Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire

In seventeen years as sultan, Murad reversed the decline that threatened to destroy the Ottoman Empire; however, to revive and strengthen the empire, Murad imposed repressive measures and draconian penalties, including death, upon his subjects.

Summary of Event

Although the official reign of Murad IV as sultan began in 1623, when he was eleven years old, his role as an active and independent leader did not commence until 1632, when he definitively grasped the reins of power. The Ottoman Empire and much of the western world were in decline when Murad was thrust into the sultancy after the forced deposition of his predecessor, the mentally unfit Mustafa I Mustafa I , who became sultan on November 22, 1617. Murad was replaced by his half brother Osman II Osman II on February 26, 1618, after serving for only three months. [kw]Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire (1623-1640)
[kw]Ottoman Empire, Murad IV Rules the (1623-1640)
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1623-1640: Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire[0920]
Government and politics;1623-1640: Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire[0920]
Middle East;1623-1640: Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire[0920]
Ottoman Empire;1623-1640: Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire[0920]
Iran;1623-1640: Murad IV Rules the Ottoman Empire[0920]
Ottoman Empire
Murad IV

Osman served for four years but was deposed in 1622. When this happened, the Janissary corps (an elite military), which had gained considerable control over the Ottoman Empire, forced Mustafa to resume the sultancy, which he did on May 19, 1622. He was deposed a second time on September 10, 1623 when his mental problems rendered him unfit to rule.

Eleven-year-old Murad IV took control in this chaotic political climate. For the next nine years, he ruled with his mother, Kösem Sultan Kösem Sultan , who served as his regent. Kösem, chastened by the influence the harem had exerted over Selim II and Murad III, nudged Murad IV toward homosexuality so that the harem could not influence him and thus regain control and reestablish what had been derisively dubbed the Sultancy of Women during previous reigns.

Kösem sought suitable advisers, called viziers, to guide her son’s sultancy, but often she found herself in a political maelstrom as the Janissaries, the guard of the empire that became shamelessly corrupt, worked strenuously to direct the way she was grooming the sultan for his role as leader of his people. The Ottoman Empire suffered several major defeats during the first years of Murad’s reign.

Among these defeats was a revolt of the Janissaries Janissaries;revolt , whose leader received support and encouragement from the Iranian shah ՙAbbās the Great ՙAbbās I the Great . Another defeat was the loss of Baghdad and parts of Iraq to ՙAbbās in 1624. At this time, the Ottoman treasury was virtually empty. The government’s inability to pay the Janissaries their stipends triggered a revolt. The adolescent sultan, even though the official ruler of the empire, seemed powerless to stem the tide that was leading his people and empire toward destruction

Finally, in 1632, facing a distrustful and discontented central government, Murad had to act decisively. Members of the cavalry, the sipahi, stormed the sultan’s palace and demanded that the grand vizier and sixteen of Murad’s most important officials be executed; and they were. Murad took immediate control, marking the “true” start of his reign. Murad, at this time twenty years old, overcame his mother’s dominating regency and was now sultan alone

Among his early acts was the closing of Turkey’s coffeehouses and taverns, places Murad believed to be sedititious. He imposed curfews, prohibited homosexuality, and banned the use of alcohol Alcohol;Ottoman Empire banning of , tobacco, and coffee Coffee;Ottoman Empire banning of . The enforcement of these mandates was draconian and immediate. Murad’s executioner was not far from his side, carrying the hardware required to torture and execute “criminals” on the spot. Those who disobeyed the law—or were even suspected of disobeying it—were summarily executed without a trial.

Murad became the most brutal and sadistic of rulers. He would himself kill those who came too close to his palace or who annoyed him in any way. He also was an excellent archer, and from the gardens of his palace he regularly shot arrows into crowds of people outside the palace walls merely to watch them suffer after being hit and then die. He demonstrated little regard for human life, as his actions in the provinces and in Iran would soon tell.

