Sultan ‘Selim the Drunkard’, who initiated the downfall of the Ottoman Empire

A portrait of Selim the Drunkard, the sultan who rather dealed with  orgies than politics.

A portrait of Selim the Drunkard, the sultan who rather dealed with orgies than politics.

In our section of historical drunks  we usually speak of people who accomplished many great things despite being hammered most of their lives. This  can not be said of Sultan Selim II (1524-1574) of the Ottoman Empire. However Salim the Drunkard, as he was commonly called, did leave a huge impact on the history of Europe. His lust for good wine initiated the downfall of his massive empire. Eventually leading to the independence of countries like Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. One can even argue that without Selim’s thirst the 20th century with it’s both world wars (and inventions developed in war times) would have looked completely different.

Selim II was born a son of sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, under whose rule the Ottoman Empire reached it’s maximal size. In the North-West it reached as far as Austria, while other corners were Algeria, the Kaspian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the border  of current day Somalia. As heir to the throne all of this belonged to Selim the Sot (another popular nickname) from 1566. Until that time the Empire had been growing rapidly, but Selim lacked the skills of his predecessors. In fact he gained very little respect since he was short  and fat, with only one thing on his mind: wine. Ruling an empire was boring, drinking most definitely not.

And so Selim the Drunkard became the first sultan to hand over power to his ministers. Basically they could do whatever they wanted as long as he could have his orgies. Selim even made up his own doctrine with the simple content “Keep Selim drunk”. He had little interest in expanding his empire until 1571.

As said before Selim was a big fan of good wines, and his favorite ones came from Cyprus. When his stock was done in 1571 he was quite sad. A Jewish advisor named Joseph Nasi convinced the sultan to conquer Cyprus, that till then belonged to Venice. The result was that the Ottomans  were slaughtered at sea by a fleet known as the Holy League, a mix of ships from Venice, Genoa, the Vatican and Spain. In this Battle of Lepanto Selim lost 90 percent  of his navy and 30.000 sailors. Still the troups that already took  over Cyprus managed to hold on to it. Frightened as he was to lose his precious wine again, Selim restored his naval force within 6 months, hereby neglecting the rest of his empire.

Historicans in general agree that the Ottoman Empire was only succesful as it kept expanding. After Selim’s bad politics it all went downhill. With the uprising of nationalism in Europe in the 19th century the empire, rotten from within by corruption, took hit after hit, until another famous drunk Mustafa Kemal Atatürk finally kicked out the old clique and founded modern day Turkey.

Selim the Drunkard himself died in style in 1574. Completely drunk on his beloved wine he slipped in a Turkish bathhouse (haman) and broke his skull on the marble floor.

Micky Bumbar

More drinkers that left their mark on the world’s history.

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5 thoughts on “Sultan ‘Selim the Drunkard’, who initiated the downfall of the Ottoman Empire

  1. Pingback: Historian concludes: “While they drink rakia, the Bulgarians are invincible” | Lords of the Drinks

  2. Pingback: Erdogan, the enemy of the true drinker | Lords of the Drinks

  3. Pingback: Weekend Break in Edirne: Food, Horses and Arda Winery | EatwithMeİstanbul

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