Selim I in Egypt

Selim I in Egypt

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Selim I

The son of Bayezid II (Bajazet), Selim gained administrative experience as governor of Trebizond and Semendra. In contention for the succession with his older brothers, Selim won with the support of the Janissaries, who forced Bayezid to abdicate on April 25, 1512.

For a year the new sultan was preoccupied with eliminating his brothers and nephews. Then he turned to consolidating Ottoman power in Anatolia, which was threatened by religious attractions from Persia. In the fall of 1513 lists were prepared of Shiite heretics. Some 40,000 died, and others were imprisoned or deported in the persecution that followed.

Selim's declaration of war on Iran the following spring initiated a famous correspondence between himself and Shah Ismael. The Sultan, later remembered as a poet, wrote in an elegant style—the message, however, proving provocative and insulting. On Aug. 23, 1514, Turkish artillery routed the Persians at Chaldiran.

To quiet Janissary opposition to the war, Selim executed several leaders, a procedure for which his reign is noted. He later appointed men from his own household as generals in order to increase control over the Janissary group. Selim is called "Yavuz" ("the Grim"), connoting both respect and fear. Essentially a stern ruler, he nevertheless survives in Ottoman history as a hero.

Selim campaigned in eastern Anatolia again in 1515 and resumed the attack on Persia the following year. In August, however, the Turks encountered the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, a supporter of Ismael, and defeated him in a brief battle north of Aleppo. Egyptian forces were unpaid, undisciplined, and dissentious, the state weakened by the recent loss of Eastern trade to the Portuguese.

The Levantine cities surrendered peacefully, and Ottoman administrators took over but with remarkably few changes. When the new Egyptian sultan executed Selim's ambassadors, who were bearing offers of peace in exchange for acceptance of Turkish sovereignty, the Ottomans moved on Cairo, which fell in January 1517. En route to Egypt, Selim made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

During his months in Cairo, Selim accepted the voluntary submission of the sharif of Mecca, thus bringing the holy places under Ottoman control. Tradition has it that one consequence of this campaign was the official surrendering to the Ottomans of the paraphernalia of the Caliph (the Prophet's standard, mantle, and sword) by the last "Abbasid" caliph, al-Mutawwakil, captured from the Egyptians at Aleppo. This alleged transference of authority was the later legal justification for Osmanli use of the title, although Selim had earlier referred to himself as caliph.

Selim returned to Istanbul in July 1518. As skilled at administration as in military affairs, he subsequently devoted himself to government. On Sept. 20, 1520, he suddenly died, apparently of cancer.

The Story of Heba Selim: The Egyptian Spy Who Worked for the Israeli Mossad

If one were to list the most influential and important scenes in the history of Egyptian cinema, a strong contender would have to be the ending of the 1978 movie Climbing to the Bottom (El Soud Ela Al Hawia). Actress Madiha Kamel plays the character of Egyptian spy Heba Selim, or ‘Abla’ in the film, who was on a plane approaching Cairo airport after her arrest. Next to her was an intelligence officer, who pointed at the pyramids and the Nile and said the famous line, “and this is Egypt, Abla.”

At a time when Egyptian President Sadat was planning his next step for peace with Israel as part of the Camp David Accords, young Heba Selim was in the shadows working with the Mossad to seduce an Egyptian army officer and gather confidential information to help Israel defeat Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.

In her own words, she reckoned that she was also working for peace, telling General Rifaat Osman Gabriel in her last days, “I am not a spy, but I work in order to preserve the human race from destruction.”

While her definition of peace clearly excluded the Palestinian narrative, she is also a symbol and a testament of the attitudes that were occurring, and still occur, for some Arab youths whose rejection of certain Arab cultural values lead them to buy into the notion of Western superiority. At its core, Selim’s saga is really a story about how ideology can somehow trump political identity.


Like most people who work in intelligence services, a lot of details in Heba Selim’s life are unknown or have been fabricated, yet it is believed that she grew up in the upper middle class neighborhood of Mohandeseen in Cairo, and studied French at Ain Shams University.

Fed up with Arab conservatism, Selim went on to pursue an education at the Sorbonne in France with the help of the head of the French department at Ain Shams University.

As told by General Rifaat Osman Gabriel, who worked in the Egyptian Intelligence Services, Selim came in contact with the Mossad through a Jewish Polish woman who invited her to a party at her house.

At the party, Selim is said to have declared to her Jewish friends that she hates war and wishes that peace would prevail in the region. On another visit, her colleagues showed her a film depicting life in Israel, noting that the country is democratic and highly urbanized.

When US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to ask Sadat to pardon her, both Selim and Al-Feki had already been convicted and sentenced to death. Heba was executed by hanging and Al-Feki was sentenced to death by firing squad.

It was said that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wept in grief over the fate of Selim, which she described as “more loyal to Israel than the leaders of Israel.”

