Fatih Sultan Mehmed, Mehmed The Conqueror
II (Ottoman Turkish:
محمد ثانى Meḥmed-i sānī, Turkish: II. Mehmet),
(also known as el-Fatih (الفاتح),
"the Conqueror", in Ottoman Turkish, or, in modern Turkish, Fatih
Sultan Mehmet) (March 30, 1432 May 3, 1481) was Sultan of the
Ottoman Empire for a short time from 1444 to 1446, and later from
1451 to 1481. At the age of 21, he conquered Constantinople,
bringing an end to the medieval Byzantine Empire. From this point
onward, he claimed the title of Caesar in addition to his other
was born in Edirne capital city of the Ottoman state, on March 30,
1432. His father was Sultan Murad II (140451) and his mother Huma
Hatun was a daughter of Abd'Allah of Hum, Huma meaning a girl/woman
from Hum. When Mehmed II was 11 years old he was sent to Amasya to
govern and thus gain experience, as per the custom of Ottoman rulers
before his time. After Murad II made peace with the Karaman Emirate
in Anatolia in August 1444, he abdicated the throne to his
12-year-old son Mehmed II.
During his first reign, Mehmed II
asked his father Murad II to reclaim the throne in anticipation of
the Battle of Varna, but Murad II refused. Enraged at his father,
who had long since retired to a contemplative life in southwestern
Anatolia, Mehmed II wrote: "If you are the Sultan, come and lead
your armies. If I am the Sultan I hereby order you to come and lead
my armies." It was upon this letter that Murad II led the Ottoman
army in the Battle of Varna in 1444. It is said Murad II's return
was forced by Chandarli Khalil Pasha, the grand vizier of the time,
who was not fond of Mehmed II's rule, since Mehmed II's teacher was
influential on him and did not like Chandarli. Chandarli was later
executed by Mehmed II during the siege of Constantinople on the
grounds that he had been bribed by or had somehow helped the
Mehmed II reclaimed the throne
upon his father's death. Two years later he brought an end to the
Byzantine Empire by capturing its capital during the Siege of
Constantinople. After this conquest, he conquered the Despotate of
Morea in the Peloponnese in 1460, and the Empire of Trebizond in
northeastern Anatolia in 1461. The last two vestiges of Byzantine
rule were thus absorbed by the Ottoman Empire. The conquest of
Constantinople bestowed immense glory and prestige on the country;
as the Ottoman state was internationally recognized as an Empire for
the first time.
Some modern scholars believe that
the following tale is merely one of a long series of attempts to
portray Muslims as morally inferior, and point to the story of Saint
Pelagius as its probable inspiration. Steven Runciman recounts that
during the siege of Constantinople Mehmed II promised his men "the
women and boys of the city."
Other explanations for this
alleged departure from Mehmed II's nominal amnesty were that Loukas
Notaras, a treasury official, had attempted to ingratiate himself
with Mehmed II by retaining money from the Byzantine treasury as a
gift for the Sultan. Mehmed II was neither impressed nor grateful,
instead suggesting it should have been used for the defense of the
city and viewed it as treason.
It is said that when Mehmed
stepped into the Palace of the Caesars, founded over a thousand
years before by Constantine the Great, he uttered the famous line of
Persian poetry: "The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the
Caesars; the owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab."
After the Fall of Constantinople,
Mehmed claimed the title of Roman Caesar (Kayzer-i Rūm), since
Byzantium was the successor of the Roman Empire after the transfer
of its capital to Constantinople in 330 AD. Mehmed also had blood
lineage to the Byzantine imperial family, as his predecessors like
Sultan Orhan I had married a Greek princesses. He was not the only
ruler to claim such a title, as there was the Holy Roman Empire in
Western Europe, whose emperor, Frederick III, traced his titular
lineage from Charlemagne who obtained the title of Roman Emperor
when he was crowned by Pope Leo III in 800.
Reference is made to the
prospective conquest of Constantinople in an authentic hadith,
attributed to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad. "Verily you shall
conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what
a wonderful army will that army be!". Ten years after the conquest
of Constantinople Mehmed II visited the site of Troy and boasted
that he had avenged the Trojans by having conquered the Greeks
The conquest of Constantinople
allowed Mehmed II to turn his attention to Anatolia. Mehmed II tried
to create a single political entity in Anatolia by capturing Turkish
states called Beyliks and the Greek Empire of Trebizond in
northeastern Anatolia and allied himself with the Golden Horde in
the Crimea. Uniting the Anatolian Beyliks was first accomplished by
Sultan Bayezid I, more than fifty years earlier than Mehmed II but
after the destructive Battle of Ankara back in 1402, the newly
formed Anatolian unification was gone. Mehmed II recovered the
Ottoman power on other Turkish states. These conquests allowed him
to push further into Europe.
Another important political entity
which shaped the Eastern policy of Mehmed II was the White Sheep
Turcomans. With the leadership of Uzun Hasan, this Turcoman kingdom
gained power in the East but because of their strong relations with
the Christian powers like Empire of Trebizond and the Republic of
Venice and the alliance between Turcomans and Karamanoğlu Tribe,
Mehmed saw them as a threat to his own power. He lead a successful
campaign against Uzun Hasan in 1473 which resulted with the decisive
victory of the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Otlukbeli.
Mehmed II advanced toward Eastern
Europe as far as Belgrade, and attempted to conquer the city from
John Hunyadi at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. Hungarian commander
successfully defended the city and Ottomans retreated with heavy
losses but at the end, Ottomans occupied nearly all of Serbia.
