After many years of decline, the Ottoman Empire finally thrived again under Sultan Mehmed IV. The men who were responsible for the brief revival of Ottoman power under Mehmed were the Grand Viziers Koprulu Mehmed Pasha and his son, Fazil Ahmed Pasha. Competent yet ruthless, the Koprulus were considered as some of the best statesmen of the Ottoman Empire. Both men made political and economic reforms which brought back stability to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army had declined before the Koprulu Era, but they were able to revive it and turn it into a formidable force once again. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart in 1648.
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The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV was born on January 2, 1642, in Istanbul. He was the son of Sultan Ibrahim I by Turhan Hatice Sultan. He was just six years old when he became sultan in 1648 and he reigned until his deposition in 1687. The empire that Mehmed inherited was one of the largest at that time. His dominion stretched from the Hungarian frontier in Europe to the ports of Yemen in Asia. The Turks also held the Barbary Coast in North Africa and the Caspian Sea region in West Asia. He ruled up to 30 million people who belonged to different ethnic groups and religions.
But the Ottoman Empire of the mid-17th century had been in decline since the reign of Selim II. Incompetent and corrupt people held government positions over the years, while powerful harem women, viziers, and eunuchs dominated the Sultan’s court. The provinces were also ruled by corrupt or inept governors, and extortion was rampant. The prestige and strength of the army and the navy had also declined when the Ottomans failed to update their weapons. This was a sharp contrast to Christian Europe which, over the years, had invested in the latest weapons.
The decline started during Selim II’s reign, but it became worse during Ibrahim I’s reign. Nicknamed “the Mad,” Ibrahim preferred to spend his time in the harem instead of ruling his empire. His reign was beset with rebellions within the Empire, as well as attacks launched by the Venetians in the south and the Cossacks in the north. The exasperated Kosem Sultan, Ibrahim’s mother, was later forced to remove her son from the throne. His son, young Mehmed, was brought out of the harem so he could be crowned as Ottoman Sultan in 1648. Ibrahim was murdered soon after.
As Mehmed was still young at the time of his accession, Kosem Sultan and the Grand Viziers stood as his regents. His mother, the ambitious Turhan Sultan, was forced to take a backseat since Kosem Sultan was too powerful at that time. The empire remained unstable despite the change of hands. Rebellions flared up every now and then, while bandits preyed on their victims in the Anatolian countryside.
Turhan Sultan’s resentment of Kosem Sultan’s power simmered over the years. Kosem Sultan quickly realized that Turhan (and therefore Mehmed) would not be easily controlled, so she organized the sultan’s deposition with the Janissary corps in 1651. Her goal was to replace Mehmed IV with his younger brother, Suleiman, whose mother was Ibrahim’s concubine, Saliha Dilasub Sultan. Turhan and Mehmed were backed by the equally powerful eunuchs, and Kosem’s plot was foiled soon after. She was murdered inside the Topkapi Palace on September 2, 1651.
Her son was still young, so Turhan Sultan and the viziers took over as regents. Mehmed went back to the harem, but he devoted his time to playing instead of studying. Over the years, he also became an avid hunter, and he spent more time hunting than ruling a large but stagnant empire. In 1652, Turhan appointed a new Grand Vizier to manage state affairs on behalf of her son. The new Grand Vizier was Tarhoudja Ahmed Pasha, and he immediately started the economic and political reforms the empire desperately needed.
The Grand Vizier implemented new custom duties and confiscated the properties of rich families to replenish the empire’s coffers. He also prohibited the imposition of unreasonable taxes and forbade unqualified people from being appointed to government posts. This did not sit well with the Ottoman elite, so he was soon removed as Grand Vizier and executed. The Grand Vizier who succeeded him shared his fate in 1655.
Revolts because of incompetent administration and high taxes once again raged in the empire. The Venetians preyed on the empire’s weakness to blockade the Dardanelles. Because of this, grains and other foodstuffs shipped from Egypt could not reach Istanbul. This drove the prices of the food up which added to the rage of the people. The sultan, meanwhile, still continued his favorite pastime despite the chaos in the empire.
The Koprulu Era: The Resurgence of Ottoman Power
On September 1656, Turhan Sultan appointed an experienced 71-year old government official named Koprulu Mehmed Pasha as Grand Vizier. The competent Albanian vizier had retired some years before, but he was recalled to Istanbul by Turhan Sultan to fill in the position. He accepted the post. Unlike the grand viziers before him, Koprulu Mehmed Pasha coupled his competence with ruthlessness by ordering the execution of rivals and possible enemies. As a result of this, no one dared to stand in his way.
