Orhan I

Orhan I
Osmanli-nisani.svg    Orhan I
اورخان غازی
Ottoman Sultan
Tughra of Orhan.JPG
Reign 1326–1359
Period Rise of the Ottoman Empire
Predecessor Osman I
Successor Murad I
Royal House House of Osman
Dynasty Ottoman Dynasty

Orhan I or Orhan Bey (Ottoman: اورخان غازی, Orhan Gazi; 1281, Sogut – March 1361, Bursa) was the second bey of the nascent Ottoman Empire (then known as the Ottoman Beylik or Emirate) from 1326 to 1359. He was the son of Osman I and Malhun Hatun, the daughter of Abdulaziz Bey.

In the early stages of his reign, Orhan focused his energies on conquering most of northwestern Anatolia. The majority of these areas were under Byzantine rule and he won his first battle, at Pelekanon, against the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos. Orhan also occupied the lands of the Karasids of Balıkesir and the Ahis of Ankara.

A series of civil wars surrounding the ascension of the nine-year-old emperor John V benefited Orhan greatly. In the first, the regent John Kantakouzenos married his daughter Theodora to Orhan and employed Ottoman warriors against the rival forces of the queen dowager, allowing them to loot Thrace. In the second, Kantakouzenos used Ottoman forces against John V himself, granting them the use of a European fortress at Çimpe around 1352.[1][2] A major earthquake devastated Gallipoli (modern Gelibolu) two years later and Orhan's son Suleyman Pasha occupied the town, giving the Ottomans a strong bridgehead into mainland Europe.


Passage of power

Map of the conquests of Orhan I

When Orhan succeeded his father, he proposed to his brother, Alaeddin, that they should share the emerging empire. The latter refused on the grounds that their father had designated Orhan as sole successor, and that the empire should not be divided. He only accepted as his share the revenues of a single village near Bursa.

Orhan then told him, "Since, my brother, thou will not take the flocks and the herds that I offer thee, be thou the shepherd of my people; be my Vizier." The word vizier, vezir in the Ottoman language, from Persian wazīr, meant the bearer of a burden. Alaeddin, in accepting the office, accepted his brother's burden of power, according to oriental historians. Alaeddin, like many of his successors in that office, did not often command the armies in person, but he occupied himself with the foundation and management of the civil and military institutions of the state.


Tughra of Orhan I
Orhan I was the first Sultan to use a tughra.

According to some authorities, it was in Alaeddin's time, and by his advice, that the Ottomans ceased acting like vassals to the Seljuk ruler: they no longer stamped money with his image or used his name in public prayers. These changes are more correctly attributed by others to Osman himself, but the vast majority of the oriental writers concur in attributing to Alaeddin the introduction of laws respecting the costume of the various subjects of the empire, and the creation and funding of a standing army of regular troops. It was by his advice and that of a contemporary Turkish statesman that the celebrated corps of Janissaries was formed, an institution which European writers erroneously fix at a later date, and ascribe to Murad I.


Alaeddin, by his military legislation, may be truly said to have organized victory for the Ottoman dynasty. He organised for the Ottoman Empire a standing army of regularly paid and disciplined infantry and horses, a full century before Charles VII of France established his fifteen permanent companies of men-at-arms, which are generally regarded as the first modern standing army.

Orhan's predecessors, Ertughrul and Osman, had made war at the head of the armed vassals and volunteers. This army rode on horseback to their prince's banner when summoned for each expedition, and were disbanded as soon as the campaign was over. Alaeddin determined to ensure and future success by forming a corps of paid infantry, which was to be kept in constant readiness for service. These troops were called Yaya, or piyade. They were divided into tens, hundreds, and thousands with their commanders.[3] Their pay was high, and their pride soon caused their sovereign some anxiety. Orhan wished to provide a check to them, and he took counsel for this purpose with his brother Alaeddin and Kara Khalil Çandarlı (of House of Candar), who was connected with the royal house by marriage. Çandarlı laid before his master and the vizier a project. Out of this arose the renowned corps of Janissaries,[4] which was considered the scourge of the Balkans and Central Europe for a long time, until it was abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826.

Çandarlı proposed to Orhan to create an army entirely composed of the children of conquered places. Çandarlı argued that:

"The conquered are the responsibility of the conqueror, who is the lawful ruler of them, of their lands, of their goods, of their wives, and of their children. We have a right to do, same as what we do with our own; and the treatment which I propose is not only lawful, but benevolent. By enforcing the enrolling them in the ranks of the army, we consult both their temporal and eternal interests, as they will be educated and given better life conditions."

