Back in the early conquest period, the Ottoman Empire has made an impact over history as one of the recognized civilizations in the Middle East. From Middle East to the shores of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire has managed to influence these locations and implement changes. However, one Sultan made a clear mark upon his ascendance to the Ottoman throne, and is still considered a hero due to his contributions to ancient history and to his homeland Turkey. This Sultan is none other than Mehmed II or the famous Conqueror, the known leader of the Ottoman forces in the famous Ottoman siege in Constantinople. His notable contributions for the growth of the Ottoman Empire from its territories, to its political, religious, and judicial foundation can be considered the reasons why the Empire held its power even after his unexpected death. His contributions enabled him to also establish his name as one of Turkish history’s powerful rulers and heroes.
Mehmed II or Mehmed Celebi in his younger years was the third offspring of the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, born on March 30 sometime in 1430 or 1432 in some records in the Ottoman Capital Edirne. Murad II was known for his territorial expansion in Europe. As they reached the Danube River, Murad II’s forces were driven out of the Hungarian border. A few years later, Murad II swore to have a ceasefire with Hungary’s King Ladislas and noted they will never cross the Danube River for 10 years. Murad II moved back his army to Anatolia in acceptance to his oath. His mother, on the other hand, is speculated to be a French princess or an Italian woman called Estella. In latter records, she was referred to as the Huma Hattan. Experts have also noted that it is possible that Mehmed’s mother is a slave sold to Murad II from Adrianople, and converted from Judaism to give birth to the prince legally. As he grew up, he spent his days in the palace in Erdine up to 1434 when he was sent to Amaysa in Anatolia. As he was already five years old, he was also given the governor seat for the city, with councillors selected to aid him. It was also a tradition in the Ottoman Empire that the child of the Sultan is given authority at a young age. Five years later, he was returned back to Erdine to be circumcised, and be given another city to govern .
Mehmed was not Murad’s favourite son given his rebellious nature. Mehmed II had been a very difficult student and he was unstoppable due to his headstrong behaviour. His position in the family changed when one of his brothers was found dead by strangulation in bed. Murad II then did the impossible by declaring Mehmed II as his successor. Under the guidance of Murad II’s grand vizier Candarli Halil Pasha, Mehmed was taught to rule over his father’s empire. Mehmed already had plans to invade Constantinople which made Halil to ask Murad back. Murad II took this chance to order Mehmed II to marry the daughter of the Prince of now-Turkmenistan, and live in Manisa, Anatolia. His peace was short lived as the Hungarians slowly invaded through their crusades. Mehmed fought alongside his father and successfully won the battle in 1448. Mehmed II returned back to his position as sultan in February 1451 upon the death of Murad II. Since he had another brother in competition for his slot back as sultan, he had his brother drowned. He formalized fratricide for his children, claiming “whichever of my sons inherits the throne, it behoves him to kill his brothers in the interest of the world order”. He also spent his time to make sure no one will oppose his rule. Europeans found Mehmed as good turn for their own interests, but after a few sieges, Mehmed did not continue improving his relationship with the West .
Mehmed II’s notable success upon his reign is his conquest of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire’s capital in 1453, two years after Murad II died. He despised Christianity and even vowed to destroy it. Despite the notions that Mehmed II would honour the ceasefire agreement they had with Hungary due to his father’s oath, Mehmed saw his opening when the Hungarians passed the Danube and eventually attacked. Mehmed saw Constantinople as a threat to the safety of the Ottoman Empire, and it must be claimed. Constantinople at that time already shrunk in size to only 50,000 from its 1 million populations back in its prime. The Byzantine Empire did not own any other territory outside Constantinople, but it reigned supreme in the Bosporus Strait area. The Bosporus Strait is seen as the gateway for the Ottomans to get in and out of their territories in Asia and in the Balkan area. Constantine XI even tried to work on a compromise with Mehmed II, but all his representatives were beheaded as Mehmed II wanted Constantinople.
