Colin Imber, "The Ottoman Dynastic Myth," Turcica, XIX, 1987, pp. 7-27.

By the late 16th century the Ottoman dynasty possessed an elaborate myth which legitimised its rule in the eyes of its own subjects and justified its wars against neighbouring monarchs, both Christian and Muslim. The myth had many strands, each of which had developed separately to meet the requirements of a particular time or to appeal to different sections of the population. By the mid-16th century, these strands had united to form a quasi-official account of the origins of the dynasty, which explained and justified its rise to power and described its destiny in terms of the religious and political ideas of orthodox Islam. Since the Sultans drew their moral authority from this myth, its propagation was vital to the existence of the state. It became, in the end, so deeply embedded in Ottoman thought, and so carefully preserved in Ottoman history writing, that even in the Keith century, historians still present elements of the myth in the guise of historical fact.


In the earliest surviving royal inscription in Bursa, dated 1337/8, the second Ottoman Sultan, Orhan, bears the title "The mujahid, Sultan of the gazis, gazi son of a gazi." The two terms mujahid and gazi both mean the same thing: one who wages jihad or gaza - Holy War on behalf of Islam -, and their adoption by Orhan shows that from their earliest years, the Ottoman Sultans considered themselves leaders of a religious war against Infidelity. The foundation of the infant state on the border with Byzantium gave this idea a particular force and immediacy, but the idea of jihad is far older than the Ottomans and derives from the shari'ah itself. The Holy Law, in fact, makes jihad against non-Muslims an obligation on the Islamic community. Although it is not an incumbency on each individual, a group of Muslims must at all times be fighting for the Faith, and if the jihad ever ceases, the entire community bears the guilt. The Holy War remains an obligation even when the Infidels have not themselves declared war. The Muslims should not, however, attack without inviting the unbelievers to accept Islam. If they refuse either to convert to Islam or to pay the tax due from non-Muslim subjects, then jihad becomes a religious duty. [This is a brief summary of the rules of jihad according to the hanafi school of Islamic law, to which the Ottomans adhered.] In waging war on Christians, Orhan and his successors were fulfilling the command of God expressed in the shari'ah, and this idea gave legitimacy to their rule and a raison d'etre to the state itself.

However, it is unlikely that the warriors of the 14th century saw their gazi Sultan or understood the Holy War in these legalistic terms. The earliest Ottomans have left no accounts of themselves, but the first surviving Ottoman chronicles, although dating from the second half of the 15th century, provide fleeting glimpses of their world. Their accounts of the Empire's beginnings and of the first Sultans drew on a living, oral tradition which appears at times to reach as far back as the early 14th century. These narratives, in the tradition of popular epic rather than of history- writing, show that the first Ottoman gazis were indeed men of true religious zeal, but that their religion was the popular enthusiasm of the unlearned rather than the orthodox Islam of the shari'ah. They believed the Prophet himself to be present in their ranks, manifesting himself in dreams and visions, in particular to infidels to call them to Islam. In the History (1484) by the 84-year old Asikpasazade, it was the Prophet who converted Osman's Greek companion Mikhal in a dream and who in Oruc's slightly earlier version of the same tale (c. 1467)4 directed him to join the gazi Osman.

Again in Asikpasazade's History, Osman's gazis captured the castle of Aydos when the Greek castellan's daughter, having seen the Prophet first in a dream, and then at the head of the besieging army, delivered the castle to the gazis as her father lay drunk. [This episode and its subsequent treatment in the work of later historians is discussed in Paul Wittek, "The taking of Aydos castle, a ghazi legend transformed," in G. Makdisi (ed.), Arabic and Islamic Studies in Honor of Hamilton A. R. Gibb, London (1965), pp. 662-672.] The same motifs appear in non-Ottoman gazi literature. In the Book of Melik Danismend, which exists in an Ottoman recension of a version written down in 1245, the hero, Melik Danismend, captures an infidel fort with the assistance of a Christian monk who has become a Muslim after seeing the Prophet in a dream. As in the Aydos story and other gazi epics, the infidels are drunk when the castle falls.

The religious inspiration of the 14th-century gazis came, it seems, not from the 'ulema learned in the shari'ah, but from holy men and dervishes, who again figure prominently in early Ottoman chronicles. A legendary episode from an anonymous 15th-century chronicle epitomises the spirit of the dervish gazis. This tells how, at the time of Osman, a naked dervish carrying only a wooden sword chopped in two a drunken infidel who refused to accept Islam, and then single-handedly conquered the district of Yalova. The late 15th-century also saw the collection of an epic cycle which recounts the miracles of the warrior-dervish Sari Saltuk, and his victories over the infidels of Anatolia and Rumelia.

These heroic legends of gazis and dervishes became interwoven with the early "history" of the dynasty. An Ottoman genealogy by Mahmud al-Bayati (1481) and the chronicle of Oruc link the Ottomans to the figure of Ebu Muslim, the warrior-hero of a Turkish epic, by saying that their ancestors were rulers of Mahan in Persia, Mahan being the ancestral home of Ebu Muslim. Oruc went even further, to say that the Ottomans were of the same stock as Ebu Muslim. The links which the early chronicles make between the Sultans and the dervish fraternities are equally close. According to Oruc and a variant story told by Asikpasazade whose version eventually became part of the quasi-official dynastic genealogy, Osman married a dervish's daughter, who became mother of the second Sultan, Orhan.

