The One True Emperor on Earth

As sultan, Süleyman the Magnificent was portrayed as the Shadow of God on Earth, the Caliph of Islam, the Last World Emperor, the distributor of crowns to other rulers and the purveyor of justice.

Portrait of Süleyman by Nakkaş Osman, 1579.
Portrait of Süleyman by Nakkaş Osman, 1579 © Tom Graves Archive/Bridgeman Images.

In the spring of 1566, Süleyman, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, was old and unwell. He had suffered from gout for more than two decades and was barely able to move. He was not alone – courtiers and palace servants swirled around him – but he was lonely, particularly after the death of his wife, Hürrem, in 1558. While he had left the conduct of most of the empire’s business to his high officials, Süleyman decided, against the advice of those around him, to lead his men one last time into central Europe. Ostensibly this was an attempt to fulfil his promise of support to a regional ally against the encroachments of the Habsburgs. Deep down, he longed for the victories of his youth. This last attempt at glory would end with his demise.

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