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Selim I
Caliph of Islam
Amir al-Mu'minin
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Personal details
Born (1465-10-10)October 10, 1465/1466/1470
Died September 22, 1520(1520-09-22) (aged 54)
Tekirdağ, Çorlu
Religion Sunni Islam

Selim I (Ottoman Turkish: سليم اوّل, Modern Turkish: I.Selim), nicknamed Yavuz, "the Stern" or "the Steadfast", but often rendered in English as "the Grim" (October 10, 1465/1466/1470 – September 22, 1520), was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1512 to 1520.[1] His reign is notable for the enormous expansion of the Empire, particularly his conquest between 1516-1517 of the entire Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, which included all of Sham, Hejaz, Tihamah, and Egypt itself. With the heart of the Arab World now under their control, the Ottomans became the dominant power in the region, and in the Islamic world. Upon conquering Egypt, Selim took the title of Caliph of Islam, being the first Ottoman sultan to do so. He was also granted the title of "Khâdim ül Haramain ish Sharifain" (Servant of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina), by the Sharif of Mecca in 1517.

Selim's reign represented a sudden change in the expansion policy of the empire, which was working mostly against the West and the Beyliks before his reign.[2] On the eve of his death in 1520, the Ottoman Empire spanned almost 1 billion acres (about 4 million square kilometers or 4 square megameters), having tripled in size during Selim's reign.


16th-century Ottoman miniature of Sultan Selim I

Outline of the Ottoman Empire, from the Theatro d'el Orbe de la Tierra de Abraham Ortelius, Anvers, 1602, updated from the 1570 edition.

Born in Amasya, Selim dethroned his father Bayezid II (1481–1512) in 1512. Bayezid’s death followed immediately thereafter.[3] Selim put his brothers (Şehzade Ahmet and Şehzade Korkut) and nephews to death upon his accession in order to eliminate potential pretenders to the throne.[citation needed] This fratricidal policy was motivated by bouts of civil strife that had been sparked by the antagonism between Selim’s father Beyazid and his uncle Cem Sultan, and between Selim himself and his brother Ahmet. His biological mother was the Pontic Greek lady Gül-Bahār Khātûn,[4] who had never acquired the title of Valide Khātûn since she had died before Selim’s accession to the Ottoman throne. According to another theory, Selim was the biological son of A’ishā (Ayşe) Khātûn I[5][6] who died at Trebizond on 1505 and was the daughter of Alaüddevle Bozkurt Bey, the eleventh ruler of the Dulkadirids centered around Elbistan in Kahramanmaraş.

Selim I was described as being tall, having very broad shoulders and a long mustache. He was skilled in politics and was said to be fond of fighting.[7] In 1494, at Trabzon, he married Ayşe Hafsa Sultan.

Conquest of the Middle East[]

Safavid Empire[]

16th-century Ottoman miniature of the Battle of Chaldiran.

For Selim, one of the first challenges as Sultan was the growing tension between himself and Shah Ismail who had recently brought the Safavids to power and had switched the state religion from Sunni Islam to the adherence of the Twelver Shia Islam. By 1510, Ismail had conquered west part of Iran[8] and was of a great threat to his Sunni Muslim neighbors to the west. In 1511, Ismail had supported an pro Shia/Safavid uprising in Anatolia, the Şahkulu Rebellion. In 1514, Selim I attacked Ismā'il's kingdom to stop the spread of Shiism into Ottoman dominions. Selim and Ismā'il had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack. Selim I defeated Ismā'il at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514.[9] Ismā'il's army was more mobile and their soldiers were better prepared but the Ottomans prevailed due in large part to their efficient modern army, and possession of artillery, black powder and muskets. Ismā'il was wounded and almost captured in battle, and Selim I entered the Iranian capital of Tabriz in triumph on September 5,[10] but did not linger. A mutiny among his troops fearing a counterattack and entrapment by the fresh Safavid forces called in from the interior, forced the triumphant Ottomans to withdraw prematurely. This allowed Ismā'il to recover quickly. The Battle of Chaldiran, was of historical significance, in which the reluctancy showed by Shah Ismail to accept the advantages of modern firearms and the importance of artillery was decisive.[11] After the battle, Selim referring to Ismail stated that his adversary was: "Always drunk to the point of losing his mind and totally neglectful of the affairs of the state.[12]

Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula[]

