1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Selim

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SELIM, the name of three sultans of Turkey.

Selim I. (1465-1520) succeeded in 1512 his father Bayezid II., whom he dethroned, and whose death, following immediately afterwards, gave rise to suspicions which Selim's character certainly justified. He signalized his accession by putting to death his brothers and nephews; and gave early proof of resolution by boldly cutting down before their troops two officers who showed signs of insubordination. A bigoted Sunni, he resolved on putting down the Shi'ite heresy, which had gained many adherents in Turkey: the number of these was estimated as high as 40,000. Selim determined on war with Persia, where the heresy was the prevalent religion, and in order that the Shi'ites in Turkey should give no trouble during the war, “measures were taken,” as the Turkish historian states, which may be explained as the reader desires, and which proved fully efficacious. The campaign which followed was a triumph for Selim, whose firmness and courage overcame the pusillanimity and insubordination of the Janissaries. Syria and Egypt next fell before him; he became master of the holy cities of Islam; and, most important of all, he induced the last Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty formally to surrender the title of caliph (q.v.), as well as its outward emblems, viz. the holy standard, the sword and the mantle of the prophet. The dignity with which the Ottoman sultans have thereby become invested lends them that prestige throughout the Mussulman world which is of such importance to the present day, and which has thrown into oblivion the condition that the caliph ought to be an Arab of the tribe of Koreish. After his return from his Egyptian campaign, he was preparing an expedition against Rhodes when he was overtaken by sickness and died, on the 22nd of September 1521, in the ninth year of his reign, near the very spot where he had attacked his father's troops, not far from Adrianople. He was about fifty-five years of age. He was bigoted, bloodthirsty and relentless, though one Turkish historian praises his humanity for having forbidden the cutting up alive of condemned persons, or the roasting of them before a slow fire; and at one time he was with difficulty dissuaded from ordering the complete extirpation of all the Christians in Turkey. His ambition was insatiable; he is said to have exclaimed when looking at a map that the whole world did not form a sovereignty vast enough for one monarch. His four months' victorious campaign against Persia was undertaken and successfully carried through contrary to the advice of his ministers, several of whom he executed for their opposition to his plans; and he achieved an enterprise which neither Jenghiz Khan nor Timur was able to carry out. It is said that he contemplated the conquest of India and that he was the first to conceive the idea of the Suez Canal.

Selim II. (1524-1574) was a son of Suleiman I. and his favourite Roxelana, and succeeded his father in 1566. He was the first sultan entirely devoid of military virtues and willing to abandon all power to his ministers, provided he were left free to pursue his orgies and debauches. Fortunately for the country, an able grand vizier, Mahommed Sokolli, was at the head of affairs, and two years after Selim's accession succeeded in concluding at Constantinople an honourable treaty with the emperor Maximilian II., whereby the emperor agreed to pay to Turkey an annual “present” of 30,000 ducats (Feb. 17, 1568). Against Russia he was less fortunate, and the first encounter between Turkey and her future northern rival gave presage of disaster to come. A plan had been elaborated at Constantinople for uniting the Volga and Don by a canal, and in the summer of 1569 a large force of Janissaries and cavalry were sent to lay siege to Astrakhan and begin the canal works, while an Ottoman fleet besieged Azov. But a sortie of the garrison of Astrakhan drove back the besiegers; 15,000 Russians, under Knes Serebianov, attacked and scattered the workmen and the Tatar force sent for their protection; and, finally, the Ottoman fleet was destroyed by a storm. Early in 1570 the ambassadors of Ivan the Terrible concluded at Constantinople a treaty which restored friendly relations between the sultan and the tsar. Expeditions in the Hejaz and Yemen were more successful, and the conquest of Cyprus in 1571, which provided Selim with his favourite vintage, led to the calamitous naval defeat of Lepanto in the same year, the moral importance of which has often been under-estimated, and which at least freed the Mediterranean from the corsairs by whom it was infested. Turkey's shattered fleets were soon restored, and Sokolli was preparing for a fresh attack on Venice, when the sultan's death on the 12th of December 1574 cut short his plans. Little can be said of this degenerate son of Suleiman, who during the eight years of his reign never girded on the sword of Osman, and preferred the clashing of wine-goblets to the shock of arms, save that with the dissolute tastes of his mother he had not inherited her ferocity.

Selim III. (1762-1808) was a son of Sultan Mustafa III. and succeeded his uncle Abd-ul-Hamid I. in 1789. The talents and energy with which he was endowed had endeared him to the people, and great hopes were founded on his accession. He had associated much with foreigners, and was thoroughly persuaded of the necessity of reforming his state. But Austria and Russia gave him no time for anything but defence, and it was not until the peace of Jassy (1792) that a breathing space was allowed him in Europe, while Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt and Syria soon called for Turkey's strongest efforts and for the time shattered the old-standing French alliance. Selim profited by the respite to abolish the military tenure of fiefs; he introduced salutary reforms into the administration, especially in the fiscal department, sought by well-considered plans to extend the spread of education, and engaged foreign officers as instructors, by whom a small corps of new troops called nizam-i-jedid were collected and drilled. So well were these troops organized that they were able to hold their own against rebellious Janissaries in the European provinces, where disaffected governors made no scruple of attempting to make use of them against the reforming [ 607 ] sultan. Emboldened by this success, Selim issued an order that in future picked men should be taken annually from the Janissaries to serve in their ranks. Hereupon the Janissaries and other enemies of progress rose at Adrianople, and in view of their number, exceeding 10,000, and the violence of their opposition, it was decided that the reforms must be given up for the present. Servia, Egypt and the principalities were successively the scene of hostilities in which Turkey gained no successes, and in 1807 a British fleet appeared at Constantinople, strange to say to insist on Turkey's yielding to Russia's demands besides dismissing the ambassador of Napoleon I. Selim was, however, thoroughly under the influence of this ambassador, Sebastiani, and the fleet was compelled to retire without effecting its purpose. But the anarchy, manifest or latent, existing throughout the provinces proved too great for Selim to cope with. The Janissaries rose once more in revolt, induced the Sheikh-ul-Islam to grant a fetva against the reforms, dethroned and imprisoned Selim (1807), and placed his nephew Mustafa on the throne. The pasha of Rustchuk, Mustafa Bairakdar, a strong partisan of the reforms, now collected an army of 40,000 men and marched on Constantinople with the purpose of reinstating Selim. But he came too late; the ill-fated reforming sultan had been strangled in the seraglio, and Bairakdar's only resource was to wreak his vengeance on Mustafa and to place on the throne Mahmud II., the sole surviving member of the house of Osman.

For authorities see Turkey: History.