The Ottoman dynasty (Turkish: Osmanlı Hanedanı) was made up of the members of the imperial House of Osman (Ottoman Turkish: خاندان آل عثمان Ḫānedān-ı Āl-ı ʿOsmān). Also known as the Ottomans (Turkish: Osmanlılar). According to Ottoman tradition, the family originated from the Kayı tribe[nb 1] branch of the Oghuz Turks, under Osman I in northwestern Anatolia in the district of Bilecik Söğüt. The Ottoman dynasty, named after Osman I, ruled the Ottoman Empire from c. 1299 to 1922.
During much of the Empire's history, the sultan was the absolute regent, head of state, and head of government, though much of the power often shifted to other officials such as the Grand Vizier. During the First (1876–78) and Second Constitutional Eras (1908–20) of the late Empire, a shift to constitutional monarchy was enacted, with the Grand Vizier taking on a prime ministerial role as head of government and heading an elected General Assembly.
The imperial family was deposed from power and the sultanate was abolished on 1 November 1922 after the Turkish War of Independence. The Republic of Turkey was declared the following year. The living members of the dynasty were initially sent into exile as personae non gratae, though some have been allowed to return and live as private citizens in Turkey. In its current form, the family is known as the Osmanoğlu family.
Fleeing the Mongol onslaught, Suleyman Shah, Baig of the Kayı tribe and the father of Ertuğrul, who was, in turn, the father of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, immigrated from Central Asia with his tribe to settle in Anatolia with their Turkic kindred, the Anatolian Seljuks. Later on, Ertuğrul pledged allegiance to the Sultan of the Anatolian Seljuks, who granted him dominion over the town of Söğüt on the Byzantine frontier.
The Ottoman dynasty operated under several basic premises: that the Sultan governed the empire’s entire territory, that every male member of the dynastic family was hypothetically eligible to become Sultan, and that only one person at a time could be the Sultan. Such rules were fairly standard for monarchic empires of the time. The certain processes through which men rose to the Sultanate, however, were very specific to the Ottoman Empire. To go into greater detail about these processes, the history of succession between Sultans can be divided into two eras: the period between the reign of Orhan (1323-1362), the first person to inherit the Ottoman sultanate, and the reign of Ahmed I (1603-1617); and the period following Ahmed I’s reign.
The succession process during the first period was dominated by violence and intra-familial conflict, in which the various sons of the deceased Sultan fought until only one remained alive and, thus, inherited the throne. This tradition was known as fratricide in the Ottoman Empire, but may have evolved from tanistry, a similar succession procedure that existed in many Turco-Mongolian dynasties predating the Ottomans. Sons of the Sultan were often given provincial territories to govern until the Sultan’s death, at which point they would each vie for the throne. Each son had to, according to historian "H. Erdem Cipa", “demonstrate that his fortune was superior to the fortunes of his rivals,” a demonstration that often took the form of military accomplishment and ruthlessness. This violence was not considered particularly unexpected or unusual. As Cipa has noted, the Ottoman words for “successor” and “conflict” share the same Arabic root, and indeed, all but one of the successions in this roughly 200-year period involved a resolution by combat. Over time, the combat became increasingly prevalent and recognized, especially after a Jannissary uprising negated Murad II’s attempt to abdicate the throne peacefully to his son, Mehmed II, in 1444. During the eventual reign of Mehmed II (1451-1481), fratricide was legalized as an official practice; during the reign of Bayezid II (1481-1512), fratricide between Bayezid II’s sons occurred before Bayezid II himself died; and after the reign of Murad III (1574-1595), successor Mehmed III executed a whopping 19 relatives in order to claim the throne.