These folk memories which 15th-century chroniclers preserved, furnish the only evidence of how the Muslim subjects of the first Sultans viewed the Holy War. It was an epic struggle against unbelievers, conceived in terms of popular religion and popular heroism, with the Sultan and his leading warriors filling the roles of epic heroes. It was an ideology far removed from the doctrines of the shari'ah and the world-view of orthodox Islam. It was a view, too, which survived well beyond the first Ottoman century. Asikpasazade and Oruc for example, clearly drew on still living oral traditions which enshrined this view of gazi warfare: popular interest in the epics of Ebu Muslim and Seyyid Battal still survives in this century.

By the end of the 15th century, this heroic concept of Holy War was still an important strand in popular culture, but was no longer the ideal of the dynasty. The Sultan still claimed legitimacy as the leader of gaza, but the concept of gaza itself had changed. The popular gazi ideal had formed in the 14th century and earlier among unlettered warriors for whom warfare, whether as raiders on infidel territory or, less often, as mercenaries in the pay of neighbouring Christian rulers, was a voluntary means of acquiring a livelihood. Frontier raids were to continue throughout the 15th and 16th centuries but, with the vast growth in Ottoman territory after the 1370s, they clearly became far less important than the formal campaigns of the Sultan's armies. Furthermore, from the mid-15th century at the very latest, the vast majority of troops in the Ottoman armies were fief-holders or kapikulus, for whom military service was not voluntary, but a contractual obligation. In this setting, the old gazi traditions became irrelevant. At the same time, the growing influence of the 'ulema in the state made it inevitable that the Holy War ideology should come to conform with the ideals of the shari'ah and the world-view of orthodox Islam.

An early exponent of this learned view of gaza was the long-lived poet Ahmedi (before 1334-1412), who enjoyed the patronage of the Germiyanids until 1386, and thereafter of Bayezid I (1389-1402) and his two sons Emir Suleyman (reigned in Rumelia and part of Anatolia, 1402-1411) and Mehmed I (reigned in part of Anatolia, 1402-1413; as Sultan of all the Ottoman realms, 1413-1421). In a pair of verses which he quite likely addressed to one or other of his Ottoman patrons, he deplored warfare for the sake of plunder: "A gazi is someone who does not think of plunder; gaza waged for wealth is brigandage", and reminded them of their religious mission: "When you wage gaza do not make booty your aim. The Creator of mankind wishes worship to be sincere". Ahmedi's concept of the Holy War as an act of worship ('ibadah) which, to be valid, requires sincerity of intent, derives wholly from the shari'ah and was far removed from the spirit of the active gazis, for whom plunder was undoubtedly as strong a motive as religion. Ahmedi includes in a long poem dedicated to Emir Suleymin, a brief "History of the Kings of the House of Osman" (before 1403), which portrays the dynasty as gazi Sultans. He began the work with a description of a gazi as "The instrument of God's religion... the sword of God... the sweeper who clears the earth of the filth of polytheism". This portrayal of the gazi is unremarkable, except in that he was no longer the figure of popular literature. Ahmedi saw the gazi not as a warrior performing acts of personal heroism, but as an impersonal instrument of divine will. The enemy was no longer personified, as were the infidels of gazi epics, but was simply "polytheism", a general concept which derives from Muslim law and ethics and here means Christianity, whose trinitarianism Muslims regarded as polytheism and therefore abhorrent. In the same passage, Ahmedi also placed the gazis within a framework of orthodox Islamic cosmogony. The gazis, he said, "came at the end of time" because "that which comes at the end is better than that which comes at the beginning", just as Muhammad was the last and best of the Prophets, the Koran the last and most perfect of the revealed Scriptures and Adam the last and most excellent work of God's creation. In this way Ahmedi found a place for the gazis and their leaders, the Ottoman Sultans, in the orthodox Islamic scheme of the world.

It was this concept of Holy War, deriving from the traditions of orthodox Islam, rather than that deriving from the popular epic tradition, which became one of the cornerstones of Ottoman legitimacy. Almost a century after Ahmedi, similar ideas to his occur in the work of the historian Nesri (c. 1490). Nesri probably knew Ahmedi's work and may even have borrowed his thoughts directly, but not without altering them significantly. Like Ahmedi, he prefaced his Ottoman history with a reference to the gazis, but unlike Ahmedi, he referred not to gazis in general but to the Ottoman Sultans in particular, whom he called "The pre-eminent gazis and mujahids after the Apostle of God and the Rightly Guided Caliphs". He also used the same cosmogony as Ahmedi, but in his version, it was no longer the gazis in general, but the Ottoman Sultans in particular who were best because they came at the end of time. In this, Nesri went a long way towards portraying the Ottomans not simply as gazi Sultans but as heirs to the Prophet himself. He also elaborated the idea that "Holy War with sincere intent" conferred territorial rights. In his account of the reign of Osman, he told how "The mighty Sultans and noble Kings recognised Osman's virtues and sincere intent... and said, 'Whatever he takes from the infidels is lawful to him"', and how Osman and his descendants acquired the title gazi "because their foundation was through gaza and jihad alone, and not through usurpation of the lands of the Believers". In fact, the rule of the Ottoman Sultans was lawful because they had acquired their lands from infidels, as God had commanded through the shari'ah.

