Reign of Murad III Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Murad III inherited an Ottoman Empire that had lived through its golden age and, despite continued territorial expansion, had started its decline. Murad was isolated from his subjects, lost control of the elite Janissary corps and his government, and left the empire in near ruins.

Summary of Event

The Ottoman Empire was at its height during much of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and especially thrived under the leadership of Murad III’s grandfather Süleyman the Magnificent. Süleyman struggled to undo the injustices his father Selim I had imposed upon his subjects and to repair the inefficient, ineffective, and declining government that came out of Selim’s despotic rule. Ottoman Empire Murad III Baffo Süleyman the Magnificent Selim II Sokollu, Mehmed Paşa Mehmed III Süleyman the Magnificent Selim II Sokollu, Mehmed Paşa Elizabeth I (queen of England) Barton, Sir Edward Baffo Nur Banu Mehmed III Murad III (Ottoman sultan)

Early in his regime, Süleyman, also known as “the lawgiver,” enacted laws that assured individual rights that had been seriously compromised during Selim’s reign. In his forty-six years as sultan, the empire flourished and expanded. Murad III’s father, Sultan Selim II, depended greatly on the advice of Grand Vizier Mehmed Paşa Sokollu. Murad retained Sokollu as an adviser, but from 1570, the so-called sultanate of the women, composed of members of the harem who had educated Selim, had begun to wield considerable influence.

Murad, also raised and educated in the harem, trusted the harem more than he did Sokollu. Although Sokollu was a brilliant strategist, Murad frequently ignored his grand vizier in favor of the harem. The women, and petty politicians (agas), assumed increasing influence over Murad’s sultanate. After the grand vizier was murdered by an assassin in 1579, they quickly filled the power vacuum caused by his death.

Before he assumed office as sultan, Murad had served as governor of Manisa in Anatolia, his birthplace. In 1574, after rising to power and ordering the execution of his five brothers, who were possible rivals for the office he inherited through his father’s death, Murad set about expanding the Ottoman Empire through military engagement. In 1578, he waged war against Iran, which had been racked by social and political problems. This act of aggression, through which the Ottoman Empire annexed Azerbaijan, Tiflis, Hamadan, and Nahävand, resulted in a long-term conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Iran, which continued intermittently for more than sixty years, ending finally in 1639.

Murad invaded areas east of Constantinople and, by 1590, had conquered the whole of the Caucasus, a geographical region east of the Black Sea bordered by Turkey, Russia, and Iran. This conquest, begun in 1461 under Mehmed II, had continued sporadically through the intervening years.

Simultaneous with Murad’s assault on Iran was his battle in Morocco, Morocco;Ottoman Empire and where, in 1578, his forces took Fez (now called Fès) from the Portuguese, thereby extending the Ottoman Empire into northwest Africa. Spurred by this victory and by the initial success of his forces in Iran, in 1593, Murad broke the peace that had existed between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire to the north. He began a war with Austria Ottoman-Austrian War (1593-1606)[Ottoman Austrian War (1593-1606)] that continued on and off until 1606. This conflict united the rulers of Moldavia, Walachia, and Transylvania to ally against Ottoman rule. As a result they sided with the Habsburgs against Murad’s attempts to grasp power in Austria. The three had previously allied themselves with the Ottoman Empire.

Around the time of Sokollu’s death, England’s queen Elizabeth I, under pressure to form a strong alliance with a Mediterranean nation because of the threat Spain posed to the British Empire, initiated diplomatic relations with Murad’s administration. The economy of the Ottoman Empire was severely burdened by expansionism, financed by heavy taxation imposed on the entire populace. Murad managed to maintain excellent diplomatic relations with Queen Elizabeth through her ambassador to Turkey, Sir Edward Barton. Elizabeth very much needed a Mediterranean ally against Spain. Murad answered this need. Taxation;Ottoman Empire

Without Sokollu, Murad began to impose his own policies. In 1581, he reached an accord with the French, demanding that all ships of foreign registry—except for British vessels—had to display the French flag in Ottoman harbors.

