JEM SULTAN by John Freely

Notes of H3A English Reading Group Meeting
Wednesday 3 October 2012


When the English language reading group was formed in late 2010, one of the early themes guiding our choice of books was Turkish history and culture. It was appropriate that, for the first book of our second full year, we returned to this theme with Jem Sultan – The Adventures of a Captive Prince in Renaissance Europe.  

Written by long-term Istanbul resident, American professor and author, John Freely, the book “tells Jem Sultan’s remarkable story, from his childhood in the palaces of the Ottoman Empire through his war with his brother and his long years of exile in Europe – where he was locked up on a succession of French castles before being imprisoned, and possibly poisoned, in the Vatican.[1]

Members of the reading group found the book enjoyable and informative; it shed light on a fascinating, some might say romantic, historical character sometimes almost ignored by some historians, but still quietly admired in Turkey by many people even today; it also powerfully evoked the fear of imminent invasion that gripped a fragmented fifteenth century Europe; finally it demonstrated the extent to which Sultans and Kings, Princes and Popes were prepared to compromise their religious and legal principles, to deal and double deal duplicitously in the pursuit of power and status, wealth and, ultimately, survival.

The book led members down a number of roads and raised a number of questions, including: speculation about what might have been, had Jem Sultan become Sultan; who were the Knights of St John and how did they come to have such power; and how could a minor prince of the dominant empire of his day become such an important pawn in the game of fifteenth century international relations.

Jem Sultan by Pintoricchio 1454 – 1513

Bird of my soul, be patient of thy cage,
This body, lo! How fast it wastes with age.
The tinkling bells already do I hear
Proclaims the caravan’s departure near.
Soon shall it reach the land of nothingness,
And thee, from fleshy bonds delivered, bless.
Jem Sultan


Jem was born into times that can best be described as “interesting”.

On 21 May 1453, a few years before Jem’s birth, one of the greatest of the Ottoman sultans, 21 year old Mehmet II, had accomplished what none of the 12 previous Islamic attempts in 1000 years had achieved: he breached the seemingly impregnable Theodosian Walls of Constantinople and captured the city.  History would forever remember him as Fatih (Conqueror) Sultan Mehmet in recognition of this feat.

In the 150 years leading up to this momentous event – an event so significant, that historians often use it to mark the boundary between the Middle Ages and modern history – the successive leaders of a small principality across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul had been transforming it into the Ottoman Empire.

It all began with Osman Ghazi, the leader of the Osmanli Beylik (Principality) in the region known as Bithynia near modern day Bursa, who famously had a dream prophesying he would found a mighty empire.  He took the crucial first steps. His son and successor Orhan Ghazi established Bursa as that empire’s power base.

From there Orhan rapidly expanded his territory – first towards the Asiatic side of the Bosporus via Nicaea (Iznik), Nicomedia (Izmit) and on up to Scutari (Üskudar);  and then in the 1350s, (ironically as the result of an invitation of the then Byzantine Emperor) he crossed the Dardanelles into Thrace; he later took Adrianople (Edirne) which then became the second Ottoman capital.  By 1362 Constantinople, the last vestige of the once great Christian Byzantine Empire – an empire which once encircled the Mediterranean from Italy to Tunis – was surrounded.  As Roger Crowley writes in his book on the fall of Istanbul[2]:

Muslim warriors were now able to ride their horses to the sea’s edge on their own lands and look across the Bosphorus at Europe.

Expansion of the Empire proceeded at a rapid pace, although Constantinople did not fall during this period.  Over the ensuing 90 years or so, with only a few setbacks, the next four Sultans, namely Murat I (Hudevendigar), Yildirim (Thunderbolt) Beyazit I, Mehmet I (Çelebi) and Murat II (Koca), oversaw a lightning expansion of the Ottoman Empire westwards into the Balkans, and eastwards into Anatolia and beyond.

To give an idea of the scale and speed of the early expansion of the Empire: at the beginning of the reign of Murat I (1362) a journey between the Eastern and Western borders of the Ottoman domain took about 3 days; by the end of Murat’s reign in 1389 (just 27 years later) the same journey would have taken 42 days.[3]

The two maps below show clearly how much the Empire grew in the period 1300 to 1400; it continued to expand for another 200 years or so, reaching the gates of Vienna, the shores of the Arabian Sea and almost back to where the eighth century forces of Islam crossed into Spain.