Selim then conquered the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, defeating the Mamluk Egyptians first at the Battle of Marj Dabiq, and then at the Battle of Ridanieh. This led to the Ottoman annexation of the entire sultanate, from Syria and Palestine in Sham, to Hejaz and Tihamah in the Arabian Peninsula, and ultimately Egypt itself. This permitted him to extended Ottoman power to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, hitherto under Egyptian rule. Rather than style himself the Hakim ul Haremeyn, or The Ruler of The Two Holy Shrines, he accepted the more pious title Khadim ul Haremeyn, or The Servant of The Two Holy Shrines.[3][13]

After the conquest of Egypt and the Holy Cities in 1517, Selim induced Al-Mutawakkil III (1509–17), the last in the line of Abbasid caliphs who resided in Cairo since 1261 as nominal rulers legitimizing the de facto rule of the Mamluk sultans over the Mamluk Sultanate,[14] to formally surrender the title of Caliph and its emblems, the sword and the mantle of Muhammad.[2] These are kept in the Topkapı Palace Museum at Istanbul, Turkey.

Selim I on his deathbed.


After his return from his Egyptian campaign, Selim began to prepare for an expedition which is believed to be against Hungary. This campaign was cut short when he was overwhelmed by sickness and subsequently died in the ninth year of his reign. He was about fifty-five years of age. It is said that Selim succumbed to sirpence, a skin infection which he developed during his long campaigns on horseback. (Sirpence was an anthrax infection sometimes seen among leatherworkers and others who worked with livestock). Some historians claim that he was poisoned by the doctor tending to his infection[1] and some historians claim that the disease he suffered from was skin cancer. He died at Çorlu, Tekirdağ.

Persecution of Alevis[]

In 1514, to reduce the chances of attack during his march to Iran, Selim I sent his officials to the province of Rum, in north-central Anatolia, with orders to register by name anyone identified as Qizilbash, including members of the Alevi population. Thousands of the 40,000 registered on the list were massacred, with thousands more arrested.[15][16] The Sultan, regarding the Qizilibash as heretics, reportedly proclaimed that "the killing of one Shiite had as much otherworldly reward as killing 70 Christians."[17]

Due to this, the Alevi community has protested Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan naming the third Bosphorus Bridge the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.


After claiming the Caliphate, Selim assumed the title Malik ul-Barreyn, wa Khakan ul-Bahrayn, wa Kasir ul-Jayshayn, wa Khadim ul-Haramayn - that is, King of the Two Lands (continents Europe and Asia), Khagan of the Two Seas (Mediterranean and Indian Seas), Conqueror of the Two Armies (European and Safavid armies), and Servant of the Two Holy Shrines (Mecca and Medina). This title alludes to his dominions in Europe and Asia (namely, Balkan, Anatolia, and much of the Fertile Crescent), his control over the Mediterranean and Black seas, his defeat of both the Mamluk and Safavid armies, and his guardianship of the shrines of Mecca and Medina.


By most accounts, Selim had a fiery temper and had very high expectations of his subordinates. Several of his viziers were executed for various reasons. A famous anecdote relates how another vizier playfully asked the Sultan for some preliminary notice of his doom so that he might have time to put his affairs in order. The Sultan laughed and replied that indeed he had been thinking of having the vizier killed, but had no one fit to take his place, otherwise he would gladly oblige. Lord Kinross in his history of the Ottomans reports that life at Sultan Selim's court was full of opportunities, and there were always plenty of applicants to the highest offices, regardless of the risks. However, a popular Ottoman curse was, "May you be a vizier of Selim's," as a reference to the number of viziers he had executed.[18]

Selim was one of the Empire's most successful and respected rulers, he was energetic and very hard working. Accordingly, his court was dynamic, with the rewards as great as the risks. During his eight years of ruling he didn't have time to rest. Although he was a leader, he was also very humble and modest. His reign was short, but may have prepared the Ottoman empire for its zenith under the achievements of his son.[19] A popular legend has it that Selim had filled the royal treasury to the brink and locked it with his own seal. He decreed that "he who will fill the treasury more than this, may use his seal to lock it." The treasury remained locked with Selim's seal until the collapse of the Empire 400 years later.

Selim was also a distinguished poet who wrote both Turkish and Persian verse under the nickname mahlas Selimi; collections of his Persian poetry are extant today.[19] In one of his poems, he wrote;

A carpet is large enough to accommodate two sufis, but the world is not large enough for two Kings.

