Game of Ottoman Thrones

George R.R. Martin once claimed that “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that is just as bad, or worse”. Eh, it is a scary thought […]

George R.R. Martin once claimed that “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that is just as bad, or worse”. Eh, it is a scary thought but also the truth. Considering Ottoman history, there’re some events in the series that bears stark similarities and some book’s characters make a historical parallel with some Sultans, Sultanas, Sehzades (Princes), Grand Viziers and Pashas. Here are five tragic events from the history of the Ottoman Empire.



Who wouldn’t remember the night when Game of Thrones fans danced happily in front of their TVs to celebrate the death of King Joffrey? Unfortunately, the young, sadistic and cowardly king was poisoned during his wedding feast. The same terms can be used to describe Sultan Bayezid II’s character. What was different though? He couldn’t escape sharing the same death as Joffrey, but he also didn’t know he had a son like Ramsey Bolton.

In the last years of Sultan Bayezid’s life, he had three sons who were princes; Ahmed, the governor of Amasya, Korkut of Antalya and Selim of Trabzon. Among the three princes, Ahmed was closest to the Ottoman throne. As he was the eldest son, his province was the closest to the capital and his father the Sultan, and Ottoman statesmen were in favour of him. Nevertheless, the other two princes were making plans of their own to reach the Ottoman throne.

While tensions were high, one day, the messengers were sent to Prince Ahmed to invite him to the capital to be a Sultan. He marched towards the capital but couldn’t set foot in the city. The Janissaries, who loved Prince Selim, were rebelling against the palace, declaring their preference for a more suitable sultan. In despair, Ahmed returned back to Anatolia where he began contriving plans of his own. At this juncture, Prince Selim played the Sultan’s game; he asked the Janissaries to raise their voice for a military intervention against the rebellious Prince Ahmed and declare that they wanted Selim as a commander of the army.

Sultan Bayezid thought he could placate the cries of the Janissaries by sending Selim as a commander, but his efforts were to no avail. Once Selim arrived to the capital, he changed his tune and asked his father to abdicate the throne in favour of him. Having no other option, because of the pressures of the Janissaries, Sultan Bayezid obeyed the request thus, becoming the first deposed Sultan in Ottoman history. He was immediately exiled but couldn’t make it beyond Büyükçekmece, only 40 km away from the city, where he eventually died. He was said to be poisoned by his Jewish doctor on his son’s orders.

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Jon Snow is everybody’s hero. Everybody loves him because he is 100 percent good. He’s kind, handsome, smart, brave, a fearsome warrior and honorable. If you remember for almost ten months’ people mourned his death and begged for him to be brought back. What a love people had for him! The same goes for Sehzade Mustafa. There is no event in the history of the Ottoman Empire that still saddens the Turks more than the execution of him.

Prince Mustafa, the first child of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, had a character that was very similar to Jon Snow. He was a popular hero amongst the people, scholars and the Janissaries. He was expected to be the next Sultan by the Janissaries, who created a deep and emotional bond with him. However, he didn’t play the game of thrones properly and he lost his head for it.

Roxelana (Hurrem Sultan), who was a figure like “Cersei”, wanted one of her sons to succeed the Sultan; otherwise, her sons would be executed by Mustafa according to the Ottoman succession tradition. Prince Mustafa was an enemy who had to be taken care of and for this Roxelana allied with the Grand Vizier Rustem Pasha, her son-in-law, who was a figure similar to “Petyr Baelish”. Together, they made the Sultan believe that Mustafa was planning to usurp the throne. The proud Sultan remembered well that his own father had gained the throne by a coup. As expected, he didn’t want to go down in history as a deposed sultan.

-He announced a campaign against the Savefid Empire, and on the way he decided to settle in a town in the Konya province. Rustem Pasha sent a messenger to Sehzade Mustafa to call him to join his father’s army. Despite all advice’s given, Mustafa, who was stupidly honourable, turned a deaf ear and appeared in the camp to meet with his Sultan father. When he entered his father’s tent, he didn’t find his father waiting, instead he found deaf and mute executioners who were waiting to strangle the unfortunate prince to death.

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King Aerys II Targaryen, better known as “the Mad King”, was a crazed ruler who wanted to burn King’s Landing and everyone in it.  Ibrahim, the 18th Ottoman Sultan, may not have asked to burn the capital city of Istanbul with all the Istanbulites in it, but he didn’t get the title “Mad” for nothing. He was one of the most unique characters who sat on the Ottoman throne.

Ibrahim the Mad was released from the “Cage”, where he spent  23 years in fear of death, and succeeded his brother Murad IV, who had executed his three other brothers. He left Ibrahim because he was too mad to be a threat; at least, that was what his mother Kösem Sultan said. Once in power, Kösem Sultan began running the empire, and Sultan Ibrahim immediately built up a harem of virgins and spent his entire time with them. Despite the excessive number of women in his harem, the rumours say that Ibrahim kidnapped the daughter of the Grand Mufti, the highest religious leader in the empire, and sent her back to her father’s house after a few days.