The 16th century saw no change in this view of the Sultan as supreme gazi. A long list of titles which the Seyh ul- islam Ebu's-su'ud (held office 1545-1574) composed for Suleyman I (1520-1566) and Selim II (1566-1574) included the phrases: "The one who raises the standards of Islam and its victorious army; the lord of all gazi wars famous among mankind... the mujahid in the path of God... the mighty annexer of the Realms of War to the Realms of Islam". The appearance of similar formulae not simply in literary compositions, but also in fairly routine documents issuing from the Imperial Chancery, show how deeply embedded the ideal of the gazi Sultan was as a doctrine of the state. For example, the preamble to a decree of 1560, where the Sultan ordered the Admiral Piyale Pasa to levy fief- holders for service in the fleet begins: "Trusting entirely in the exalted favours of God, and through the unquestioned agency of the lofty protection and miracles of our Lord, the bearer of Prophecy (i.e. Muhammad), I have made understood my intent to send to sea my Imperial fleet... on a campaign against the infidels whose abode is Hell".

In his Crown of Histories (1575), the tutor to Murad III (1574-1595), Sa'd ed-Din, put into the mouth of Osman, the first of the Ottoman line, a prayer: "Make the enemies of religion level with the dust; scatter the armies of the unbelievers. Make my sword the light on the road of religion; make it the guide to the mujahids". This prayer encapsulates an ideal of the Ottoman dynasty which lasted from the foundation of the Empire until its collapse after the First World War.


The gazi ideology required the Sultans to wage war on Christians and justified their rule on former Christian territories, but in practice Ottoman expansion was as much at the expense of Muslim as of Christian states. In about 1485, an anonymous chronicler explained away this awkward fact by saying that it was in fact obligatory for the Ottomans to eradicate neighbouring Muslim "kings" because, instead of helping the Ottomans to wage Holy War, these "kings" actually hindered them by inciting the infidels and then, when these attacked the Ottomans, "seizing the opportunity to attack from the other side". During the course of the 15th century, however, a more important, legal justification was to emerge from the welter of myth surrounding the dynastic origins.

All early Turkish accounts of Osman and his father Ertugrul contained the figure of a Seljuk Sultan called Ala ed-Din, evidently a mythologised version of the real Seljuk Sultan, Ala ed-Din I Keykubad. No two stories about him are exactly alike, but they had enough in common to form the elements of a story proving that the Ottomans were legal heirs to Seljuk territory. Ahmedi related how Ala ed-Din granted Ertugrul the lands which he had conquered from the infidels, and how, thereafter, Ertugrul conquered Sogut in north-western Anatolia, which eventually came to be regarded as the Ottoman homeland. Similar stories occur in later historians, with al-Bayati adding that Ala ed-Din confirmed Ertugrul's possession of Sogut by decree. Asikpasazade, however, had a somewhat different story in which Ala ed-Din bestowed Sogut on Ertugrul and his followers after Ertugrul had asked him for a homeland. In whatever version, the story was important, since it "proved" that Ertugrul had received the patronage of the Seljuks who had granted him possession of the original Ottoman homeland. A second essential feature of the stories about Ala ed-Din occurred first in Sukrullah's Ottoman history (c. 1460), presented to the Grand Vizier Mahmud Pasa. According to Sukrullah, Ala ed-Din, after the death of Ertugrul, "commanded that a Diploma should be written for Osman, and a horsetail standard, drum and robe of honour be sent to him". Different versions of this tale occur in all dynastic histories after Sukrullah.

In about 1490, Nesri examined and re-wrote these tales, giving them a chronological sequence. He came to the conclusion that the Ala ed-Din of the earlier chronicles in fact represented two Seljuk Sultans. It was, in his opinion, Ala ed-Din I (1220-1237) who had granted Sogut to Ertugrul, and Ala ed-Din II (1282-1303) who had sent the insignia to Osman. This seemed to him to be feasible since, according to tradition, Ertugrul had died at the age of ninety-three. To Nesri this chronology proved that all the Seljuk Sultans from Ala ed-Din I onwards had, in a phrase which later historians were to borrow, "never withdrawn the eye of patronage" from Ertugrul and his son Osman. Nesri himself provided the final touch to the story. He related how Osman, after defeating an infidel army, had set off to Konya, the Seljuk capital, so that Ala ed-Din II could appoint him heir to the throne. Ala ed-Din, Nesri explained, had no son, and so used to treat Osman as a son, sending him the standard, drum and sword as insignia of authority. However, Nesri continued, Ali ed-Din II died before Osman reached Konya, and it was only after his death with no heir that Osman declared independence by striking coins and having the khutba read in his name.

Nesri's narrative provided "proof' that a Seljuk Sultan had granted the Ottomans their original homeland, and that, after the death of Ali ed-Din II, they had inherited sovereignty over Seljuk territory. At the same time, Nesri made his opinion quite clear that the rival emirates which had emerged in Anatolia after the Seljuk collapse had acquired their territories "through usurpation of the lands of the Believers". The Ottomans, on the other hand, had acquired territory either through jihad or through legal inheritance from the Seliuks. This account was to become firmly embedded in dynastic "history". Sa'd ed-Din, for example, summarised the same arguments when he wrote that after the Mongol defeat of the Seljuks in 1243, the emirs of the land ceased to obey them, "each one taking the path to independence and acquiring kingdoms through usurpation". Osman, however, respected old laws and "protected the Seljuk realms to the utmost of his powers", at the same time "waging gaza and terrifying the infidels".

