When Sultan Mehmed II, also known as Mehmed the Conqueror, died in 1481, he left behind two şehzades (princes): 33-year-old Bayezid, who was the governor of Amasya, and 22-year-old Cem, who was the governor of Konya. The viziers sent word to the eldest son Bayezid, while Grand Vizier Karamani Mehmed Pasha, who took sides with Cem, secretly sent a message to Cem Sultan. Meanwhile, Bayezid's son Korkut was made regent in Istanbul.
Soldiers supported Şehzade Bayezid’s accession. Bayezid arrived in Istanbul early and succeeded the throne. Rumor has it that Bayezid's brother-in-law, Sinan Pasha, blocked the messenger going to Cem. Thereupon, Cem marched on Bursa and defeated the troops sent to confront him from Istanbul. He declared his sultanate in Bursa and coined his own money by having a sermon delivered in his name.
Cem was a sophisticated and popular şehzade. According to some, his father wanted Cem to be the sultan. Some others associate these events with the struggle between Turkish and devshirme (a system that trained non-Muslim citizens of the empire to be officers of the state) statesmen. And they say that with Bayezid's accession to the throne, the devshirme party won. However, this claim is not true. As a matter of fact, when Bayezid became sultan, he appointed Çandarlı Ibrahim Pasha the younger as a vizier.
2 grooms for 1 bride
Cem Sultan sent his paternal aunt Selçuk Sultan to his elder brother Bayezid and offered to share the country. However, Sultan Bayezid II, who knew the importance of national unity well, said, "There can not be two grooms for one bride!" and denied the offer. After being defeated along with his army, Cem Sultan fled with his family and entourage. He took refuge in the Mamluks. When he marched on Anatolia once again, Sultan Bayezid offered his brother the opportunity to live in Jerusalem with a lifetime stipend, but Cem Sultan didn’t listen to his brother. He and Sultan Bayezid exchanged several letters written in verse in this period.
While he was fleeing to Egypt after being defeated, he was accepted as a guest of the Saint John Knights of Rhodes. The knights did not keep their word, sent him to France and regularly received money from his brother Bayezid for his expenses. The fact that his brother was taken to Europe as a hostage in the hands of Christians left Sultan Bayezid II in a very difficult situation. Cem Sultan was then delivered to the Pope. He died in Naples in 1495 after 12 years in captivity. The sultan paid a large sum to bring his brother's body to the Ottoman lands and had him buried in his tomb in Bursa.
This civil war forced Sultan Bayezid to withdraw from Italy. However, a few years of Ottoman rule in Otranto taught the Italians the technique of building towers and fortification. This period, in which great conquests were not attempted, is seen as the time of preparing for new moves and contemplating the conquests of the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror’s era. Nevertheless, expeditions were made to Hungary, Moldavia, Albania, Venice, Poland and the Peloponnese, and some strategic places were conquered. Some of these expeditions were commanded by Sultan Bayezid. The military skills of the sultan were not weak. He had participated in the expeditions of his father's time. But he believed that now the time for peace had come.
The Mamluks were jealous of the fact that this small state in Anatolia was growing and now bordered them. That an ambassador sent to Cairo was treated contrary to diplomatic procedure during the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror offended Istanbul. Moreover, the fact that the Mamluks helped the beys who were enemies of the Ottomans increased the tension. The ambassador sent by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror to India was arrested by the Mamluks in Jeddah on his way back and also the gifts he brought were extorted.
Just then, Sultan Mehmed II died and his successor Sultan Bayezid II chose not to take any action about the situation at the time. The protection of Şehzade Cem by the Mamluk sultan was the final straw. As a result of the Ottoman-Mamluk war which broke out in 1485 and lasted for six years, yet neither side could achieve a decisive victory due to the laxity of the soldiers. The issue was settled diplomatically, and peace was made.
The Spaniards began to pressure the only remaining Muslim state in the Iberian peninsula. Upon this, the ambassadors of the Emirate of Granada, also known as the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, came to Istanbul and asked for help from Sultan Bayezid II. However, in order to provide military aid, it was necessary to have bases in North Africa. The sultan did all he could and sent a naval fleet under the command of Kemal Reis, the great mariner who put long-range cannons on ships for the first time in history, and bombarded the coasts of Spain.
However, this intimidation did not deter the bold-hearted Spaniards. In 1492, Granada fell, and Muslim rule in Spain, which had lasted for 711 years, ended. Some 300,000 Muslim people migrated to Morocco and Algeria. The Ottoman navy protected this migration process with its mighty cannons.
No place would accept the 100,000 Sephardic Jews, who were left to choose either death or baptism. Sultan Bayezid II accepted these refugees in Ottoman territory. They settled in various cities, primarily Salonica (Thessaloniki), Izmir and Istanbul.
The Ottoman navy defeated the Venetian navy of 200 ships in the Battle of Sapienza, also known as the Battle of Zonchio, in 1499. This was the first open sea battle that the Ottomans had won. After that, the 16th century became the Ottoman century in the seas.