In just eight years Selim I became ‘God’s Shadow on Earth’

Faber must take a rather dim view of British readers’ historical awareness these days. This is a biography of one of the greatest Ottoman sultans in the empire’s 600-year history, yet the publishers cannot bring themselves to mention his name in the book’s title. Perhaps they thought Selim I was too obscure, and maybe they’re right, but their reticence is not shared by Alan Mikhail’s American publishers, who rightly give the sultan his due. Never mind. Mikhail, chair of Yale’s history department and a specialist in Ottoman history, makes it his mission to demonstrate how this utterly compelling leader helped define his age, bending the world to his will. And he succeeds with a flourish.

Selim’s reign may not have been long —he only ruled from 1512 to 1520 — but he managed to fit an awful lot of conquest in. So much so that by the time of his death the Ottoman empire had almost trebled in size. He had gobbled up the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt, encompassing the Levant and swathes of the Arabian peninsula, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to provide added Islamic lustre to his dominions. He had also given the Safavid shah Ismail I a bloody nose at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, entering Tabriz in triumph to add to Iranian ignominy.

Selim’s rise to the throne was no less interesting than his time on it. Mikhail’s passages on the bouts of fratricide that necessarily accompanied an Ottoman prince’s succession are riveting. As the fourth of his father Bayazid’s ten sons, Selim was never expected to become sultan. While princeling governor of Trabzon from 1487 to 1510, however, he proved his military mettle in clashes with his heterodox Shiite neighbour of Iran, a carefully calibrated signal to the powerful military Janissary class that he would be a worthy successor to his doveish father.

It was only through sheer force of will and the guiding hand of his concubine mother Gülbahar Hatun, together with high intelligence and low cunning, that Selim ever made it to the top. He came chillingly close to bumping his father off to take the throne, instead forcing the sultan’s abdication with a ruthlessness matched by the subsequent murder of two half-brothers vying for the throne. His later nicknames of Selim the Grim and Selim the Resolute suggested this was not a man who would be trifled with. Fiery-tempered and formidable — the Venetian doge Andrea Gritti considered him a ‘ferocious and cunning’ war-monger with ‘a cruel streak’ — Selim was not big on bants.

At the Battle of Marj Dabiq in Syria in 1516, Selim trounced the Mamluks, paving the way for his conquest of the Middle East. A year later he administered the coup de grâceat the Battle of Ridaniya in Egypt, which obliterated the Mamluk sultanate for good. The deposed sultan Tuman was hunted down and killed, his body strung up for three days on one of the gates of Cairo pour décourager les autres.

Mikhail is right to argue that Ridaniya ‘changed the world’. Henceforth Selim stood at the very pinnacle of Muslim power, with Istanbul the bona fide capital of Islam. The incorporation of the Hejaz in western Arabia into his fast expanding dominions allowed him to add the ‘Servant of the Two Holy Places’ moniker to his other titles.

Mikhail offers a refreshingly Ottoman-centric picture of the 15th- and 16th-century Mediterranean. He presents Christopher Columbus’s bloody explorations in the Americas as the result of Ottoman supremacy closer to home. Yet one feels he is never entirely fair in his assessment of western Christendom when judged against eastern Islam. He writes of ‘Renaissance Europe’s blood lust against Islam’ while remaining silent on its mirror image. He attributes to a young Selim ‘Ottoman Islam’s ecumenical view of the world vs European Christianity’s violent efforts to achieve religious homogeneity’, while neglecting to add that there was very little ecumenical about Selim’s later wars against Shiite Iran. While self-criticism is necessary, self-flagellation is indulgent.

If the story of Columbus and his explorers was ‘indubitably one of crusade’, was not the expansion of the Ottoman empire indubitably one of jihad? We may agree that Columbus subscribed wholeheartedly to the notion of a ‘global civilisational war between Christendom and Islam’, but we might equally ask why Mikhail doesn’t acknowledge the classic Islamic distinction between the Dar al-Islam, or Abode of Islam, and the non-Muslim world, known quite literally as the Dar al-Harb, or Abode of War. It takes two to tango.

Mikhail’s confident, incident-filled prose rattles along nicely. There is only the occasional infelicity. One wonders, for example, whether Babur, great-great-great-grandson of the Turkic warlord Tamerlane, would ‘reach out’ to Selim, who in turn ‘reached out’ to regional leaders while preparing for war against Iran.

By the time of his death in 1520 (most likely from plague, or anthrax contracted from his horse), Selim was master of more territory than anyone else. He commanded the world’s most formidable military machine and could justifiably consider himself God’s Shadow on Earth. Not bad for a fourth-born son.

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Titles [ edit | edit source ]

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.