Europe in 1300 CE

Europe in 1300 CE

Europe in 1400 CE

Europe in 1400 CE[4]

Ottoman territories outlined in red

To appreciate why the fall of Constantinople was so cataclysmic for the powers of Europe, it is necessary to view it against the backdrop of the struggle between Christianity and Islam that had been going on for the previous 800 years. Christianity was born in the Middle East and generally spread north and west to Europe. It took from AD 32 to roughly AD 600 for Christianity to become the main religion for the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe including most of what is now Turkey, formerly known as Asia Minor.

Spread of Christianity in c 650 CE

Spread of Christianity in c 650 CE

For its first 600 years or so, Christianity held sway throughout the area. However, by 750 CE, Islam had spread rapidly eastwards into Asia, north through the Middle East, and west along the African Mediterranean coast; in North Africa, Christianity had been replaced by Islam and by 719 CE almost all of present day Spain, up to the Pyrenees was under Islamic influence.  In 732 CE, Islamic forces were finally checked, on the banks of the Loire, a mere 150 miles from Paris.

Islam in Africa, the Middle East and Europe in 750 CE

Islam in Africa, the Middle East and Europe in 750 CE

After 750 CE, life in Europe was lived against a background fear that Islam would overwhelm the West as if had already done in the East. This fear was present for more than 800 years.

On 29 May 1453, Christianity lost Constantinople, its last toe-hold in the East. Hitherto, the struggle between Christianity and Islam in Europe had been played out on the Iberian Peninsula.  Before 1453, the Christians seemed to be winning;  the so-called Reconquista (the name given to the centuries-long attempt to expel Islam from Spain) was entering its final phase and was to end with the fall of Granada to the Christians in 1492.

By the middle of the fifteenth century Western Europe’s nightmare was becoming a reality. Just as it seemed the forces of Islam were being expelled out of Europe’s Iberian front entrance, one of Islam’s mightiest empires was rapidly and seemingly effortlessly surging through the Balkan backdoor.  It took the fall of Constantinople to bring home the significance of these developments.

However, Western Europe had been so preoccupied with its own local concerns, that it failed to foresee Constantinople’s fall.  As Lord Kinross wrote:

Too late now, Christians awoke to the loss of their bastion, behind which the West had for so long sheltered and squabbled in false security.  Here surely was a calamity which threatened Western civilisation itself.

In effect Constantinople had been lost for over a century ….. but the shock of the actual event was nonetheless great to the people of the West. The Ottoman occupation of most of south eastern Europe had isolated (Constantinople) ……. making it no longer a bulwark but a mere outpost of the West, a Christian island as it were in the midst of an Islamic ocean.

After 1453, even the “island” was gone.  However, the curious thing is that although the fall of Constantinople had a huge impact on the nations of Europe, causing terror to spread through the squabbling states, it did little to unite them. Time and again calls for joint action to take back the city came to nothing.

When  the reading group was considering this reaction, we had to remind ourselves that Europe in the middle of the fifteenth century bore little resemblance to the continent we know today. With the exception of the larger kingdoms of France, Poland, and Hungary, Europe was a boiling bouillabaisse of fractious princes, dukes, and despots.  Not even Phillip III The Good, Duke of Burgundy, who swore on a live pheasant to lead a crusade against the Grand Seignior, was able to bring unity to this stew. To name but just a few distractions:

  • England and France were just getting to the end of the 100 Years War.
  • Spain was, as we have noted, still engaged in the Reconquista and seldom at peace.
  • Italy was still fragmented: Sicily was controlled by Spain; the Kingdom of Naples, the Papal States, as well as Genoa and Venice were either in on-off wars with each other or in some cases tied into peace treaties and trade agreements with the Grand Porte and unwilling to provoke the Sultan.

Into this rapidly changing and fearful world Jem was born on 22 December 1459, Mehmet’s first son born after he was a reigning sultan, and the first of the Osmanli dynasty to be born after the conquest of Constantinople.  It could not have been predicted at the time what an extraordinary and tragic life he was destined to live.


