MIGHTY SOVEREIGNS of OTTOMAN THRONE: SULTAN AHMED III
Sultan Ahmed III was the 23rd Ottoman sultan and the 88th caliph of the Muslims. He was the son of Sultan Mehmed IV, and was born in 1673 to Emetullah Rabia Gülnuş Haseki. He and his brother, Sultan Mustafa II, were taught by the same teachers. They got along very well with each other, which is rare in history.
He became the sultan in place of his older brother, who was deposed by a military coup in 1703. He ascended to the throne at a very bad time, and so a great duty and responsibility lay before him. He started by eliminating the putschists who dethroned his brother. However, Sultan Mustafa II died of grief four months after his brother's accession to the throne.
Although not as much as his brother, Sultan Ahmed III's cultural knowledge was great. He differed from his brother in his fondness for pleasure and splendor. He was not a great soldier nor an agile statesperson. He was similar to today's European rulers in state administration. He didn't like war and preferred loved peace instead because he had lived through the pain of disastrous days.
However, since it had become almost a national policy to take back the areas that were lost with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, he did engage in some wars. He was able to take back what had been given to Russia and Venice but lost more territory to Austria. In 1708, the city of Oran in Algeria, which could not be taken from the Spaniards for two centuries, was conquered. Thus, Spain's connection with Africa was completely cut off.
Sultan Ahmed III had the idea of reforming the outdated institutions. He gave duty and authority to statespersons whom he deemed valuable. Çorlulu Ali Pasha was one of them, and he served as grand vizier for four years. However, he was impeached and executed after he secretly sent an order to the Khan of Crimea to support Sweden against Russia, while trying to convince Sultan Ahmed III to go to war with Russia.
Swedish King Karl XII defeated Denmark, Poland and Russia and marched into Russia. However, he was defeated by the mighty army of Tsar Peter I, or Peter the Great, in Poltava and took refuge in the Ottoman lands. The tsar demanded the king's extradition but the Ottoman government refused. Thereupon, a war broke out in 1711. The army under the command of Baltacı Mehmed Pasha defeated the Russians on the banks of the Prut river.
An agreement was made with Russia making it so that they would not interfere in the affairs of Poland and Ukraine and would leave the Azov Fortress to the Ottomans. Opponents of Baltacı Mehmed Pasha made slanderous allegations and had him dismissed, claiming that he had made peace by taking bribes when there was an opportunity to destroy the Russian army. When the Russians refused to comply with the terms of the treaty, Sultan Ahmed III got enraged and sent the army under the command of the new grand vizier Damat Ali Pasha against them. He himself went as far as Edirne at the head of the army. Thereupon, the Russians surrendered without a fight.
The Swedish king's sojourn in the ottoman lands prolonged and he became known as a "fixed asset." He wanted to drag the Turks into a war with Russia but the government did not pay him much attention.
After a 5-1/2 year stay in today's Bender, a city in Moldova and Greece's Didymoteicho, he returned to his country. Since the voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia, which were liable to the Ottoman Empire, made an alliance with Russia in this war, voivodes from the Istanbulite Rums began to be appointed to these two autonomous countries.
Go farther and fare worse
Morea, or the Peloponnese, which was lost in 1699, was easily recaptured from the Venetians in 1715. In this war, the commander of the army was Damat Silahtar Ali Pasha. However, Austria demanded that the places that were taken from the Venetians be returned. When this demand was not met, Austria declared war against the Ottomans.
Ali Pasha was defeated by the Austrian army under the command of Prince Eugene of Savoy in Petrovaradin in 1716 and was martyred by a bullet that hit him on his forehead. In 1718, the Treaty of Passarowitz was signed, and rather than conquering the lost regions once again, Banat – a region bordering today's Romania, Serbia and Hungary – Belgrade and Smederevo were also lost. However, this followed a long period of peace for the European soil, Such a period was much-needed to strengthen the army, which was worn out as a result of the wars that lasted for 50 years.
This 12-year peace period, which lasted until the Patrona Halil rebellion in 1730, was called the Tulip Era because of the interest in tulips that dominated Istanbul. Sultan Ahmed III appointed Nevşehirli Ibrahim Pasha the grand vizier and arranged the vizier's marriage with his daughter, who was widowed by Ali Pasha.