He also claimed that the formation of Janissary out of conquered children would induce other people to adopt, not only out of the children of the conquered nations, but out of a crowd of their friends and relations, who would come as volunteers to join the Ottoman ranks. Acting on this advice, Orhan selected a thousand of the finest boys from conquered Christian families. The recruits were trained according to their individual abilities, and employed in posts ranging from professional soldier to Grand Vizier. This practice continued for centuries, until the reign of Sultan Mehmet IV.


Initial expansion

Orhan, with the help of Jihad commanders at the head of his forces of light cavalry, started a series of conquests of Byzantine territories in northwest Anatolia. First, in 1321, Mudanya was captured on the Sea of Marmara, which was the port of Bursa. He then sent a column under Konur Alp towards West Black Sea coast; another column under Aqueda to capture Kocaeli, and finally a column to capture the southeast coast of the Sea of Marmara. Then, he captured the city of Bursa just with diplomatic negotiations. The Byzantine commander of the Bursa fort, called Evronos Bey, became a commander of a light cavalry force and even his sons and grandsons served Ottoman Empire in this capacity to conquer and hold many areas in Balkans. Once the city of Bursa was captured, Orhan sent cavalry troops towards Bosphorus, capturing Byzantine coastal towns of Marmara. There were even sightings of Ottoman light cavalry along the Bosphoros coast.

The Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III gathered together a mercenary army and set of towards Anatolia on the peninsular lands of Kocaeli. But at the present towns of Darica, at a site then called Pelekanon, not too far from Uskudar, he met with Orhan's troops. The Byzantine forces were routed by Orhan's disciplined troops. Thus, in 1329 after this Battle of Pelekanon the Byzantines gave up the idea of getting the Kocaeli lands back and never tried conducting a field battle against the Ottoman forces.

The city of Nicaea (second only to Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire) surrendered to him after a three-year siege in 1331. The city of İzmit or Nicomedia was also captured in 1337. Orhan gave the command of it to his eldest son, Suleyman Pasha, who had directed the operations of the siege. In 1338 by capturing Uskudar most of Northwest Anatolia was in Ottoman hands. The Byzantines still controlled the coastal strip from Sile on the Black Sea to Uskudar and the city of Amasra (Amastris) in Paphlagonia, but these were so scattered and isolated as to be no threat to the Ottomans.

Then, there was a change of strategy in 1345. Instead of aiming to gain land from non-Muslims, Orhan took over a Turkish principality, Karesi (present Balikesir and surrounds). According to Islamic philosophy of war, the areas under Islamic rule were to be abodes of peace and the other areas abodes of war. In abodes of war conducting a war was considered a good deed. Karesi principality was a state governed by a Turkish Emir and its main inhabitants were Turkish; so it was an abode of peace. Ottomans had to have special justification for conquering fellow Muslim Turkish principalities.

In the case of Karesi, the ruler had died and had left two sons whose claims to the post of Emir were equally valid. So there was a fight between the armed supporters of the two claimant princes. Orhan's pretext for invasion was that he was acting as a bringer of peace. In the end of the invasion by Ottoman troops the two brothers were pushed to the castle of their capital city of Bergama (Pergamum). One was killed and the other was captured. The territories around Bergama and Balikesir (Palaeocastro) were annexed to Orhan's domains. This conquest was particularly important since it brought Orhan's territories to Canakkale, the Anatolian side of the Dardanelles Straits.

With the conquest of Karesi, nearly the whole of northwestern Anatolia was included in the Ottoman Empire, and the four cities of Bursa, Izmit (Nicomedia), Iznik (Nicea), and Bergama (Pergamum) had become strongholds of its power. At this stage of his conquests Orhan's Ottoman Principality had four provinces:

  1. Original land grant area of Sogut and Eskisehir;
  2. Hudavendigar (Domain of the Sultan) area of Bursa and Iznik;
  3. Koca Eli peninsular area around Izmit;
  4. former principality of Karesi around Balikesir and Bergama .


Consolidation period

A twenty-year period of peace followed the acquisition of Karesi. During this time, the Ottoman sovereign was actively occupied in perfecting the civil and military institutions which his brother had introduced, in securing internal order, in founding and endowing mosques and schools, and in the construction of vast public edifices, many of which still stand. Orhan did not continue with any other conquests in Anatolia except taking over Ankara from the commercial-religious fraternity guild of Ahis.

The general diffusion of Turkish populations over Anatolia, before Osman's time, was in main part a push from the Mongol conquest of Central Asia, Iran and then East Anatolia. Turkish peoples had founded a number of principalities after the demise of the Anatolian Sultanate of Rum, after its defeat by the Ilkhanate Mongols. These principalities, including the Ottomans under Orhan until the reign of his son Murat I, were still paying yearly tribute to the Ilkhanids in Persia. Although they were all of Turkish stock, they were all rivals for dominant status in Anatolia.

