Mahmud II: 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Mahmud II: 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire


Mahmud II was the Ottoman Empire's 30th Sultan, reigning from 1808 to 1839. He was born on 20 July 1785 and died on 1 July 1839. His reign is remembered for the vast administrative, military, and fiscal reforms he implemented, culminating in his sons Abdulmejid I and Abdülaziz's Tanzimat ("reorganisation") Decree. Mahmud was known as "Turkey's Peter the Great" for his reforms, which included the elimination of the traditionalist Janissary corps in 1826, which removed a significant impediment to his and his successors' changes in the empire. Political and social developments marked his reforms, which finally led to the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic. The last Sultan to utilise his political (non-judgmental) execution authority was Mahmud II. Despite his domestic reforms, Mahmud's tenure was marked by nationalist revolutions in Ottoman-ruled Serbia and Greece, resulting in the empire losing substantial territory after establishing an independent Greek state. In addition, Mahmud's reign was marked by a strong interest in Westernisation in the Ottoman Empire's overall structure; institutions, palace order, daily life, clothes, music, and many other areas underwent drastic reform as the Ottoman Empire opened up to modernisation.

Early Life

During Ramadan, Mahmud II was born on 20 July 1785. Abdul Hamid I and Nakşidil Sultan were his parents. He was his father's youngest son and his mother's second child; he had an older brother, Şehzade Seyfullah Murad, two years his senior, and a younger sister, Saliha Sultan, one year his junior. After his father's death, he was said to have been imprisoned in the Kafes.


Nakşidil Valide Sultan was his mother's name. Mustafa IV, Mahmud II's half-brother, ordered his execution along with his cousin, the deposed Sultan Selim III, to end the uprising in 1808. Selim III was assassinated, but Mahmud was kept safe by his mother and ascended to the throne after Mustafa IV was toppled by the rebels. Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, the rebellion's leader, later became Mahmud II's vizier. Mahmud has a lousy reputation among Western historians for just being Sultan during the Ottoman Empire's decline. However, the circumstances of his attempted murder are shrouded in mystery. According to Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, a 19th-century Ottoman historian, one of his slaves, a Georgian girl named Cevri, gathered ashes when she heard the disturbance in the palace surrounding Selim III's assassination. When the assassins approached Mahmud's harem chambers, she was able to keep them at bay for a short while by sprinkling ashes in their faces, momentarily blinding them. Mahmud was able to escape through a window and climb onto the harem's roof due to this. He presumably dashed to the Third Court's roof, where he was spotted by other pages, who assisted him in descending using bits of clothing that were immediately tied together as a ladder. By this time, one of the rebellion's leaders, Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, had arrived with his armed men and, upon witnessing Selim III's dead body, had proclaimed Mahmud padishah. Cevri Kalfa, a slave girl, was rewarded for her bravery and loyalty by being named haznedar usta, the Imperial Harem's chief treasurer, the second most prestigious post in the hierarchy. The Stairway of Cevri (Jevri) Kalfa is a plain stone staircase on the Harem's Altınyol (Golden Way), named for the events that occurred nearby and are linked to her.

Sovereignty Overview

The vizier took the initiative in continuing reforms that had been put on hold following Mustafa IV's victory in a conservative coup in 1807. However, he was assassinated in a rebellion in 1808, and Mahmud II abandoned the reforms for the time being. The subsequent reformation attempts of Mahmud II would be far more successful.