With the influence of peace, the country attained inner peace and prosperity and got rich. With the paper, porcelain, carpet and textile factories, the industrial revolution had started on these lands long before Europe. The first printing house belonging to Muslims was opened at this time. In fact, non-Muslims had been running printing presses in the Ottoman country for centuries. The letter that Sultan Ahmed III sent to the founders of the printing house shows that he understood the role of printing in the development of science and education very well. Göçek Davud Agha, a French convert, established the first fire department in this period.
Pinnacle of aesthetics
Poetry and literature experienced their golden age during this time. Poets such as Nabi, Nedim, Neyli, Nahifi; painters like Levni; composers such as Ebubekir Agha and Tanburi Mustafa Çavuş; historians like Naima were educated and emerged during this time. People began to read, to generate ideas, to wonder about Europe. The smallpox vaccine, which was not yet known in Europe, began being implemented in Istanbul.
Sultan Ahmed III established a commission composed of scholars and intellectuals such as Yanyalı Esad Efendi, Heratlı Kabızi Mansurizade Fasihi, Aleppo Judge Ilmi Efendi, Müstercizade Abdullah Efendi, Sheikh al-Islam Yenişehirli Abdullah Efendi and Nedim. He had several works translated from Eastern and Western languages.
The Tulip passion swept the country. Ottoman taste reached its most refined state in this period. Even now, people take inspiration from the works of this period when they need Ottoman-style decor. The old Çırağan Palace, the New Mosque in Üsküdar and Sultan Ahmed Fountain are the best examples of this taste. Thanks to these and the pavilions built in Sadabad (today’s Kağıthane district), the construction industry developed, and its aim was "consumption will stimulate production."
The only war in this period of peace began with the intervention of Russia in Iran. The Safavids were living their last days. In 1722, Dagestan wanted to enter the Ottoman suzerainty. Sultan Ahmed III accepted this. Thus, the Ottomans could compensate for their lost dominance in the Black Sea, by gaining the Caspian Sea.
Taking advantage of the turmoil in Iran, the sultan wanted to seize the Caucasus from Russia. The grand vizier, who knew what this meant, was compelled to go to war with Iran despite his peace-favoring policy. From 1723 onward, Nakhchivan, Yerevan, Ganja, Lorestan, Kermanshah, Hamedan and Tabriz were conquered. Meanwhile, Nader Shah, one of the greatest soldiers in Asia, took the throne of Iran and stood against the Ottoman army and in 1730 succeeded in reclaiming some of the lands he had lost.
Bright but brief
Not everyone was happy, of course. Even the best governments tend to wear out the people the longer they last. Moreover, Ibrahim Pasha was envied far too much. Many loved him because he was honest, just and benevolent. However, he had many enemies because he was held in high esteem by Sultan Ahmed III who gave high positions to his relatives.
The grand vizier was determined to improve the janissary corps, the inadequacy of which he had witnessed in the last Germanic war. He commissioned barracks in Üsküdar. Under the supervision of an artillery officer named Rochfort, whom he had brought from France, he established a unit that trained in a modern way. However, this was enough to turn the army against him. His overly compassionate and gentle nature prepared his very own end.
The government's efforts to increase the value of the money by reducing the value of silver did not work for the Galata money exchangers. When the sale of silver to the royal mint was halted, minting was hampered. Commercial life came to a standstill. While the government sought to increase manufacturing, it imposed a trade tax on traders to limit imports. Meanwhile, the news that the Iranians had entered Tabriz and initiated a massacre came as a bombshell in Istanbul. The grand vizier decided to go on a campaign in person.
A soldier of Albanian known as Patrona Halil, because he was a crewman on the Patrona (admiral) ship, was back in the day involved in an uprising with the provocation of the Venetians and was saved from execution by the naval cavalryman Abdi Pasha. Then he went to Rumelia and became a janissary. He participated in a revolt in Vidin. He fled to Egypt, and when the revolt organized by the provocation of moneylenders was suppressed, he fled to Istanbul, taking on the identity of a professional revolutionary. In Istanbul, he started selling needles and threads on a mobile table.
Patrona Halil, taking advantage of the unrest in the city, organized a revolt with the provocation of money exchangers, shopkeepers and bureaucrats who were against the grand vizier for their own interests. When the Persian expedition was delayed, he spread the notion that Sultan Ahmed III intended to disband the janissary corps. He gathered with the ringleaders in the Bayezid Bath and raised the flag of rebellion at the Sultan Bayezid II Hammam (Turkish Bath), which is falsely known as the Patrona Hammam today.
The rebels, mostly made up of tradespeople janissaries, won. They lynched the grand vizier and the grand admiral who was his son-in-law. Sultan Ahmed III kissed his nephew, Şehzade Mahmud, and placed him on his throne.
