Murad III

Murad III
مراد ثالث
Caliph of Islam
Amir al-Mu'minin
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
12th Ottoman Sultan (Emperor)
Reign 15 December 1574 16 January 1595
Predecessor Selim II
Successor Mehmed III
Born 4 July 1546
Bozdağan or Manisa
Died 15/16 January 1595 (aged 48)
Topkapı Palace of Constantinople
Consorts Safiye Sultan
Şemsiruhsar Hatun
Şahihuban Hatun
Full name
Murad bin Selim
Dynasty House of Osman
Father Selim II
Mother Nurbanu Sultan
Religion Sunni Islam
Miniature painting of a parade of two riding Gazi (veterans from Rumelia) in front of Sultan Murat III (from the Surname-i hümayun, 16th century CE)

Murad III (Ottoman Turkish: مراد ثالث Murād-i sālis, Turkish:III.Murat) (4 July 1546 – 15/16 January 1595) was the emperor of the Ottoman Empire from 1574 until his death in 1595.

Early life

The Ottoman Empire reached its greatest extent in the Middle East under Murad III.

Born in Bozdağan or Manisa, Şehzade Murad was the son of Sultan Selim II and Afife Nurbanu Sultan. After his ceremonial circumcision in 1557, Murad was appointed sancakbeyi of Akşehir by Suleyman I (his grandfather) in 1558. At the age of 18 he was appointed sancakbeyi of Saruhan. Suleiman died when Murad was 20, and his father became the new Sultan. Selim II broke with tradition by sending only his oldest son out of the palace to govern a province, and Murad was sent to Manisa.[1]


Selim died in 1574 and he was succeeded by Murad, who began his reign by having his five younger brothers strangled.[2] His authority was undermined by the harem influences, more specifically, those of his mother and later of his favorite wife Safiye Sultan. The power had only been maintained under Selim II by the genius of the powerful Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokollu who remained in office until his assassination in October 1579. During Murad's reign the northern borders with the Habsburg Monarchy were defended by the Bosnian governor Hasan Predojević. The reign of Murad III was marked by exhausting wars on the empire's western and eastern fronts. The Ottomans also faced defeats during battles such as the Battle of Sisak.

Gates of the Palace of the Shirvanshahs (Baku, Azerbaijan) built during the reign of Murad III

The Ottomans had been at peace with the neighbouring rivalling Safavid Empire since 1555, per the Treaty of Amasya, that for some time had settled border disputed. But in 1577 Murad declared war, starting the Ottoman–Safavid War (1578–90), seeking to take advantage of the chaos in the Safavid court after the death of Shah Tahmasp I. He was influenced by viziers Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha and Sinan Pasha and disregarded the opposing counsel of Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokollu. The war would drag on for 12 years, ending with the Istanbul Treaty of 1590, which resulted in temporary significant territorial gains for the Ottomans.[3]

Murad's reign was a time of financial stress for the Ottoman state. To keep up with changing military techniques, the Ottomans trained infantrymen in the use of firearms, paying them directly from the treasury. By 1580 an influx of silver from the New World had caused high inflation and social unrest, especially among Janissaries and government officials who were paid in debased currency. Deprivation from the resulting rebellions, coupled with the pressure of over-population, was especially felt in Anatolia.[4] Competition for positions within the government grew fierce, leading to bribery and corruption. Ottoman and Habsburg sources accuse Murad himself of accepting enormous bribes, including 20,000 ducats from a statesman in exchange for the governorship of Tripoli and Tunisia, thus outbidding a rival who had tried bribing the Grand Vizier.[5]

Murad III

Numerous envoys and letters were exchanged between Elizabeth I and Sultan Murad III.[6] In one correspondence, Murad entertained the notion that Islam and Protestantism had "much more in common than either did with Roman Catholicism, as both rejected the worship of idols", and argued for an alliance between England and the Ottoman Empire.[7] To the dismay of Catholic Europe, England exported tin and lead (for cannon-casting) and ammunitions to the Ottoman Empire, and Elizabeth seriously discussed joint military operations with Murad III during the outbreak of war with Spain in 1585, as Francis Walsingham was lobbying for a direct Ottoman military involvement against the common Spanish enemy.[8] This diplomacy would be continued under Murad's successor Mehmed III, by both the sultan and Safiye Sultan alike.