Russo-Turkish Combat of 1806-12

Turkish border battles with the Russians continued after Mahmud II became Sultan. The Russians encircled the Silistre castle for the second time in 1810. When Napoleon I of France waged war on Russia in 1811, persecution on the Ottoman frontier decreased, which was a comfort to Mahmud. Napoleon was poised to launch his invasion of Russia at this point. In addition, he encouraged the Ottomans to accompany him in his march on Russia. Napoleon, who had invaded every country in Europe except the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire, could not be trusted or acknowledged as an ally; thus, Mahmud declined. On 28 May 1812, the Russians and the British signed the Bucharest Agreement. The Ottoman Empire relinquished the eastern half of Moldavia to Russia (which renamed the territory Bessarabia) under the Treaty of Bucharest (1812), despite promising to defend the region. Russia emerged as a new force in the lower Danube region, with a lucrative commercial, diplomatic, and military border. Turkey reclaimed practically all of what it had lost in the east in Transcaucasia: Poti, Anapa, and Akhalkalali. On the Abkhazian shore, Russia kept Sukhum-Kale. In exchange, the Sultan agreed to the acquisition of the Kingdom of Imereti by Russia in 1810. Emperor Alexander I of Russia signed the pact on 11 June, just 13 days before Napoleon launched his invasion. Before Napoleon's projected onslaught, Russian commanders could transfer many of their soldiers in the Balkans back to the empire's western regions.

Combat Counter to the Saudi State

Mahmud II's governor of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Paşa, successfully launched the Ottoman-Saudi War and reclaimed the holy towns of Medina (1812) and Mecca (1813), the First Saudi State during the early years of his reign. Hassan ibn Ali, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Husayn ibn Ali were desecrated by Abdullah bin Saud and the First Saudi State. They banned Muslims from the Ottoman Empire from accessing Mecca and Medina's hallowed sanctuaries. For their crimes against sacred cities and mosques, Abdullah bin Saud and his two companions were publicly beheaded.

Greek Combat of Freedom

During his reign, Greece became the first country to declare independence from the Ottoman Empire, following a revolt in 1821. Mahmud II's more potent force was beaten by Abbas Mirza during the Battle of Erzurum (1821), which was part of the Ottoman-Persian War (1821-1823), culminating in a Qajar Persian victory that was reaffirmed in the Treaties of Erzurum. The Ottoman Navy was destroyed by the combined British, French, and Russian navies at the Battle of Navarino in 1827. The Ottoman Empire was compelled to recognise Greece with the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832. The capture of Algeria, an Ottoman province, by the French in 1830 marked the beginning of the Ottoman Empire's eventual collapse. Non-Turkish ethnic groups throughout the empire's lands, particularly in Europe, began their independence campaigns.

The Promising Event

The destruction of the Janissary corps in June 1826 was one of Mahmud II's most essential deeds during his reign. He achieved this through careful planning and the use of his recently rebuilt military wing, which was supposed to replace the Janissaries. When the Janissaries staged a protest against Mahmud II's proposed military reforms, the formerly elite Ottoman forces were effectively crushed. The Belgrade Forest outside Istanbul was burned to incinerate any vestiges. This allowed for the formation of a European-style conscript army made up primarily of Turkish speakers from Rumelia and Asia Minor. Mahmud was also responsible for Ali Ridha Pasha's 1831 subjugation of the Iraqi Mamluks. He ordered the execution of Tepelena's illustrious Ali Pasha. In addition, he dispatched his Grand Vizier to have Bosniak hero Husein Gradaevi executed, and the Bosnia Eyalet dissolved.

Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29

During Mahmud II's rule, a new Russo-Turkish War (1828-29) erupted, this time without the use of janissaries. Marshal Diebitsch was armed with "the reputation of indomitable success," as Baron Moltke described it. He was going to be known as Sabalskanski (the crosser of the Balkans). Bypassing the bastion of Shumla, he marched his army through the Balkans and into Adrianople. Sultan Mahmud II kept his head and unfurled the prophet's sacred banner, declaring his desire to take leadership directly. Preparing to do so, he arrived in an ill-advised vehicle rather than on horseback. The Divan, British, and French diplomats urged him to sue for peace, oblivious to Diebitsch's forces' deterioration. The Sultan succumbed to the Russian ruse and dispatched a delegation to Adrianople to negotiate the Treaty of Adrianople. 

Tanzimat Reorganizations

Just before he died in 1839, he began preparing for the Tanzimat reform phase, which included establishing the Meclis-i Vukela, or Council of Ministers. The Tanzimat signalled modernisation in Turkey, with obvious implications for social and legal aspects of life in the empire, including European-style clothing, architecture, legislation, institutional organisation, and land reform. He was very concerned about the preservation of customs. He worked tirelessly to resurrect archery as a sport. He commissioned Mustafa Kani, an archery master, to publish a book about the history, construction, and Turkish bows. As a result, most of what is now known about Turkish archery is derived. In 1839, Mahmud II died of disease. Thousands of people attended the Sultan's burial to offer their respects. His son Abdulmejid replaced him and promised to continue Tanzimat reform efforts.