Despite Constantinople’s power, Mehmed II was undeterred and marched forward to Constantinople. Some of his warriors were not purely Mehmed’s forces first fired on Constantinople walls through the use of cannons that fired almost 1,200 pounds worth of boulders. Byzantine forces were able to stop the Turks through the Bosporus Strait and the Sea of Marmara, but Mehmed tried a daring tactic by dragging almost 70 ships to a hill then released it with greased runners. This allowed the army to attack the city in two sides. Constantine the XI managed to hold the city for seven weeks till the Ottoman forces found an opening and entered the city. His supplies were also running low to support both his fleet and citizens which is why Constantine lost control once the Turks found their ground. The Venetians and the Greeks also argued as to how they can properly defend the city. His victory eventually earned Mehmed II the title “The Conqueror” as he won over a powerful empire. He opened Constantine to all, no matter what their religion or background they have. The city was then rebuilt by these people, and eventually became known today as Istanbul .
The spoils of war were divided by each Ottoman member and made sure each gotten their share of the loot. Mehmed II owned all the buildings in Constantinople. Once he reached the Hagia Sophia, he dismounted from his white horse, placed dirt on his turban and bowed down in respect. Later on, the Hagia Sophia became a holy place for the Ottomans, and became known as the Aya Sofya mosque . After his success in Constantinople, Mehmed II then moved on to the Balkan region, taking over Greece, Bosnia, and even the Aegean islands claimed by remaining Venetian forces. As his sieges continued, he also gained favour of several allies such as the Khan of Crimea. He almost conquered the whole peninsula, but he was hindered by the forces of John Hunyadi in Belgrade, Scanderbeg in Albania, and even by the Knights Hospitalers led by Aubusson in Rhodes. Asia also became his target as he annexed several dynasties and empires such as the one in Trebizond and Karamania led by the Seljuk Turks .
Aside from all of these military successes and expansions, Mehmed II also became known for his changes in the domestic affairs of the Empire. He attempted to build a centralized empire that would properly distribute power amongst his leaders and to himself, but this strained the finances of the Empire, devaluing the currency. Mehmed II also had to extend several state taxing systems to support his projects. Nevertheless, the state still had three and a half million ducats until the death of Mehmed. Social discontent, in terms of seized lands, also reigned in Mehmed’s rule as this alienated former old families and even the rest of the public. He also paved the way to the creation of slave markets like the Yesir Bazary. Slaves were formerly sold in the streets before Mehmed II accidentally killed a slave while passing by the street. He ordered the creation of the market so that streets will be clean from obstruction. Many visitors such as Nicolas de Nicolay in 1526 and Philippe du Fresne-Canaye in 1573 noted that slave trading in this period was like selling horses. Slaves were displayed naked to see all the imperfections .
Mehmed II was also a visionary as he is a known patron for the arts and learning due to his studies of Western art and culture. Some have also noted the sultan to be a renaissance figure and a freethinker, due to his unorthodox preferences and strict religious background. He was the brains behind the Topkapi Saray, which is now considered a legacy in the Ottoman rule, showing Mehmed’s preference of intellectual eclecticism. He was also interested with Italian innovations in architecture as he invited Aristotile Fieravante in 1465, to construct the Fatih mosque complex. The complex is said to be a similar structure to the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan. The Fatih mosque became the foundation of Ottoman architecture even after his death . Upon his death in May 43, 1481, many speculated the reasons as to why he died. Some say he was poisoned by his doctors, while others saw it as treason against him .
Despite his untimely and speculated death, it is undeniable that Mehmed II made the Ottoman Empire one of the untouchable empires in its period. As of today, most of his structures and contributions to the Empire are widely displayed and preserved by its people. His achievement in conquering Constantinople cemented his position in Turkish history. Aside from this, his improvements in the Empire’s military, political, social, and artistic fields are still considered the foundation for Ottoman’s continuous influence in the region.
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