This account of Ottoman independence did not appeal to everybody. Asikpasazade, who was writing as a gazi for gazis, made Osman defy Seljuk authority and declare himself independent during Ala ed-Din's lifetime, on the grounds that his lineage was nobler than the Seljuk Sultan's and that God had bestowed rulership on him through the Holy War. The same version reappeared in the Ottoman history by Kemalpasazade (c. 1502/3), but it was Nesri's story which was to become official. In 1575, the head of the Ottoman chancery, Feridun Beg presented the new Sultan Murad III with The Correspondence of the Sultans, an anthology of royal letters to and from Ottoman Sultans. This collection opens with the Imperial Patents which Ala ed-Din supposedly sent to Osman when he granted him possession of Sogut and when he sent him the insignia. Osman's supposed reply follows each letter. In fact, Feridun Beg himself was the author of these documents, having adapted two of them from an earlier collection of the Khwarezmian Sultans" and composed the rest himself. Since the "Patents" consists mainly of traditional admonitions on the duties of an Islamic sovereign, it seems that Feridun Beg's real purpose in the "forgery" was to instruct the new Sultan in the art of rulership, but by casting his advice in this form, he was also reminding the Sultan that he was heir to the Seljuks. By the late 16th century, Nesri's version of how the Ottomans had legally inherited Seljuk sovereignty was obviously well established.


Leadership in Holy War was not a sufficient justification for the rule of the Ottoman dynasty. Other Islamic sovereigns could and did make the same claim to be gazis, and the myth of the Seljuk inheritance, which justified past and present aggression against Muslim states, did not crystallise until shortly before 1500. However, the century between 1400 and 1500 saw the creation of a Turkish genealogy which showed that the Ottoman lineage was nobler than that of neighbouring dynasties, who were, during this century, mainly of Turkish descent.

The written records of an Ottoman genealogy date from about 1425 when Yazicioglu Ali - probably an official in the chancery of Murad II (1421-1451) compiled a Turkish version of the history of the Seljuks composed in Persian by Ibn Bibi (d. after 1284). Yazicioglu's Book of the Seljuks is not, however, a straightforward translation. He added materials to Ibn Bibi's text, notably elements which he drew from the traditional epics of the Oguz peoples, "Oguz" being a generic term for the Muslim Turks of western Asia. Epic tradition attributed the ancestry of the Oguz to a certain Oguz Khan, who was a descendant of Japheth son of Noah, a monotheist - which made him a proto-Muslim -, and a world-conqueror. Oguz had six sons who in turn had four sons each, and each of these twenty-four grandsons of Oguz was the ancestor of one of the twenty-four clans into which Turkish tradition divided the Oguz. This schematised Oguz "history" found a place in literary historiography when, in 1310, the Persian historian Rashid ad-Din (do 1310) included in his Universal History a section called "The History of Oguz and his descendants and an account of the Sultans and Kings of the Turks". Rashid ad-Din presumably used an oral source for his narrative, but his reputation as a historian helped to enshrine his version of the Oguz epic as authoritative. There is evidence too that throughout the 15th century, manuscripts of the epic in Turkish were in circulation and that a tradition of oral recitation continued of flourish.

The Oguz tradition, popular it seems, among both educated and illiterate Turkish speakers, provided the pseudo- historical materials for the construction of an Ottoman genealogy. A reference to the Oguz appears first in Ahmedi's work, when he refers to "Many people from the Oguz" in the following of Osman's father, Ertugrul. Ahmedi elaborates no further but, about twenty-five years later, Yazicioglu, recounting the same incident, refers to "Ertugrul from the tribe of Kayi". To the reader of Rashid ad-Din, this apparently off-hand reference to Ertugrul's tribe would have been of immediate significance since, in his version of the Oguz epic, the ancestor of this tribe - Kayi - was the eldest son of Gun (Turkish: "sun"), the senior son and successor to the world-conquering Oguz Khan. Thus the leadership of all the Oguz rightfully belonged to the descendants of Kayi. Yazicioglu elaborates on the Kayi theme in a later episode where he tells how the lords of Anatolia, on the collapse of the Seljuk dynasty, elected Osman as their supreme overlord, because he was a direct descendant of Kayi. In order, quite literally, to circularize this illustrious "ancestry", Murad II (1421-1451 ) had coins stamped with the same symbol of the Kayi tribe as appears in manuscripts of Rashid ad-Din's and Yazicioglu's works.

Ottoman descent through Gun and Kayi was not the only version of Ottoman ancestry to be in circulation by about 1450. An alternative genealogy, which evidently relied on a different version of the Oguz epic from Rashid ad-Din's, takes the line back not to Gun, but to another of Oguz's six sons, called Gok (Turkish: "sky").

