The list is far from exhaustive, and some of these people were fated to play more conspicuous parts in the drama of their times than century to a greater or lesser extent. One of them, however, was to dominate it for the best part of fifty years. It would be an exaggeration to say of Suleiman as Cassius said of Julius Caesar, that he did `bestride the narrow world like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his hug legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves’; for sixteenth century was rich in men who, far from being petty or dishonorable, were Suleiman’s peers and even, in some cases and in some repects, his superiors.
But in influence upon the course of evens in his own time he was unique, even the Emperor Charles V being forced during most of his long life to dance the tune called by the Sultan in Constantinople.
Perhaps the nearest modern analogy to Suleiman’s place in the world of his day and his influence upon the lives and fortunes of millions of his contemporaries in countries as far apart Persia and England on the one hand in Egypt and Poland on the other is provided by Hitler’s place in international affairs in the thirties and forties of our own century, when it seemed that the rest of the world was helpless to do anything but react to whatever he chose to do, either by frantic to appease him or by belated and inadequate measures to frustrate him. Fortunately for our own world, Hitler’s demonic hegemony lasted for no more than dozen bloody years.
The world of the sixteenth century had to live with terrifying and ubiquitous political menace of Suleiman the Magnificent for nearly four times as long as that from the time of his accession in 1520 until he died in 1566, and the experience had such an effect that people still speak about the Turks from time to time as if they were a nation of brutal and bloodthirsty barbarians with a few decadent perverts thrown in. In fact, they are no more brutal than anyone else, nor were they so in Suleiman’s day; but this little difference to the terror and repulsion which they inspired in their Christian opponents, most of whom were convinced by their own propaganda that all Turks were unspeakably evil and Suleiman the Devil himself.
In fact, he was a devout Moslem, a just and generous man most of the time, and no more callous or brutal than the majority of his contemporaries; he had his faults, which will become apparent during the course of this story but there is little doubt that as a statesman he was the greatest of all the ottoman Sultans and as a man one of the most remarkable products of that perennially remarkable historical phenomenon, the world of the sixteenth century.