After the Byzantine defeat of the Battle of Pelekanon, Orhan developed friendly relations with Andronicus III Palaeologus, and maintained them with some of his successors. Therefore, the Ottoman power experienced a twenty-year period of general repose.

However, as the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347 dissipated the last resources of the Byzantine Empire, the auxiliary armies of the Emirs of Turkish principalities were frequently called over and employed in Europe. In 1346, The Emperor John VI Cantacuzene recognised Orhan as the most powerful sovereign of the Turks. He aspired to attach the Ottoman forces permanently to his interests, and hoped to achieve this by giving his second daughter, Theodora, in marriage to their ruler, despite differences of creed and the disparity of age. However, in Byzantine and in Western European history, dynastic marriages were quite usual and there are many examples which were much more strange.[6]

The splendour of the wedding between Orhan and Theodora at Salymbria (Silivri) is elaborately described by Byzantine writers. In the following year, Orhan and Theodora visited his imperial father-in-law at Uskudar, (then Chrysopolis) the suburb of Constantinople on the Asiatic side of the Bosporus where there was a display of festive splendor. However, this close relationship soured when Byzantines suffered from marauding migrant Turcoman bands that had crossed the Marmara Sea and Dardanelles and pillaged several towns in Thrace. After a series of such raids, the Byzantines had to use superior forces to deal with them.

Decline of Byzantine Empire

During Orhan's reign as the Ottoman emir, the Byzantine Empire was in its last stages of its decline. This was partly due to the ambitions of Italian maritime states and the aggression of the Turcomans and other city Turks, but the empire was also weakened by civil wars.

During these years the Byzantine Empire was so weak that commercial supremacy in the surrounding seas around it became a bone of contention for the Italian maritime commercial city states. The Republic of Genoa possessed Galata, a separate Genoese city across the Golden Horn from Constantinople itself. The Genoese had fought and defeated the Byzantines earlier in 1348 when the Byzantines had decreased their customs tariffs in order to attract trade to the Byzantine side of the Golden Horn. In 1352 the rivalry for trade led to a war between Genoa and Venice. The Genoese, in trying to repel a Venetian fleet from destroying their ships in Golden Horn, bombarded the sea walls of Constantinople and pushed Byzantines to ally with Venetians. Venetians gathered together a large naval force, including hired fleets from Peter IV of Aragon and from Byzantine Empire of John VI Cantacuzene. Unfortunately for Venice and its allies the sea battle between Venetian fleet under the command of Nicolo Pisani and Genoese fleet under Paganino Doria led to defeat of Venetians and Byzantine allies.[7] Orhan was against the Venetians, whose fleets and piratical raids were disrupting his seaward provinces, and who had met his diplomatic overtures with contempt. The Venetians were allies of John VI, so Orhan sent an auxiliary force across the straits to Galata, which there co-operated with the Genoese.

In the midst of the distress and confusion that the Byzantine Empire now suffered, Orhan's eldest son, Suleyman Pasha, captured the Castle of Tzympe (Cinbi) in a bold move which gave the Turks a permanent foothold on the European side of the Dardanelles Straits. He also started to settle migrant Turcomans and town-dwelling Turks in the strategic city and castle of Gelibolu (Gallipoli), which had been devastated by a severe earthquake and was therefore evacuated by its inhabitants. Suleyman refused various financial inducements offered by John VI to empty the castle and the city. The emperor pleaded with his son-in-law Orhan to meet personally and discuss the matter, but the request was either rejected or could not be carried out due to Orhan's age and ill health.[8]

This military situation was not resolved, in part because the eruption of the hostilities between John VI and his co-emperor and son-in-law John V Palaeologus. John V was dismissed from his imperial post and exiled to Tenedos; Cantacuzene's son Matthew was crowned as the co-emperor. But very soon John V returned from exile with Venetian help and to conduct a coup taking over the government of Constantinople. Although the two men came to an agreement to share power, John VI resigned from his imperial post and became a monk. Each of these two contestants for power was continually soliciting Orhan's aid against the other, and Orhan supported whichever side would benefit the Ottomans.[9]

Last years

Türbe of Orhan Gazi in Bursa

Orhan was the longest living and one of the longest reigning of the future Ottoman Sultans.[10] In his last years he had left most of the powers of state in the hands of his second son Murad and lived a secluded life in Bursa.

