Mehmed II Research Paper

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Mehmed II, the twice-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-to-late fifteenth century, instituted new laws codes that served as the core of Ottoman legal system well into the seventeenth century. During his reign he accepted into his service talented men of various nationalities and religions.

Mehmed II reigned twice as sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1444–1446 and 1451–1481) and is often viewed as the ruler who transformed the Ottoman state into a true empire. Born the fourth son of Sultan Murad II, he first became sultan at age twelve when his father abdicated in 1444. Mehmed II’s youth, however, prevented him from asserting his authority over some court factions; thus the state could not effectively deal with internal rebellion and foreign invasion.

As a result, Murad II returned from private life to assist in leading the Empire’s armies and defeated an army of crusaders at Varna (a city on the Black Sea) in 1444. Murad II’s presence raised questions as to whether Mehmed II was still sultan. An uprising by the Janissary corps, the elite infantry of the Ottomans, brought Murad II back to power in 1446, although many officials had considered him to be the actual ruler prior to this date.

Although deposed, Mehmed II remained active in the affairs of the state because Murad II viewed Mehmed II as his successor. As such, Mehmed II accompanied his father on campaigns in the Balkans on several occasions and ascended the throne for a second time on 18 February 1451 upon his father’s death.

Ottoman relations with Serbia and the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in the city of Constantinople (Istanbul in modern Turkey), had almost always been antagonistic. The transition in leadership from Murad II to a much younger Mehmed II seemed to present an opportunity to the enemies of the Ottomans. Almost immediately Serbia and the Byzantine Empire threatened to destabilize the region as Ibrahim, sultan of Karamanid (an independent emirate outside of Ottoman control), invaded Ottoman territories in Anatolia (in modern Turkey). Mehmed II dealt with both Serbia and the Byzantine Empire through force and diplomacy. Afterward Mehmed II began to plan for the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. He faced a difficult decision because a lengthy siege of Byzantium could draw Venice and Hungary into war with the Ottomans as well as draw a crusading army from western Europe. On the other hand, the empire of Byzantium (by this time, basically comprising the city and few outlying regions) continued to take every opportunity to meddle in Ottoman politics. After considering the advice of his counselors, Mehmed II proceeded with the siege, confident in the ability of the Ottoman heavy artillery. Indeed, the siege of Byzantium lasted less than two months, ending on 29 May 1453.

Although the city suffered enormous damage during the siege, Mehmed II spent considerable time and wealth rebuilding and repopulating it. The capture of the city and the fall of the Byzantine Empire enhanced Mehmed II’s prestige as a ghazi (holy warrior). Indeed, the concept of ghazi became the theme of the Ottoman sultans, who used it even to legitimize themselves above other Muslim rulers such as the Mamluk sultans of Egypt and Syria and the Turkmen rulers who challenged the sultan’s authority. Furthermore, Mehmed II also took the title of “Qaysar” (Caesar), thus placing himself as the heir to the Roman Empire and successor of the Byzantine Empire and legitimizing his claims to former domains of the empire in the Balkans and Mediterranean Sea.

By legitimizing his authority in both Islamic and European territories, Mehmed II sought to centralize power under him in the Balkans and Anatolia. After the fall of Byzantium in 1453, Mehmed II focused his efforts in the West. He established Ottoman control over most of the Balkans, including Serbia and Bosnia, as well as Greece. His activities, however, directly clashed with the interests of Hungary and Venice and resulted in the appropriately named Long War (1463– 1479) against the two European powers.

Hostilities with Hungary continued beyond the war until Mehmed II’s death, and Venice suffered greatly from the war, not only in loss of territory, but also in trade. Mehmed II simultaneously expanded the empire by conquering Trebizond on the northern coast of Anatolia as well as by turning the Black Sea into a virtual Ottoman lake.

Mehmed II’s actions in Europe and the Middle East led states in the Levant (countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean) and Venice to form a loose alliance against the Ottomans. Although Mehmed defeated Karamanid and annexed its territory, this action led him into conflict with the Aq Qonyunlu (White Sheep) Turkmen confederation as well as the Mamluk sultan in Syria and Egypt.

In the context of world history Mehmed II is most notable for establishing the Ottoman Empire with its center in the Balkans and Anatolia. This establishment through the ideological mantle of his role as a ghazi would color Ottoman actions afterward. The transition of the sultan as the leader in war against non-Muslims diminished the influence of the frontier begs (lords—primarily nobility with a military function) who had previously held an immense amount of prestige as ghazis. Furthermore, by centralizing power, Mehmed II reduced the power of the local aristocracy and turned more territory into the direct service of the state.

Mehmed II also accepted into his service men of various nationalities and religions, preferring merit and talent to other qualifiers. He also instituted new legal codes based on his power as sultan that served as the core of Ottoman laws well into the seventeenth century.


  1. Babinger, F. (1992). Mehmed the conqueror and his times (R. Manheim, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  2. Kafadar, C. (1996). Between two worlds: The construction of the Ottoman state. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  3. Riggs, C. T. (Trans.). (1954). History of Mehmed the conqueror by Kritovoulos. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  4. Tursun, B. (1978). The history of Mehmed the conqueror (H. Inalcik & R. Murphy, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica.

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