Another rumour states that the lunatic, Sultan, lusted for fat woman and he ordered his servants to find the heaviest lady in all of the land. His servants returned with a 150 kilo woman named “Sugar Cube”. She became the Sultan’s most favourite one. This woman was said to be the protagonist of one of the strangest harem stories ever heard, as Ibrahim had his entire harem put in sacks and thrown in the Bosphorus because she had said so. Still, Ibrahim’s crazy decisions had neither beginning nor end. He also has strange habits such as, giving important positions to whomever he loved, acquiring all the gold and jewels as well as exotic ambergris, which he used for drenching his beard, clothes and room hangings, and above all he was obsessed with furs. He wanted to see furs everywhere in Topkapı Palace, insomuch that even the cats were dressed in furs on orders of him.

While the empire was in crisis, the tales of Ibrahim’s madness provoked the Janissaries to mutiny. His mother Kösem Sultan did nothing to save her son. The Janissaries marched to Topkapı Palace and demanded the Sultan’s head. Ibrahim was captured and put in the “Cage” meanwhile Mehmed VI, Ibrahim’s 7-year-old son, was declared Sultan. Tragicomically, the first action of the young sultan was to sign his father’s death warrant! In the end, Ibrahim the Mad was strangled by a gang of assassins in Topkapı Palace.

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You may probably remember the Red Wedding massacre, the most shocking and horrific scene in Game of Thrones. It was without doubt a night to remember because Robb Stark, the King in the North, most of his banner-men and men-at-arms, were murdered during the massacre. This was the end of the Stark’s reign in the North. Although, the way how the event took place is not similar, the “Auspicious Incident” in Ottoman history is just as shocking, horrifying and bloody, as the Red Wedding.

The Janissary Corps in the 14th century was one of the first regular armies in Europe. They were lionhearted soldiers, passed from victory to victory, and made the Ottomans one of the greatest empires in history. However, this was not the case by the 17th century. They accustomed to a civilian lifestyle, making themselves landholders and tradesman, who were able to marry and have children, and as expected there was no way to see their power in the battlefield anymore. What they were doing best was changing Ottoman sultans through palace coups whenever they wished. Sultan Mahmud II decided to end this corruption but his wish was dangerous because if the Janissaries learnt of it, his head would have been taken.

As an intelligent and tireless youth, he planned and played the chess game masterfully. He appointed his loyal men to the key positions in the corps and next he gained the support of palace officials and scholars in return of rewarding them with important positions in the new army. Sick of the abuses of the Janissaries, of course, citizens of Istanbul were ready to help the Sultan too. The Sultan finally put his plans into action in June of 1826, while waiting for the right moment. The rumors that the Sultan was going to form a new army according to the latest European standards spread through the city by the sultan’s agents. The Janissaries who heard the news immediately mutinied as usual.

While the Janissaries were stirring up trouble on the streets, the standard of the Prophet was displayed and all the men in honour were called to fight against the rebellious Janissaries. The Sultan’s loyal troops opposed the Janissaries and forced them to retire to their barracks. That was the moment when the slaughter began. Huge bombardment and oil rags were fired and as expected flames spread rapidly and engulfed the wooden barracks. The Janissary soldiers who didn’t die in the flames were shot down as they tried to escape from the chaos. With a military action that lasted less than six hours from start to finish, rebellious Janissaries were destroyed in the capital. There were very few Janissaries who succeeded to escape from the city but nevertheless, the Sultan’s agents pursued and hunted them down wherever they were.

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People love to hate Cersei Lannister. She stands powerful in a world that is dominated by men because she is extremely ambitious and a fearless woman who doesn’t fear doing devilish acts when necessary. Cersei’s historical parallel in Ottoman history is Kösem Sultan with only one exception. Cersei uses her devious and cunning mind to protect her sons but Kösem Sultan does only to be Sultana, by any means necessary.

After her husband, Sultan Ahmed I died, she found herself in the midst of political chaos. From then on, she used her wits, which had a far greater effect than a Sultan using his army, money or his leadership. As expected of her, she eliminated her opponents by any way necessary. Throughout her life Kösem saw reigns of six different Ottoman sultans and the first one was the reign of the mad Sultan, Mustafa. To protect her own sons, she lobbied against Osman, the eldest son of Sultan Ahmed and heir to the throne. It resulted in the usurpation of his right to sit on the Ottoman throne.  After that she built a good relationship with Osman and started lobbying against Sultan Mustafa. When Sultan Mustafa was taken to the “Cage”, Osman was declared Sultan. She kept a good relationship with Osman for a while, but things changed and Kösem began undermining his position by provoking the Janissaries.

Young and inexperienced Sultan Osman, was not aware of the chess game that was carefully planned by Kösem Sultan and that mistake cost him a lot. The result was uprising by the Janissaries. He was first imprisoned and then strangled to death. After a year following Sultan Osman’s death, Kösem’s 12-year old Murad was enthroned and because he was only a child, Kösem Sultan ruled the empire through him. At the age of 21, Sultan Murad, finally gained full control of his sultanate. However, he didn’t get to live long. He died at the young age of 28 and on his deathbed, Ibrahim the Mad succeeded the throne. During his reign, the empire was entirely Kösem’s to rule.

Kösem was now old, therefore, when Ibrahim’s 7-year-old son, mothered by Turhan Sultana, ascended the throne, Kösem Sultan was at age of 61. Still, she had no intention of giving her power to Turhan Sultana. This resulted in the start of a war between the two sultanas and this public dispute continued until the executioners were sent to strangle Kösem in the harem room. Following her death a new age in Ottoman history had begun.

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