Meanwhile, a new danger arose in the east. Propagandist Ismail, who was a member of a deep-rooted Sufi family of the Safavids but joined the Shiite sect like his father, overthrew the Aq Qoyunlu and seized the Iranian throne. While his men spread Shiite propaganda in Anatolia, Shah Ismail occupied the Beylik of Dulkadir, which was under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire.
The accession of such a person to the Iranian throne meant a threat not only to the Ottoman Empire, but also to Egypt and Turkistan; it was a threat to the entire Sunni world. The progressing illness of Sultan Bayezid II prevented him from completely solving the matter. A rebellion launched by Şahkulu, one of Shah Ismail's propagandists, in Anatolia spread as far as Kütahya until it was suppressed, but a grand vizier fell dead on the battlefield (1511).
This caused a conflict between the şehzades. At that time, four of the eight sons of the sultan were alive. Şehzade Ahmed was the governor of Amasya, Şehzade Korkut was governor of Antalya, Şehzade Selim was the governor of Trabzon and Şehinşah was the governor of Konya. Everyone was considering Ahmed, whom the sultan favored, as the heir of the throne. The soldiers were supporting Selim. Meanwhile, the death of Şehinşah tore the sultan’s heart out. He was very affectionate toward his children.
Confident in his influence over the sailors, Korkut claimed the governorship of Manisa, which was closer to Istanbul. When he was refused, he contented himself with intimidating his father by making a visit to Egypt. Despite committing such a treacherous act, he was later forgiven. Korkut, 42, was an intellectual şehzade, tender-hearted and clever, but not suited for the sultanate since he did not have a son.
Sick and tired like his grandfather Sultan Murad II at his reign's end, the sultan was determined to abdicate. Instead of Ahmed, whom the viziers wanted and supported as the successor, he preferred Selim because of his perceptive sensitivity to the Safavid danger. Şehzade Ahmed, who thought that his father had turned away from him, rebelled and declared himself sultan in Konya. After some maneuvering struggles, Sultan Bayezid II abdicated in favor of Şehzade Selim in 1512.
He set out for Dimetoka (Didymoteicho), the city where he was born, to spend the last days of his life. He gave important advice on state affairs to his son, who was walking next to him on foot. However, he died on the way near the modern-day Hafsa town of Edirne. He was around 60 and had ruled for 31 years. The rumor that he was poisoned by his son is weak and unfounded. He had already been very ill before his death. His body was brought to Istanbul and buried in the courtyard of the mosque he had built in today's Bayezid district.
Sultan Bayezid II had suffered discomfort in his legs and lungs since his youth. Some even tattled on him to his father saying that young Bayezid was a drug addict as he had taken opium to relieve gout pains. Some ill-wishers, who were envious of the close friendship between Müeyyedzade Abdurrahman Çelebi, who would be among the great scholars of the future, and Şehzade Bayezid secretly wrote letters to his father, Sultan Mehmed, and told that Abdurrahman Çelebi made the şehzade addicted to opium. Coolheaded Bayezid calmed the situation by sending his friend to Egypt and writing apologetic letters to his father.
Sultan Bayezid II is considered the most knowledgeable of the Ottoman sultans after his father. He had received an excellent education and knew Arabic and Persian together with their literature. He had a grasp of religious sciences, philosophy, mathematics and music. He read all the works presented to him and encouraged others to read what he saw as valuable. He kept sycophants at a distance. He was fond of reading books and scientific research. He was a composer, poet, master calligrapher and illuminator. He used to write poems under the pseudonym Adni and had a collection of poems called a diwan.
At the same time, he was one of the sultans most fond of Sufism. For this reason, he was known as “Wali,” most commonly used by Muslims to indicate an Islamic saint. He was seen as someone with karamats (supernatural wonders). He became a disciple of the Halveti sheikh Çelebi Halife when he was a şehzade. Also at that time, he had gone on a solitary retreat lasting for forty days called "çile" (asceticism) at the lodge of Sheikh-ul-Islam Ebussuud Efendi's father, Halveti sheikh Muhammed Iskilibi (Sheikh Yavsi). He used to have conversations with Baba Yusuf Seferhisari, a sheikh of the Bayrami Sufi order.
The sultan attended the funeral ceremony of his father's teacher Molla Gürani, whose debts were paid by him. As Ottoman historiography had entered a new phase, he had Şemseddin Ahmed, better known by his pen name Ibn Kemal, and Idris Bitlisi write a book of Ottoman history. Many scholars and artists were trained in his time. He patronized them and had a separate budget allocated for them. He sent annual allowances not only to those in the Ottoman country but also to scholars in other parts of the Islamic world such as in Herat and Bukhara. His death caused great sadness to the whole Islamic world. Even in Cairo, the people, especially the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt Qaitbay, performed the funeral prayer in absentia for him.
The sultan – who could read Uyghur, could speak the Chagatai dialect as well as a little Greek, Serbian and Italian – also had contact with artists in Europe. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote a letter to the sultan and offered to build a bridge over the Golden Horn and the Bosporus, but his project wasn't carried out. Michelangelo is even believed to have visited Istanbul for a while. The claim that Sultan Bayezid II destroyed works of art left from his father's time is not true.
