Interview: Sokullu Mehmed Pasha
Today we'll be sitting down for an interview with Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire.
(The Pasha, a tall man with a dark beard wearing a white turban, leans back on some pillows. A page enters bringing two cups of hot Turkish coffee, one for me and one for him. The page serves me first, then the Pasha.)
Me: So, tell me something about yourself, Pasha.
Sokullu: I was born in the Bosnian town of Sokolac in 1506, as you Christians reckon it. When I was ten years old, I was taken by the devshirme, the Padishah's levy of Christian youth from the Balkans. "Christian" for a certain value of Christian, given the pagan superstitions still prevalent at the time. I was introduced to the true worship of God soon enough.
Me: So how did you become grand vizier?
Sokullu: It took a long time. By 1541, I was Imperial Chamberlain and overseer of the squires of Padishah Suleiman, who taught me a great deal. After serving him in peace and in war, I became third vizier in 1555. That year did not start out well--I had to quell a rebellion by some lowlife pretending to be one of the Padishah's sons--but my brother from Bosnia did visit me and I made some improvements to the Orthodox Church in the area. I became second vizier in 1561 and the Padishah honored me greatly with a marriage to his granddaughter. In 1565, I became the grand vizier. That year began the war with the Hapsburgs, the war in which the Padishah died.
Sokullu: Yes. It was at a most inconvenient time, so I had to permanently silence the witnesses. It was not until over a month later that I formally announced his death.
Sokullu: When an Imperial prince becomes a new sultan, he typically puts his brothers and half-brothers to death. The bowstring, to avoid spilling royal blood. That provides an unfortunate incentive for the other sons of the sultan to contest the succession. In the worst case, you end up with something like the Interregnum in which several sons of the Padishah fought for power. Better a few sons of royal blood get the bowstring than thousands die on the battlefield. Power comes at a price.
Me: Perhaps the sultan shouldn't father so many children.
Sokullu: And risk the spread of rumor that he is impotent? That would invite a challenge to his authority. If the Padishah favors a particular son, he will place him in a position where he can easily take the throne. This gives his sons incentive to work hard, to earn his favor. Enough of this subject.
Me: So you ensured Selim became the new emperor?
Sokullu: I did, although it was a rather touch-and-go process. Everyone was demanding favors, higher wages and the like. Eventually I tired of their insolence and broke some heads.
Me: How has the Empire fared since then?
Sokullu: For the most part well. The Padishah gives me a great deal of latitude to ensure the stability of the Sublime State and the victories of its armies. Unfortunately, the Latin states have recently inflicted on us a fairly substantial bloody nose, something it has taken a great expenditure of resources to repair.
Me: You're referring to the Battle of Lepanto?
Sokullu: The very one. We just finished replacing all the ships lost in the engagement. Replacing the experienced sailors lost will be harder still. And the spice trade is beginning to pass from the land routes we control to the sea routes the Latin states dominate, which is threatening our tax revenue. Dealing with the situation may require...drastic measures.
Me: What sort of drastic measures?
(Sokullu tents his fingers)
Sokullu: One of my agents has recently made a suggestion I've found very interesting. I will look into it further.
Want to see what Sokullu's "drastic measures" entail? If so, check out "The Beast of the Bosporus."