A fratricide is an act of killing a brother or brothers by another brother. It can be either done directly or by employing an intermediary. The word fratricide is a combination of Latin words, where “Frater’ means ‘brother’ and ‘cida’ means ‘killing’. The practice of fratricide was very prominent in the Ottoman empire.

It is certainly the most controversial subject even today. Interestingly, there are 3 justified reasons for fratricide: 1. If the sultan feels that his brother has been igniting a rebellion against him. 2. Where signs of potential revolts are found. 3. members of dynasty are executed to prevent the possibility of potential rebellion.

That way the fratricide was a precautionary step taken by the Ottoman sultans.

When the ottomans appeared as the new power in Anatolia, they consider it as a lesson from the early empires or states which had perished that the death of some members of the dynasty is far better than division and dissolution. Meanwhile, the old Ottoman tradition had no set of rules of regulated succession, hence every son of the sultan was eligible for the coronation. After the death of the sultan whoever, the prince came first to the capital would become Sultan. Then when a new sultan came to the throne, he had to kill his brothers even some of who were infants.

The practice of fratricide was legalized by Sultan Mehmed-II because during the ottoman interregnum, he had seen his grandfather struggle for the throne with his brothers. That civil war lasted for 8 years and then the following division weakened the empire. So to reduce the possibility of future rebellion and civil wars Mehmed-II legalized the practice of fratricide. The famous law of governance by Sultan Mehmed-II stated, ” Any of my sons, that ascends the throne, it is acceptable for him to kill his brothers for the common benefit of the people(nizam-i-alem).” The majority of the Ulema(Muslim scholars) approved it.

Ottoman princes were executed by strangulation with a silken cord. Because according to Turkish tradition, the shedding of royal blood was prohibited. The cruelest instance in the history of fratricide happened when Sultan Mehmed-III got on the throne and he immediately gave orders to execute his 19 brothers.

Sultan Mehmed III took office on January 15, 1595. Mehmed III succeeded his father, Murad III, as king, and a few nights after taking the throne, he murdered his 19 brothers. Never had so many royals been put to death in one evening. They were unable to testify because the Sultan sent deaf-mute servants to complete the assignment. The killings were carried out using a bowstring to stop the flow of royal blood.

In the Ottoman Empire, successions involving fratricide were extremely common. However, the public was alarmed by this execution. Never before or since have so many Ottoman royals been assassinated by a member of their family on the same night.

Mehmed-III had 3 sons and the cruel Sultan got his elder son Mahmud executed. The reason for his execution was that he was a brave prince and Mehmed-III saw him as a danger to his throne. His second son Ahmed-1 had seen the execution of 19 dynasty members which included infants as well as later his elder brother.

After 6 months after the execution of prince Mehmud, the Sultan died and Ahmed-1 took on the throne at the age of 13. The young prince had been through nightmares of execution all this while. As a result, he eventually abolished the practice of fratricide and refused to kill his 5-year-old half-brother.

To be strangled by a bowstring as opposed to being beheaded and losing one’s head was an honor. It was, however, of little comfort to the young princes. Close to Haga Sophia, the 19 princes were interred next to one another. There is still access to their burial chamber.


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