Koprulu Mehmed Pasha also implemented reforms which made the brief revival of the Ottoman Empire possible under Mehmed IV. He removed incompetent and corrupt viziers, judges, and provincial administrators. He curbed unnecessary spending throughout the empire. He also helped quash the rebellions within the empire, especially those led by Abaza Hasan Pasha and George II Rákóczi. Under Koprulu Mehmed Pasha’s leadership, the Turks were able to lift the Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles. They also recaptured the island of Bozcaada (Tenedos) and Lemnos in 1657.
Mehmed IV had grown up, but he still devoted his time to hunting. This left the empire in the hands of the competent and loyal Koprulu Mehmed Pasha. The Grand Vizier died in 1661 and his son, Koprulu Fazil Ahmed Pasha was soon appointed to the post. Like his father, the new Koprulu Grand Vizier was also an experienced and competent government official despite his age (he was 26). The only difference was that the younger Koprulu Grand Vizier was less ruthless than his father. He helped curb corruption within the government. The Turkish economy had also recovered during his time. He is considered as one of the best Ottoman Grand Viziers along with his father.
He controlled Habsburg intervention in Transylvania by sending a large army to Belgrade as a warning to Austria. When the Austrians refused, the Ottomans besieged the Habsburg-held Nove Zamky in Hungary. The fortress fell to the Ottomans in September 1663. The Austrians were forced to negotiate, but the two armies faced off once again in 1664 just as a messenger was trying to reach Fazil Ahmed Pasha. The battle took place near the town of Saint Gotthard in the westernmost border of Hungary, and it resulted in a devastating Ottoman loss. But the confirmation of the peace treaty between the two sides ended the hostilities—at least temporarily. Austria also agreed to back off from Transylvania for the time being.
The End of the Koprulu Era
Koprulu Fazil Ahmed Pasha died in 1676, and he was succeeded by his brother-in-law and deputy grand vizier, Merzifolu Kara Mustafa Pasha. He continued the policies of the last two Grand Viziers, but he was more ambitious and rash. The new Grand Vizier was also unpopular in the Ottoman court, unlike his father-in-law and brother-in-law. Mehmed IV, meanwhile, continued hunting and was still largely absent from ruling the empire.
Kara Mustafa Pasha’s failure in the Battle of Vienna was the end of the brief revival of the Ottoman Empire during the Koprulu Era. For many years, the Catholic Habsburg interfered with Hungarian affairs and even launched harsh counter-reformation measures against Protestant Hungarians. The resentment of the Hungarians turned into rebellion, and the young Protestant Imre Thokoly was chosen as the people’s leader. Imre Thokoly made an alliance with Kara Mustafa Pasha to counter the Austrians. He also promised to help the Ottomans recapture the fortress of Gyor which the Austrians stubbornly held onto.
In 1663, the Ottoman army marched from Istanbul to capture the fortress of Gyor. Kara Mustafa Pasha led the troops, and they were later joined by the allied Crimean Tatars. Mehmed went as far as Edirne to show his support for the troops, but hunting once again distracted him. The sultan also would not have gone if not for the insistence of Kara Mustafa Pasha. He would later pay the price for this neglect
Kara Mustafa Pasha became overconfident as he had a large army behind him. He commanded his army to bypass the fortress of Gyor, and march directly instead to the outskirts of Vienna. The Siege of Vienna ended in a crushing defeat for the Turks at the hands of the Holy League. The Grand Vizier was a poor general whose arrogance alienated the military leaders around him, especially the Crimean Tatar leader who led an important section of the cavalry. The defenders of Vienna were also disciplined fighters, while additional soldiers from allied European kingdoms later boosted their numbers. The European investment in advanced and superior weaponry also paid off in their defense.
The Grand Vizier and his troops limped back to Belgrade in defeat. He decided to spend the winter there, but the court ordered his execution later on. He was strangled in Belgrade on the 25th of December, 1683.
Mehmed, meanwhile, still continued hunting despite the loss of the Ottoman army. He also grew unpopular at court and among the troops. He finally gave up hunting when he realized his mistake, but the troops were still dissatisfied. Mehmed IV was removed as Ottoman sultan in November 1687, and he was succeeded by his brother, Suleiman II. Mehmed died in Edirne on January 6, 1693.
Picture by: Unknown – HÜNERNÂME II. CİLT MİNYATÜRLERİNDE KOMPOZİSYON DÜZENİ, Ruhi KONAK, Public Domain, Link
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