This tradition first appeared in writing in about 1460 in the History of Sukrullah. To his genealogy, Sukrullah added a story which shows that the purpose in publicising the Ottoman descent from Oguz and Gok was, like the Oguz Khan - Gun - Kayi genealogy, simply to glorify the dynasty in the eyes of neighbouring monarchs. Sukrullah related how, in 1449, he had been on an embassy from Murad II to the Karakoyunlu ruler, Mirza Jihanshah (1430-1467). At the Karakoyunlu court he had been shown a book "in Mongol writing" showing that Oguz Khan had had six sons called Gok Yer, Deniz, Gun, Ay and Yildiz (Turkish: "sky", "earth", "sea", "sun", moon", "star"). This had forced Mirza Jihanshah to admit that since he himself was a descendant of Deniz ("sea") and Murad a descendant of Gok ("sky"), Murad's descent was as superior to his as the Sky is superior to the Sea. Still further accounts of the Oguz genealogy were available to chroniclers. In the 1460s, a versifier with the penname of Enveri dedicated to the Grand Vizier Mahmud Pasa a historical epic which includes an account of the Ottomans and their ancestor markedly different from accounts of Yazicioglu, Sukrullah or the later chroniclers. Like Yazicioglu, Enveri gives a schematised Oguz genealogy, where Oguz Khan himself has six sons and twenty-four grandsons, with the Ottoman line descending through Kayi. In Enveri's scheme, Kayi is Oguz Khan's son and not his grandson, as in Rashid ad-Din and Yazicioglu, but this is the least important difference. He specifically rejects these writers' version of the Oguz epic when he remarks that it is "improbable" that Oguz Khan was Noah's grandson. In his version of the genealogy, which includes elements from the Oguz epic, combined with legends of the Prophet and his Companions, Iranian epics and confused memories of the Seljuks, Oguz Khan was the offspring of the daughter of a Turkish chief called Oguz Tumen Khan and a Companion of the Prophet called 'Iyad. One of Oguz Khan's six sons called Kayi or Censid Khan, ruled all Turkistan, and it was from this Kayi-Cemsid Khan that the Ottomans descended. This genealogy had the merit of combining! a spiritual descent from a Companion of the Prophet with secular rulership from a Khan of Turkistan. It remained, however, a curiosity peculiar to Enveri.

[The element in Enveri's story linking the Ottoman dynasty with the Companions of the Prophet probably became redundant with the growth and spread of stories about Aksemseddin's "discovery" of the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (whence Eyup, the name of a suburb of Istanbul), a Companion of the Prophet supposedly killed during the Arab seige of Constantinople of 672. The "discovery" of the tomb and the endowment of the Shrine provided a direct link between the Ottomans and the Companions of the Prophet.]

These accounts of the remote Central Asian ancestors of the Ottoman dynasty are no more than legends. The stories of Osman's mom immediate ancestors are equally fanciful. All accounts agree that Ertugrul was the name of Osman's father but, although what was to become the quasi-official genealogy named his grandfather as Suleymansah, this figure is certainly legendary. The name first appeared in Sukrullah's History of c. 1460, and anecdotal details of his life, and death in the works of Oruc in c. 1467 and of Asikpasazade, and al-Bayati after 1480. All these accounts differ in detail, but all credit Suleymansah with having led his followers into Anatolia from the East, and all contain the same story of how he decided to return to Turkistan, but drowned when trying to cross the Euphrates, leaving his son Ertugrul to return to Anatolia. The story conveniently accounts for why the first Ottomans emerged in north-west Anatolia, whereas the legends of their supposed ancestors are set in an ill-defined region further to the east. It is, however, wholly fictitious. As this story was gaining currency, an alternative genealogy was developing, naming Osman's grandfather, not as Suleymansah but as Gunduz Alp. The figure of Gunduz Alp occurred in the first quarter of the fifteenth century in the works of Ahmedi and Yazicioglu Ali as a companion of Osman's father Ertugrul, alongside another called Gok Alp. The same figures appeared again in Enveri's poem, but they were no longer merely companions of Ertugrul. Gunduz Alp and Gok Alp had become brothers, and Gunduz Alp had become Ertugrul's father. An Ottoman history which Mehmed II's chancellor, Karamanli Mehmed Pasa completed c. 1480, brought a further change. In his version, Gok Alp was the father of Gunduz Alp, whose son was Ertugrul.

It was Nesri who made the decisive choice between these two versions of Ottoman descent. In the draft manuscript of his History, he included both, but added that it was "widely known" that Suleymansah was Ertugrul's father and Osman's grandfather.He concluded that the Ertugrul who was descended from Gok Alp and Gunduz Alp must have been another man of the same name, and omitted this genealogy from the later versions of his work. After Nesri Suleymansah officially became Osman's grandfather.

The essential elements in this "genealogy" were the descent through the senior branch of the Oguz which served to show the seniority of the Ottoman House, and the stories about Osman's "grandfather" Suleymansah which explained how the Ottoman ancestors came to settle in north-western Anatolia. The intervening names in the "genealogy" appear to derive from names of heroes in the epics of the Oguz, and no two versions are exactly alike. The most complete is the one which al-Bayati composed at the request of Prince Cem in 1481, where he gave not only the names of the "ancestors", but briefly mentioned their deeds. These, he said, he had taken from The Book of the Oguz and from "what is related among the people". The exploits of these Ottoman "ancestors", such as saving the world from a rabid wolf or clubbing to death a maddened camel, conform to popular ideals of heroism and resemble the feats of strength often attributed to real Sultans. However, al-Bayati's "genealogy" displayed another, more important feature. He was at pains to show that the dynasty was legitimate not only by descent through Oguz and Kayi but also legitimate by religion, having followed the path of orthodoxy since the Creation. Oguz Khan himself was a monotheist at the time of Abraham. Among the later "ancestors", Bozdogan was a follower of David, Korkulu was in the service of Solomon and Kurtari Beg had witnessed Jesus bringing the dead to life. In Islamic theology, Abraham, David, Solomon and Jesus were Prophets bringing divine revelations before the final revelation of Islam through the Prophet Muhammad. Another Ottoman ancestor, Yasu, received news, of Muhammad's revelations in a dream and at once accepted Islam. Other, "ancestors" were in contact with the Four Orthodox Caliphs. "The victorious House of Osman", explained al-Bayati, "like their ancestors, are among those who love the Four Chosen Caliphs". In other words, the Ottomans and their ancestors were pious and orthodox sunni Muslims. The remainder of al-Bayati's account shows the later "ancestors" in the service of the 'Abbasid Caliphs and Seljuk Sultans.