God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World

Alan Mikhail, professor of history and chair of the department of history, has expanded our understandings of the past through his previous three prize-winning books on the history of the Middle East. In his recent book, God’s Shadow (Liveright, 2020), he offers a new history of the modern world through the dramatic biography of Sultan Selim I (1470-1520) and his Ottoman Empire. The MacMillan Center recently spoke with Professor Mikhail about the revisionist account he chronicles in God’s Shadow.

Q: What made you want to write this book?

AM: I wanted to offer a fuller account of our world, of how the last 500 years of history shaped the present. In 1500, if one were to ask any political or religious leader, from Europe to China, to list the most important geopolitical powers of the day, the Ottoman Empire would be at or near the top. Yet, the histories of how our world came to be rarely include the Ottoman Empire. My book restores the Ottomans to their rightful place, focusing on the life and times of a central figure in the empire’s history, its ninth leader, Sultan Selim I. God’s Shadow offers a completely new history of the modern world.

In the United States, we understand that the histories that forged us, however contested and incomplete, derive from Europe, Native America, and Africa. Part of the argument of my book is that the Ottomans and Islam shaped all of these cultures and histories and therefore that to fully and accurately understand the history of America we must grasp these other histories too.

Q: This is a bold argument: that the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim world are at the root of the major events in modern history that have shaped our world. Your case is convincing though. Why has this perspective been overlooked for so long?

AM: The political and military clashes between Christendom and Islam and their many more positive and mundane interactions represented a major geopolitical force of the Old World for centuries. However, at least since the Industrial Revolution, and the so called glories of the nineteenth century, historians have created a myth about “the rise of the west” that somehow stretches all the way back to 1492. Not only does this fantastical history paper over the deep fissures in early modern Europe, it also masks the fact that the Ottoman Empire struck fear into the world for centuries before it earned its derogatory nineteenth-century sobriquet, “the sick man of Europe.” Since the nineteenth century, the idea of the west has indeed come to rely on the absence of Islam. Europe, and then America, overcame this most significant of historical enemies, the story goes, to lead the world forward. This is all historical absurdity. As my book shows, Europe and the Muslim world were never not interacting. Muslims thrust Europe to the New World, crossed the Atlantic in the Spanish imagination to shape the early history of the European colonization of the Americas, and helped birth Protestantism. Even as some Europeans attempted to keep Islam off their continent, away from the Americas, and out of their historical narratives about the modern world, Islam has always been a present formative force.

Q: How does the marginalization or erasure of Muslims and their contributions to world history and development affect our world today?

AM: Cutting Muslims out of the major historical events of the last five centuries cuts them out of our understanding of how we arrived at our modern world. Instead of seeing Islam as the integral and constructive force that it was, we see it as outside, other, enemy. If we erroneously understand Muslims to have always been outside of our history, it becomes easier to keep them outside of our present, more difficult for us today to integrate Muslims in America and Europe. Thus, by weaving the history of Islam back into the events and histories we commonly understand as “our history,” I hope my book can offer some grounds for a more inclusive present.

Q: Where does the title God’s Shadow come from?

AM: “God’s Shadow on Earth” was the moniker of the book’s protagonist, Sultan Selim. It points to his centrality to world history, with his life spanning one of the most significant half centuries ever. Selim was born in 1470, the fourth son of a sultan. Never favored to succeed his father, the best he could have hoped for was a life of leisure and comfort. At seventeen, he became the governor of Trabzon, a frontier town on the Black Sea, as far away from the Ottoman capital as one could go. He, however, turned this posting of weakness into an advantage by flexing his military might against the empire’s many enemies across the eastern border. He then outwitted his older brothers to take the throne, forcing their father’s abdication. As sultan, he expanded the empire more than any leader before him, giving the empire the shape it would maintain until its end in the twentieth century. Selim died five hundred years ago in September 1520.

Selim can claim many firsts. He was the first sultan to rule over an Ottoman Empire on three continents, one with a majority Muslim population. He was the first Ottoman to hold the titles of both sultan and caliph. He was one of the first non-firstborn sons to become sultan, the first to have but one son himself (the well-known Suleyman the Magnificent), and the first to depose a sitting sultan.

Q: What are the sources you used to research Selim’s story?

AM: Given Selim’s global influence, the sources about his life come from around the world. I drew on Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, and French materials. Of course, Turkish sources were indispensable to narrate Selim’s life and the intricacies of his empire’s history. Arabic accounts of Selim’s advances on Damascus and Cairo proved crucial too. As did European sources. Remarkable, in fact, is just how much Europeans and others wrote about the Ottoman Empire, far more than about the Americas, for instance. Spain’s Charles V, for example—the leader most responsible for his empire’s enormous expansion in the New World—uttered not a word about the Americas in his memoirs. What obsessed him were Ottoman advances in Europe and fears about the growing weakness of Christianity vis-à-vis Islam. Similarly, sixteenth-century France produced twice as many books about Islam as it did about the Americas and Africa combined. Overall, between 1480 and 1609, Europe published four times more works about the Ottomans and Islam than about the Americas.

