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The sultans of the Ottoman Dynasty ruled over a vast transcontinental empire from 1299 to 1922. At its height, the Ottoman Empire spanned from Hungarymarker in the north to Somaliamarker in the south, and from Algeriamarker in the west to Iraqmarker in the east. Administered at first from the city of Bursamarker in Anatoliamarker, the empire's capital was moved to Edirnemarker in 1366 and then to Constantinoplemarker (currently known as Istanbulmarker) in 1453 following its capture from the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire's early years have been the subject of varying narratives due to the difficulty of discerning fact from legend; nevertheless, most modern scholars agree that the empire came into existence around 1299 and that its first ruler was Osman I, khan (leader) of the Kayı tribe of the Oghuz Turks. The Ottoman Dynasty he founded was to endure for six centuries through the reigns of 36 sultans. The Ottoman Empire disappeared as a result of the defeat of the Central Powers with whom it had allied itself during World War I. The partitioning of the empire by the victorious Allies and the ensuing Turkish War of Independence led to the birth of the modern Republic of Turkeymarker.

The Ottoman State was an absolute monarchy during much of its existence. The sultan was at the apex of the hierarchical Ottoman system and acted in political, military, judicial, social, and religious capacities under a variety of titles. He was theoretically responsible only to God and God's law (the Islamic şeriat, known in Arabic as sharia), of which he was the chief executor. His heavenly mandate was reflected in Irano-Islamic titles such as "shadow of God on Earth" (zill Allah fi'l-alem) and "caliph of the face of the earth" (halife-i ru-yi zemin). All offices were filled by his authority, and every law was issued by him in the form of a decree called firman. He was the supreme military commander and had the official title to all land. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Ottoman sultans came to regard themselves as the successors of the Roman Empire, hence their occasional use of the titles Caesar (kaysar) and Emperor. Following the conquest of Egypt in 1517, Selim I also adopted the title of caliph, thus claiming to be the universal Muslim ruler. Newly enthroned Ottoman rulers were girded with the Sword of Osman, an important ceremony that served as the equivalent of European monarchs' coronation. A non-girded sultan was not eligible to have his children included in the line of succession.

Although theocratic and absolute in theory and in principle, the sultan's powers were limited in practice. Political decisions had to take into account the opinions and attitudes of important members of the dynasty, the bureaucratic and military establishments, as well as religious leaders. From the 17th century onwards, the empire entered into a long-term period of stagnation, during which the sultans were much enfeebled. Many of them ended up being deposed by the powerful Janissary corps. Despite being barred from inheriting the throne, women of the Imperial Harem—especially the reigning sultan's mother, known as the Valide Sultan—also played an important behind-the-scenes political role, effectively ruling the empire during the period known as the sultanate of women.

The declining powers of the sultans are evidenced by the difference in reign lengths between early sultans and later ones. Suleiman I, who ruled the empire when it was at its zenith in the 16th century, had a reign of 46 years, the longest in Ottoman history. Murad V, who ruled in the late 19th-century period of decline, had the shortest reign on record: he was in power for just 93 days before being deposed. Constitutionalism was only established during the reign of Murad V's successor, Abdülhamid II, who thus became the empire's last absolute ruler and its first constitutional monarch. Abdülhamid II's grandson, Prince Ertuğrul Osman, who has been living in exile in New York Citymarker since 1939, is the current head of the Ottoman Dynasty and pretender to the defunct Ottoman throne.

List of sultans

The table below lists Ottoman sultans, as well as the last Ottoman caliph, in chronological order. The tughras were the calligraphic seals or signatures used by Ottoman sultans. They were displayed on all official documents as well as on coins, and were far more important in identifying a sultan than his portrait. The "Notes" column contains information on each sultan's parentage and fate. When a sultan's reign did not end through a natural death, the reason is indicated in bold. For earlier rulers, there is usually a time gap between the moment a sultan's reign ended and the moment his successor was enthroned. This is because the Ottomans in that era practiced what historian Quataert has described as "survival of the fittest, not eldest, son": when a sultan died, his sons had to fight each other for the throne until a victor emerged. Because of the infighting and numerous fratricides that occurred, a sultan's death date therefore did not always coincide with the accession date of his successor. In 1617, the law of succession changed from survival of the fittest to a system based on agnatic seniority (ekberiyet), whereby the throne went to the oldest male of the family. This in turn explains why from the 17th century onwards a deceased sultan was rarely succeeded by his own son, but usually by an uncle or brother. Agnatic seniority was retained until the abolition of the sultanate, despite unsuccessful attempts in the 19th century to replace it with primogeniture.

