient, and vastly just. In the eyes of the Lawgiver, the chaos in Europe was proof of the superiority of faith in Muhammad.
War (and Peace)
Of course, it cannot be denied that Turks and Christians often spoke through weapons. Suleiman reigned for 46 consecutive years, and every year his army waged a war against the infidels: the Christians of the West and the Shia "heretics" of the East. Suleiman himself commanded 13 military campaigns, surrounded by thousands of bodyguards. Expanding the boundaries of Islam was the task of the Ghaz, the warriors of the religion: Suleiman became their first. But he was never a fanatic: he was an anti-conformist.
In his youth he became deeply attached to a Greek, Ibrahim Pasha: the son of a poor Christian fisherman, Ibrahim was kidnapped by pirates and sold to a widow who, surprised by his talent, raised him as a Muslim and gave him an education refined, thanks to which he had been able to enter the palace. In the Mediterranean at the time, piracy and the slave trade were common practices for both Muslims and Christians. But for the Ottomans, if a slave demonstrated talent, he could make a career. Ibrahim would become prime minister: in 1523 Suleiman appointed him Grand Vizier, and from then on, only death would separate the two young men, who stood by each other in peace and war.
The Turkish Sultan and the Greek Vizier were bound by a sincere friendship, a somewhat ambiguous bond which caused the envy and not a little admiration of the courtiers. Despite the fact that Ibrahim had long since converted to Islam and married the Sultan's sister, many suspected that he might have remained a non-believer, so much so that he dared to wait in the palace for his drunken father. In truth, the Ottoman Empire of those times was cosmopolitan and people from all walks of life coexisted in it: Greeks, Turks, Slavs, Arabs, Tartars, Venetians, French, Jews, Genoese, Armenians, Persians, Albanians. Constantinople was the largest and most colorful city in the world, a veritable Babel of languages ??and races. Each people had its own community of reference and could, without exaggeration, follow its own cult and traditions. It was important that the caravans and tributes arrived punctually, for the rest it was completely peaceful. Suleiman followed the multicultural tradition of the first sultans, who had welcomed Jews persecuted by the Inquisition. In modern Turkey, there would be very little of this spirit left, replaced by the worst vice of the Westerners: nationalism. But at the time of Suleiman, it was not rare for Western "renegades" to "become Turks", lured by the salaries and careers of One Thousand and One Nights.
Masters of discipline
The prosperity of the empire was guaranteed by the conquests of the army, the most powerful in the world thanks to advanced technologies (artillery) and the forced conscription of Janissaries (infantry) for Christian youth. Discipline was iron-clad, so much so that if a knight dared to tread the cultivated fields with his horse, he and the animal were executed on the spot. The Christian troops, in contrast to these, were a crowd of soldiers devoted to alcohol and strife. The fascination of Suleiman's order was such that in the Balkans oppressed by slavery and taxes, Christian peasants sometimes looked to the sultan as a liberator. Entire kingdoms surrendered spontaneously, but whoever dared to resist was torn to pieces by the Turkish lion.
In 1526 Süleyman annihilated all the Hungarian nobility in the Battle of Mohács: to celebrate, his soldiers erected a pyramid with 2,000 severed heads. In 1529, he nearly took Vienna, and in 1534 he captured Baghdad. In the same years, the great Ottoman naval offensive was launched, which was made possible by the alliance with the barbarian pirates of North Africa. The culture of the Turks was still tied to the steppes, but in 1533 Suleiman had the intuition to appoint kapedan pasha (Grand Admiral), the pirate Khair ed-Din: the third of the Barbarosa brothers, also born a Christian. The next year Suleiman made an alliance with Francis I of France against Charles V and Barbarossa's ships ravaged the Italian coast. In 1538 the Christian fleet was defeated at Preveza and in 1541 that of Charles V commanded by Andrea Doria was largely sunk in the attempt to recapture Algiers. The Eastern Mediterranean turned into a "Turkish lake" and the coasts of North Africa were in the hands of pirates paid by Suleiman: like Ali "Zgjebaniku", a Calabrian renegade or Mortamama.
Love and poetry
Suleiman was not only ruthless in war, but also in love. In 1533 he caused another scandal when he married Rokselana "Rusen", a harem concubine whose real name had been Anastasia Lisovska. The daughter of an Orthodox priest in a Polish village, kidnapped as a child by the Tartars and sold in Constantinople as a slave, Rokselana was not beautiful, but she was intelligent and very lively: the eunuchs of the harem called her "The Delightful" and Suleimani fell madly in love. To give up his first wife, the Circassian Gulbahar, and then he remained forever faithful to her.
The Gracious and the Magnificent managed to share everything, love and governance. He dedicated Persian poems to her, while she sang Slavic melodies: East and West again. The ill-wishers said that the "sold meat" had cast a spell on the Sultan. Practically, the atmosphere in the harem was becoming heavy, but what poisoned it was not magic, but the rivalry between Roxelana and Ibrahim. The two hated each other: Rokselana was extremely jealous of the intimacy between the two friends, while Ibrahim went so far as to ask Barbarossa to abduct the beautiful Giulia Gonzaga for the Sultan, in the hope of making him forget Rokselana. But the kidnapping failed and Rokselana won the duel for Sulejman's heart.
In 1536 Suleiman ordered the strangulation of Ibrahim and confiscated his possessions: the Greek had been his right-hand man for thirteen years, but power and wealth had made him arrogant and the people were dissatisfied with him. After him the sultan would have 8 viziers: excellent collaborators, but never his friends. Suleiman's youth also died with Ibrahim; maturity consolidated his successes, but old age hardened him. The law of fratricide exacted its first blood toll in 1553, when the sultan had to strangle his eldest son, Mustafa. The heir was greatly needed by the army and the people, but Rokselana wanted him dead; being Gulbahar's son, if he became sultan he would have eliminated her sons, Selim and Bayazit. After killing his older brother,
Suleimani took Selim's side and in 1561 ordered the execution of Bayazit: "I thank God that I have lived long enough to see the Muslims freed from the war between my sons. This is how I will spend my remaining days in peace. If the opposite had happened, I would have lived and died in despair", justified the Sultan, already locked in a rigorous faith. Suleiman died on September 6, 1566 during the next war against Vienna.
The new sultan was Selim II "blondi", who very soon started to be called "lupsi". The invasions continued for more than a century, but the long autumn of the Ottoman decline had already begun.
Sulejmani was buried in the courtyard of the mosque dedicated to him, next to Roxelana. Travelers who go to Istanbul today still find them there, in the silence that is interrupted by the hoxha's voice and the meowing of cats that the faithful care for with love.