In marrying the Oguz genealogy to an Islamic cosmogony and chronology, al-Bayati succeeded in uniting two legitimating strands: the Ottomans as senior descendants of Oguz Khan, and the Ottomans as sunni Muslims who had followed the true religion from the time of Abraham. During the sixteenth century, the Islamic theme was to become dominant. The dynasty continued to proclaim its Oguz descent, but in the cosmopolitan Islamic environment of the sixteenth-century Ottoman court, with its predominance of non-Turks, the Turkish epics of the Oguz must have lost their real significance and hence some of their value as a legitimising myth. In his Crown of Histories, Sa'd ed-Din listed the "ancestry" of his Ottoman patrons, but failing to comprehend the outlandish Turkish names, added at the end: "The responsibility for it be upon the teller". In other words, he was sceptical.


The Oguz genealogy justified the Ottoman claim to secular rulership but, as rulers of a theocratic state, the Sultans required a spiritual as well as a secular legitimacy. As the myths of the Empire's origins were forming during the course of the fifteenth century, they therefore came to include tales which showed that God had foreordained the rule of the Ottoman dynasty.

Since in popular belief, God can speak directly to man through dreams, it is natural to find the dream motif playing a part in the legends surrounding Osman and his father. The chronicle of Karamanli Mehmed Pasa tells how Osman's father Ertugrul, presented as a pagan, spent a night at an imam's house where he stood in reverence before the Koran. When he eventually fell asleep, God spoke to him in a dream, telling him that since he had honoured and respected His Word - that is the Koran -, He would honour and exalt Ertugrul's descendants. An entirely different dream episode occurs in Enveri's slightly earlier verse chronicle. Here, the Companion of the Prophet who is the ancestor of the dynasty, dreamed after his betrothal to the Khan's daughter, that he had died and become dust. From his dust, a tree grew, and from the tree, six branches. All the people stopped beneath it, and it cast its shadow upon the world. Another Companion of the Prophet interpreted this as meaning that he would have six sons, one of whom would be a Khan whose line - meaning the Ottoman dynasty - would last until the end of time. Enveri's dream episode, like his genealogy, remained a peculiarity which later chroniclers ignored. Nevertheless, the tree motif was a major feature in what was to become the officially accepted dream. This story occurs in the chronicle of Asikpasazade, with a close variant in the slightly earlier chronicle of Oruc. Its adoption by Nesri assured it a place in literary historiography.

According to Asikpasazade Osman was staying at the house of his future father-in-law, the dervish Edebali, when he dreamed that a moon arose from Edebali's breast and entered his own. Thereupon a tree grew from his navel, until its shadow covered the world. In its shadow were mountains, from whose feet springs were flowing. People were drinking the water, watering their gardens with it, or making fountains flow. Edebali interpreted this dream as meaning that God had given rulership to Osman and his descendants, and thereupon betrothed his daughter to Osman. This was probably only one of many dream stories circulating in the 1470s and 1480s, as al-Bayati remarked laconically that Osman had "many dreams" which Edebali interpreted auspiciously. It was, however, Asikpasazade's version of the prophetic dream which formed, with minor variations, the basis of all later chroniclers' accounts.

The attraction of Asikpasazade's story was not only that it furnished an episode proving that God had bestowed rulership on the Ottomans, but also that it provided, side by side with the physical descent from Oguz Khan, a spiritual descent. 'Me chroniclers present Edebali as a saint and a dervish sheykh. It was usual for dervishes to regard their spiritual authority as deriving from a master, who in turn had derived his from an earlier master. In this way they constructed chains of spiritual descent which usually went back to the Prophet through one of the Caliphs, either Abu Bakr or 'Ali, according to whether they had sunni or shi'i inclinations. Hence the physical union of Osman with a saint's daughter gave the dynasty a spiritual legitimacy and became, after the 1480s, an integral feature of dynastic mythology.


Events in the sixteenth century were to bring further developments in the claims of the dynasty. In 1502, the shi'i Safavid dynasty came to power in Iran and over a century of hostilities followed between Iran and the Ottoman Empire. To justify warfare against a Muslim dynasty and to oppose the strident Safavid claims to legitimacy which found favour among many Ottoman subjects, the Ottomans had to develop a counter-polemic. The subsequent propaganda effort produced an image of the Safavids as infidels, and the creation of this image led in turn to two obvious developments in Ottoman ideology. The first was to extend the concept of the Holy War, the earliest justification of the state and dynasty, to include Holy War against enemies who claimed themselves to be Muslims, but whom Ottoman propaganda declared to be infidels. In 1549, a question to the seyh ul-islam Ebu's-su'ud had asked whether the Holy Law permitted warfare against the Safavids, whether those who fought against them were gazis and whether those who died were martyrs. Ebu's-su'ud answered, "Yes. It is the greatest of Holy Wars and a glorious martyrdom".