Legal Improvements

The edicts (or firmans) through which he closed the Court of Confiscations and stripped away much of the power of the Pashas were among his reforms. Before the first of the Firmans, all persons banished or sentenced to death had their property confiscated to the crown, providing a terrible motive for acts of cruelty, in addition to the encouragement of a slew of vile delators. The second firman abolished Turkish governors' ancient right to sentence men to death at will; the Paşas, Ağas, and other officers were instructed that "they should not presume to inflict the punishment of death on any man, whether Raya or Turk unless authorised by a legal sentence pronounced by the Kadi, and the judge's signature is required regularly." Mahmud also established a procedure for criminals to appeal to one of the Kazasker (chief military judges) in Asia or Europe and then to the Sultan himself if they desired to do so. Around the same time Mahmud II enacted these reforms, he set an example of reform by attending the Divan, or state council, on a regular basis rather than avoiding official labour. The tradition of the Sultan avoiding the Divan had been in place since Suleiman I's reign, and a Turkish historian over two centuries before Mahmud II's time regarded it to be one of the causes of the empire's decline. By placing the vakıfs' profits under state control, Mahmud II eliminated some of the most significant abuses associated with them. However, he did not attempt to use this immense property to the government's general goals. Many of the empire's regulations on alcoholic beverages were relaxed due to his modernisations, and the Sultan himself was known to drink socially with his ministers. His policies mainly had normalised drinking among the empire's upper classes and political officials by the conclusion of his reign. The empire's financial situation was precarious at the time, and certain social types had long been oppressed by high taxes. Mahmud II is regarded as having exemplified the best spirit of the Köprülüs in coping with the complex issues that occurred as a result. The vexatious charges that public servants had long been accustomed to taking from the inhabitants when travelling the provinces were abolished by a Firman of 22 February 1834. Except for the two regular half-yearly periods, all money collecting was labelled as abuses by the same order. "No one is unaware," Sultan Mahmud II said in this document, "that I am obligated to assist with all my subjects in the face of vexatious processes, to strive unceasingly to lighten, rather than increase, their burdens, and to maintain peace and quiet." As a result, those acts of persecution are both against God's will and my imperial orders." The haraç, or capitation tax, had long been turned into an engine of terrible oppression by the government collectors' insolence and malfeasance. However, it was moderate and exempted those who paid it from military service. The Firman of 1834 abolished the ancient method of collecting money and mandated that it be raised by a commission made up of the Kadı, Muslim governors, and the Ayans, or Rayas municipal chiefs, in each region. Many additional financial gains were also harmed. Another critical set of reforms was simplifying and strengthening the administrative government and eliminating a vast number of sinecure positions. Sultan Mahmud II set an excellent example of common sense and economy when he reorganised the royal household, abolishing all titles without duties and all salaried officials without responsibilities.

Military Improvements

The military fiefs, the "Tımar"s, and the "Ziamet"s were effectively dealt with by Mahmud II. These had been established to provide the old effective military force, but they had long since ceased to do so. Mahmud II fundamentally strengthened the state's resources and ended a slew of corruptions by affixing them to public domains. One of his most resolute acts was the suppression of the Dere Beys, local hereditary chiefs (with the power to nominate their successors in the absence of male heirs). They had turned themselves into petty princes in almost every province of the empire in one of the worst abuses of the Ottoman feudal system. The suppression of these insubordinate feudatories did not happen overnight or without a lot of hard work and numerous revolts. Mahmud II persisted in this tremendous step, and the island of Cyprus eventually became the only portion of the empire where Dere Beys were allowed to keep power that did not come from the Sultan. The Auspicious Incident in 1826 saw the abolition of the Janissary Corps (through military force, execution and exile, and the banning of the Bektashi order) and the establishment of a modern Ottoman Army, known as the Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye (meaning 'Victorious Soldiers of Muhammad' in Ottoman Turkish). Following the fall of Greece at the Battle of Navarino in 1827 to a joint British-French-Russian flotilla, Mahmud II restored an Ottoman solid naval force a primary priority. In 1828, the Ottoman Navy acquired its first steamships. 76.15 m 21.22 m or 201 x 56 kadem (1 kadem = 37.887 cm) ship of the line Mahmudiye, which had 128 cannons on three decks and carried 1,280 sailors on board, was built for the Ottoman Navy in 1829 at the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Constantinople for (Kadem, which means "foot," is frequently mistaken as equal to one imperial foot, resulting in incorrect conversions such as "201 x 56 ft, or 62 x 17 m" in certain publications.)

