Our Sultan could not have known that those first few strides up the blood-slicked steps of his liege’s throne were the steps that would take our Ottoman Empire into history. Some might argue that he had wit and vision to see the future, but there is nothing in the family life or writings of Sultan Bayezid to make us think his vision was anything but that of the moment. He was a man of small visions and simple goals, I think, and he saw nothing more than a chance to head off brutal events that would lead to the destruction of our unique culture. So he took the moment, and the knife, and before anyone could stop him he made a future for us all. Now I am charged with writing the account of those heady years, when our Sultans turned our fate around from slavery and subjection to conquest and greatness.
Our first Sultan, Bayezid I, has by now faded into history – he ascended the throne on the first day of the new year of 1389, and though our Empire has learnt to preserve its records better than any of its neighbours, still it cannot be said that much was written of him or his talents. Though our storytellers sing his praises during our many festivals, I think he was perhaps a man of few great traits – a man unsuited to leadership, but blessed with a sense of good timing and incredible bravery. It was only by the grace of those two instincts that he saved us from ruin, for when he ascended the throne we were beset by troubles.
In 1389 our Empire was yet a fragile and nascent thing, stretching from the mountains of Georgia in the east to the edge of Bosnia and Serbia in the west. We were as a minnow in a muddy river near the end of summer, flitting between great and predatory pikes: to our north and east lay the vast and fathomless expanse of land held by the Golden Horde, and to the southeast was the Timurid empire, a dynasty said to have been built on a foundation of numberless corpses. Our sultan Bayezid’s predecessor was ignorant and vain, and as well as squandering the great wealth of our lush lands, he had embroiled us in a war with both the Timurid empire and our two nearest Muslim neighbours, Kandar and Dulkadir. Lest something were done, all of the Ottoman lands east of Thrace would have been divided up between the carnivorous Timurids and their jackal allies.
So it was that Bayezid slew our aging and vainglorious ruler, and ascended the blood-slicked steps to the throne, from there to guide our empire out of those dark times and into the bright light of eternal rule. Standing now at the window of my study in modern Dalmatia, looking over the gentle waves of the Aegean sea and listening to the call to prayer from a thousand sun-washed minarets in this great and peaceful city, I like to imagine that Bayezid’s throne was a beautiful monument to his glory, set in a great marble-pillared room, gleaming bands of sunlight from lead-light windows transforming the whole into a glowing space just one step from the ineffable heaven to which we all must one day return; but I know more likely it was a small and squalid chamber, the floor covered in dirty rushes and the throne little better than an animal-hide coated stool, perhaps set two steps up on a rough stone platform. Or perhaps the throne was behind a screen, to protect the sultan from his many enemies. Such were the times, and such were the men who risked our entire culture with their dissolute antics in the palace of our rulers.
So it was that Bayezid I began his great works. First, noticing that the Timurid empire was always warring with itself, and realizing that the Ottoman Empire was in no position to defeat such a voracious and barbaric culture, our Sultan by cunning diplomacy convinced them to accept a temporary peace, that they might focus on their own troubles. By the grace of Allah the Granter of Security, the Timurids miraculously relented in their threats of war, and called their puppet nations to heel. In the following 15 years until his death, Bayezid used this time to restore peace and stability to the core of our empire: from Serbia and Bosnia on the edge of Europe to the edge of Georgia in Asia, he restored dignity and nobility to our land. During this time trade, art and culture flourished, and the government grew in strength and sophistication. But Bayezid I knew that trouble lay in our future, and that the colonial powers of Europe and Asia could not long resist the temptation to pluck the ripe fruit of the Ottoman Empire. Such is the fate that awaits a nation straddling two great cultures, and realizing this Bayezid focused his preparations in peacetime for the coming war. He focused on building the size of our army, and developing the nation to support it as one in times of war; and near the end of his reign he annexed the Dalmatian coast, giving our glorious troops a chance to test their arms against European armies and eliminating the threat from the many upstart city-states along that beautiful stretch of sea. During this time too, all of the region once known as Bulgaria embraced the teachings of the Prophet (may peace be upon him), and turned to the one true faith.
Sadly, Bayezid I did not live to see the full fruit of his dreams, and he was replaced in 1404 by Musa I. Musa was a war-like and active leader, and for 9 years of his 29 year reign our empire was at war. First the armies of the Ottomans looked east, to secure our eastern borders against the Golden Horde, and in a brief but bloody two year war were able to capture the whole of Georgia and much of the Crimea. With the modern-day port of Kaffa in our grasp, Crimea our vassal and Georgia conquered, Musa I gained near-complete control of the Black Sea, with only Poland and the rump of the Byzantine Empire sharing access. Our glorious armies also conquered Trebizond, putting the coup-de-grace on the last province of a once-great empire, and then turned west, to conquer most of Greece as far as Athens. This was a time of war but also of peaceful expansion, with our kingdom learning much about foreign nations, and sending ambassadors and traders as far afield as distant Paris and remote Novgorod.