During the second period, the tradition of fratricide was replaced by a simpler and less violent procedure. Starting with the succession from Ahmed I to Mustafa I in 1617, the Ottoman throne was inherited by the eldest male family member — not necessarily son — of the Sultan, regardless of how many eligible family members were alive. The change in succession procedure was likely instigated by numerous factors, including fratricide’s decline in popularity among Ottoman elites and Ahmed I’s decision not to kill Mustafa when inheriting the throne from Mehmed III in 1603. With the door opened for a change in policy, a political debate arose between those who supported unrestricted Sultan privilege and those who supported a stronger, centralized law system that would supersede even the Sultan’s power to an extent, and historian "Baki Tezcan" has argued that the latter faction — with the help of influential grand mufti "Sa’deddinzade Es’ad" — was able to prevail in this instance. The blood-free succession from Ahmed I to Mustafa I in 1617 “provided a reference for the eventual stabilization of the rule of Ottoman succession, the very regulation of which by an outside force was in effect a constitutional check on the dynastic prerogative,” Tezcan has written. The precedent set in 1617 stuck, as the eldest living family member successfully inherited the throne in each of the following 21 successions, with relatively few instances of a son inheriting the throne.
From the fourteenth through the late sixteenth centuries, the Ottomans practiced open succession – something historian Donald Quataert has described as "survival of the fittest, not eldest, son." During their father's lifetime, all adult sons of the reigning sultan obtained provincial governorships. Accompanied and mentored by their mothers, they would gather supporters while ostensibly following a Ghazi ethos. Upon the death of the reigning sultan, his sons would fight amongst themselves until one emerged triumphant. A prince's proximity to Constantinople improved his chances of succession, simply because he would hear of his father's death and declare himself Sultan first. A sultan could thus hint at his preferred successor by giving a favourite son a closer governorship. Bayezid II, for instance, had to fight his brother Cem Sultan in the 1480s for the right to rule.
Occasionally, the half-brothers would begin the struggle even before the death of their father. Under Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566), strife between his sons Mustafa and Selim caused such internal turmoil that Suleiman ordered the deaths of both Mustafa and another son, Bayezid, leaving Selim the sole heir.
During the reigns of Suleiman and Selim II, the Haseki Sultan (Ottoman Turkish: حسکي سلطان) or chief consort rose to greater prominence. Gaining power within the Imperial Harem, the favourite was able to manoeuvre to ensure the succession for one of her sons. This led to a short period of effective primogeniture. However, unlike the earlier period, when the sultan had already defeated his brothers and potential rivals for the throne in battle, these sultans had the problem of many half-brothers who could act as the focus for rival factions. Thus, to prevent attempts at seizing the throne, reigning sultans practiced fratricide upon accession, starting with Murat I in 1362. Both Murad III and his son Mehmed III had their half-brothers murdered. The killing of all the new sultan's brothers and half-brothers (which were usually quite numerous) was traditionally done by manual strangling with a silk cord. As the centuries passed, the ritual killing was gradually replaced by lifetime solitary confinement in the "Golden Cage" or kafes, a room in the harem from where the sultan's brothers could never escape, unless perchance they became heir presumptive. Some had already become mentally unstable by the time they were asked to reign.
Mehmed III was the last sultan to have previously held a provincial governorship. Sons now remained within the harem until the death of their father. This not only denied them the ability to form powerful factions capable of usurping their father, but also denied them the opportunity to have children while their father remained alive. Thus, when Mehmet's son came to the throne as Ahmed I, he had no children of his own. Moreover, as a minor, there was no evidence he could have children. This had the potential to create a crisis of succession and led to a gradual end to fratricide. Ahmed had some of his brothers killed, but not Mustafa (later Mustafa I). Similarly, Osman II allowed his half-brothers Murad and Ibrahim to live. This led to a shift in the 17th century from a system of primogeniture to one based on agnatic seniority, in which the eldest male within the dynasty succeeded, also to guarantee adult sultans and prevent both fratricides as well as the sultanate of women. Thus, Mustafa succeeded his brother Ahmed; Suleiman II and Ahmed II succeeded their brother Mehmed IV before being succeeded in turn by Mehmed's son Mustafa II. Agnatic seniority explains why from the 17th century onwards a deceased sultan was rarely succeeded by his own son, but usually by an uncle or brother. It also meant that potential rulers had to wait a long time in the kafes before ascending the throne, hence the old age of certain sultans upon their enthronement. Although attempts were made in the 19th century to replace agnatic seniority with primogeniture, they were unsuccessful, and seniority was retained until the abolition of the sultanate in 1922.