— Yavuz Sultan Selim

Foreign Relations[]

Relations with the Shah Ismail[]

While marching into Persia in 1514, Selim's troops suffered from the scorched-earth tactics of Shah Ismail. The Sultan hoped to lure Ismail into an open battle before his troops starved to death, and began writing insulting letters to the Shah, accusing him of cowardice:

They, who by perjuries seize scepters ought not to skulk from danger, but their breast ought, like the shield, to be held out to encounter peril; they ought, like the helm, to affront the foeman's blow.

Ismail responded to Selim's third message, quoted above, by sending an envoy to deliver a letter accompanied by a box of opium. The Shah's letter insultingly implied that Selim's prose must have been the work of an unqualified writer on drugs and grew enraged by the Shah's denigration of his literary talent. He ordered the Persian envoy to be torn to pieces.[20]

Relations with Babur[]

Babur's early relations with the Ottomans were initially troubled because the Ottoman Sultan Selim I provided Babur's arch rival Ubaydullah Khan with powerful Matchlocks and Cannons to counter the influence of the Safavids.[21] In the year 1507, when ordered to accept Selim I as his rightful suzerain Babur refused, and gathered Qizilbash servicemen in order to counter the forces of Ubaydullah Khan during the Battle of Ghazdewan. In the year 1513, Ottoman Sultan Selim I reconciled with Babur (probably fearing that he would join the Safavids), dispatched Ustad Ali Quli the artilleryman and Mustafa Rumi the Matchlock marksman and many other Ottoman Turks, in order to assist Babur in his conquests. Thenceforth this particular assistance proved to be the basis of future Mughal-Ottoman relations.[22]

Modern Day[]

  • A third bridge over the Bosphorus in Istanbul is called the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Yavuz Sultan Selim Biography Retrieved on 2007-09-16
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Rise of the Turks and the Ottoman Empire Retrieved on 2007-09-16
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Classical Age, 1453-1600 Retrieved on 2007-09-16
  4. Yavuz Bahadıroğlu, Resimli Osmanlı Tarihi, Nesil Yayınları (Ottoman History with Illustrations, Nesil Publications), 15th Ed., 2009, page 157, ISBN 978-975-269-299-2
  5. "Yavuz Sultan Selim Han". Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  6. "Mother Of Yavuz Sultan Selim". Osmanlı Araştırmaları Vakfı (Ottoman Research Foundation). 
  7. "Sultan Selim the Excellent". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  8. BBC, (LINK)
  9. Michael Axworthy Iran: Empire of the Mind (Penguin, 2008) p.133
  10. The later Crusades, 1274-1580: from Lyons to Alcazar Door Norman Housley, page 120, 1992
  11. "Morgan, David. ''Shah Isma'il and the Establishment of Shi'ism''". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  12. The pursuit of pleasure: drugs and stimulants in Iranian history, 1500-1900 By Rudolph P. Matthee, pg. 77
  13. Yavuz Sultan Selim Government Retrieved on 2007-09-16
  14. Thompson, J., A History of Egypt, AUC Press 2008, p. 194; Vatikiotis, P.J., The History of Modern Egypt, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, p.20
  15. Finkel, Caroline. Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. New York: Basic Books, 2005. Page 105.
  16. Kohn, George C. (2007). Dictionary of Wars. Infobase Publishing. p. 385. ISBN 0-8160-6577-2. 
  17. Jalāl Āl Aḥmad (1982). Plagued by the West. Translated by Paul Sprachman. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University. ISBN 978-0-88206-047-7. 
  18. Middle East, Istanbul
  19. 19.0 19.1 Necdet Sakaoğlu, Bu Mülkün Sultanları, pg.127
  20. Crider, Elizabeth Fortuato (1969). The Foreign Relations of the Ottoman Empire Under Selim I, 1512-1520(Master's Thesis). Ohio State University, 1969, page 20. Retrieved on 2011-04-12
  21. Mughal-Ottoman relations: a study of political & diplomatic relations ... - Naimur Rahman Farooqi - Google Boeken
  22. Mughal-Ottoman relations: a study of political & diplomatic relations ... - Naimur Rahman Farooqi - Google Boeken

External links[]

  • Wikisource "Wikisource:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Selim" Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) 1911 
Selim I
House of Osman
Born: October 10, 1465 Died: September 22, 1520
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Bayezid II
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Apr 25, 1512 – Sep 22, 1520
Succeeded by
Suleiman I
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Bayezid II
Caliph of Islam
Apr 25, 1512–1517
Became Caliph in 1517
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Al-Mutawakkil III
Caliph of Islam
1517 – Sep 22, 1520
Succeeded by
Suleiman I

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