Q: Selim’s mother Gülbahar seems to have been key to his success. Was this typical of the Ottoman sultans and their family roles?

AM: Yes. Within the Ottoman royal family, the mother of every sultan was a concubine. Sultans nearly always chose to produce their heirs with concubines rather than wives. Therefore, the mother of every sultan in 600 years of Ottoman history was technically a slave, though her children were born free. Despite their subjugated status, these mothers of princes held important positions in the politics of the Ottoman dynasty. Once a concubine bore a son, she and the sultan ceased sexual relations. The Ottoman formula was one woman, one son. Not only did this system allow for the rapid production of sons, but it also ensured that royal mothers became the patronesses of their prince’s futures. In the bloody world of Ottoman succession, princes were pitted against each other and therefore needed an entourage of support, first to protect them and then to help them maneuver toward the throne. The mothers of princes were the major strategists in these imperial politics. The incentives for a mother were clear: if her prince succeeded, so would she, to the great benefit of both.

So when Selim was sent off to be governor of Trabzon, as a teenager mind you, his mother Gülbahar went with him, and for many years as he grew into adulthood, she ran the city herself. This sort of thing repeated across the empire. With vested interests in their individual son’s success, women like Gülbahar managed much of imperial rule throughout the Ottoman realm.

Q: Selim tripled the size of the empire during his reign—how did he manage to rule this much land, and such a diversity of people?

AM: Selim’s conquest of the Mamluk Empire in 1517 won the Ottomans all of the Middle East and North Africa, control of the entire eastern Mediterranean, and access to the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea. It also made the empire for the first time in over two hundred years a majority Muslim empire. Before that, most of the people under Ottoman rule were Orthodox Christians. The Ottomans thus had long experience with ruling as minority Muslims over a majority non-Muslim population. Still, Selim’s conquests demanded new modes of governance. New populations accepted Ottoman rule because Selim largely allowed previous practices to maintain. As long as people recognized the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, they were allowed to pay the same taxes, retain their same local leaders, and keep their ways of life. And overtime populations came to see the manifold advantages of Ottoman rule. The imperial court system, for example, gave people a way to adjudicate disputes, record property transactions, and register complaints with the empire. Unlike in Christian Europe, Ottoman policy allowed minority groups religious autonomy to be governed by their own religious laws, to worship as they liked, and to avoid military service through the payment of a tax. The Ottomans understood that the only way they could rule successfully was by winning over their subjects by showing them the benefits of Ottoman rule.

Q: You write that the Ottomans are the reason Columbus discovered the Americas—how did this come to be?

AM: Columbus was born in 1451, two years before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. The clash between Christendom and the Ottomans and other Muslims was the greatest geopolitical conflict of Columbus’s day, shaping his world more than any other force. Muslims represented a spiritual challenge to the Christian worldview, a political rival for territory, and an economic opponent for trade routes and markets. Europeans turned to the language of Crusade to try to overcome all of this, a belief that only a Christian war to defeat Islam everywhere it existed could bring about European ascendancy.

The Catholic conquest of Granada in 1492, ending over seven centuries of Muslim rule on the Iberian peninsula, bolstered the notion that Christianity was marching forward toward the complete annihilation of Islam. Columbus’s journey west was considered the next step in this war. His voyages were at their heart a direct result of Muslim-Christian animosities, a product of Ottoman and Mamluk control of trade routes to the east and the confrontations between the Ottomans and Europe in the Mediterranean. As he bobbed westward on the high seas, Columbus’s mind was occupied by neither a secular passion for discovery nor a calculating commercial vision. More than anything else, he sailed west to open a new chapter in Christianity’s continuing Crusade against Islam. He crossed the Atlantic to fight Muslims.

Q: You also argue that the Ottomans helped to bring about the Protestant Reformation. How?

AM: Selim’s territorial expansion posed a spiritual challenge to Christian Europe, then a tessellated continent of small principalities and bickering hereditary city-states. Individually, even together, they were no match for the gargantuan Muslim empire. Seeking to explain this power imbalance, many Europeans found answers not merely in politics but in what they perceived as their moral failings. In a world where religion and politics were conjoined, reversals of fortune represented judgements from God. Ottoman armies thus provoked in Christians existential introspection, sowing fertile ground for challenges to the entrenched social, religious, and political order.