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The Ottoman Dynasty had unusual succession practices compared to other monarchies. Those succession practices changed over time, and ultimately the sultanate was abolished in 1922. Later, the House of Osman (Turkish: Osmanoğlu Ailesi) continued the latest succession practice for the head of the family.
The Ottoman dynasty is known in modern Turkish as Osmanlı Hanedanı, meaning "House of Osman"; in Ottoman Turkish it was known as Hanedan-ı Âl-i Osman, meaning "Dynasty of the Family Osman".
The first rulers of the dynasty did not take the title of Sultan, but rather Bey, a title roughly the Turkic equivalent of Lord, which would itself become a gubernatorial title and even a common military or honorific rank. Thus they still formally acknowledged the sovereignty of the Seljuk Empire and its successor, the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm.
The first Ottoman ruler to actually claim the title of Sultan was Murad I, who ruled from 1362 to 1389. The holder of the title Sultan (سلطان in Arabic) was in Arabic-Islamic dynasties originally the power behind the throne of the Caliph in Bagdad and it was later used for various independent Muslim Monarchs. This title was senior to and more prestigious than that of Amir; it was not comparable to the title of Malik 'King', a secular title not yet common among Muslim rulers, or the Persian title of Shah, which was used mostly among Persian or Iranian related rulers.
With the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II Fatih (1451 - 1481) claimed the title Kaysar-i-Rûm "Emperor of Rome" and proclaimed himself the protector of the Orthodox Church. He appointed the Patriarch of Constantinople Gennadius Scholarius, whom he protected and whose status he elevated into leader of all the Eastern Orthodox Christians. As Emperor of Rome he laid claim to all Roman territories, which at the time before the Fall of Constantinople, however, extended to little more than the city itself plus some areas in Morea (Peloponnese).
Sultan Mehmed II also took the title of Padishah (in Turkish 'Padişah') (پادشاه), a Persian title meaning "Master of Kings" and ranking as "Emperor", claiming superiority among the other kings. His full style was Sultan Mehmed II Khan, Fatih Ghazi 'Abu'l Fath (Victorious Conqueror, Father of Conquest), Padishah, Sovereign of the House of Osman, Emperor of Rome, Grand Sultan of Anatolia and Rumelia, Khan of Khans of the Two Lands and the Two Seas, Emperor of the three Cities of Constantinople, Edirne and Bursa. He was the first Ottoman ruler to adopt the imperial title of Padishah.
The Ottoman claim to caliphate was strengthened when they defeated the Mamluks in 1517 and annexed Egypt during the rule of Selim I. Selim also received the title "Custodian of the Two Noble Sanctuaries", Khadim al-Haramayn ash-Sharifayn in Arabic, from Barakat Effendi Grand Sharif of Mecca when conquering Hijaz and with it the Muslim Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. Selim I full style was: Sovereign of the House of Osman, Khan of Khans of the Two Lands and the Two Seas, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe, Custodian of the Two Noble Sanctuaries, Emperor of the Three Cities of Constantinople, Adrianople and Bursa, Conqueror of the two Armies (i.e. the European and Persian armies).
In Europe, all Ottoman Emperors were commonly referred to by the title of Sultan, rather than by those of Padishah or Caliph, which had a higher rank than that of Sultan, and were also often informally referred to by such terms unrelated to the Ottoman protocol as the Grand Turk and the Grand Seigneur or Gran Signore.
The sultans further adopted in time many secondary formal titles as well, such as "Sovereign of the House of Osman", "Sultan of Sultans", and "Khan of Khans", these two meaning King of Kings and roughly ranking as "Emperor". These titles were known in Ottoman Turkish respectively as Hünkar-i Khanedan-i Âl-i Osman, Sultan us-Salatin and Khakan (the latter enlarged as Khakan ül-Berreyn vel-Bahreyn by Mehmet II, Bayezid II and Selim I, meaning "Khan of Khans of the Two Lands (Europe and Asia) and the Two Seas (Mediterranean and Indian)".