Ile second development was one which al-Bayati's genealogy had prefigured: the portrayal of the Ottoman dynasty as being, in sharp contrast to the Safavids, the true representatives and defenders of sunni Islam, untainted by any heresy. Another external factor helped in the formation of this concept. Selim I's annexation of the Mamluk dominions in 1516-1517 gave the Ottomans possession of Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities of Islam and saw the final extinction of 'Abbasid claims to the Caliphate, the theoretical headship of the entire Muslim community. It also, in practice, made Selim I and his successors the most powerful monarchs in the Islamic world. The Ottoman Sultans now began to see themselves not simply in their traditional role as gazi sovereigns, but as the supreme heads of Islam and as the defenders of orthodoxy against heresy and infidelity.

This grandiose view was the mainstay of Ottoman ideology in the sixteenth century. Since by this time the 'ulema formed the dominant intellectual class in the Empire, it is natural to find that justification for these claims no longer derived from popular or literary epics, like the Oguz tradition, or from folk religion, like the prophetic dreams, but wholly from learned historiography and from the orthodox Islam of the medrese.

An exposition of these claims appears in the introduction to an Ottoman History by the ex-Grand Vizier Lutfi Pasa, which he composed after his dismissal from office in 1541. Lutfi Pasa, who certainly did not originate the idea, found a prophecy of the Ottoman dynasty in a Saying of the Prophet Muhammad from the collection of Abu Da'ud, one of the canonical Six Books of Prophetic Tradition. The Prophet in this Tradition, said, "At the beginning of each century, God Most High will send to this community (i.e., the Muslim community) someone who will renew its faith and sovereignty". The most recent "renewers of the faith", Lutfi Pasa explained, with a certain elasticity in his chronology, had been the Ottoman Sultans: Osman had restored Islam at the beginning of the eighth Islamic century after the conquests of the pagan Mongols; at the beginning of the ninth, Mehmed I (1413-1421) had revived the faith after the destructions of Timur; and at the beginning of the tenth, Selim I (1512-1520) had defeated the Safavid infidel, Shah Isma'il, and upheld the shari'ah. To this account of Selim I as a renewer of the faith, Lutfi Pasa added a versified summary of letters which, he claimed, the sunni 'ulema of Transoxania had sent to Selim, praising him for upholding true religion against Safavid infidelity. These supposed letters praise Selim extravagantly, describing him, among other things, as the "Shah on the throne of the Caliphate", and suggesting that in an age when "unbelief had totally destroyed the Palace of True Religion", Selim alone could defend true orthodoxy: "If the dominion of the shari'ah is in good order, it is entirely through the sovereignty of Sultan Selim". To reinforce this image of the Ottomans as defenders of orthodox Islam, Lutfi Pasa added a tendentious summary of Islamic history showing that, since the days of the Four Orthodox Caliphs, the only dynasties who had remained untainted by heresy or rebellion were the Ottomans and "their exemplars and guides", the Seljuks. The royal tutor Sa'd ed-Din prefaced his Crown of Histories with a similar eulogistic justification of the dynasty. He claimed that "not one of the dynasties of the Caliphate or lineages of the Sultanate has reached so exalted a station as the Dynasty to whom Eternity is promised, the House of Osman". He repeated Lutfi Pasa's assertion that it was "recorded and well-known" that most of the famous men who had claimed the title of the caliphate had perpetuated some form of heresy or injustice. The Ottomans, however, conformed to the pattern of the ideal Islamic sovereign: they obeyed the shari'ah and supported true religion, they spread justice and suppressed sedition, they brought help to the oppressed and put down rebellion. The Sultan's authority derived directly from God: "The Creator has given the Shah (i.e., Murad III) authoritative command and all- pervading majesty", and was indeed foreordained. Sa'd ed-Din adduced a verse from the Koran - the pre-eternal Word of God - as a prophecy of Ottoman rule: "God will bring a People whom He loves and who love Him, humble towards Believers but mighty towards Infidels, fighting in the Path of God and not fearing the blame of anyone".

Lutfi Pasa's and Sa'd ed-Din's eulogies of their Ottoman patrons indicate that by the mid-sixteenth century, the Sultan regarded himself as Caliph - the successor to the Prophet and supreme head of the Islamic community -, as a gazi who defeated infidelity, as defender of Islam against heresy and as upholder of the shari'ah. The Koran and the Traditions of the Prophet - the means through which God had made His Word manifest - contained. prophecies of Ottoman rule; the Ottomans were the most pious and orthodox of all Islamic dynasties; and formulae such as "May the line of his Sultanate not cease until the Day of Resurrection", which commonly follow the names of reigning Sultans express the expectation that Ottoman rule would last until the end of time.