By far the most extensive and consequential of these critiques came from a young German Catholic priest named Martin Luther. He suggested that Christianity’s weakness against Islam stemmed from the moral depravity of the Catholic Church. God had sent the Ottomans as a productive tool, what Luther called God’s “lash of inequity,” to cleanse Christians of their sins. Luther urged his coreligionists to embrace the bodily pain that would lead to spiritual renewal, for only those with purified souls could defeat Islam on the battlefield. Islam—always an abomination for Luther—served as a potent means of critiquing the graver evils of the church. “The pope kills the soul,” he wrote, “while the Turk can only destroy the body.” In addition to serving as an ideological counterpoint, the Ottomans bought Luther time. Because of their military mobilizations to defend against the Ottomans, Catholic powers demurred from sending a fighting force to quell these early Protestant stirrings. Had they, who knows whether any of us would have heard of Luther.

Q: One discovery of the Ottomans that most of us use daily is coffee. How did they first stumble upon this crop and realize its value?

AM: That’s right—we should all give a nod to Selim as we perk up each morning! Selim’s defeat of the Mamluk Empire in 1517 won him Yemen. Coffee had come to Yemen from Ethiopia and quickly took to the soils and markets of the Arabian peninsula. When Selim’s soldiers first stumbled upon it, they chewed the plant’s berries, enjoying its enlivening properties. It soon spread through their ranks. Thanks to the recently forged political and economic unity of Selim’s empire, the bean spread up from Yemen through the Middle East, across North Africa, and eventually to eastern Europe and across the Indian Ocean. The demand for coffee’s enjoyable and addictive properties soon soared across the world, making it one of history’s first truly global commodities. Yemen cornered the coffee market for several centuries, producing close to ninety percent of the world’s supply, before producers in the Americas and Southeast Asia outpaced it. It’s little wonder that the Yemeni port of Mocha lent its name to the drink.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

AM: I hope they see that the Ottomans and Islam are not so distant from their own world or sense of themselves, not so other. Islam is projected to supplant Christianity as the world’s largest religion by the year 2070, so an understanding of Islam’s complex role in world history becomes ever more imperative. We must move beyond a simplistic, ahistorical story of the rise of the west or a facile notion of a clash of civilizations. Islam was central to the history of the last 500 hundred years. It was and is a historical force of the utmost importance to be understood and integrated into our own histories. Without understanding the role of the foremost historical representatives of Islam, the Ottomans, we will not be able to understand either the past or the present. The Ottomans stood, in 1500, at the very center of the known world. The Ottoman Empire made the world we know today. American history contains a deep and lasting imprint of the Ottoman Empire, one overlooked, suppressed, and ignored. My book restores this history.

Alan Mikhail, professor of history and chair of the department of history at Yale University, is widely recognized for his work in Middle Eastern and global history. He is the author of three previous books and over thirty scholarly articles that have received multiple awards in the fields of Middle Eastern and environmental history, including the Fuat Köprülü Book Prize from the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association for Under Osman’s Tree: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Environmental History and the Roger Owen Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association for Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History. In 2018, he received the Anneliese Maier Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for internationally distinguished humanities scholars and social scientists. His writing has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Professor Mikhail wrote the following articles based on materials from his book:

“God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim I, his Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World” by Alan Mikhail

Selim I and Piri Mehmed Paşa (via Wikimedia Commons)

A lan Mikhail’s much-publicized and lavishly-illustrated new book on Selim I, which he calls “a revisionist account, providing a new and more holistic picture of the last five centuries,” would seem, at first, to be a very welcome addition to a rather sparse list of books, especially biographies, on Ottoman sultans.

Selim I, sultan from 1512 to 1520, is usually surnamed “the Grim”, which presumably tells us something. During his relatively brief reign, Selim conquered the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, adding some 70% to Ottoman territory. including Jerusalem and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Like many other sultans, however, he remains rather elusive, and research does not yield anything like as much material as it would were Mikhail writing about, say, Selim’s contemporary in England, Henry VIII.

Mikhail has at his disposal, above all, the hagiographical Selimname or Book of Selim, which we may term an “official” account of the sultan’s life and death, and which went through a number of manifestations over the years, but is nonetheless indispensable to an historian. There are accounts of individual actions recorded by contemporaries, and there are Western sources of varied reliability as well as paintings. Mikhail also has access to Selim’s own writings, including poetry. All in all, when it comes to painting a portrait of Selim I, Mikhail has done an excellent job with the material he has. Selim emerges as an extremely ruthless (he had two of his brothers strangled and deposed his own father) but cultured and religious man, a ruler who nevertheless showed tolerance towards Jews and encouraged learning, although with all that rushing around conquering people it’s surprising he had any leisure time at all to follow these interests or effect the reforms Mikhail tells us he carried out.

