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Selim I
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Selim I

Selim I (1465 - September 22, 1520; nicknamed Yavuz, 'the Grim' in Turkish) was the sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1512 to 1520.

He succeeded in 1512 his father Beyazid II, whom he dethroned, and whose death, following immediately afterwards, gave rise to suspicions of Selim's character, which were certainly justified. He signalized his accession by putting his brothers and nephews to death; and gave early proof of resolution by boldly cutting down before their troops two officers who showed signs of insubordination.

He extended Ottoman territory by placing Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina under his control. After the invasion of the latter two cities, he announced himself to be the Caliph (in Arabic meaning "successor" of Mohammed); the "guardian of Islam", considered to be the chief civil and religious ruler of all Islam. The title had been in abeyance since the Mongol onslaught on the Abbasid caliphate at Baghdad in the 13th century.

A Sunni Muslim, he resolved on putting down the Shi'ite heresy, which had gained many adherents in Turkey: the number of these was estimated as high as 40,000. Selim determined on war with Persia, where the heresy was the prevalent religion, and in order that the Shi'ites in Turkey should give no trouble during the war "measures were taken," as the Turkish historian states, which may be explained as the reader desires, and which proved fully efficacious. The campaign which followed was a triumph for Selim, whose firmness and courage overcame the pusillanimity and insubordination of the Janissaries.

Syria and Egypt next fell before him; he became master of the holy cities of Islam and, most important of all, he induced the last Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty formally to surrender the title of caliph as well as its outward emblems, viz. the holy standard, the sword and the mantle of the prophet. The dignity with which the Ottoman sultans have thereby become invested lends them that prestige throughout the Muslim world which is of such importance to the present day, and which has thrown into oblivion the condition that the caliph ought to be an Arab of the tribe of Quraish. After his return from his Egyptian campaign he was preparing an expedition against Rhodes when he was overtaken by sickness and died in the ninth year of his reign, near the very spot where he had attacked his father's troops, not far from Adrianople. He was about fifty-five years of age.

He was bigoted, bloodthirsty and relentless, earning him the sobriquet "Selim the Cruel". (Though one Turkish historian praises his humanity for forbidding condemned persons to be cut up while still alive or roasted slowly before a fire.) At one time he was, with difficulty, dissuaded from ordering the complete extirpation of all the Christians in Turkey. His ambition was insatiable; he is said to have exclaimed when looking at a map that the whole world did not form a sovereignty vast enough for one monarch. His four months' victorious campaign against Persia was undertaken and successfully carried through contrary to the advice of his ministers, several of whom he executed for their opposition to his plans; and he achieved an enterprise which neither Genghis Khan nor Timur Lenk was able to carry out. It is said that he contemplated the conquest of India and that he was the first to conceive the idea of the Suez Canal.

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.


Preceded by:
Beyazid II
Ottoman Sultan Succeeded by:
Suleiman the Magnificent