On one level, John Freely’s book is the story of Jem’s odyssey, an odyssey both real – in his journey from Bursa to Central France and finally back to Bursa – and metaphorical, through a landscape populated by a cast of characters all determined to exploit Jem’s diplomatic, financial, emotional, and political value for their own ends. On another level, it is a book about the ruthless exercise of power by the most powerful men and women of their day.

Some members of the group saw Jem as a romantic, handsome figure, engaged in deeds and exploits straight out of a tale of medieval chivalry with symbolism to match; others saw him as “a bit wet” and found themselves admiring Sultan Beyazit.

Interestingly, historians have been similarly divided over Jem.  Some see him as nothing more than a mere footnote in history, at worst an eccentric, a bit of a nuisance; others, like Caroline Finkel in her book “Osman’s Dream,”[5] see his exile and the resulting international machinations as changing the way the Ottoman empire dealt with other nations.

This episode in Ottoman history was remarkable for heralding a change in the style of diplomacy vis-a-vis the Christian powers. Unlike the diplomatic agreements of the past, whereby one state would mediate relations with the ottomans on behalf of others whose interests were affected, negotiations over Jem’s custody had been conducted individually with each state.  Beyazit had been able to exploit the rivalry between them.

Comparing Jem with his brother Beyazit, members felt Jem was the more liberal, humanist figure of the two – a romantic poet, a linguist,  a potential reformer, one who could tolerate diversity.  Although the early Sultans were formally Sunni, many including Jem empathised with the more liberal wing of Islam, namely the Alevis. One member described the Alevi sect as the “Protestants of Islam”, more liberal and heterodox in their beliefs and customs; it was also described as a form of Islam incorporating specifically Turkish beliefs and practises.

Throughout Ottoman history, Alevis made up a far higher percentage of the population of the region than they do today; they were a force to be reckoned with and seen as a threat to central power. For this reason, for example, Selim I, son of Beyazid II, had many Alevis murdered when he came to the throne in 1512.

Jem’s Odyssey

In modern times, with fast flights and package holidays, it is easy to underestimate the scale of Jem’s fifteenth century physical odyssey. A couple of maps may help to portray the extent of his journey. With only wind and horse power, the journey was long, arduous, and dangerous. In addition, Jem and his entourage were faced with all the linguistic, cultural, and culinary challenges encountered by foreigners in an alien land.

Jem's Odyssey  Jul 1482 – late summer 1499

Jem’s Odyssey Jul 1482 – late summer 1499

 Jem's Odyssey in France

Jem’s Odyssey in France

Some of us wondered why Jem agreed so readily to go to France, having been granted (as it turned out disingenuously) safe haven in Rhodes. The answer was that he felt if he could get to France, he would be able to make his way to the court of King Mathias Corvinus of Hungary, there to join forces in an attack on Beyazit. Of course, Beyazit and the Knights of St John were working on a different agenda altogether.

In total, Jem’s exile lasted over 17 years and even after he had died, international machinations continued over custody of his body; it took four years for his body to be returned to the Ottoman Empire.

During this 17 year exile, Sultan Beyazit II exploited the divisions between the main Christian players, with a combination of shows of strength, threats of invasion, offers of trade, and outright bribery. Beyazit played the game deftly. His main aim was to ensure that his rival and brother, Jem, was prevented from returning to his homeland, where he would be a threat – both as a focus for dissenters and also as a claimant to the throne. Beyazit wanted to make sure that Jem never marched at the head of a Christian enemy army to attack the Empire.

At this time, the Ottoman Empire had amassed considerable wealth, both from war and from growing trade links, especially with Venice and Genoa. The 40,000 gold ducats that Beyazit paid per year for Jem’s “bed and board” was a small price to pay for keeping Jem out of his empire.

What Was Jem’s Claim to the Throne?

One of the questions that engaged the reading group for some time was why Jem felt he had a claim to the throne in the first place. For many in the group, brought up on the western tradition of primogeniture (first born), it was puzzling.  Jem was not the first born; as the elder brother, Beyazit was clearly entitled to the throne.

