By NURAMIRAH SHAHRIN
Halıl Inalçık is a well- known historian, who was able to elaborate many historical and social aspects of the Ottoman history. In this article, Halil Inalcık tried to relate the continuation of Ottoman sultanate to the Turkish concept of supremacy in the later stage of the empire. His writing is divided into five subtopics, which are presented to support the understanding of the subject. The opening of this article talks about the concept of seniority supported by few thoughts from the past studies done by various scholars. In this regard, most of the writers verified that there is no solid evidence that shows the concept of seniority adopted by the Ottoman sultanate for their succession to throne.
In the Introduction part Inalcık brought the example from the tradition adopted by the Kok Turks clans, which had been stated by Zeki Velidi Togan in his work entitled “Umumî Türk Tarihi’ne Giriş.” In this particular section Togan firmly stated that “Among the Karakhanids the right to Kaghanship, according to old Turkish traditions, belonged to the eldest prince of that segment of the family which was predominant.” This statement supports the idea of seniority as the key for throne succession in royal family.
Inalcik, however, raised my attention to the statement in the inscription of Bilgi Kaghan (p. 38). The argument raised in this statement stated that the God who is the one who decide the matters with regards to accession to throne. So this is the opposite to what Togan said earlier. As for the Selçuk dynasty tradition, they believed in the equal rights of brothers and sons to throne. As we can see that the sultan chose one of his sons as heir apparent without consideration of his age.
To keep remaining brothers and sons loyal to the newly chosen Sultan, who exercised authority in the capital city, the other sons would be given the title “malik” and being appointed to govern various provinces of the realm (p. 39). It seems that the concept of seniority regarding inheritance to the throne is invalid in the Selçuk tradition.
Comparatively, in his book entitled “Ottoman Classical Age,” Inalcik provided his understanding of the Ottoman tradition regarding the accession to the throne, where several points had been highlighted for better understanding as “kefes” system, the role played by Valide Sultan (mother of ruling sultan), the procession upon the enthronement of the new Sultan and the power of Sheyhul Islam (religious adviser to the sultan) and Janissaries.
The “kefes” system (home-arrest) was introduced in the early history of the Ottoman Empire to end bloodshed between rival sons of the deceased sultan. It was common previously for a new sultan to have his brothers killed, including infants, sometimes dozens of them at once. This practice of putting brothers to home-arrest reduced the number of claimants to the throne, leading to several occasions where the Ottoman line seemed destined to end. The confinement of heirs provided security for an incumbent sultan and continuity of the dynasty. In this particular practice, the one in the throne will have the power to control the next linage to the throne. This practice was seen by the Orientalists to be a vulgar act which shows greediness and power.
On the other hand, the power of Valide Sultan played a vital role in the Ottoman sultanate. The political activity of the Harem in influencing the whole system of the ongoing empire shows that the final decision made for empire often lied on the hands of the Valide Sultan. This can be seen in the act of Hurrem Sultan, who fought for the seat of Valide Sultan and later began controlling all acts of her husband, Sultan Suleyman Al-Qanuni. Valide Sultans most of the time were able to influence the sultan or the harem in order to achieve that their sons will be appointed as the next ruler of the empire.
The fight to produce more male offspring was an overview of a political competition in the women quarters. Coming back to the example of Hurrem Sultan, she successfully rejoiced herself from the ordinary slave girl to haseki (lawful wife) and later to Valide Sultan. It had been mentioned in one of the writings that Hürrem was not only becoming Suleiman’s partner in household, but also in state affairs. She acted as Suleiman’s chief adviser on matters of the state, and seems to have had an influence upon foreign policy and international politics.
Furthermore, the role of Janissaries and Sheyhul Islam, especially in the late century of Ottoman sultanate is very significant in continuity of the rulers. The Sultan who holds the most people and treasury as a norm. But by the early 17th century Janissaries had such a prestige and influence that they began dominating and controlling the government totally. They could make mutiny or dictate policy or hinder any efforts done to modernize the army’s structure. For example, Sultan Ibrahim was dethroned by Sheyhul Islam, who, in return, helped Mehmet IV to become the next ruler. The Sheyhul Islam even issued a fatwa to execute Ibrahim saying that his acts were against the Syariah. The influence of these two high positions did played significant parts in the enthronement of sultans in the Ottoman history starting from the period of Suleyman.
In conclusion, according to the writer, the concept of the power transfer within the court should be manifested in a wider scope of position. In order to understand the issue of succession, each and every incident suppose to be studied properly. The one was able to get power due to efforts of the surrounding circles, who had an interest in continuation of self-resemblance in the community. The theory of leaders selected by God is irrelevant as well in the case of the Ottoman Sultanate as the historical study shows. Furthermore, the concept of seniority is invalid in communities which had larger number of people with equal rights to the throne. This may explain by the idea of Darwinism that the only Fittest and strongest will survive and lead the community.
- Shaw, Stanford; Ezel Kural Shaw (1976). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 27
- Inalcık, Halil (1973). The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600. The Trinity Press. pp. 55-59
- “Ottoman Empire”. Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11 February 2013
- “Ottoman Empire”. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 6 May 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
- Halil İnalcık (1997). An Economic And Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Vol. 1 1300–1600. Cambridge University Press. p. 24.
Writer is a graduate student at Marmara University, Turkey