Murad’s expansionism led to escalating taxes and an economic inflation caused largely by South America flooding the Spanish market with cheap silver Silver;economy and . The silver was then sold to the Ottomans for coinage that was essentially without value. In 1589, when these worthless coins were used to pay the Janissary corps, the empire’s elite guard that had traditionally supported the sultan, the corps rebelled in Istanbul. Janissary Revolt, Second (1589) As a result, several government officials accused of distributing the coins were executed and the Janissary corps began to disintegrate, which substantially weakened Murad’s control of his government. Military;Ottoman Empire

The Janissary corps had generally been composed of male youths who were part of the child levy (devshirme), which decreed that a given number of male children be conscripted into the service of the sultan. This child levy, which occurred every three to seven years, affected male youths between eight and twenty years of age in Turkish, Balkan, and Anatolian Christian villages. Those selected for the child levy were taken to Istanbul, where the most outstanding were groomed to be government administrators. Group members received extensive training in the sultan’s palace. Those not singled out for such training were sent to Turkish villages to learn the Turkish language if they did not already know it and to be schooled in Turkish traditions. This group of youths made up the Janissary corps. Throughout the 1580’, the Janissary corps weakened considerably. Many parents resisted participating in the child levy, so new recruits were drawn from anywhere they could be found. By the end of the decade, the Janissary corps was no longer an elite group but was essentially a band of hard-to-control youth. The revolt of 1589 was staged by an undisciplined group of the corps.

Murad’s regime lost additional favor through the activities of his wife, Baffo, who was politically active. Murad’s mother, Nur Banu, and Baffo were at odds with each other, each striving strenuously to undercut the other. Their contentious relationship continued until Nur Banu’s death in 1583. She was thoroughly corrupt and was known to sell her influence, arranging for people to be appointed to high administrative posts in return for bribes. Not only did this practice cast a dark shadow over the sultanate but it also permitted incompetents to gain control within the administration.

In later life, Murad became increasingly self-indulgent. He gorged himself on unhealthy foods, all washed down by quantities of wine, an overindulgence that had killed his father. In 1594, Murad’s kidneys began to fail, and in the first month of 1595, he suffered an epileptic seizure and succumbed to it almost immediately. Thus, what had been a corrupt reign that involved land grabs, bribery, and military involvements in Iran and Austria had ended, temporarily: The corruption would continue for years after the sultan’s death.

By the time Murad died in 1595, corruption was so widespread that some thought the government was beyond repair. The sultanate was given to Murad’s son, Mehmed III, whose first official act was to order the execution of his nineteen younger brothers.


The reign of Murad III marks the beginning of the long decline of the Ottoman Empire. Murad III showed little concern for the people he governed, and he became increasingly isolated from his subjects, as weak administrators often do. He was blind to the corrupt practices of his wife, which contributed to the failure of his regime. After he lost control of the Janissary corps, he then failed to preside over a moribund administration. Murad’s avarice impelled him to make land grabs, sometimes on several fronts simultaneously. Although he experienced some immediate successes in his expansion efforts, they failed miserably in the long term and led his empire and that of succeeding sultans to the brink of disaster.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, Noel. Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000. A detailed presentation of everyday life in Ottoman Turkey.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, Noel. The Sultans. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. A lively and thorough presentation of the lives of the sultans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi, 1997. The best source in print about the Janissaries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. Ottoman Turkey. London: Scorpion, 1977. A thorough consideration of politics in Ottoman Turkey.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. Provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the reign of Murad III.

1454-1481: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

1520-1566: Reign of Süleyman

1545-1548: Silver Is Discovered in Spanish America

1559-1561: Süleyman’s Sons Wage Civil War

1566-1574: Reign of Selim II

1578-1590: The Battle for Tabrīz

1589: Second Janissary Revolt in Constantinople

1593-1606: Ottoman-Austrian War

Categories: History