As the empire grew, sultans adopted secondary titles expressing the empire's claim to be the legitimate successor of the absorbed states. Furthermore, they tended to enumerate even regular provinces, not unlike the long lists of -mainly inherited- feudal titles in the full style of many Christian European monarchs.
Some early Ottoman Sultans even had to accept the vassal status in the eyes of a foreign overlord. For example, Tamerlane appointed in 1402 the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman Çelebi (deposed in 1411), who was styled as-Sultan ul-Azam, Sayyid us-Saladin ul-Arab wal Ajam, Malik ur-Rikaab ul-Umam, Ghiyas ud-Daula wa ud-Dunya, Sultan ul-Islam wal-Muslimin, as-Sultan ibni us-Sultan, Hasib-i-Nasib-I-Zaman, Amir ul-Rumelia (Grand Sultan, Righteous Lord of Arabs, Helper of the State and the People, Sultan of Islam and the Muslims, Sultan son of Sultans, Prince of Rumelia). Again his brother, Mehmed I, who ended the Ottoman Interregnum, also held his post with a fief from Tamerlane; he took the title Sovereign of the House of Osman, Khan of Khans, Grand Sultan of Anatolia and Rumelia, and of the Cities of Adrianople and Philipopolis. However, the vassalage of the Ottoman Sultanate ended with the death of Tamerlane during the reign of the next Ottoman ruler, Sultan Murad II, who took the style Sultan ul-Mujahidin, Sovereign of the House of Osman, Khan of Khans, Grand Sultan of Anatolia and Rumelia, and of the Cities of Adrianople and Philipopolis.
After the fall of the Ottoman dynasty as Emperors of the Ottoman State (Padishah-ı Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmaniyye in Ottoman Turkish), Abdulmecid II (1922) was still proclaimed Caliph with the title Caliph ("Halife", in modern Turkish) by the republican Government of the Grand National Assembly of the city of Ankara on November 19, 1922. However, the Ottoman Caliphate too was abolished soon afterwards, and Abdulmecid II was utterly deposed and expelled from Turkey with the rest of the Ottoman dynasty on 3 March 1924. He officially continued to hold the title of the throne as the Head of the House of Osman ("Osmanlı Hanedanı Reisi", in modern Turkish) until his death.
The Ottoman dynasty was expelled from Turkey in 1924 and most members took on the surname Osmanoğlu, meaning "son of Osman." The female members of the dynasty were allowed to return after 1951, and the male members after 1973. Below is a list of people who would have been heirs to the Ottoman throne following the abolition of the sultanate on 1 November 1922. These people have not necessarily made any claim to the throne; for example, Ertuğrul Osman said "Democracy works well in Turkey."
According to genealogies of the House of Osman, there would hypothetically be 24 princes now in the line of succession after Dündar Aliosman, if the sultanate had not been abolished. They are listed as follows; the succession law used is agnatic seniority, with the succession passing to eldest male dynast.
'NOTE:' Eligibility: A male person born to parents who are not married to each other at the time of birth is not included in the line of succession and passes no rights to their descendants. The subsequent marriage of the parents does not alter this. At the time of accession, the male heir to the throne must be a Muslim. Any Ottoman Prince who has converted from Islam is excluded from the line of succession.
That they hailed from the Kayı branch of the Oğuz confederacy seems to be a creative "rediscovery" in the genealogical concoction of the fifteenth century. It is missing not only in Ahmedi but also, and more importantly, in the Yahşi Fakih-Aşıkpaşazade narrative, which gives its own version of an elaborate genealogical family tree going back to Noah. If there was a particularly significant claim to Kayı lineage, it is hard to imagine that Yahşi Fakih would not have heard of it
Based on these charters, all of which were drawn up between 1324 and 1360 (almost one hundred fifty years prior to the emergence of the Ottoman dynastic myth identifying them as members of the Kayı branch of the Oguz federation of Turkish tribes), we may posit that...
The problem of Ottoman origins has preoccupied students of history, but because of both the absence of contemporary source materials and conflicting accounts written subsequent to the events there seems to be no basis for a definitive statement.
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— Imperial house —
||Ruling house of the Ottoman Empire
c. 1299 – 19 November 1922
1517–3 March 1924