In the morning of the 29th Tuesday of 1453 which was likely to be a hot day, the sun was still on the horizon when the capital city of the second Roman and the first Christian Empire “Constantinople” was conguered by a young Turkish ruler after a 53-day siege. This incident was greeted with great astonishment not only in Europe, but also in the Muslim world in the East. The most important matter that aroused curiosity was the identity of the young ruler who achieved such a major conguest.
As a matter of fact, he had ruled for a short period that coincided with his juvenescence. His father Murat İİ overwhelmed by the political turmoil, had briefly left his throne, and some opinions about him were formed in his close circle as a result. Moreover, during this two-year reign (1444-1446), he was regarded as a “boy” manipulated by the “hawks” who sought war, and unable to take initiative. İn 1451, when he ascended to the throne at the age of 19 as his fathers successor, these circles were quite relieved remembering his previous unsuccessful years. Although no great accomplishments were expected of this young sultan, everything suddenly changed when at the age of 21 he conquered Constantinople, or İstanbul as locals called it, that seemed highly fortified and impregnable. This change did not resonate only in the world of the period. This also manifested itself in the following periods as the foundations were laid for the Ottoman Empires transformation into a great world empire.
FROM AKŞEMSEDDİN TO BELLINI
The young ruler who assumed ‘”The Conqueror” title by conquest of İstanbul, had in fact targeted the Byzantine Empire which still had an important role in the West although it had considerably regressed since its first reign. Mehmet regarded İstanbul as a beginning in order to establish the great Ottoman Empire he had envisaged. He had received an excellent education, and was familiar with Eastern cultures since the early days of his princedom. He added the Western culture to this background. İt is known that he had his courtiers of İtalian and Greek origins read ancient histories in Manisa during his princedom, and that he was familiar with the Greek culture. Both Eastern and Western scholars, artists gathered around him. He read books on war and politics in various languages like a typical “Renaissance ruler” in this sense. He held discussions with scholars in his palace, and personally followed these where he expressed his own opinions. He invited and hosted İtalian artists in his palace. His portrait by İtalian painter Bellini has a symbolic value in this sense. İt is also known that he studied Sufism with Akşemseddin, and Shari sciences with Molla Gurani and Molla Husrev.
The palace was to host scholars from major cultural and religious İslamic communities later. Even Greek scholars like Georgios Trapezuntios, Kritovulos and Amirutzes were by his side. This means, at a very early period he made the new culture move in his own territory to an extent, to be called the “Renaissance” later which was then newly sprouting in the West.
Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror did not neglect reshaping the “Holy War” policies he inherited from his predecessors. He never forgot the founding fathers commitment to the Oghuz tradition. After he conquered İstanbul, he added the title “Kaiser” which means “emperor” as the proprietor of the second Rome next to the title of ”Khan” that reflects the old tradition. Latin and Greek sources began to refer to him mainly with this latter title, as the “Turkish Kaiser” He was a “Baselius” Kaiser title was adopted also by Ottoman historians of the period. Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror thus embodied Persian, Turkish, İslamic and Roman ruling t ra di ti on s. He displayed it with the “Khan, Sultan and Kaiser” titles he used. This way, the typical classic Ottoman sultan type was born in his person.
FOUNDATIONS OF THE OTTOMAN
His reign exceeding twenty-five years is remembered not only by the exhaustive campaigns but also by political, economic and social reforms that would trans form the state. The laws he propounded marked a new structure in areas of customary and sharia law. He was in fact a true lawmaker. He also linked his reforms to the written laws, and left his successors a significant legacy on law. When he passed away in 1481 during the preparations for his last campaign, he had laid the foundations of a state that stood out with political goals, institutions, cultural understanding and social consensus.
* İstanbul 29 Mayıs University
Prof. Dr. Feridun M. Emecen