The Ottoman juggernaut falters
Putting a finger on exactly when or why the Ottoman rot set in is tricky, not to say contentious, but some historians pinpoint the death of Süleyman as a critical juncture. Süleyman’s failure to take Malta (1565) was a harbinger of what was to come, and the earlier unsuccessful naval tilts in the Indian Ocean aimed at circumventing Portuguese influence in East Africa were evidence of growing European military might. Indulging in hindsight it is easy to say that the remarkable ancestral line of Ottoman sovereigns – from Osman to Süleyman, inspirational leaders and mighty generals all – could not go on indefinitely. The Ottoman family tree was bound to throw up some duds eventually. And so it did. Plainly the sultans immediately following Süleyman were not up to the task. Süleyman’s son by Roxelana, Selim, known disparagingly as ‘the Sot’, lasted only briefly as sultan, overseeing the naval catastrophe at Lepanto, which spelled the definitive end of Ottoman supremacy in the Mediterranean. The intrigues and powerbroking that occurred during the ‘sultanate of women’ contributed to the general befuddlement of later sultans, but male vested interests, putting personal advancement ahead of the best interests of the empire, also played a role in this. Assassinations, mutinies and fratricide were the order of the day, and little good came of it. Further, Süleyman was the last sultan to lead his army into the field. Those who came after him were generally coddled and sequestered in the fineries of the palace, having minimal experience of everyday life and little inclination to administer or expand the empire. These factors, coupled with the inertia that was inevitable after 250 years of virtually unfettered expansion, meant that the Ottoman military might, once famously referred to by Martin Luther as irresistible, was on the wain. There were occasional military victories, largely choreographed by capable viziers, but these were relatively few and far between.