Sultan Bayezid II was born in 1448 or 1452. His mother was probably Sitti Mükrime Hatun, the princess of Dulkadir. One of her daughters married to a prince of Aq Qoyunlu, while his other daughters wed elite bureaucrats of the time. The famous Bosnian Governor Gazi Hüsrev Bey was the son of Sultan Bayezid's daughter.
He was described as medium height and broad-shouldered, with white skin, black hair, hazel eyes and beetle brows. His beard was neither long nor short. Like his father, he wore a turban donned by scholars. He ate little and enjoyed horseback riding and hunting. He was a master archer and even wrote a book about it. No one could make bows and arrows as beautiful as he could. A bow made by him is exhibited in Topkapı Palace today.
He was very merciful, generous, loyal and appreciative. The alms he gave to the poor were enough to make them rich. Grand Vizier Gedik Ahmed Pasha, who was inspecting the army on an expedition that Bayezid II went on with his father in his youth, found the youthful character of the şehzade undisciplined and told this situation to the sultan. Offended by this, Bayezid said to the grand vizier, "If I become a sultan one day, I will make you pay for this arrogance." And Ahmed Pasha swore in return that he would never use his sword for Bayezid if he ever became the sultan. Bayezid ultimately became sultan after some years. Gedik Ahmed Pasha, who was in the side of Cem during the civil war, came before the sultan with his sword tied to the saddle of his horse. The sultan placated him by saying: "I forgive your oath. Let's forget the old days. Serve me as you served my father!" But then he was executed for taking the side of Cem and allowing him to escape.
Sultan Bayezid remained in the shadow of his father and son; therefore he could not be evaluated correctly. It is clear that he was different in character from both. Even though his period is not considered very bright in military terms by some historians, it was brilliant in science and culture. Many charitable works were built in his time and great progress was made in the fine arts. The continuation of military successes was the result of scientific, economic and administrative developments. For this reason, his time was a preparation period for the great conquests of his son and grandson. At the time of his death, the territory of the country was 2,373,000 square kilometers (916,220 square miles). He added more than 100,000 square kilometers of land to his father's inheritance.
He equipped the army with new weapons and reformed the cavalry, artillery and artillery transport corps. He increased the number of soldiers and gave great importance to the navy. His political and diplomatic aspects are more important than his military service. He had serious political relations with the eastern and western states, proving his keen political intelligence and prescience. The first diplomatic contact with Russia was established during his reign. He had a say in the internal affairs of Italy and warned Venice about the release of the Duke of Mantua. Upon the warning, Venice immediately listened to his word.
"Sultan II. The Ihtisab Regulations," published in 1501 during the reign of Bayezid II, is the oldest known municipal law in the world. The word “ihtisab” is Arabic and means municipality.
The Bayezid Mosque, commissioned by the sultan on top of one of Istanbul's seven hills, is a large social complex that includes a madrassa, imaret (soup kitchen), library and children's school. The construction of the complex began in 1497 and lasted for nine years. The sultan conditioned the sheik-al-Islam to give tafsir (exegesis, or interpretation of the Quran) lessons open for the public each week in this complex and allocated separate funds for this purpose. This tradition lasted into our times. The "Altmışlı" madrassa he established in Istanbul took its place in the Ottoman education system as the higher degree facility (equivalent to master's degree) of the Fatih Madrassa established by his father.
The sultan commissioned a mosque, madrassa, imaret, hospital, tabhane (the building where the treated patients spend their convalescence) and a dervish lodge in Edirne in a complex bearing his name, which was completed in 1488 after a four-year construction. The dar al-shifa (hospital), which now serves as a health museum, was a magnificent medical center where especially mental patients were treated either through surgical operations or through means such as different occupations, water and bird sounds or music. In Europe, at a time when the mentally ill were thought to be possessed by the devil and burned to death, Ottomans treated them as patients and made great efforts for their treatment.
During his gubernatorial service as a şehzade in Amasya, Bayezid commissioned a mosque, school, inn, guest house and dervish lodge, in addition to three inns in Bursa. The sultan had magnificent bridges built over the Tundzha River in Edirne, the Kızılırmak River in Osmancık, the Sakarya River in Geyve and the Gediz River in Manisa. He commissioned masjids, dervish lodges, fortresses, bridges and inns in various other cities and towns while ordering repair or reconstruction of many others, always spending his fortune for charity.
During the earthquake in 1509 known as the "Kıyamet-i Suğra" ("Little Doomsday") and 45 days of aftershocks, most of the stone buildings in Istanbul collapsed, killing thousands in the process. Sultan Bayezid had to move to a tent erected on palace grounds and then went to Edirne, which was flooded by the Tundzha River. Following the earthquake, Bayezid had foremen brought to Istanbul from Anatolia and reconstructed the city. This earthquake served as a milestone in Ottoman city architecture as wood replaced stone as the main architectural component for durability against tremors. In many following earthquakes, loss of life and property was relatively low.
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