In 1356 a very unusual event occurred. Khalil, the son of Orhan and Theodora, was abducted somewhere on the Bay of Izmit. A Genoese commercial boat captain, which was conducting acts of piracy alongside commercial activity, was able to capture the young prince and take him over to Phocaea on the Aegean Sea, which was under Genoese rule. Orhan was very much upset by this kidnapping and conducted talks with his brother-in-law and now single Byzantine Emperor John V Palaeologos. As to the agreement, John V with a Byzantine naval fleet went to Phocaea, paid the ransom demanded of 100,000 Byzantine gold pieces, and brought Khalil back to Ottoman territory.

In 1357 Orhan's eldest and most experienced son and likely heir, Suleyman Pasha, died after injuries sustained from a fall from a horse near Bolayir on the coast of the sea of Marmara. The horse that Suleyman fell from was buried along side him and their tombs can still be seen today. Orhan was said to have been greatly affected by the death of his son.

Orhan died soon after, in 1361, at the age of seventy-nine, after a reign of thirty-seven years. He is buried in the türbe (tomb) with his wife and children, called Gümüşlü Kumbet in Bursa.

During his reign, some of the most important civil and military institutions of his state were founded in the western provinces of Anatolia, but were also planted on the European continent.

Marriages and children

  • Suleyman Pasha (c. 1316 - 1357). Eldest known son and the intended heir who was the architect of the Ottoman expansion into Thrace. He died, shortly after his brother Khalil's capture by the Genoese pirates, as the result of a fall from his horse. His steed was buried next to him in Bolayir, north of Gallipoli, where their graves can still be seen.
    • Sultan Bey (1324–1362).
    • Khadijah Khanum. Married Damad Süleyman Bey. Her husband was a son of Savji Bey and through him grandson of Osman I.
  • Orhan married in 1316 Asporsha of Byzantium. They had at least two children:
    • Ibrahim, Governor of Eskişehir (1316–1362). Executed by order of his half-brother Murad I.
    • Fatima.
  • Orhan married in 1345 Theodora, Princess of Serbia, daughter of Stefan IV Uroš, King of Serbia.
  • Orhan married in 1346 Theodora Maria Cantakouzene, Princess of Byzantium, born in 1332. She was a daughter of John VI Cantakouzene, Emperor of Byzantium, and Irene Asanina. They had at least two sons:
    • Ibrahim (? - d. 1362).
    • Khalil or Halil (1347 - d. 1362). When still only a child he was captured by Genoese pirates for ransom. The Byzantine emperor and his future father-in-law John V Palaeologus was instrumental in his eventual release. Halil married Irene, who was a daughter of John V Palaeologus and Helena Cantakouzene.


  • Incorporates text from "History of Ottoman Turks" (1878)
  1. ^ Nicolle, David and Hook, Adam. Ottoman Fortifications 1300-1710. Osprey Publishing, 2010. Accessed 3 Sept 2011.
  2. ^ Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2002. Accessed 3 Sept 2011.
  3. ^ Onbashi (head of ten), yuzbashi (head of hundred) and binbashi (head of thousand) which was similar to organisation of the Mongol armies and which at present army of Republic of Turkey are equivalent to the ranks of a corporal, a captain and a major.
  4. ^ From Turkish yeni_ceri - new soldier.
  5. ^ S.J.Shaw (19760, History of the Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 1: Empire of Ghazis, Cambridge U.P., pp.15-16
  6. ^ J.J.Norwich (1996) Byzantium: the Decline and Fall, Penguin, London Chp.18
  7. ^ J.J.Norwich (1996) Byzantium: the Decline and Fall, Penguin, London Chp.19
  8. ^ J.J.Norwich (1996) Byzantium: the Decline and Fall, Penguin, London p.320
  9. ^ J.J.Norwich (1996) Byzantium: the Decline and Fall, Penguin, London pp.321-2
  10. ^ Future sultans Suleiman I and Mehmet IV had longer reign periods
  11. ^ The Fall of Constantinople, Steven Runciman, Cambridge University Press, p.36
  12. ^ The Nature of the Early Ottoman State, Heath W. Lowry, 2003 SUNY Press, p.153
  13. ^ History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Stanford Jay Shaw, Cambridge University Press, p.24
  14. ^ Helmolt, Ferdinand. The World's History, p.293. W. Heinemann, 1907.
  15. ^ Fine, John. The Late Medieval Balkans, p.410. University of Michigan Press, 1994. ISBN 0472082604
  16. ^ Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries, p.58-59. Morrow Quill 1977. ISBN 0-688-03093-9.

External links

Orhan I
Born: 1281 Died: 1361
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Osman I
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by
Murad I

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