The answer to this question is complicated.  It should be remembered that in the early days of the Ottoman Empire, there had only been six changes of sultan between 1299 and 1444 when Mehmet II (father of Beyazit and Jem) came to the throne. Things were seldom clear cut, especially when power was involved. Succession planning had started out amicably enough:

  • In 1324 the first Sultan, Osman I, named his younger son Orhan as his successor “on the strength of his military capacities.” [6]  (Succession by nomination and military prowess)
  • Orhan’s successor in 1362 was his younger son, who became Murat I. His older son, Suleiman, had died following a fall from a horse.  (Succession by “fate”)
  • Murat I was assassinated at the age of 70 on the battlefield at Kosovo in 1389. His eldest son Beyazit, who had fought beside his father, was instantly proclaimed Sultan by the army. Fearing conflict over the succession, Beyazit immediately ordered the death of his younger brother Yakub, thus introducing fratricide as a tool in succession. (Succession by military support and a bit of fratricide to keep him in power)
  • Beyazit I died in 1403, after his defeat at the hands of Tamerlane at the Battle of Ankara (1402). An interregnum ensued for over 10 years whilst Beyazit’s four sons – Suleiman, Musa, Isa and Mehmet – fought over the succession.  In 1413, Mehmet finally emerged the victor and reigned as Mehmet I. (Succession by fighting for it)
  • Mehmet I died in 1421 and was succeeded without controversy by his eldest son, the 17 year old Murat. He reigned as Murat II. Twice during his long reign he was challenged for the Sultanate, first by a pretender and later by his own younger brother Mustafa. (Succession by “fate”, maintained by fighting for it)
  • Murat II had three sons, Ahmet, Ali, and Mehmet. It is said that Murat preferred his two older sons and did not envisage his youngest son, Mehmet, becoming his heir. However, Mehmet’s two older half-brothers died prematurely: Ahmet died suddenly in Amasya where he was governor; six years later Ali was strangled in his bed. At the age of 11, Mehmet became heir apparent. When Murat II died at Adrianople in 1451, Mehmet, then 19, made his way from Magnesia to the capital to claim his throne unopposed; on his succession to the throne, Mehmet ordered the execution of his half-brother, Little Ahmet, on the grounds that “execution of a prince is preferable to the loss of a province” and “death better than disquiet.” (Succession by “fate” maintained by fratricide)

It is against these examples of their ancestors’ routes to the throne that the power struggle between Beyazit and Jem should be seen.

In addition to the above, as members pointed out, there were other factors that came into play when a Sultan died:

  • A practice had developed of sending the young princes at very early ages to remote provinces as governors. This put them out of harm’s way, distant from the intrigues of the court. It also gave them early experience of civil administration. On the death of a sultan, the prince who got back to the capital first had a better chance of claiming the throne.
  • In Ottoman times, in lieu of a coronation, the symbol of accession was the girding of the prospective sultan with the sword of Osman, the dynasty’s founder. The prince who managed to be girded with the sword could claim to be Sultan.
  • The support of the army, especially the Janissaries, was another very important factor.
  • As with courts anywhere, intrigue and power-broking took place. The support of the viziers was an important factor in determining the succession. In later times, the mothers of Princes and especially the mother of the reigning Sultan also played a key role.
  • Another influence was the degree to which the would-be sultan could carry the populace with him, notably religious factions.

It was probably a combination of the following factors that emboldened Jem to challenge his older brother Beyazit for the throne, when Mehmed II died in 1481 at the age of 49:

  • Jem, and not his brother, had been chosen to negotiate with d’Aubusson of the Knights of St John in Rhodes. From this he may have deduced that his father regarded him as his heir.
  • In the court, Karamani Mehmet believed it was the Sultan’s wish that Jem should replace him, and contrived to assist Jem – ultimately paying with his life. Many other powerful figures sided with Beyazit.
  • Jem believed he could count on support from some of the army including Gedik Ahmet Pasa.
  • Jem thought he would be supported by the Alevis in the south of the country, around Konya where he was serving as governor.
  • Jem felt it was important that he was the first son born after his father became a reigning Sultan and after he had conquered Constantinople.
  • Finally, he could claim he was “born in the purple”[7]

Beyazit II may well have regretted not using the practice enshrined in statute by his father to resolve the problem of succession once and for all. We wondered why Beyazit did not resort to the time- honoured method of having Jem killed; if he had captured and killed Jem at the battle of Yeni Sehir or subsequently, Beyazit would have had history on his side. But then we wouldn’t have had a book to read! Perhaps wisely, Jem never got close enough to his older brother (Beyazit was nearly 12 years older than Jem) to test whether the old ways still prevailed.

