Once upon a time . . .the Law of Fratricide

Mehmed III rid himself of 19 brothers / crowland.uw.hu

Mehmed III rid himself of 19 brothers / crowland.uw.hu

For those of you who are not entirely confident (very few indeed I should judge) in the English language there are a number of useful words that end in -cide. Parricide, patricide, matricide, fratricide and genocide are a few of them. These mean respectively the killing of one’s parents, father, mother, brother and the attempt made to kill a nation’s whole population. You can probably think of nasty examples of each. In a recent post mention is made of one of the Ottoman Sultans – Mehmed I, a.k.a. The Conquerer. This charmer made a Law which said, “To whichever of my sons the Sultunate may be granted, it is proper for him to put to death his brothers, to preserve the order of the world”.

   Mehmed II clarified this drastic law by explaining that it was designed to provide a stable regime and prevent dynastic conflicts for the succession to the throne. For one hundred and fifty years unlucky brothers of a Sultan would be strangled with a silken bowstring specially provided for the purpose.

   The last of these draconian ‘punishments for being born’ took place in the year 1595 when Sultan Mehmed III used the silken cord on his nineteen brothers. After this ministers proposed that the succession would go to the oldest member of the House of Ottoman. No longer sent to rule provinces, the princes now spent the rest of their lives in a sort of luxurious prison, a group of buildings in the royal palace. They would emerge from a pampered life surrounded by beautiful women only to become a new sultan. Most died in the prison.

   It comes as no surprise to learn that this new system brought about a strong decline in the quality of sultans, who were often feeble in body and mind as a result of being shut up with nothing but rich food and concubines to sustain them. All actual power was in the hands of the reigning Sultan. Eventually the Ottoman Empire faded away to nothing, but not before an important European statesman described Turkey as ‘the sick man of Europe’ – not without reason.

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