Other Improvements

Mahmud II reformed the bureaucracy throughout his reign to reassert royal authority and improve the administrative efficiency of his government. To combat bribery, existing offices were abolished, new lines of responsibility were established, and pay was increased. In 1838, he found two training colleges for government officials. Mahmud II also established the Takvim-i Vekayi, an official gazette, in 1831. (Calendar of Events). This was the first newspaper produced in Ottoman-Turkish, and all civil officials were compelled to read it. Mahmud II's reforms also included the provision of clothing. After the Janissary elimination in 1826, he officially adopted the fez for the military, signalling a departure from the ancient style of military attire. He also ordered civilian officials to wear a plain, identical fez to separate themselves from the military. With an 1829 regulating decree, he intended for the public to adopt this and desired a homogeneous look for Ottoman society. Unlike previous Sultanic and other cultures' attire laws, Mahmud II wanted all levels of government and civilians to have the same appearance. Because of cultural, theological, and practical grounds, he faced strong opposition to these policies, particularly from religious groups, labourers, and military personnel. Mahmud II's photographs also provide insight into his clothing philosophy since he began wearing a more European-style fez after 1826. In addition to these reforms, Mahmud II was instrumental in creating and growing an Ottoman foreign affairs agency. Building on Selim III's basic ideas of international diplomacy, Mahmud II was the first to develop Foreign Minister and Undersecretary positions in 1836. He regarded this post as extremely important, equating compensation and rank with the highest military and civilian roles. The Language Office and Translation Office were likewise extended by Mahmud II, and by 1833, they had grown in both size and importance. He also resumed Selim's efforts to construct a system of permanent diplomatic representation in Europe after reorganising these offices. Permanent European embassies were established in 1834, with the first being founded in Paris. Despite the difficulties that these efforts posed, the expansion of diplomacy aided the transmission of ideas, which significantly influenced the bureaucracy and Ottoman society as a whole.










20 April 1809

  • Senior Consort

Dilseza Kadın


May 1816

  • died at Beşiktaş Palace, Istanbul and buried in Dolmabahçe Palace Mausoleum.

Kamerfer Kadın



  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum

Nevfidan Kadın


11 November 1855

  • Died at Nafiz Pasha Palace, Beylerbeyi, Istanbul and buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum

Hoşyar Kadın



  • Died at Mecca and buried there

Aşubcan Kadın


10 June 1870

  • Died at Maçka Palace and buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum

Mislinayab Kadın


22 May 1818

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum

Nurtab Kadın


10 January 1886

  • Buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum

Bezmiâlem Sultan


2 May 1853

  • Died at Beşiktaş Palace, Istanbul and buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum, Divanyolu, Istanbul

Ebrureftar Kadın



  • Sixth Consort
  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum

Pervizifelek Kadın


21 September 1863

  • Seventh Consort
  • Died at Akıntıburnu Palace and buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum

Hüsnümelek Hanım



  • Senior Fortunate
  • Died at Beylerbeyi Palace and buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum

Pertevniyal Sultan


26 January 1884

  • Second Fortunate
  • Died at Örtaköy Palace, Istanbul and buried in Pertevniyal Sultan Mausoleum

Tiryal Hanım



  • Third Fortunate
  • Died at Çamlıca Palace, Istanbul and  buried in Imperial ladies Mausoleum

Zernigar Hanım



  • Fourth Fortunate
  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum

Lebrizifelek Hanım


9 February 1865

  • Fourth Fortunate
  • Died at Örtaköy Palace, Istanbul and buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum


Şehzade Murad

26 December 1811

5 July 1812

  • Buried in Tomb of Abdul Hamid I, Fatih, Istanbul

Şehzade Bayezid

26 March 1812

10 July 1812

  • Buried in Abdul Hamid I Mausoleum, Fatih, Istanbul

Şehzade Abdul Hamid

6 March 1813

20 April 1825

  • buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul

Şehzade Osman

17 June 1813

10 April 1814

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Nevfidan Kadın

Şehzade Ahmed

25 July 1814

16 July 1815

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul

Şehzade Mehmed

25 August 1814

31 October 1814

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Dilseza Kadın

Şehzade Suleiman

29 August 1817

14 December 1819

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul

Şehzade Ahmed

13 October 1819

24 December 1819

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul

Şehzade Mehmed

18 February 1822

23 September 1822

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul

Şehzade Ahmed

6 July 1822

9 April 1823

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul

Sultan Abdulmejid I

25 April 1823

25 June 1861

  • Buried in Yavuz Selim Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Bezmiâlem Sultan

Şehzade Abdul Hamid

18 February 1827

15 November 1828

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul

Sultan Abdulaziz

8 February 1830

4 June 1876

  • Buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum, Divanyolu, Istanbul with Pertevniyal Sultan

Şehzade Nizameddin

29 December 1833

28 February 1838

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul with Tiryal Hanım


Fatma Sultan

4 February 1809

5 August 1809

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with unnamed Senior Consort

Ayşe Sultan

5 July 1809

February 1810

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Kamerfer Kadın

Fatma Sultan

20 April 1811

April 1825

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul with Dilseza Kadın

Saliha Sultan

16 June 1811

19 February 1843

  • Buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum, Divanyolu, Istanbul with Aşubcan Kadın

Şah Sultan

22 May 1812

September 1814

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Aşubcan Kadın

Mihrimah Sultan

29 June 1812

31 August 1838

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul with Hoşyar Kadın

Emine Sultan

July 1813

July 1814

  • Buried in Nurosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Dilseza Kadın

Şah Sultan

14 October 1814

13 April 1817

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Hoşyar Kadın

Emine Sultan

7 December 1815

24 September 1816

  • Buried in Dolmabahçe Palace Mausoleum, Istanbul with Dilseza Kadın

Zeynep Sultan

18 April 1815

8 January 1816

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul with Nevfidan Kadın

Hamide Sultan

4 July 1818

15 February 1819

  • Buried in Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Fatih, Istanbul

Atiye Sultan

2 January 1824

11 August 1850

  • Buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum, Divanyolu, Istanbul with Pervizifelek Kadın

Münire Sultan

16 October 1824

22 May 1825

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul

Hatice Sultan

6 September 1825

19 December 1842

  • Buried in Mahmud II Mausoleum, Divanyolu, Istanbul with Pervizifelek Kadın

Adile Sultan

23 May 1826

12 February 1899

  • Buried in Adile Sultan Mausoleum, Eyüp, Istanbul with Zernigar Hanım

Fatma Sultan

20 July 1828

23 October 1830

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul with Pervizifelek Kadın

Hayriye Sultan

22 January 1832

29 January 1833

  • Buried in Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, Fatih Mosque, Istanbul

In Narrative

The Janissary Tree, a 2006 historical detective novel by Jason Goodwin, is set in 1836 Constantinople, with Mahmud II's modernizing reforms (and conservative opposition to them) as the plot's backdrop. On many occasions, the Sultan and his mother appear. Intimate Power, sometimes known as The Favorite, is a 1989 film based on Prince Michael of Greece's historical fiction novel of the same name. It tells the story of Aimée du Buc de Rivéry, a young abducted French girl who survives two Sultans and serves as Mahmud's surrogate mother after spending years in an Ottoman harem. Mahmud plays a brief role in the film, yet he is depicted as an adult and a youngster. The movie ends with a variant of his dramatic sequence.

Last updated: 2021-October-26
Tags: Ottoman Empire
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