Bayezid II - Encyclopedia

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BAYEZID II. (1447-1512), sultan of Turkey, was the son of Mahommed II., whom he succeeded in 1481, but only after gaining over the janissaries by a large donative, which henceforth became for centuries the invariable prerogative of that undisciplined body on the accession of a new sultan. Before he could establish himself on the throne a long struggle ensued with his brother Prince Jem. Being routed, Jem fled for refuge to the knights of St John at Rhodes, who, in spite of a safe-conduct granted to him, accepted a pension from Bayezid as the price for keeping him a close prisoner. (See Aubusson, Pierre D'.) So long as Jem lived he was a perpetual menace to the sultan's peace, and there was considerable rivalry among the sovereigns of Europe for the possession of so valuable an instrument for bringing pressure to bear upon the Porte for the purpose of extracting money or concessions. By common consent the prince was ultimately entrusted to Pope Innocent VIII., who used him not only to extract an annual tribute out of the sultan, but to prevent the execution of Bayezid's ambitious designs in the Mediterranean. His successor, Alexander VI., used him for a more questionable purpose, namely, not only to extract the arrears of the pension due for Jem's safe-keeping, but, by enlarging on Charles V.'s intention of setting him up as sultan, to persuade Bayezid to aid him against the emperor. There appears, however, to be no truth in the report that Bayezid succeeded in bribing the pope to have Jem poisoned. The prince, who had lived on excellent terms with Alexander, died at Naples in February 1495, possibly as the result of excesses in which he had been deliberately encouraged by the pope.

Whether as a result of his fear of the rivalry of Jem, or of his personal character, Bayezid showed little of the aggressive spirit of his warlike predecessors; and Machiavelli said that another such sultan would cause Turkey to cease being a menace to Europe. He abandoned the attack on Rhodes at the first check, made concessions, for the sake of peace, to Venice and reduced the tribute due from Ragusa. His wars were of the nature of raids, on the Dalmatian coast and into Croatia, Hungary, Moldavia and Poland. The threat of the growing power in the Aegean of Venice, which had acquired Cyprus in 1489, at last roused him to a more serious effort; and in 1499 the war broke out with the republic, which ended in 1502 by the annexation to Turkey of Lepanto and Modon, Coron and Navarino in the Morea. Bayezid himself conducted the siege of Modon in 1500.

The comparative inactivity of Bayezid in the direction of Europe was partly due to preoccupation elsewhere. In the south he was threatened by the dangerous rivalry of Kait Bey, the Mameluke sultan of Egypt, who had extended his power northwards as far as Tarsus and Adana. In 1488 he gained a great victory over the Ottomans, and in 1491 a peace was made which was not again broken till after Bayezid's death. On the side of Persia too, where the decisive battle of Shurur (1502) had raised to power Ismail, the first of the modern line of shahs, danger threatened the sultan, and the latter years of his reign were troubled by the spread, under the influence of the new Persian power, of the Shiite doctrine in Kurdistan and Asia Minor. The forces destined to maintain his authority in Asia had been entrusted by Bayezid to his three sons, Ahmed, Corcud and Selim; and the sultan's declining years were embittered by their revolts and rivalry. Soon after the great earthquake of 1509, which laid Constantinople in ruins, Selim, the ungovernable pasha of Trebizond, whose vigorous rule in Asia had given Europe an earnest of his future career as sultan, appeared before Adrianople, where Bayezid had sought refuge. The sultan had designated Ahmed as his successor, but Selim, though temporarily defeated, succeeded in winning over the janissaries. On the 25th of April 1512 Bayezid was forced to abdicate in his favour, and died a few days later.

See J. B. Bury in the Cambridge Modern History, vol. i. chap. iii. and bibliography p. 700.

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