Presentation of Gifts to Suleyman




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Even though he did not occupy Roman lands, he still claimed them as his own and almost launched an invasion of Rome (the city came within a few hairbreadths of Ottoman invasion in Suleyman's expedition against Corfu). In Europe, he conquered Rhodes, a large part of Greece, Hungary, and a major part of the Austrian Empire. His campaign against the Austrians took him right to the doorway of Vienna.

Besides invasions and campaigns, Suleyman was a major player in the politics of Europe. He pursued an aggressive policy of European destabilization; in particular, he wanted to destabilize both the Roman Catholic church and the Holy Roman Empire. When European Christianity split Europe into Catholic and Protestant states, Suleyman poured financial support into Protestant countries in order to guarantee that Europe remain religiously and politically destabilized and so ripe for an invasion. Several historians, in fact, have argued that Protestantism would never have succeeded except for the financial support of the Ottoman Empire.

Suleyman was responding to an aggressively expanding Europe. Like most other non-Europeans, Suleyman fully understood the consequences of European expansion and saw Europe as the principle threat to Islam. The Islamic world was beginning to shrink under this expansion. Portugal had invaded several Muslim cities in eastern Africa in order to dominate trade with India, and Russians, which the Ottomans regarded as European, were pushing central Asians south when the Russian expansion began in the sixteenth century. So in addition to invading and destabilizing Europe, Suleyman pursued a policy of helping any Muslim country threatened by European expansion. It was this role that gave Suleyman the right, in the eyes of the Ottomans, to declare himself as supreme Caliph of Islam. He was the only one successfully protecting Islam from the unbelievers and, as the protector of Islam, deserved to be the ruler of Islam.

While the expansion of European power helps explain Suleyman's conquest of European territories, it doesn't help us when it comes to the vast amount of Islamic territory that he invaded or simply annexed. How does conquering Islamic territory "protect" Islam? The Ottomans understood this as belonging to Suleyman's task as universal Caliph of Islam. This role demanded that Suleyman also see to the integrity of the faith itself and to root out heresy and heterodoxy. His annexation of Islamic territory, such as the annexation of Arabia, were justified by asserting that the ruling dynasties had abandoned orthodox belief or practice. Each of these invasions or annexations were preceded, however, by a religious judgement by Islamic scholars as to the orthodoxy of the ruling dynasty.

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