Suleiman The Magnificent - Scourge of Heaven
‘I believe that the supreme duty of the historian is to write history, that is to say, to attempt to record in one sweeping sequence the great events and movements that have swayed the destinies of men’. Thus wrote Sir Steven Runciman in the preface to the first volume of his History of the Crusades, and it is a definition of the historian’s task which even those who make no pretensions to his scholarship and cannot hope to emulate the sweep of his narrative would do well to remember; for in the words of Fernand Braudel, ‘history can do more than study walled gardens’. As historians, both Runciman and Braudel are giants, their works monumental in scope and achievement, but it is not everyone who has either the time to embark on works of such magnitude or perhaps the taste for such things. it is, therefore, in the hope and belief that there is a place for shorter works of less magisterial compass than that of the historical magnum opus that I have written this book, the them of which is nevertheless one of the great movements that have swayed the destinies of men.
Indeed, it is concerned with the most fascinating and to my mind the greatest of all the movements of history; the ebb and flow of men and ideas between East and West. It probably started in prehistoric times with the great migratory movements of neolithic tribes of nomadic shepherds and hunters; but historically it began with the westward drive of the Persians under Darius and his son Xerxes, checked first at Marathon and foundering ten yeas later in the Bay of Salamis, and it was followed 165 years later by the astonishing response of the Greeks under Alexander, who crossed the Bosphorus into Asia in the spring of 334 BC, and took the tide of western arms and ideas as far as Afghanistan and India. Thus the pattern of expansion and recession, ebb and flow, challenge and response and the resulting collision of nations, civilisations and religions was set. It was a pattern which was to determine the course of history for centuries to come, for after the Greeks came the Romans and Byzantines, who were followed by the Arabs and the Seljuk Turks under the banners of Islam, and they in their turn gave way to the Crusaders; and so it has gone on right down to ou own day, when a new and precarious point in East-West relations has been reached after fifty years of unprecedentedly rapid western retreat at the end of centuries of equally unprecedented expansion eastwards.
The subject of this book is perhaps the least well-known episode in this continuing sage, namely the counter-Crusade by the Ottoman Turks against western Christendom, which followed the extinction of the Frankish kingdoms in the Middle east, and which culminated in the sixteenth century. The fact that it is so little known is surprising, for not only is it a fascinating period in itself, but its pains and struggles also proved to be the birth pangs of the modern world, which should be of interest to us who live in it. I suspect too, that a look at it in all its nobility and squalor with its consuming passions and unquestioned certainties, its achievements and brutalities, may even help us to see our own passions and certainties and their crop of wars and brutalities a little more clearly than we might otherwise see them.
Since I have not attempted to produce a comprehensive history of the period but something much less ambitious, I have had to be ruthlessly selective when deciding what to include and what to leave out. I should have liked to have said more on a number of subjects, for instance, Suleiman’s most lasting achievement was in the field of Islamic law revision and codification, but since that aspect of his work was not strictly relevant to the story I was telling, I have done no more than mention it. In the same way, I have virtually ignored Turkish social history and economic affairs, and I have mentioned only briefly, the desperate financial straits in which both the Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France found themselves as a result of the chronic inflation of their times and the incessant warfare which they waged. These omissions were regrettable, but they left me free to do two things: first, to give an account of the main events in the epic struggle between East and West, Islam and Christendom, Ottoman Turkey and the newly born nation states of western Europe, which culminated during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of Turkey; and, secondly, since history is about people and their experiences, to try to bring that account alive by describing some of the vivid and evocative everyday incidents in the lives and feelings of those people, great and small, who were caught up in the drama of their times. I have done this, not for scholars, but in the hope that it may be of some interest to the intelligent general reader. If there is any virtue in the result, the credit must go to the many historians whose works I have raided, and to whom I am grateful for many things, while its faults and inadequacies are my own. Tony Bridge 1983
The dramatic story of Islam’s counter-crusade against western Christendom, written with vivid narrative power by the author of The Crusades.
Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, was one of the most powerful figures in the 16th-century world. This vastly enjoyable account of his impact on Christian Europe from 1520 to the 1560s shows him battering on the gates of vienna, engaged in running battles with the Hungarians and the Knights of St. John and in constant conflict with the navies of the Mediterranean powers.
The threat of Islam in the 16th century was no so different in people’s imaginations from the West’s fear of the East today. To the Habsburg Emperor Charles V and to King Francis I of France Suleiman - from his base in Constantinople - was a super-power to be reckoned with. the epic sieges of Rhodes, Vienna and Malta are the big action set pieces of the book; the Janissaries of the Sultan hold centre stage.
When Suleiman died in 1566 the power of the Turks began to wane; with him the forces of militant Islam had reached their high watermark.