He also came into conflict with
and was defeated by his former vassal, Prince Vlad III Dracula of
Wallachia in 1462 at the Night Attack. Then, Mehmed II helped Radu,
the brother of Vlad, to take the revenge of the Ottoman military
losses and Radu managed to take the control of Wallachia in the same
year. Vlad lost all his power and escaped from his country.
In 1475, the Ottomans suffered a
great defeat at the hands of Stephen the Great of Moldavia at the
Battle of Vaslui. In 1476, Mehmed won a victory against Stephen at
the Battle of Valea Albă and nearly destroyed all of the relatively
small Moldovian army. Then, he sacked the capital of Suceava, but
couldn't take the castle of Piatra Neamţ, nor the citadell of
Suceava. With a plague running in his camp and food and water being
very scarce, Mehmed was forced to retreat as Stephen was reinforcing
his army and Dracula, turning from exile, was marching with a
30,000-strong army to aid the Moldavians.
Mehmed II invaded Italy in 1480.
The intent of his invasion was to capture Rome and "reunite the
Roman Empire", and, at first, looked like he might be able to do it
with the easy capture of Otranto in 1480 but Otranto was retaken by
Papal forces in 1481 after the death of Mehmed.
A rebellion led by George
Kastrioti Skanderbeg (İskender Bey), an Albanian noble and a former
member of the Ottoman ruling elite, in Albania between 1443 and 1468
prevented the Ottoman expansion into the Italian peninsula.
Skanderbeg was sent to Albania as the highest representative of the
Ottoman Empire in the region by Mehmed's father Murad II.
These military conflicts between
the Ottomans and the European forces showed that the Ottoman
presence in Europe is not a temporary situation. During the reign of
Mehmed II, Balkan forces were not completely surpassed by the
Ottoman war machine but they couldn't stop it either.
Mehmed II amalgamated the old
Byzantine administration into the Ottoman state. He first introduced
the word Politics into Arabic "Siyasah" from a book he published and
claimed to be the collection of Politics doctrines of the Byzantian
Caeasars before him. He gathered Italian artists, humanists and
Greek scholars at his court, kept the Byzantine Church functioning,
ordered the patriarch to translate the Christian faith into Turkish
and called Gentile Bellini from Venice to paint his portrait.He was
extremely serious about his efforts to continue the Roman Empire,
with him as its Caesar, and came closer than most people realize to
capturing Rome and conquering Italy. Mehmed II also tried to get
Muslim scientists and artists to his court in Constantinople,
started a University, built mosques e.g. the Fatih Mosque,
waterways, and the Topkapı Palace.
Mehmed II's reign is also
well-known for the religious tolerance with which he treated his
subjects, especially among the conquered Christians, which was very
unusual for Europe in the Middle Ages. However, his army was
recruited from the Devshirme. This group took Christian subjects at
a young age. They were split up: those regarded as more able were
destined for the sultans court, the less able but physically strong
were put into the army or the sultan's personal guard - the
Within the conquered city, Mehmed
established a millet or an autonomous religious community, and he
appointed the former Patriarch as essentially governor of the city.
His authority extended only to the Orthodox Christians of the city,
and this excluded the Genoese and Venetian settlements in the
suburbs, and excluded the coming Muslim and Jewish settlers
entirely. This method allowed for an indirect rule of the Christian
Byzantines and allowed the occupants to feel relatively autonomous
even as Mehmed II began the Turkish remodeling of the city,
eventually turning it into the Turkish capital, which it remained
until the 1920s.
Mehmed II spoke seven languages
(including Turkish, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian and Latin) when
he was 21 years old (the age at which he conquered Constantinople).
After the fall of Constantinople, he founded many universities and
colleges in the city, some of which are still active. Mehmed II is
also recognized as the first Sultan to codify criminal and
constitutional law long before Suleiman the Magnificent (also "the
Lawmaker" or "Kanuni") and he thus established the classical image
of the autocratic Ottoman sultan (padishah). Mehmed II's tomb is
located at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul; the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge
is also named after him.
Mehmed II's Firman on the Freedom
of the Bosnian Franciscans
"I, the Sultan Khan the Conqueror,
hereby declare the whole world
The Bosnian Franciscans granted
with this sultanate firman are under my protection. And I command
No one shall disturb or give
harm to these people and their churches! They shall live in peace in
my state. These people who have become emigrants, shall have
security and liberty. They may return to their monasteries which are
located in the borders of my state.
No one from my empire notable,
viziers, clerks or my maids will break their honour or give any harm
No one shall insult, put in
danger or attack these lives, properties, and churches of these
Also, what and those these
people have brought from their own countries have the same rights...
By declaring this firman, I
swear on my sword by the holy name of Allah who has created the
ground and sky, Allah's prophet Mohammed, and 124.000 former
prophets that; no one from my citizens will react or behave the
opposite of this firman!"
This oath firman, which has
provided independence and tolerance to the ones who are from another
religion, belief, and race was declared by Mehmed II the Conqueror
and granted to Angjeo Zvizdovic of the Franciscan Catholic Monastery
in Fojnica, Bosnia and Herzegovina after the conquest of Bosnia and
Herzegovina on May 28th of 1463. The firman has been recently raised
and published by the Ministry of Culture of Turkey for the 700th
anniversary of the foundation of the Ottoman State. The edict was
issued by the Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror to protect the basic
rights of the Bosnian Christians when he conquered that territory in
1463. The original edict is still kept in the Franciscan Catholic
Monastery in Fojnica.
It is one of the oldest documents
on religious freedoms. Mehmed II's oath was entered into force in
the Ottoman Empire on May 28, 1463. In 1971, the United Nations
published a translation of the document in all the official U.N.