It was, as usual, Ebu's-su'ud who expressed these concepts most succinctly, for example in the heading to the "Law-Book of Buda" and the "Law-Book of Skoplje and Thessaloniki". He described both Suleyman I (1520-1566) and Selim II (1566-1574) as "Caliph (i.e. successor) to the Apostle of the Lord of the Worlds (i.e., the Prophet Muhammad)... the Shadow of God protecting all, peoples... the heir to the Great Caliphate". They were executors of Divine Will- "The one who makes manifest the Exalted Word of God", whose rule was a necessary precondition to the rule of the Holy Law: "The one who prepares the path for the precepts of the manifest shariah and supports the foundations of the firm Religion". They were guardians, on behalf of all Islam, of Mecca and Medina: "Protector of the Two Sacred Precincts", and, like all their predecessors, gazi sovereigns: "The mujahid in the Path of God". Although Ebu's-su'ud's terminology was overwhelmingly Islamic, and his main purpose was to present the dynasty as supreme head, defender and propagator of orthodox Islam, he also sought to give the dynasty a secular legitimacy. He continued the use of Turkish epithets for supreme lordship when he retained the standard imperial title of Khan and called the Sultan "Khakan of the Face of the Earth", a reminder of the Turkish "genealogy" from Oguz Khan. In addition, he used the Persian title of rulership, calling the Sultan "Chosroes of all Chosroeses", and by the expression "Conqueror of Lords, Sultan of the Arabs ('arab), Persians ('ajam) and Romans (Rum)", he perhaps meant to express the idea that the Ottoman Sultans had acquired by conquest Arab, Persian and Byzantine kingship. In Ebu's-su'ud's formulation the Sultans were claiming universal sovereignty.


By 1500 Ottoman chroniclers had constructed, out of an incoherent mass of mainly oral traditions, an account of the foundations at the dynasty and Empire. In this account, the Ottoman Sultans were descendants of Oguz Khan through the senior line. Osman's grandfather, Suleymansah, had led his followers into Anatolia from the east, but died while trying to cross the Euphrates. His son, Ertugrul, and his followers returned to Anatolia and received from the Seljuk Sultan, 'Ali ed-Din 1, a grant of land at Sogut on the border with Byzantium. After the death of Ertugrul, his son Osman, from whom the dynasty took its name, began his career as a gazi warrior. In recognition of his feats of arms, the Seljuk Sultan, Ali ed-Din II, sent him a drum, standard, horse, sword and robe of honour, and intended to appoint him as his heir. Osman, did not formally declare himself independent of the Seljuks until Ali ed-Din II had died without issue. Osman married the daughter of a wealthy dervish called Edebali, after he had had a dream which Edebali interpreted as meaning that God had given rulership to Osman and his line. The second Sultan, Orhan, was the offspring of this marriage.

This account contains four historical facts: the names of Osman, and Orhan, probably also the name of Ertugrul [The name of Osman's father is a feature which all the genealogies have in common. Furthermore, there is a silver coin in the Islamic coins' collection of the Archaeological Museum, Istanbul which bears the inscription: "Osman son of Ertugrul struck (it)" on both sides. Assuming that this coin is genuine, it confirms the name of Osman's father."], and the fact that Osman, established a small principality on the Byzantine border in north-west Anatolia. The rest is myth, whose purpose was mainly to legitimise Ottoman rule. The story of descent from Oguz Khan began in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, and was clearly intended to prove that Ottoman lineage was nobler than that of any neighbouring and rival dynasties. The story of Suleymansah and his death on the Euphrates emerged after 1450. The purpose of the story was, it seems, to reconcile the fact that Osman, established his principality in north-western Anatolia, whereas the Oguz epics, the source of Osman's imagined ancestry, were set further to the east. The final version of how Ala ed-Din had granted Sogut to Ertugrul emerged in the 1480s, but a variety of tales associating Ertugrul's settlement in the west with Seljuk patronage, had been current since about 1400. A second Seljuk theme emerged in the 1450s with the story of how Ala ed-Din sent the insignia to Osman, In about 1490, Nesri added a concluding point when he said that Ali ed-Din II intended to appoint Osman as his successor. These elements in the foundation myth conclusively "proved" that the Ottomans were legitimate heirs to Seljuk sovereignty and Seljuk territory, unlike the Muslim dynasties whom they displaced. Osman's dream was evidence of divine support for Ottoman rule, and the Sultans' descent from a holy man's daughter gave the dynasty a spiritual lineage. Historians after 1500 retained these elements in their accounts of die origins of the Empire, but sometimes added further "proof" of divine sanction for the dynasty by finding prophecies of Ottoman rule in the Koran and the Sayings of the Prophet.

In the early fourteenth century, the Sultans adopted the tide of gazi, an indication that, from the beginning, the dynasty regarded die pursuit of Holy War as its chief mission. Fifteenth-century chronicles preserve traditions which describe the early Sultans and their warriors in the same terms as the heroes of popular gazi epics. It is likely that these religious-heroic ideals were the main feature of dynastic ideology during the fourteenth, century. They survived in popular tradition after 1400, but by 1500 they had largely given way to the orthodox Islamic concept of Holy War as the fulfilment of one of the obligations of the shari'ah. Earlier gazi tradition linked the Sultans to the figure of Ebu Muslim and other heroes of popular epics: by 1500 the annalists were promoting the dynasty as the greatest gazis since the Prophet and the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Orthodoxy had replaced heterodoxy as the source of dynastic ideology. The rise of the Safavids after 1500 re-inforced the tendency to stress the orthodoxy of the Ottomans. The need to defend the "True Faith" against the infidelity of the Safavids, and their guardianship of the Holy Places after 1517, led the Ottoman Sultans to enlarge their claims during the sixteenth century. They, or their propagandists, began to present themselves not simply as propagators of Islam through Holy War, but as the sole legitimate defenders of orthodoxy, through whom God executed His will. With the assumption of the title of Caliph, probably at some time around 1550, they laid claim to the leadership of the entire Islamic world.