Selim I

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Selim I

Selim I (ca. 1470-1520), the ninth Ottoman sultan, was the instigator of large-scale conquest and administrative consolidation in Asia that left the Ottomans dominant in the Middle East.

The son of Bayezid II (Bajazet), Selim gained administrative experience as governor of Trebizond and Semendra. In contention for the succession with his older brothers, Selim won with the support of the Janissaries, who forced Bayezid to abdicate on April 25, 1512.

For a year the new sultan was preoccupied with eliminating his brothers and nephews. Then he turned to consolidating Ottoman power in Anatolia, which was threatened by religious attractions from Persia. In the fall of 1513 lists were prepared of Shiite heretics. Some 40,000 died, and others were imprisoned or deported in the persecution that followed.

Selim's declaration of war on Iran the following spring initiated a famous correspondence between himself and Shah Ismael. The Sultan, later remembered as a poet, wrote in an elegant style—the message, however, proving provocative and insulting. On Aug. 23, 1514, Turkish artillery routed the Persians at Chaldiran.

To quiet Janissary opposition to the war, Selim executed several leaders, a procedure for which his reign is noted. He later appointed men from his own household as generals in order to increase control over the Janissary group. Selim is called "Yavuz" ("the Grim"), connoting both respect and fear. Essentially a stern ruler, he nevertheless survives in Ottoman history as a hero.

Selim campaigned in eastern Anatolia again in 1515 and resumed the attack on Persia the following year. In August, however, the Turks encountered the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, a supporter of Ismael, and defeated him in a brief battle north of Aleppo. Egyptian forces were unpaid, undisciplined, and dissentious, the state weakened by the recent loss of Eastern trade to the Portuguese.

The Levantine cities surrendered peacefully, and Ottoman administrators took over but with remarkably few changes. When the new Egyptian sultan executed Selim's ambassadors, who were bearing offers of peace in exchange for acceptance of Turkish sovereignty, the Ottomans moved on Cairo, which fell in January 1517. En route to Egypt, Selim made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

During his months in Cairo, Selim accepted the voluntary submission of the sharif of Mecca, thus bringing the holy places under Ottoman control. Tradition has it that one consequence of this campaign was the official surrendering to the Ottomans of the paraphernalia of the Caliph (the Prophet's standard, mantle, and sword) by the last "Abbasid" caliph, al-Mutawwakil, captured from the Egyptians at Aleppo. This alleged transference of authority was the later legal justification for Osmanli use of the title, although Selim had earlier referred to himself as caliph.

Selim returned to Istanbul in July 1518. As skilled at administration as in military affairs, he subsequently devoted himself to government. On Sept. 20, 1520, he suddenly died, apparently of cancer.

Further Reading

General works on Selim's period include G. W. F. Stripling, The Ottoman Turks and the Arabs, 1511-1574 (1942), and A. D. Alderson, Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty (1956). □

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Selim I (Selim the Grim) (sĕlĬm´), 1467–1520, Ottoman sultan (1512–20). He ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire by forcing the abdication of his father, Beyazid II, and by killing his brothers. A religious controversy (see Sunni and Shiites) and Persian support for his brother Ahmed led Selim, a Sunni, to attack Persia. In 1514 he defeated the Shiite conqueror of Persia, Shah Ismail, annexing Diyarbekir and Kurdistan. This began the enduring rivalry between Persians and Ottomans. Aided by his superior artillery, Selim defeated (1516–17) the Mamluks in Syria and Egypt, which he added to the Ottoman Empire. By assuming the caliphate, Selim made himself and his successors spiritual as well as temporal heads of the empire and gained control over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Selim died while preparing the conquest of Rhodes. Under him the Ottoman Empire entered the period of its greatest power. His son, Sulayman I, succeeded him.