The palaces, pavilions and gardens that adorned Istanbul were destroyed. The Ottoman Empire missed a great opportunity on the path to progress. The Tulip Era was not an era of pleasure and regale. After a short while, Sultan Mahmud I took the opportunity and crushed the rebels in the palace. He continued the path of reform that his uncle had begun.
The reign of Sultan Ahmed III, despite some diplomatic and military losses, is known as a brilliant period in which intellectual life flourished and great reconstruction movements were undertaken. French author and statesperson Alphonse de Lamartine says: "No ruler understood his nation as well as he did; No nation has known its ruler so little."
A gentleman sultan
Ibrahim Pasha is usually likened to Ja'far al-Barmaki, the vizier of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid. Apart from his personal faults, Sultan Ahmed III held him in high regard because of his ability in financial affairs, and his encouragement of development and industry. When his elder brother Sultan Mustafa was dethroned, Ibrahim Pasha advised Sultan Ahmed to have total control of state administration and not to give any rights to anyone. Sultan Ahmed III lost his throne because he did not follow these recommendations. He confessed this mistake to his nephew, Sultan Mahmud I. Six years later in 1736, he passed away from diabetes. He was 63 years old. He was buried in the Turhan Valide Sultan Tomb in New Mosque.
Sultan Ahmed III is described to be handsome, cultured, dignified, mild-tempered, soft-hearted, elegant and good-natured. He was fond of the harem life. He was a calligrapher and poet. His calligraphy on the Sultan Ahmed Fountain is a masterpiece. He sent two of the four mushafs (written copy of the Quran) he wrote to Medina, to Ravda-i Mutahhara.
He was a good marksman. He would hit a coin in a single shot from 85 paces. He once had shot an arrow 900 arşıns (about 620 meters, or 2066 feet) away, and a stone was erected to mark this point in his name in Okmeydanı.
He used to write poems under the pen name Necib. Although he was not a composer, he had knowledge of music. He followed the Mevlevi sheikh, Receb Enis Dede.
Most of the children of Sultan Ahmed III, who married many times, died when they were young. His sons Sultan Mustafa III and Sultan Abdülhamid I ascended the throne one after another.
In the severe earthquake that lasted for three minutes on May 25, 1719, many buildings and the walls of Istanbul were completely demolished, and a large part of Izmit and Karamürsel were destroyed. In the fire that broke out 57 days later, the vicinity of Kumkapı and Gedikpaşa were completely burned. Upset by both disasters, Sultan Ahmed III began an all-out effort to heal the wounds of his people and had the walls rebuilt.
The Fountain of Sultan III in front of Topkapı Palace is of incomparable beauty. It is almost like a water palace. In fact, Italian novelist Edmondo De Amicis said, "It is necessary to put this fountain in a glass jar." A smaller model of it decorates the Üsküdar square. Gülnuş Valide Sultan, whose two sons were sultans, had the New Mosque built in Üsküdar, The fountain, soup kitchen and sıbyan (elementary) school next to it were commissioned by Sultan Ahmed III.
He had the fountain built in front of Çağlayan in Kağıthane, which the poet Nedim referred to as "Çeşme-i nev-peyda" (newly constructed fountain) in his poem. He had Galatasaray, which is a school for novice boys, repaired. He commissioned a mosque outside this palace, a mosque in Bebek on the Bosporus and a fountain with a school below it along with fountains at the bridge in Aynalıkavak between Hasköy and Kasımpaşa, and outside the courtyard gate on the south side of the Galata New Mosque, which his mother had built.
He also organized repairs for the minbar (pulpit) of the mosque built in the name of Sultan Mehmed II, known as Mehmed the Conqueror, in Okmeydanı, the Maiden's Tower lighthouse and the Cihangir Mosque, which burned down in 1720. He closed the coastal road in Dolmabahçe and moved it behind the Fındıklı-Beşiktaş road. He commissioned a dam to supply Istanbul's water needs and named it Derya-i Sim (Silver Water). He had the Galata Tower repaired.
Collecting the precious books in various places in Topkapı Palace, Sultan Ahmed III had a detached library built in place of Sultan Selim II's garden with a white marble pool behind the Chamber of Petitions. He also commissioned the library next to the Hadice Terhan Valide Sultan Tomb in Bahçekapı along with two more libraries in the city. He renovated the floor of the circumambulation place in Masjid al-Haram. Most of his works have not reached our time.
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