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  • Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World by Kaya Şahin
  • N. Zeynep Yelçe
Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World, by Kaya Şahin. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013. xviii, 314 pp. $104.00 US (cloth), $29.99 US (paper).

Ottoman history concerning the so-called ‘‘classical period’’ has been subject to revisionist re-interpretation since mid-1980s. Pioneering works by Gülru Necipoğlu, Cemal Kafadar, Cornell Fleischer and other eminent scholars challenged the views that regarded the reign of Sultan Süleyman (1520–1566) as a monolithic period hailed as a golden age, and thus the conventional periodization underlying the ‘‘decline paradigm.’’ Kaya Şahin’s work adopts and builds on this approach to demonstrate that Süleyman’s [End Page 404] reign does not represent an ideal classical age per se, but rather a phase in a continuous state-building process under a given — and quite complex — context, which has deliberately and to some extent retrospectively, been classicized. Şahin’s research forms part of a cluster of PhD dissertations by a new generation of revisionist historians, aiming to better understand the dynamics of the period and think in terms of early modern Eurasia, among whom are Snjezana Buzov (2005), Hüseyin Yılmaz (2005), Ebru Turan (2007), Fatma Sinem Eryılmaz (2010) and others.

The book offers a revisionist examination of the life and career of the well-known Ottoman bureaucrat and historian Celâlzâde Mustafa Çelebi (d. 1567), his works, and Ottoman politics during the reign of Sultan Süleyman. The first part of the book, appearing to be a biography of Mustafa at first sight, is actually a discussion of the rise and expansion of the bureaucratic apparatus through a chronological account of the intertwined lives of Sultan Süleyman, his grand vizier I˙brahim, and Mustafa. The gradual construction and consolidation of Ottoman Imperial Sunnism constitutes the main focus of the first part. The change from a model of imperialism based on ‘‘unbridled militarism’’ to one based on ‘‘justice, good government, and reason’’ (128) and Mustafa’s involvement in and contribution to the change is analyzed throughout the first part. The second part of the book presents a new reading of Mustafa’s works through the lens of new historicism guided by the linguistic turn and post-colonial theory as an attempt at global history, as Şahin provides a concise theoretical and methodological justification (159–61) of his approach. The author situates Mustafa’s writing in the framework of historical writing traditions both in the Ottoman past and the early modern Eurasian context, dwelling on motive, style, and scope.

Şahin presents Celâlzâde Mustafa as a multi-layered character. Mustafa’s career as scribe and later chancellor no doubt makes him not only an eyewitness, but also an intimate insider. By reconstructing Mustafa’s experience, feelings, and the general mood both at the time of experience and the time of writing, the author succeeds in making him a real person rather than a long-gone figure to be historically idealized. Although the reconstruction effort seems too speculative in a few instances, Şahin nevertheless comes very close to a literary reading of Mustafa’s writings; transforming what is generally read as rhetoric eloquence to personal impressions and eyewitness accounts.

Şahin puts special emphasis on what Mustafa included in and omitted from his writings, as absences say as much as what the sixteenth-century historian chose to put in writing. On the other hand, Şahin fills the voids left by Mustafa to complete the chronological narrative from other sources. While this helps in creating a solid and readable text, and in understanding the incident in question, it requires the reader to constantly check the [End Page 405] footnotes in order not to confuse other narratives with Mustafa’s. In narrating Mustafa’s views and accounts, Şahin gives abridged translations in prose rather than quoting long and lofty passages from his works. This not only renders Mustafa’s expressions readily understandable and makes it rather readable for the non-specialist, it also transmits the poetic/literary aspect of...


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