God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World, Alan Mikhail (Liveright, August 2020)

However, from the very first pages one can understand why the book has also been the subject of controversy, beginning as it does with asking readers why there should be a place called Matamoros, a Mexican city just across the border from Brownsville. Whatever has that got to do with the Ottomans, one might ask? Professor Mikhail has the answer: the name means “killer of the Moors”, a sobriquet of St James, the patron saint of Spain, and therefore it must have an Ottoman connection, because the Spanish have, from the Middle Ages onwards, feared the potential of spreading Turkish power, and of course Mexico was then part of Spain’s overseas empire. As Mikhail has it, “If we do not place Islam at the center of our grasp of world history, we will never understand why Moor-slayers are memorialized on the Texas-Mexico border,” an omission which has led us to have “blindly and repeatedly narrated histories that miss major features of our shared past.” Well, that’s certainly a breathtaking opening gambit, and the mention of Mexico gives the Central American connection which we can remember when Mikhail gets on to the Mayas, Incas and so on, ultimately leading to the chapter entitled “Christian Jihad” in Part Three, followed by the now-obligatory discussion of slavery.

Mikhail thus makes the first of many sometimes questionable connections between the Ottomans and the Americas, adding on, chapter by chapter, a great deal of strange and wonderful material about Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Mayas, the Reformation in general and Martin Luther in particular. There are sections on “Empire Everywhere”, “American Selim”, and a “Coda” entitled “Shadows over Turkey”, in which Mikhail argues that President Erdoğan’s policies can be understood in terms of his admiration for Selim I. Erdoğan, Mikhail informs us, even thinks that Muslims “discovered” America. More “relevance”, one supposes, but this, like so much in this book, may also be seen as simply “reaching”, a technique which can be simply misleading if the reader does not know the history well. This reviewer has come rather late to this controversy, but I was from the outset concerned by what seemed to Mikhail’s search for history’s “relevance” to our own world, to link Ottoman history to the United States (American historians tend to do this, according to one reviewer, because insular American readers want everything to be about America, and it sells more books), somehow “globalize” the short, warlike reign of Selim I, consequently reducing the importance of that of his son Süleyman I “the Magnificent” (1520-66). In this globalizing fervor, spread throughout the book, Selim himself often recedes into the background of the narrative, leaving readers rather lost, wondering what exactly this book is about as they travel with Columbus, dispute with Luther and Pope Leo X or take ship to America with Robert Cushman on the Mayflower a century after Selim’s death.

For much of the rest of the time, Selim is elevated by Mikhail into an incarnation of the “great man” idea of history as pioneered in the works of Thomas Carlyle, the one chosen by God and placed on earth to get significant things done, hence Selim’s title of “God’s shadow”. It does seem odd, however, that a soi-disant “revisionist” historian with “holistic” aspirations should even attempt to revive the “great man” idea by placing Selim I in the midst of events, but then having him often stand waiting in the wings while he attempts to connect faraway events with him. One could argue, however, that Selim’s title suggested that either he or his subjects did in fact think of him as a great man after all, shahs of Persia were often referred to as the “Pivot of the Universe”.

Mikhail’s thesis appears to be that the Ottomans under Selim I’s single-handed guidance (with some help from his mother Gülbahar Hatun) practically “invented” the modern world, which, according to an earlier book by another prize-winning American historian (Arthur Herman in 2001), had in fact already been invented by the Scots. The Ottomans, unlike the Scots, did this by making everyone very frightened of them. Would they seize Spanish colonies, dominate trade routes, and even go on to monopolize coffee? Worse than all these things, would Islam supplant Christianity everywhere? If so, what was needed was a new crusade and a general crackdown on Muslims, the best example of the latter being the well-known move made by Ferdinand V and his even more fanatically anti-Muslim wife Isabella I when they finally expelled the Moors from Granada. This act of brutality was one of the few significant contacts between Moors and Europeans during Selim’s lifetime. Selim’s wars were actually directed largely against fellow-Muslims, namely the Mamluks in Egypt and the Safavids in Iran, and his religious fervor at dissenters in his own faith, not at Christians or Jews. The Ottomans did not move to help Spain’s Moors against Ferdinand and Isabella, even as the latter must have been aware of their power.

Yet, Mikhail has given a wide-ranging, vividly-written and sympathetic account of Selim’s reign and administration, and has certainly made the point that historians need to look at the Ottoman Empire’s influence in the early modern world, especially in relation to the idea that early modern history is all about the “rise of the West”. Drawing on a multiplicity of sources in several languages, Mikhail does indeed present history from the Ottoman side, emphasizing their very real centrality in early modern history, and for that readers should be grateful. However, we should read carefully—it requires a leap of faith to incorporate the expansion of the narrative to Columbus, Luther or the “American Selim”, and in the end this reviewer was unable to make that leap, because it imposes 21st-century notions on early modern events. But as a book on Selim I and the rise of the early modern Ottomans, Mikhail’s book may be, for the moment, indispensable, although no doubt the same subject matter will be tackled by historians of a more traditional bent but who are, nonetheless, aware that the West is not the sole focal point of the historical development of our modern world.