Deposed (bold font) → Sultan's reign did not end through a natural death

# Sultan Portrait Reigned from Reigned until Tughra Notes
1 Osman I c. 1299 c. 1324

2 Orhan c. 1324 c. 1360
  • Son of Osman I and Mal Hatun;
  • Reigned until his death.
3 Murad I

c. 1360 1389
4 Bayezid I

the Thunderbolt
1389 1402
Ottoman Interregnum

5 Mehmed I 1413 1421
  • Son of Bayezid I and Devlet Hatun;
  • Reigned until his death.
6 Murad II 1421 1444
7 Mehmed II

the Conqueror
1444 1446
  • Son of Murad II and Hüma Hatun;
  • Surrendered the throne to his father after having asked him to return to power.
Murad II 1446 3 February 1451
  • Second reign;
  • Forced to return to the throne following a Janissary revolt;
  • Reigned until his death.
Mehmed II

the Conqueror
3 February 1451 3 May 1481
8 Bayezid II 19 May 1481 25 April 1512
9 Selim I

the Grim
25 April 1512 21 September 1520
  • Son of Bayezid II and Ayşe Hatun;
  • Reigned until his death.
10 Suleiman I

the Magnificent or the Lawgiver
30 September 1520 6 or 7 September 1566
  • Son of Selim I and Hafsa Hatun;
  • Reigned until his death.
11 Selim II

the Sot
29 September 1566 21 December 1574
12 Murad III 22 December 1574 16 January 1595
13 Mehmed III 27 January 1595 20 or 21 December 1603
  • Son of Murad III and Safiye Sultan;
  • Reigned until his death;
  • Assassinated.
14 Ahmed I 21 December 1603 22 November 1617
15 Mustafa I 22 November 1617 26 February 1618
  • Son of Mehmed III and an unknown woman;
  • Deposed in favour of his young nephew Osman II.
16 Osman II 26 February 1618 19 May 1622
  • Son of Ahmed I and Mahfiruz Sultan;
  • Reigned until his death;
  • Assassinated by the Janissaries.
Mustafa I 20 May 1622 10 September 1623
  • Second reign;
  • Returned to the throne after his nephew's assassination;
  • Deposed and confined until his death in Istanbulmarker on 20 January 1639.
17 Murad IV 10 September 1623 8 or 9 February 1640
18 Ibrahim 9 February 1640 8 August 1648
19 Mehmed IV 8 August 1648 8 November 1687
20 Suleiman II 8 November 1687 22 June 1691
21 Ahmed II 22 June 1691 6 February 1695
22 Mustafa II 6 February 1695 22 August 1703
23 Ahmed III 22 August 1703 1 or 2 October 1730
24 Mahmud I 2 October 1730 13 December 1754
25 Osman III 13 December 1754 29 or 30 October 1757
26 Mustafa III 30 October 1757 21 January 1774
27 Abdülhamid I 21 January 1774 6 or 7 April 1789
28 Selim III 7 April 1789 29 May 1807
  • Son of Mustafa III and Mihrişah Sultan;
  • Deposed in a Janissary revolt due to his reforms;
  • Assassinated in Istanbul on 28 July 1808.
29 Mustafa IV 29 May 1807 28 July 1808
30 Mahmud II 28 July 1808 1 July 1839
31 Abdülmecid I 1 July 1839 25 June 1861
32 Abdülaziz 25 June 1861 30 May 1876
  • Son of Mahmud II and Sultana Pertevniyal;
  • Deposed by his ministers;
  • Found dead (suicide or murder) five days later.
33 Murad V 30 May 1876 31 August 1876
34 Abdülhamid II

the Red Sultan
31 August 1876 27 April 1909
35 Mehmed V 27 April 1909 3 July 1918
36 Mehmed VI 4 July 1918 1 November 1922
  • Son of Abdülmecid I and Gülistan Sultan;
  • Sultanate abolished;
  • Left Istanbul on 17 November 1922;
  • Died in exile in Sanremo,marker Italy on 16 May 1926.
Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire

Abdülmecid II

(Caliph only)
18 November 1922 3 March 1924

See also


a : The full style of the Ottoman ruler was complex, as it was composed of several titles and evolved over the centuries. The title of sultan was used continuously by all rulers almost from the beginning. However, because it was widespread in the Muslim world, the Ottomans quickly adopted variations of it to dissociate themselves from other Muslim rulers of lesser status. Murad I, the third Ottoman monarch, styled himself sultan-i azam (the most exalted sultan) and hüdavendigar (emperor), titles used by the Anatolian Seljuqs and the Mongol Ilkhanids respectively. His son Bayezid I adopted the style Sultan of Rûm, Rûm being an old islamic name for Anatolia. The combining of the Islamic and Central Asian heritages of the Ottomans led to the adoption of the title that became the standard designation of the Ottoman ruler: Sultan [Name] Khan. Ironically, although the title of sultan is most often associated in the Western world with the Ottomans, people within Turkey generally use the title of padishah far more frequently when referring to rulers of the Ottoman Dynasty. The full style of the Ottoman sultan once the empire's frontiers had stabilized became:
"Sovereign of The Osman Family, Sultan es Selatin (Sultan of Sultans), Khakhan (Khan of the Khans), Caliph of the Faithful, Servant of the Cities of Meccamarker, Medinamarker and Kouds (Jerusalem), Padishah of The Three Cities of Istanbul (Constantinople), Edirnemarker (Adrianople) and Bursamarker, and of the Cities of Châm (Damascus) and Misr (Egypt), of all Azerbaijanmarker, of Mägris, of Barkah, of Kairouanmarker, of Alepmarker, of Iraq, of Arabia and of Ajimmarker, of Basramarker, of El Hasamarker, of Dilen, of Rakamarker, of Mosul, of Parthia, of Diyarbakir, of Cilicia, of the Vilayets of Erzurum, of Sivasmarker, of Adanamarker, of Karamanmarker, of Van, of Barbaria, of Habech (Abyssinia), of Tunisia, of Tyrabolos (Tripoli), of Châm (Syria), of Kybris (Cyprus), of Rhodesmarker, of Candia (Crete), of the Vilayet of Morea (Peloponnese), of Ak Denizmarker (Mediterranean Sea), of Kara Denizmarker (Black Sea), of Anatolia, of Rumelia (the European part of the Empire), of Bagdad, of Kurdistanmarker, of Greece, of Turkestan, of Tartary, of Circassia, of the two regions of Kabarda, of Gorjestan (Georgia), of the plain of Kypshak, of the whole country of the Tartars, of Kefa (Feodosiya) and of all the neighbouring countries, of Bosnia and dependancies, of the City of Belgrade, of the Vilayet of Serf (Serbia), with all the castles and cities, of all the Arnaut Vilayet (Albania), of all Iflak (Wallachia) and Bogdania (Moldavia), as well as all the dependancies and borders, and many others countries and cities"
b : The Ottoman Caliphate was one of the most important positions held by rulers of the Ottoman Dynasty. The caliphate symbolized their spiritual power, whereas the sultanate represented their temporal power. According to Ottoman historiography, Selim I acquired the title of caliph during his conquest of Egypt in 1517, after the last Abbasid in Cairo, Al-Mutawakkil III, relinquished the caliphate to him. However, the general consensus among modern scholars is that this transference of the caliphate was a fabricated myth invented in the 18th century when the idea of an Ottoman Caliphate became useful to bolster waning military power. In fact, Ottoman rulers had used the title of caliph before the conquest of Egypt, as early as Murad I. It is currently agreed that the caliphate "disappeared" for two-and-a-half centuries, before being revived with the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed between the Ottoman Empire and Catherine II of Russia in 1774. The treaty was highly symbolic, since it marked the first international recognition of the Ottomans' claim to the caliphate. Although the treaty officialised the Ottoman Empire's loss of the Crimean Khanate, it acknowledged the Ottoman caliph's continuing religious authority over Muslims in Russia. From the 18th century onwards, Ottoman sultans increasingly emphasized their status as caliphs in order to stir Pan-Islamist sentiments among the empire's Muslims in the face of encroaching European imperialism. When World War I broke out, the sultan/caliph issued a call for jihad in 1914 against the Ottoman Empire's Allied enemies, vainly inciting the subjects of the French, British and Russianmarker empires to revolt. Abdülhamid II was by far the Ottoman sultan who made the most use of his caliphal position, and was recognized as caliph by many Muslim heads of state, even as far away as Sumatramarker. He had his claim to the title inserted into the 1876 Constitution (Article 4).
c : Tughras were used by 35 out of 36 Ottoman sultans, starting with Orhan in the 14th century, whose tughra has been found on two different documents. No tughra bearing the name of Osman I, the founder of the empire, has ever been discovered, although a coin with the inscription "Osman bin Ertuğrul bin Gündüz Alp" has been identified. Abdülmecid II, the last Ottoman caliph, also lacked a tughra of his own, since he did not serve as head of state (that position being held by Mustafa Kemal, President of the newly founded Republic of Turkey) but as a mere religious figurehead.
d : The Ottoman Interregnum, also known as the Ottoman Triumvirate ( ), was a period of chaos in the Ottoman Empire which lasted from 1402 to 1413. It started following the defeat and capture of Bayezid I by the Turco-Mongol warlord Tamerlane at the Battle of Ankara, which was fought on 20 July 1402. Bayezid's sons fought each other for over a decade, until Mehmed I emerged as the undisputed victor in 1413.
e : The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was a gradual process which started with the abolition of the sultanate and ended with that of the caliphate 16 months later. The sultanate was formally abolished on 1 November 1922. Sultan Mehmed VI fled to Maltamarker on 17 November aboard the British warship Malaya. This event marked the end of the Ottoman Dynasty, not of the Ottoman State nor of the Ottoman Caliphate. On 18 November, the Grand National Assemblymarker (TBMM) elected Mehmed VI's cousin Abdülmecid II, the then crown prince, as caliph. The official end of the Ottoman State was declared through the Treaty of Lausanne (24 July 1923), which recognized the new "Ankaramarker government," and not the old Istanbul-based Ottoman government, as representing the rightful owner and successor state. The Republic of Turkeymarker was proclaimed by the TBMM on 29 October 1923, with Mustafa Kemal as its first President. Although Abdülmecid II was a figurehead lacking any political power, he remained in his position of caliph until the office of the caliphate was abolished by the TBMM on 3 March 1924. Mehmed VI later tried unsuccessfully to reinstall himself as caliph in the Hejaz.



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