Murad died from what is assumed to be natural causes in the Topkapı Palace and was buried in tomb next to the Hagia Sofia. 54 of his wives and children are also buried there. He is also responsible for changing the burial customs of the Sultans' mothers. Murad had his mother Nurbanu buried next to her husband Selim II, making her the first concubine to share a Sultan's tomb.[9]

Palace life

Following the example of his father Selim II, Murad was the second Ottoman Sultan who never went on campaign during his reign, instead spending it entirely in Istanbul. During the final years of his reign, he did not even leave Topkapı Palace. For two consecutive years he did not attend the Friday procession to the imperial mosque—an unprecedented breaking of custom.[10] The Ottoman historian Mustafa Selaniki wrote that whenever Murad planned to go out to Friday prayer, he changed his mind after hearing of alleged plots by the Janissaries to dethrone him once he left the palace.[11] Murad withdrew from his subjects and spent the majority of his reign keeping to the company of few people and abiding by a daily routine structured by the five daily Islamic prayers. Murad's personal physician Domenico Hierosolimitano described a typical day in the life of the Sultan:

In the morning he rises at dawn to say his prayer for half an hour, then for another half hour he writes. Then he is given something pleasant as a collation, and afterwards sets himself to read for another hour. Then he begins to give audience to the members of the Divan on the four days of the week that this occurs, as had been said above. Then he goes for a walk through the garden, taking pleasure in the delight of fountains and animals for another hour, taking with him the dwarves, buffoons and others to entertain him. Then he goes back once again to studying until he considers the time for lunch has arrived. He stays at table only half an hour, and rises (to go) once again into the garden for as long as he pleases. Then he goes to say his midday prayer. Then he stops to pass the time and amuse himself with the women, and he will stay one or two hours with them, when it is time to say the evening prayer. Then he returns to his apartments or, if it pleases him more, he stays in the garden reading or passing the time until evening with the dwarfs and buffoons, and then he returns to say his prayers, that is at nightfall. Then he dines and takes more time over dinner than over lunch, making conversation until two hours after dark, until it is time for prayer [...] He never fails to observe this schedule every day.[12]

Murad's sedentary lifestyle and lack of participation in military campaigns earned him the disapproval of Mustafa Ali and Mustafa Selaniki, the major Ottoman historians who lived during his reign. Their negative portrayals of Murad influenced later historians.[13] Both historians also accused Murad of sexual excess. Before becoming Sultan, Murad had been loyal to Safiye Sultan, his Albanian-born concubine who had given him a son, Mehmed, and two daughters. His monogamy was disapproved of by his mother Nurbanu, who worried that Murad needed more sons to succeed him in case Mehmed died young. She also worried about Safiye's influence over her son and the Ottoman dynasty. Five or six years after his accession to the throne, Murad was given a pair of concubines by his sister Ismihan. Upon attempting sexual intercourse with them, he proved impotent. "The arrow [of Murad], [despite] keeping with his created nature, for many times [and] for many days has been unable to reach at the target of union and pleasure," wrote Mustafa Ali. Nurbanu accused Safiyye and her retainers of causing Murad's impotence with witchcraft. Several of Safiye's servants were tortured by eunuchs in order to discover a culprit. Court physicians, working under Nurbanu's orders, eventually prepared a successful cure, but a side effect was a drastic increase in sexual appetite—by the time Murad died, he was said to have fathered over a hundred children.[14] 19 of these were executed by Mehmed III when he became Sultan.