Selim I in Egypt - History

The Egyptian dynasty was one of the most advanced in the history of the world, with their creation of huge structures such as pyramids, without the use of proper construction equipment, their forms of communication, roads and more. The Egyptians were one of the earliest civilisations in the world, and stood their ground against many obstacles throughout their existence. It wasn’t until Egypt fell to the Romans and became a Roman province when the ancient civilisation became entwined with European culture, but after this happened, Egypt’s history becomes slightly more blurred. If you’re interested in Ancient Egypt, then the Book of Ra slots quiz could be the perfect way for you to spend your time.

It was during the 18th century that the Egyptians had to defend their country against invaders from the likes of Napoleon. Due to Napoleon’s hate of Britain at the time, the conqueror invaded Egypt as an indirect method of harming British imperial interests. Napoleon had previously ventured into a campaign against Austria and won the Battle of Lodi, the Battle of Arcole and the Battle of Rivoli, returning to Paris a hero before his venture into Egypt.

At the time, Egypt were entirely Ottoman after Ottoman sultan Selim I captured Cairo in 1517. The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting Empires in history and was inspired and sustained by Islam. At the height of its power, the Ottomans controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa and the Horn of Africa. After capturing Egypt, the Empire created a naval presence on the Red Sea.

Egypt suffered many famines throughout the 18th century, and the 1784 famine cost the country approximately one sixth of its population, although it was still recovering from its weakened economic system and effects of the plagues from a few centuries prior.

In order to justify his invasion into Egypt in 1798, Napoleon proclaimed an invasion would defend French trade interests, by undermining Britain’s access to India and establishing scientific enterprise. Egypt at the time of invasion, although an Ottoman province, was not actually under direct Ottoman control and there was a lot of tension in the country due to the Mamluk elite.

18th century Egypt had supposedly influenced fashion in France, and many intellectuals saw Egypt was the cradle of western civilisation. In addition to this, French traders in the River Nile were complaining of harassment from the Mamluks another reason why Napoleon deemed it the right time to invade the country.

Napoleon’s fleet landed in Alexandria, and the army marched through the desert in the height of summer, to Cairo, with a fleet behind them following on sea. However, Napoleon’s fleet blew into the path of an enemy fleet supported by musket fire from 4,000 Mamluks. Although the French fleet had numerical superiority, they lost 600 on the battlefield after charging the village of Chebreiss. After this battle, with an exhausted army, Napoleon decided to draw up his 25,000 troops for battle around nine miles from the Pyramids of Giza – the battle is now known as the Battle of The Pyramids. During this battle, there was a French victory over an enemy force of 21,000 Mamluks.

It was after this that Napoleon was given control of the city of Cairo after it had been abandoned by the beys Murad and Ibrahim. After various naval and land battles and victories in Egypt, Napoleon began to behave as the absolute ruler of all Egypt, despite not having the support of the Egyptian population. In October 1798, there was a revolt from the people, and they attacked and mercilessly killed any Frenchmen they met after spreading weapons amongst themselves. The British were also attacking the French fleets, but Napoleon managed to push them and the Egyptian population back and remain in control of Egypt.

After a stint in Syria, where Napoleon had forced his troops into many more battle leaving the army in a critical condition, he returned to Egypt and was faced with a new land battle with Murad Bey, the bey who had fled when he first arrived in Cairo. This led to the land battle of Abukir. Although Napoleon won this battle, it was his last stint in Egypt, before returning to France, after feeling that there was nothing left for his campaign and ambitions in the country.

After Napoleon left the country, the Ottoman Empire once again took hold with the help of the British Empire and completely expelled the French from the country.

About the Author: Samuel Jackson for many years worked as an advisor for businesses across Europe and Asia. Now he invests his money wisely in property, oil and new business. Sam frequently writes blogs helping people mirror his financial success.

After Cairo omitted his name from a street, who is Selim I?

CAIRO – 13 February 2018: After many decades after the end of the Ottoman occupation, Cairo has omitted the name of Sultan Selim I from a Cairo street as a way to get rid of "unacceptable" names and distinguish between people who treasured Egypt and others who invaded and violated the country.

The story began when Mohamed Sabry al-Daly, professor of contemporary history at Helwan University, submitted an official request to Cairo governorate to change the name of Sultan Selim I Street in Zaytoun district of eastern Cairo.

Egypt is a country with a multicultural society that has respected and received people from all countries throughout the world. Therefore, many Egyptian streets are named after foreign characters.

With the 500th anniversary of Sultan Selim’s invasion of Cairo and the end of the Mamluk era in the country, the Egyptian government has recently recognized that Sultan Selim I was not a patriotic symbol, but rather an invader who came to control Egypt and capitalize its resources.

The street was named after Selim I in the second half of the 19th century, under the reign of Mohamed Ali.

Sultan Selim I was born on October 10, 1470, in Amasya, Turkey. He was the youngest son of Sultan Bayezid II.