Perhaps, as Roger Crowley expressed in his book, there was a belief that succession to the throne was more about the will of Allah and fate than any man-made rules. As one member pointed out, Jem could have been killed at any time but he was not.

Mehmet’s succession provides another example of this. The two oldest sons of Murat II were regarded as likely successors and were favoured by their father over Mehmet; however, the first died suddenly, and the second was murdered in his bed whilst a very young governor of Amasya. Only after their deaths was Murat II obliged to take on the education and grooming of his precocious and headstrong third son Mehmet.

Murat II twice tried to abdicate in favour of the very young Mehmet. On the first occasion, following a threatened crusade invasion, Mehmet is alleged to have summoned his father out of retirement in a letter saying:

If you are the Sultan, return and lead your army.  But if I am the Sultan, I command you to return and take your place at the head of the army.

On the second occasion, a combination of Mehmet’s involvement with a particularly radical cleric, an ill-conceived plan to attack Constantinople, and an unwise devaluation of the aster by 10% that  dealt the Janissaries a pay cut, lead to Murat’s speedy return. Some say that Grand Vizier Halil Pasa engineered a threatened revolt by the Janissaries to bring Murat out of retirement. [The headstrong Mehmet never forgave the Vizier for this action and he paid the ultimate price once Mehmet came to the throne.]

Mehmet got his early education from Aksemseddin,[8] a very wise teacher who had a life-long great influence on Mehmet. Mehmet was a poet and linguist, speaking Latin, Greek and Persian as well as Ottoman Turkish of course. Mehmet valued education highly and made sure his sons, Beyazit and Jem, were well educated.

Interestingly Fatih Sultan Mehmet styled himself “Emperor of Rum”, emperor of the Romans, reflecting his view that he was the next in line of Emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire. One member concluded that Mehmet, who conquered Constantinople at age 21, was probably both a genius and hyperactive.

The Role of the Knights of St John

One of the surprises for the group was the degree to which the Knights of St John were the instigators of and complicit in the exploitation of Jem. Although seldom portrayed as saints, the Knights of St John, unlike their more martial cousins, the Knights Templar, usually come out well in the judgement of popular history. Members of the group were interested in finding out more about these two colourful organisations.

There is a great deal of material available on the internet about the Knights Hospitallers and the Knights Templar, so the following is merely a brief overview of the two organisations.

The Knights Hospitallers or the Knights of St John of Jerusalem

According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the name Hospitallers was first applied to those whose duty it was to provide hospitium (lodging and entertainment) for pilgrims (to the Holy Land of Palestine).  The most noted institution of the kind was founded at Jerusalem (c 1048), which gave its name to an order called the Knights Hospitallers or the Knights of St John of Jerusalem.  Later they were styled the Knights of Rhodes, and subsequently the Knights of Malta, the islands of Rhodes (1310) and Malta (1510) being in turn, their headquarters. The order became predominantly military in the twelfth century, but in the late eighteenth century it reverted to its earlier purposes of tending the sick and poor, moving to Rome in 1834.

The order came to an end in England after the Reformation, but a branch was revived in the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. It founded the St John Ambulance Association in 1877[9].

Behind these bare bones of history lies an intriguing story spanning several centuries during which this multinational order rose from being pious servants of pilgrims to one of the most rich and powerful organisations in the Europe, holding sway over much of the Eastern Mediterranean and controlling the movement of shipping and trade throughout the region[10].

The Knights were also present in this part of the Aegean, in both Kizil Hisar near Kas and, of course, Bodrum.  Indeed Bodrum Castle contains elements reflecting the standard organisation of the Knights anywhere. The order was divided into Langues (tongues) which fell into a hierarchy, Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon and Catalonia, England and Germany. An eighth Langue comprising Castile and Portugal was added in 1462.  Traditionally the langues lived in their own Auberge or Inn. The equivalents in Bodrum Castle of St Peter are the towers for the Italian, English, French, Spanish, and German langues.

