Mehmed II (Ottoman Empire) (1432–1481; Ruled 1444–1446 and 1451–1481)

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MEHMED II (OTTOMAN EMPIRE) (14321481; ruled 14441446 and 14511481)

MEHMED II (OTTOMAN EMPIRE) (14321481; ruled 14441446 and 14511481), seventh ruler of the Ottoman dynasty. In 1444 the Ottoman sultan Murad II (ruled 14211444, 14461451), having concluded one treaty with Hungary and Serbia and another with the central Anatolian state of Karaman, abdicated, leaving the throne to Mehmed, his twelve-year-old son born to a slave woman in Edirne. Mehmed II's short initial reign began, and largely continued, badly. Seeing Murad's abdication as an opportunity not to be missed, John Hunyadi, the voyvoda of Transylvania, and King Vladislav I of Hungary promptly attacked. Murad, recalled to lead the army, defeated them at the battle of Varna (1444), and withdrew once more to a life of contemplation.

Mehmed was faced not merely with outside enemies but also with those from within. The janissary revolt of 1446, probably caused by arrears in pay, brought his first reign to an end. The grand vizier (the chief minister of the sultan), Çandarli Halil, from the influential Turkish Çandarli family who had dominated the position of grand vizier under Murad II, was apparently involved in ensuring Murad's return to the throne and Mehmed's departure to Manisa, the town in southwest Anatolia where he was to spend the next few years.


When Murad II died in February 1451, Mehmed came to the throne for the second time. He immediately turned his sights to the conquest of Constantinople, the capital of the crumbling Byzantine Empire. His advisers were divided over the plan. The grand vizier Çandarli Halil, who was described by both the contemporary Greek historian Ducas and the Ottoman chronicler of the period Aşikpaşazade as a friend of the Byzantines, was opposed to any attack on the city. However, Zaganos Pasha, a Greek convert to Islam who had been Mehmed's tutor while in Manisa, urged conquest.

On 29 May Constantinople fell, and with it the Genoese colony of Galata, whose leaders signed an agreement with Mehmed, now known as Fatih, the Conqueror, under which they retained various trading privileges. The Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital was seen by Western contemporaries as an unprecendented disaster. Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, referred to the loss as that of one of the two eyes of the church. Contemporary Latin accounts spoke of the death of a center of learning, the destruction of the holy relics, and the desecration of the great churches. There was a general terror that within a short space of time, Mehmed, this new Caligula, as one Latin contemporary described him, would ride his horse through the streets of Rome with the very survival of Christendom hanging in the balance. While the fall of the city was thus seen by Western contemporaries as an event of great significance, its importance was more symbolic than actual, for the Ottomans had already absorbed most Byzantine territory, reducing the once great empire to a small strip of land around the city.

Although the Ottoman conquest is sometimes taken as signaling the beginning of a decline in Latin trade in Turkish territory, this was by no means the case, and there is no evidence to suggest that Ottoman policy under Mehmed II was designed to discourage or destroy Latin trading relations. On the contrary, his economic policy shows both continuity with that of his predecessors and the importance he attached to his relations with the Latin trading states. The Genoese, too, continued to have close relations with the Ottoman ruler and, while in the immediate aftermath of the conquest there was some interruption of trade as merchants removed themselves prudently to the Aegean islands to watch developments, they were soon back, and trade continued unabated.


Mehmed had in fact a considerable interest in encouraging commercial activity and went to great lengths to rebuild Constantinople and recreate it as a thriving commercial center. He set out to repopulate the city, forcefully moving populations in from various parts of his empire, and embarked on an impressive building program, which included the Fatih Cami, the Mosque of the Conqueror, begun in 1463. He was also, according to contemporary accounts, a man of letters, who had various learned scholars at his court. A Latin contemporary, Giacomo Languschi, commented on his interest in ancient history and reported that Ciriaco of Ancona, who had resided also at the court of Murad II, read to him daily from the works of Herodotus and Livy.

A great statesman, Mehmed was much interested in the administration of his empire and in tightening control over the running of the state. He was described by Nicola Sagundino, a native of Negroponte who wrote a report on the Ottoman ruler for Alfonso V, the king of Aragon, in 1454, as having examined with great care the administrative system of his state on coming to power, and as having instituted the necessary improvements. His aim was to centralize power in his own hands, and for this he chose for high office those tied to him personally as slaves, not those from the old established families, such as that of the Çandarli. The former grand vizier, Halil Çandarli, was arrested after the capture of Constantinople and later put to death. Such a drive for control aroused opposition, and Mehmed's policies of confiscating land, issuing new coinage, and increasing taxation proved unpopular.

He was also a military leader of considerable acumen, and during his reign the territory of the state continued to increase both in the European and the Asian sections of his empire. In Europe he took Athens (1458), Serbia (1459), the Morea (1460), and Bosnia (1464). During the war with Venice (14631479) he conquered Negroponte (1470). In Anatolia, Trabzon fell in 1461. In the east, he defeated the Aq-Qoyunlu ruler Uzun Hasan in 1473 and Karaman in 1468. Crossing the Black Sea he captured the Genoese trading colony of Cafa (1475) and reduced the Crimea to vassal status. In 1480 the Ottomans besieged Rhodes, and Ottoman forces landed at Otranto, withdrawing a year later. In May 1481 Mehmed II died and was succeeded by his son Bayezid II (ruled 14811512).

Mehmed II's reign represents the firm establishment of a major Islamic empire with the flourishing city of Constantinople, later to become the most populous city in Europe, as its imperial capital. The Ottoman Empire was to be a dominant political and commercial presence in the Mediterranean world for many years to come.

See also Constantinople ; Ottoman Dynasty ; Ottoman Empire ; Sultan ; Vizier .


Primary Sources

Doukas. Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. Translated by Harry J. Magoulias. Detroit, 1975. Covers the period 1204 to 1462.

Kritovoulos. History of Mehmed the Conqueror. Translated by Charles T. Riggs. Westport, Conn., 1970. Translation of the history written by the Greek who was governor of Imbros from 1456 to 1466.

Secondary Source

Babinger, Franz. Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Princeton, 1978. Detailed biography.

Kate Fleet

Muhammad II

views updated Jun 27 2018

Muhammad II (1429–81) Ottoman Sultan (1451–81), considered to be the true founder of the Ottoman Empire. Muhammad captured Constantinople (1453) and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

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