Musa I died peacefully in 1433, and was replaced by Abdullah I, who ruled only for 7 years that were spent consolidating the Ottoman culture in Georgia and Greece. He died young, and a regency council ruled in the place of his successor, Suleyman I. Under a regency council little can be done abroad or at war, and the 5 years of the regency council as well as the 8 year reign of Suleyman I were times of little note; during this period our Empire did not grow, though it flourished, and Suleyman I – though he styled himself “the Magnificent” – was in truth too much a drunkard and a layabout to enact great plans of state. However, despite being raised by a wine-soaked fool, Jem I succeeded Suleyman in 1453 to achieve great things. In three years of brutal battle while still a young man, Jem I managed to conquer all of Eastern Hungary and parts of Wallachia, reducing the once-proud kingdom of Wallachia to a humble vassal and extending our empire so that finally the tide of the one true faith washed up against Europe. All of christendom looked on in shock as the One True Faith spread its influence as far as borders of Hungary and Poland.
Jem I’s vision of uniting Hungary, Bulgaria, Transylvania, and all the Slavic states with Ottoman under the banner of the One True Faith was not completed before he died, though, and internal unrest prevented his successor Huseyn I from continuing this mission; for 25 years the Ottoman Empire lived at peace with its neighbours under his reign. By now the Timurid Empire, which 100 years ago we so feared, had collapsed under the weight of greed and corruption that its leaders were so famed for, and its last provinces sat on our borders warring only with themselves. Those nations that this degenerate gang of barbarians once held on such a tight leash had now fled to new owners, as the lowly gutter dogs that they are, and where once we were threatened by vassals of Timurid we were now flanked by the Golden Horde’s two chained lions, Candar and Dulkadir. Nonetheless, Huseyn I skilfully built relations with the Golden Horde, somehow finding common ground with their filthy, fur-clad leaders, and our Empire bided its time as we waited for an empire built on greed and bloodlust to begin consuming itself. While we waited, though, that last principality of the Timurids gave up its fight with itself; its leaders came on their knees to us and begged to be allowed to join the Ottoman Empire, that they might share in its grace and peace. Truly, God is Great.
After Huseyn’s death in 1509 our current glorious emperor, Huseyn II, ascended the throne. His plans of completing the conquest of Hungary were delayed, however, by the western powers. In 1510 the distant kingdom of Castille noticed our expansion – perhaps word of the beauty and munificence of our Imperial lands reached the Castillian King in his dismal narrow-windowed castle, sparking his jealousy – and a warning was issued. Our people barely new of these great and distant powers of France, Castille and Britain, and we thought our affairs and theirs completely disconnected, but this was to prove far from the case. Because the people of christendom follow a religion based on idolatry and cannibalism, they must always be jealous and frightened in the face of the Prophet (may peace be upon him); though we had no conflicting interests and our Caliphate has only ever sought peace, the infidels of Castille sought to chastise us from their distant cities. For seven years they sent ships full of pale-skinned minions to harry our shipping lanes and blockade our ports, and in one dismal year they even landed their sweaty and ill-prepared troops on the western shores of our Greek conquests. But here, too, we showed them the teachings of the One True Faith: our fleets sank and destroyed their fleets, and when they had the temerity to land men on our hallowed shores we defeated them, drove them back into the sea, and tossed the survivors from the cliffs of Montenegro. After 7 years a mealy-mouthed, pale-skinned wretch came to us begging peace, and though in truth our glorious armies were preparing to launch an invasion of Castille, Huseyn II showed his famous mercy, and brokered a peace that until this day has been unsullied.
With this peace, Huseyn II gained the chance to focus on his grand plan, and within just the last few years it has been completed: after war with Austria, Bohemia and Hungary our glorious empire has captured the remains of Hungary and all of the outlying territories of Bohemia. Behold the map! Our Empire is now so vast that as an ambassador in Georgia sits down to dine on dates and flat bread with one of the Khans of the Horde, here on the Dalmatian coast an artist will be just setting up his easel to paint a picture of court ladies taking a light lunch of olives and pastries; or North in the Mountains of Carpathia a shepherd might be settling down to a morning break of nuts and dried mutton. Truly, our Empire has grown beyond the dreams of humble Bayezid as he grabbed the reins of power, intent only on guiding us out of the darkness. Now, we have become the Empire of the Sun, its territories so far-flung that they hold the whole of a day in their grip. And even now, as I sit here in my study contemplating this great sweep of history, I hear our ruler looks in the same direction as me, across this tranquil Aegean sea to the coast of Northern Italy, whose universities and libraries hold the secrets of a thousand years of learning. Were our Janissaries to take those hallowed halls, then surely an Islamic Reformation could begin, in which the whole world looked to the crescent sun of the Ottomans for knowledge, as well as the wisdom of the One True Faith. Is this the future of the Ottomans, to teach Europe of Asia, and Asia of Europe … and all of them to learn the One True Faith, that is greater than all that has come before it in all of time …?
Yes, I think this is our future … let us see where it will take us …