In passing, it is of interest to note that, in the English Tower in Bodrum Castle, there is a small display that claims Jem Sultan sought refuge in Bodrum Castle after his second flight from the forces of Sultan Beyazit.

John Freely’s book makes no mention of Bodrum, although he does say Jem’s envoys left from “a small port on the Mediterranean” to contact the Knights on Jem’s behalf. Could this be the Bodrum connection?

Kiz Külesi near Silifke

Kiz Külesi near Silifke

According to John Freely, Jem went into exile from Corycus (Korukus) near the south coast town of Silifke, “a port guarded by two fortresses…. one known as Kiz Kulesi.”  This castle still stands (see photograph) and must have represented a poignant last view of his homeland for Jem as he sailed away into exile.

By the twelfth century the Knights Hospitallers had become increasingly occupied with martial matters, particularly with control of shipping and trade in the eastern Mediterranean. However, over time, it was the Knights Templar who became the main military force.

The Knights Templar

Knights Templar were so named because their original Jerusalem headquarters was situated on Temple Mount, above what is believed to be the Temple of King Solomon. Like the Knights Hospitallers, they started as protectors of pilgrims to the Holy Land; however, they soon became a major fighting force during the Crusades. Behind the combatants was a very effective organisational structure. Within this structure were non-combatants, responsible for managing the growing land and financial resources of the Order, in support of the combatants. As the Knights Templar became richer, they became more in demand as “bankers” throughout Europe. They may have been the first in the world to use cheques to obviate the risks run by pilgrims and crusaders of carrying cash.  Some have gone so far as to say that the Knights Templar were so powerful as to rank as the world’s first multi-national conglomerate (see Tony Marciniec’s interesting article below[11]).

The Knights Hospitallers still exist, albeit in a much changed form; however, the Knights Templars’ power and their hold over royal debtors led to their demise. As the crusades failed, the reputation of the Knights Templars suffered, and they were sometimes at odds with the Knights Hospitallers. The Knights Templars were forced to move their headquarters several times and eventually lost their presence in the Holy Land.

It was their position as banker to the powerful that finally brought them down. King Phillip IV of France was deeply indebted to the Templars (they funded his war with the English!) and he began pressuring the Church to take action against the Order as a way of avoiding his debts. He eventually succeeded, and throughout Europe Templars were arrested, tortured into confessing multiple crimes including heresy, and many were burnt at the stake. In many cases their property was handed over to the Knights Hospitallers.

One member recalls visiting Temple Church[12], which is now used by two of the four Inns of Court near Fleet Street in London.  The church is late twelfth century and was built as the London headquarters of the Knights Templar. It is famous for its effigies of the Knights and was a major scene in Dan Brown’s book The da Vinci Code.

Effigies of the Knights

Effigies of the Knights

Temple church exterior

Temple church exterior

Life in Jem’s Time

How did anyone survive in the “dysfunctional” world described in this book? Several members tried to imagine what life was like for Jem or for a Knight of St John. One member decided that certain occupations were out, principally the job of envoy or messenger – they inevitably end up being tortured and handing over the information. But in any case, life was precarious, like in the board game, Risk, where at any turn everyone breaks solemnly-made promises in order to achieve their goals.

The book reminded another member of how much she had been conditioned to see the world through the prism of her upbringing. When she grew up, the world was divided in two; communism, Russia etc was on one side and considered generally bad and not to be visited; the west we knew all about and was ok. In contrast, movement around Europe in the fifteenth century was pretty fluid, with no hard and fast divisions or borders.

As someone pointed out, rigid borders, passports, and the like were a product of nineteenth century nationalism. Before that time, if one had the financial means, a working knowledge of Latin, Greek, Persian, Arabic and maybe French, and perhaps a few letters of introduction, international travel was relatively easy. Of course, it was also easier to be robbed or to succumb to life-threatening disease, if one was unlucky!

We were impressed with very efficient communications that existed in the fifteenth century. In fact it was information or disinformation that brought down Jem Sultan, who was very unlucky with his attempts at communications. In this sense the story of Jem is a very contemporary story, where information management is key to the success of modern military management.

