In 1521, Suleiman the Magnificent, Muslim ruler of the Ottoman Empire, dispatched an invasion fleet to the Christian island of Rhodes. This would prove to be the opening shot in an epic clash between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean and the center of the world. In Empires of the Sea,acclaimed historian Roger Crowley has written a thrilling account of this brutal decades-long battle between Christendom and Islam for the soul of Europe, a fast-paced tale of spiraling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar. Crowley conjures up a wild cast of pirates, crusaders, and religious warriors struggling for supremacy and survival in a tale of slavery and galley warfare, desperate bravery and utter brutality. Empires of the Sea is a story of extraordinary color and incident, and provides a crucial context for our own clash of civilizations.
Roger Crowley was born in 1951 and spent part of his childhood in Malta. He read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul, where he developed a strong interest in the history of Turkey. He has traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging knowledge of its history and culture. He lives in Gloucestershire, England. He is also the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Sultan Pays a Visit
10 September 1521, from Belgrade
First the drumroll of imperial titles. Then the threat:
Suleiman the sultan, by the grace of God, king of kings, sovereign of sovereigns, most high emperor of Byzantium and Trebizond, very powerful king of Persia, of Arabia, of Syria, and of Egypt, supreme lord of Europe, and of Asia, prince of Mecca and Aleppo, lord of Jerusalem, and ruler of the universal sea, to Philip de L’Isle Adam, Grand Master of the island of Rhodes, greetings.
I congratulate you upon your new dignity, and upon your arrival within your territories. I trust that you will rule there prosperously, and with even more glory than your predecessors. I also mean to cultivate your favour. Rejoice then with me, as a very dear friend, that following in the footsteps of my father, who conquered Persia, Jerusalem, Arabia and Egypt, I have captured that most powerful of fortresses, Belgrade, during the late Autumn. After which, having offered battle to the Infidel, which they had not the courage to accept, I took many other beautiful and well-fortified cities, and destroyed most of their inhabitants either by sword or fire, the remainder being reduced to slavery. Now after sending my numerous and victorious army into their winter quarters, I shall myself return in triumph to my court at Constantinople.
To those who could read between the lines this was not an expression of friendship. It was a declaration of war. Suleiman, great-grandson of Mehmet the Conqueror, had just inherited the Ottoman throne. According to custom and tradition, he was obliged to mark his accession with victories; each new sultan had to legitimize his position as “Conqueror of the Lands of the Orient and the Occident” by adding fresh territories to the world empire. He could then distribute booty, secure the loyalty of the army, and indulge in the ritual forms of propaganda. Victory letters—assertions of imperial power—were sent out to impress the Muslim world and intimidate the Christian one, and the new sultan could then start building his mosque.
An accession also had to be accompanied by death. The sultan was required by law to kill all his brothers “in the interest of the world order,” to scotch the possibility of civil war. A mournful line of children’s coffins would be carried out of the palace harem to the muted sobbing of women, while stranglers with bowstrings were dispatched to distant provinces to hunt down older siblings.
In Suleiman’s case there were no such deaths. He was the sole male heir. It is likely that his father, Selim, had executed all his other sons six years earlier to snuff out preemptive coups. The twenty-six- year-old was uniquely blessed in his inheritance. He acquired a powerful, unified empire possessed of unrivaled resources. To pious Muslims, Suleiman was the harbinger of good fortune. His name—Solomon— chosen by opening the Koran at random, presaged a ruler dedicated to wisdom and justice. In an age of portents, all the circumstances of Suleiman’s accession were significant. He was the tenth sultan, born in the tenth year of the tenth century of the Muslim era. Ten was the cipher of perfection: the number of the parts of the Koran, the number of disciples of the Prophet, the commandments in the Pentateuch, and the astrological heavens of Islam. And Suleiman stepped onto the world stage at a moment of imperial destiny.
His reign would overlap and compete with the claims of a jostling crowd of rival monarchs: the Hapsburgs, Charles V and Philip II of Spain; the French Valois kings, Francis I and his son Henry II; in England the Tudors, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I; in Muscovy, Ivan the Terrible; in Iran, Shah Ismail; in India, the Mogul emperor Akbar. None would have a keener sense of imperial mission or make for themselves more
Excerpted from Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley
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