Influential ladies of his court included his mother Nurbanu Sultan, his sister Ismihan Sultan, wife of grand vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, and musahibes (favourites) mistress of the housekeeper Canfeda Hatun, mistress of financial affairs Raziye Hatun, and the poetess Hubbi Hatun.[15][16]

Murad and the arts

Murad took great interest in the arts, particularly miniatures and books. He actively supported the court Society of Miniaturists, commissioning several volumes including the Siyer-i Nebi, the most heavily illustrated biographical work on the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the Book of Skills, the Book of Festivities and the Book of Victories.[17] He had two large alabaster urns transported from Pergamon and placed on two sides of the nave in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and a large wax candle dressed in tin which was donated by him to the Rila monastery in Bulgaria is on display in the monastery museum.

Murad also furnished the content of Kitabü’l-Menamat (The Book of Dreams), addressed to Murad's spiritual advisory, Şüca Dede. A collection of first person accounts, it tells of Murad's spiritual experiences as a Sufi disciple. Compiled from thousands of letters Murad wrote describing his dream visions, it presents a hagiographical self-portrait. Murad dreams of various activities, including being stripped naked by his father and having to sit on his lap,[18] single-handedly killing 12,000 infidels in battle,[19] walking on water, ascending to heaven, and producing milk from his fingers.[20] He frequently encounters the Prophet Muhammed, and in one dream sits in the Prophet's lap and kisses his mouth.[21]

In another letter addressed to Şüca Dede, Murad wrote "I wish that the True Reality/God, Celle ve Ala, had not created this poor servant as the descendant of the Ottomans so that I would not hear this and that, and would not worry. I wish I were of unknown pedigree. Then, I would have one single task, and could ignore the whole world."[22]

The diplomatic edition of these dream letters have been recently published by Ozgen Felek in Turkish.



Murad's wives are:


In fiction

Orhan Pamuk's historical novel Benim Adım Kırmızı (My Name is Red, 1998) takes place at the court of Murad III, during nine snowy winter days of 1591, which the writer uses in order to convey the tension between East and West.

The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich - a historical fiction set in Constantinople (1578) which follows Hannah, a midwife, who tends to many of the women in Sultan Murad III's harem.


  1. Felek, Özgen. (2010). Re-creating image and identity: Dreams and visions as a means of Murad III's self-fashioning. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Michigan. Ann Arbor: ProQuest/UMI. (Publication No. 3441203). Page 21-22
  2. Marriott, John Arthur. The Eastern Question (Clarendon Press, 1917), 96.
  3. Felek, p.198-199
  4. Felek, p.24
  5. Felek, p.35
  6. Karen Ordahl Kupperman. The Jamestown project. p. 39.
  7. Kupperman, p.40
  8. Kupperman, p.41
  9. Felek, p.33-34
  10. Karateke, Hakan T. "On the Tranquility and Repose of the Sultan." The Ottoman World. Ed. Christine Woodhead. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2011. p. 118.
  11. Karateke, p. 118.
  12. Felek, p.29-30
  13. Felek, p.17-19
  14. Felek, p.31-32
  15. Maria Pia Pedani Fabris, Alessio Bombaci (2010). Inventory of the Lettere E Scritture Turchesche in the Venetian State Archives. BRILL. p. 26. ISBN 978-9-004-17918-9.
  16. Petruccioli, Attilio (1997). Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires: Theory and Design. E. J. Brill. p. 50. ISBN 978-9-004-10723-6.
  17. Pamuk, Orhan. My Name is Red, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 978-0-307-59392-4
  18. Felek, p.72
  19. Felek, p.99
  20. Felek, p.143
  21. Felek, p.189
  22. Felek, p.171

Media related to Murad III at Wikimedia Commons

Murad III
Born: 4 July 1546 Died: 15 January 1595[aged 48]
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Selim II
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
12 December 1574 – 15 January 1595
Succeeded by
Mehmed III
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Selim II
Caliph of Islam
12 December 1574 – 15 January 1595
Succeeded by
Mehmed III
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