He provoked a dispute between Sultan Bayezid and his brother, Ahmed. By 1512, he declared himself sultan when he orchestrated a coup against his father and killed his brothers and nephews in order to eliminate his rivals for the throne.

The Turkish people named him “Selim the Resolute” because of his courage in the battlefield. However, other people named him “Selim the Grim” due to his face always being sullen.

The era of Sultan Selim I was distinguished from previous eras, as his conquest turned to the east instead of Western Europe. His state expanded to comprise Sham (Levant), Iraq, Hijaz (western Arabia) and Egypt. He is highly respected in modern Turkey.

Sultan Selim I reached Egypt after he invaded Syria, and he dispatched a reconciliation offer to then-ruler Tuman Bey with one condition: that Tuman Bey should recognize his authority. Tuman Bey refused.

On January 23, 1517, Sultan Selim killed Tuman Bey and hanged his body for three days on Bab Zuweila, a gate that still exists at the walls of Old Cairo, until feral birds decimated his body.

He fought and committed injustices against the Egyptian people, destroyed the Mamluk Sultanate, with Cairo as its capital, that had included Hijaz, Sham and Yemen, breaking it into small states affiliated to the Ottoman Empire, and he disbanded the Egyptian army, which was able to consolidate its power 250 years later.

Recently, some have suggested replacing Sultan Selim’s name with Ali Bey Al Kabir, who is considered the first Mamluk commander to face the Ottoman Empire, reestablish the Egyptian army and give independence to Egypt from the Ottomans for a few years.

Sultan Yavuz Selim I

Sultan Selim was born on 10th of October 1470 in Amasya. His father was Beyazid II and mother was Gulbahar Hatun. He was ascended to throne in 1512 and ruled the Ottoman Empire for 8 years until 1520.

Selim's nickname was Yavuz, standing in Turkish for "the Stern" or "the Grim". During his rule, the Ottoman Empire reached huge extensions thanks to his conquests especially in the Middle East. He also took the title of being a Caliphate from Abbasids after defeating Mamluk state in Egypt, becoming the leader of the Islamic world as well. The sword, teeth and the mantle of Prophet Muhammad were taken from Cairo to Istanbul, which are kept today in Topkapi Palace Museum.

Selim was one of the Empire's most successful and respected sultans. He was tall, strong, brave, fierce, but very modest despite his powers and was writing poems. He never rested during his rule, he worked hard and organized campaigns, filled the treasury with lots of gold. He was an expert on using the sword, archery, and wrestling. He had long mustache but he cut his beard, unlike other sultans. He also had an earing on one ear.

In 1489 Yavuz Selim became the governor of Trabzon. Due to the threat of the Shiis developing in Persia, he fought against Shah Ismail's forces. In 1508 he overcame Shah's big army corps and drove them out of his borders. He was going to go further but returned on demand of his father.

Yavuz Sultan Selim attacked Georgia and owing to his heroic acts and successes he was named "Yavuz". Yavuz Sultan Selim attacked Caucasia without permission of his father Sultan Beyazid, and wanted to have a governor's post in Rumeli in order to be close to Istanbul. When he couldn't get what he wanted, he attacked Edirne via Rumeli and was defeated by his father's army and escaped to Crimea. In 1512 Sehzade Ahmet, during his father's lifetime, was called to Istanbul to become the ruler. But this time janissaries rebelled hence he had to go back. Upon this, Yavuz Sultan Selim was called and became the ruler. Yavuz was interested in sports and science.

In 1514, before his campaign to Iran, Yavuz Selim I ordered the persecution of thousands of Alevis in the province of Rum in Anatolia in order to avoid the risk of being attacked while marching to that territory for the war.

Selim I died on 22nd of September 1520 in Tekirdag province. His son, Suleyman I "the Magnificent", became the next sultan of the Ottoman Empire.


SELIM I ° (reigned 1512–20), Ottoman sultan. The son of Sultan *Bayazid ii, Selim was the ninth Ottoman sultan. Demonstrating military prowess, he was favored by the army over his elder brother Ahmed to succeed his father. He succeeded within a short time to ward off the Safavid (Persian) menace and to destroy the *Mamluk Sultanate, annexing *Syria and *Egypt and the Muslim holy places in Mecca and *Medina to his domains. Through these conquests, the *Ottoman Empire became the leading Muslim power.

Jewish exiles from Spain and Portugal were welcomed by the Ottoman sultans. Joseph *Hamon (d. 1518) became Selim's physician. The sultan displayed a benevolent attitude towards the Jews and permitted the construction of new synagogues. Elijah Mizrachi was the chief dayyan of Constantinople and in Selim's time there existed the office of *kahya, i.e., a liaison officer between the Jewish communities and the government, among whose functions was the collection of taxes.

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