Why Ottomans Killed their own Brothers

Why Ottomans Killed their Brothers


History of the Ottoman Empire is searched and read throughout this world with keen interest. Instead of this, this contains a lot of false propaganda and controversial issues. Many rules and regulations of this Empire were primitive same as the Middle East & Europe. Out of all these traditions, one of them was the accession of the brother or son of the Sultan as successor, next Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. This tradition was followed for centuries.

Feudalism, means holding or taking over the area in exchange of service or labor was a famous system in the whole world in the Middle Ages but its implementation was of different kinds in different regions. In the Middle East, it was greatly affected by the traditions of the Sasanian Empire in which the king had the whole power over all the area, which was awarded to the lower levels for army and administration services on tough conditions.

So, here it came the Era when the governors of the states were called the administrative representatives instead of the feudal lords. The successive empires like the Mongolian and Seljuk’s kept on following this system without any considerable peculiarity which means the dynasties were conditionally granted to the children of the rulers. The Sultans of the Ottoman Empire were not successors of the Seljuk’s but in spite of this, they were the eyewitness of the disaster caused by the division of the Seljuk Empire between Princes.

In 1324 CE, when first Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, named Osman Ghazi died, his successor Orhan Ghazi suggested his brother Alaeddin to split the growing empire but he wasn’t agreed because he was aware of this fact that this step would turn the future civil wars unstoppable. A lot of such events affected the change in the succession laws of the Ottomans as the First Battle of Kosovo in 1389 CE. According to the history, Sultan Murad I was the first Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who was killed, either during or after this battle, during his reign. Means he wasn’t able to announce his successor so a confliction between his sons was foreseeable.

Civil Wars & Execution

The resources told different stories but some say that the Successor of Sultan Murad I, Bayezid I killed his brother, Yaqub in a battle. After Sultan Bayezid I, the succession was seen trickier, because of the Timurid attack in the Battle of Ankara in 1402 CE. Bayezid’s four sons indulged in a Civil War as the longest in history of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted for almost eleven years being supported by the local Turkish Beyliks, Timurids, Serbians and the Byzantines. Empire was never so threatened before. As the external powers were involved in this Civil War, the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire weren’t able to marry dynastically so the strangers couldn’t gain membership of the Ottoman Harems. It was clear that it was causing more disaster to let the princes decide who is the strongest amongst all, so Mehmed the Conqueror was the first Sultan of the Ottoman Empire whose accession was carried out after killing his brother. Even more, he passed a rule regarding fratricide with these words,


Strangle to death become the most used method for killing the princes because by using this, their blood would not be spilled. Mehmed was also the first to name an heir-apparent– his son Cem. This prince and his brothers were appointed governors of various regions to learn statecraft. At the time Constantinople became the Ottoman capital, and the distance to it became an important factor in the succession. In order to ensure that Cem would become the next Sultan, Mehmed needed him to reach the capital faster than his other son – Bayezid. However, as soon as Mehmed passed away in 1481, the Janissaries revolted in Constantinople, and the messengers sent to Cem were captured. So, Bayezid entered the capital before his brother and became the new Sultan. Still a short civil war between the brothers took place. Cem was defeated and exiled but remained a headache for Bayezid for more than a decade.

Similar events transpired at the end of the rule of Bayezid II in 1511, but this time his heir Ahmet attempted to take the throne while his father was still alive, which forced the other prince- Selim to start a rebellion in Thrace. Selim was defeated by Bayezid and retreated to Crimea, while Ahmed was denied entry to the city. Soon the Janissaries and the viziers revolted against Bayezid and Selim I became the new sultan. The latter defeated and killed his siblings Ahmed and Korkut. The succession of Suleiman in 1520 was peaceful, as most of his brothers died very young. To ensure the loyalty of his youngest sibling Uveys, Suleiman sent him to the furthest province of empire – Yemen. Although the Ottoman realm reached the peak of its power during the reign of Suleiman, civil wars would occur again by the end of his rule.

Suleiman broke tradition and started accepting foreign consorts into his harem, and some of these consorts gained never before seen influence, ushering what would be later called the Sultanate of Women. Among them were Mahidevran, who was either from Crimea or Albania and Hurrem from Ruthenia, and their rivalry shook the empire. Mahidevran’s oldest son Mustafa was the designated successor of Suleiman, yet Hurrem knew that upon the succession of Mustafa, her sons would get strangled. She managed to use the help of and allied grand vizier to turn Suleiman against Mustafa, who ordered the execution of his oldest son. Hurrem’s sons Selim and Bayezid were the last remaining princes, and they started a civil war, while their father was still alive. Suleiman supported Selim and defeated Bayezid had to find refuge at the Safavid court. However, this escape was temporary: soon Suleiman either bribed or threatened the Safavid Shah Tahmasp I, and Bayezid was strangled along with his four sons.

In 1566 Selim II became the sultan. All these events created an interesting practice. A prominent historian of the Ottoman empire, Leslie Peirce calls it “temporary reproductive monogamy.” The Ottoman princes would only be intimate with one concubine before coming to power and would use medical means to have just one male heir, so by the time they would assume the throne, this heir was in his teens or 20s. So, when Selim II passed away in 1574, his successor Murad III had no difficulty executing his siblings – all five were extremely young and still in the palace, which meant that they commanded no influence and had no party supporting them. The next one, Mehmed III also faced an old heir named Mehmed. Sultan Murad had twenty more sons after accession to the throne. Mehmed III ordered the killing of all of his brothers.

According to the sources, this horrified the population of the capital – 20 little coffins were moved from the palace to the mausoleum, and the citizens witnessed it. This became one of the reasons the practice of fratricide was curbed. There was another reason, the successor of Mehmed III, Ahmed I was just 13 years of his age when he came to throne and no one was his competent. Only Mustafa, younger then Ahmed I, was living and killing him could have finished the empire if Ahmed I couldn’t had an heir. Ahmed I died in 1617 and as his sons were too young, his brother Mustafa I was brought to power by a court clique, marking the first time seniority was used in Ottoman succession.

This period brought changes in the Ottoman Succession Laws. The Ottoman Sultans were no longer allowed to legally killed their brothers to take the throne. The reformed rule was that if Sultan was desirous of getting rid of his brothers , he had to ask the religious chief and higher judicial personnel, the Sheikh ul-Islam permission to do so, and this permission was often denied. In response, the sultans stopped sending their relatives to be governors of regions and kept them in what was called Kafes – “the golden cage. ” That meant that most of the possible heirs were left uneducated and inexperienced in governmental affairs, which in turn became a reason that the next Sultans of the Ottoman Empire were not fully skilled. Meanwhile, several groups from the capital adopted a different way to affect the sultans as a new dynasty member was only one step away from getting power.


  1. Meanwhile, several groups from the capital adopted a different way to affect the sultans as a new dynasty member was only one step away from getting power.

    What was that way?


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