As his empire declined during the first nine years of his reign, Murad’s government officials, most of whom had paid bribes to secure their appointments, became increasingly corrupt. His provincial governors, who were expected to send tax moneys to Constantinople (the empire’s capital), often kept such revenues for themselves, which brought the empire to the point of insolvency.

Murad personally journeyed into rebellious Ottoman provinces in the Balkans and Anatolia, where he made examples of dissident officials by executing them in public. In one case, he had the legs of a province official amputated while the assembled throng watched this once-powerful person bleed to death. He also redistributed land, making sure that every new recipient swore loyalty to him and was firmly committed to serving in his army.

In 1635, Murad began a military assault on Iran that lasted until the fall of Baghdad in December of 1638. He was determined to retake Ottoman lands that had been claimed by Iran under the leadership of Shah ՙAbbās the Great. His enormous army left Constantinople in May, 1638, and marched to Baghdad. Murad’s first assault upon the city occurred on November 16. The fighting continued fiercely until December 25.

The strong, resolute, and brave Murad set an example for his soldiers by fighting beside them in the battlefield, eating what they ate, and sleeping on the ground beside them. His brutality came to light again when, after his conquest of Baghdad, he ordered the execution of all Persian (Iranian) soldiers in the garrison, by some estimates as many as thirty thousand. This slaughter apparently was accomplished in the period of one or two days. Only three hundred of the garrison’s soldiers survived. Shortly thereafter, when a powder magazine exploded accidentally and killed some of Murad’s army, he ordered the execution of an estimated thirty thousand more Persians, mostly women and children.

Finally, in May of 1639, having regained Baghdad, the Ottoman lands of the Caucasus that had been lost to Iran, and the portion of Iraq held by the Ṣafavids Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty] , Murad and the Iranians agreed to the Treaty of Kasr-i Shirin Kasr-i Shirin, Treaty of (1639)[Kasri Shirin, Treaty of (1639)] , which established boundaries between the Ottoman Empire and Iran. The boundaries specified in this treaty continued intact for more than two centuries.

Having restored the strength of the Ottoman Empire, although at the expense of the populace that he shamelessly oppressed, Murad fell ill early in 1640. He died on February 9, 1640, felled ironically by cirrhosis of the liver, which resulted from his excessive drinking. Because, at age twenty-eight, he died without issue, his brother,Ibrahim Ibrahim (Ottoman sultan) , was next in line of succession. From his deathbed, Murad ordered Ibrahim’s execution. Kösem, Murad andIbrahim’s mother, overruled Murad’s order. At Murad’s deathbed, she assured him that his execution order had been carried out (though it was not), whereupon Murad smiled cruelly and died


Murad IV was a gifted and intelligent leader, physically strong, capable of assessing difficult situations and turning them to his and his empire’s advantage. Despite this, he had gone through life never having his ideas challenged. One dared not disagree with the sultan because the penalty for disagreement was death. He was, after 1632, an absolute ruler who insisted that his every wish become everyone’s command

As a result of his rule, the Ottomans regained the lands they had lost to Iran during the ineffective reigns of several previous sultans. From the sultancies of Selim II to Mustafa I, a period of sixty-two years, the position of the empire in world politics declined precipitously, and its treasury teetered on the brink of collapse. By assessing the situation and acting decisively to eliminate its causes, Murad single-handedly turned the empire around. When he died, he left behind an empire of renewed vigor and financial integrity but with a demoralized populace that almost universally rejoiced at his death

Further Reading

  • Barber, Noel. The Sultans. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Barber presents a detailed account of the life of Murad IV, with vivid descriptions of his atrocities.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi Books, 1997. A comprehensive overview of the Janissaries and the role they played in the early life of Murad IV.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey. Ottoman Turkey. London: Scorpion, 1977. Goodwin offers a detailed presentation of the politics and intrigues in the empire under Murad IV.
  • Mansel, Philip. Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire, 1453-1924. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A brief but insightful account of Murad’s rule.
  • Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. An important work on Ottoman history.

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i><br />

ՙAbbās the Great; Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa; Kâtib Çelebî Kösem Sultan; Murad IV; Mustafa I. Ottoman Empire
Murad IV