Jem’s Final Resting Place – The Muradiye in Bursa

Several members of the group have visited Bursa where the first six Ottoman Sultans are buried. Osman I and Orhan are buried in separate mausoleums high on Tophane overlooking the commercial heart of the city.  Murat I, Hudevendigar, is buried opposite the Hudevendigar mosque in Çekirge, overlooking the city from the foothills of Uludag. Yildirim Beyazit I is buried in a mausoleum near the Mosque built in his name. Mehmet I Çelebi is buried in the magnificent Yesil Türbe or Green Tomb. Murat II is buried in the mosque and mausoleum complex which bears his name, the Muradiye.

Murat II died in Adrianople but in his will he wrote, “Do not raise a sumptuous mausoleum above my grave but bury me directly in the ground. May the rain, sign of the benediction of god, fall on me.” Despite his wishes he was buried in a sumptuous mausoleum but the dome is open to the air so that rain may fall on his grave.

Also buried at the Muradiye are Jem Sultan and his brother Mustafa, who died before Jem. As John Freely writes:

Theirs is the most richly decorated of the tombs at the Muradiye, revetted in late fifteenth century ceramics, dark blue with a delicate over-glaze of floral designs in gold, the dome decorated with a firmament of star shaped tiles to represent the heavens in which the deceased now presumably dwell.

Members of the group who have visited the Muradiye found the complex as a whole both impressive and tranquil. From the extraordinary acoustics of Murat II’s tomb to the vibrancy of the last resting place of the troubled Jem Sultan, it somehow feels just the right place to end Jem’s (and our) odyssey.

Interior of Tomb of Jem Sultan

Interior of Tomb of Jem Sultan

An interesting note:

In the beginning, the city was Byzantium, the first hill on which now stands Topkapi Palace. In Greek times, the expanding city became Constantinople – City of Constantine. To the Arabs it was Konstantiniyye. Greeks referred to it familiarly as polis meaning city and a man going to there would say he was going eis tin polin – into the city. Although not everyone agrees, many have suggested that this morphed into the Turkish Istanbul.


For readable histories of Constantinople/Istanbul, see:

John Freely, Istanbul The Imperial City, Penguin, 1998

Phillip Mansell, Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire 1453 – 1924, Penguin, 1997

For histories of the Ottomans, try:

Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries: the Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire, Perennial, 2002

Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300 – 1923, John Murray, 2006


An even-handed film on the Crusades – which sheds light on the Knights of St John and Knights Templar- is Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott.  If you can get the two-disk version there is a lot of extra information in the Special Features.

[1] Quoted from the sleeve note of the Harper Perennial edition.

[2] Constantinople, The Last Great Siege 1453  Roger Crowley Faber & Faber 2005

[3] The Ottoman Centuries – The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire Lord Kinross Harper Collins 1979

[4] Maps from Euratlas at

[5] Osman’s Dream the Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923 Caroline Finkel John Murray Publications 2005

[6] The Ottoman Centuries – The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire Lord Kinross Harper Collins 1979

[7] This latter idea was a left over from the old Byzantine way of determining dynastic succession, the idea of porphyrogenitus, of being “born in the purple”. This designation’s most distinctive condition was that the child be born in the Purple or Porphyry Chamber, a pavilion of the Great Palace of Constantinople: no child born anywhere else could legitimately be called Porphyrogénnetos.[7] The focus of the title Porphyrogénnetos was that it imbued its honouree with the sense of the pre-ordained, of earthly continuity and legitimacy.

[8] Aksemseddin also discovered the location of the grave of the Prophet Mohamed’s Standard Bearer, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, known as Eyub in Turkish, who fell in an earlier siege of Constantinople in 669CE.  A tomb and mosque were built over the grave after the fall of the city. It is to this holy place that Sultans went to be girded with the sword of Osman symbolising their accession to the Ottoman throne.

[9] The Order of St John is still active in the medical branches of the British Armed Forces and some senior military doctors wear Order of St John medals.

[10] For more detail on the Knights Hospitallers, see

[11] For a different and illuminating slant on these organisations see Tony Marciniec’s article for Bodrum life:

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