The Sultans of the Ottoman Empire: c.1300 to 1924

Sultans of the Ottoman Empire
Poster showing Sultans of the Ottoman Dynasty, from Osman I (upper left corner) to Mehmed V (large portrait in the center). The text on the left and lower left of the poster reads: THE SULTANS OF THE OTTOMAN DYNASTY in Turkish, English, French, Spanish and Italian. On the upper left edge is the number "11131". On the lower left edge it is indicated that the poster was "printed in Germany". Because of the martial scenes below Mehmed V's portrait, the work was most likely intended to cement the Ottoman-German Alliance during World War I.

Wikimedia Commons

In the late 13th century a series of small principalities emerged in Anatolia, sandwiched between the Byzantine and Mongol Empires. These regions were dominated by ghazis - warriors dedicated to fighting for Islam - and ruled by princes, or 'beys'. One such bey was Osman I, leader of Turkmen nomads, who gave his name to the ‘Ottoman’ principality, a region which grew vastly during its first few centuries, rising to become a massive world power. The resulting Ottoman Empire, which ruled large tracts of Eastern Europe, the 'Middle East' and Mediterranean, survived until 1924 when the remaining regions transformed into Turkey.

A Sultan was originally a person of religious authority but evolved to cover more secular government and by the eleventh century was being used for regional rulers; Mahmud of Ghazna was the first ‘Sultan’ as we popularly remember it. The Ottoman rulers used the term Sultan for almost their entire dynasty. In 1517 Ottoman Sultan Selim I captured the Caliph in Cairo and adopted the term; Caliph is a disputed title that commonly means the leader of the Muslim world. The Ottoman use of the term ended in 1924 when the empire was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. The remnants of the royal house have continued to trace their line; as of writing in 2015, they recognized the 44th head of the house.

This is a chronological list of the people who have ruled the Ottoman Empire; the dates given are the periods of said rule. Please note: the Ottoman Empire is often called either Turkey or the Turkish Empire, in older sources.

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Osman I c.1300 - 1326 (Bey only; ruled from c. 1290)

Sultan Osman I


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Although Osman I gave his name to the Ottoman Empire, it was his father Ertugrul who formed a principality around Sögüt. It was from this that Osman fought to broaden his realm against the Byzantines, taking important defenses, conquering Bursa and becoming regarded as ​the founder of the Ottoman empire.

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Orchan 1326 - 1359 (Sultan)

Orchan I

 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Orchan / Orhan was the son of Osman I and continued the expansion of his family’s territories by taking Nicea, Nicomedia, and Karasi while attracting an ever larger army. Rather than just fighting the Byzantines Orchan allied with John VI Cantacuzenus and expanded Ottoman interest in the Balkans by fighting John’s rival, John V Palaeologus, winning rights, knowledge and Gallipoli. The Ottoman state was formed.

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Murad I 1359 - 1389

Sultan Murad I


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The son of Orchan, Murad I oversaw a massive expansion of the Ottoman territories, taking Adrianople, subduing the Byzantines, defeating a crusade and winning victories in Serbia and Bulgaria which forced submission, as well as expanding elsewhere. However, despite winning the Battle of Kosovo with his son, Murad was killed by an assassin’s trick. He expanded the Ottoman state machinery.

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Bayezid I The Thunderbolt 1389 - 1402

Bayazid I


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bayezid conquered large areas of the Balkans, fought Venice and mounted a multi-year blockade of Constantinople, and even destroyed a crusade directed against him after his invasion of Hungary. But his rule was defined elsewhere, as his attempts to extend power in Anatolia ​brought him into conflict with Tamerlane, who defeated, captured and imprisoned Bayezid until he died.

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Interregnum: Civil War 1403 – 1413

Sultan Murad I


Culture Club/ Getty Images

With Bayezid’s loss, the Ottoman empire was saved from total destruction by weakness in Europe and Tamerlane’s return east. The sons of Bayezid were able to not only take control but fight a civil war over it; Musa Bey, Isa Bey, and Süleyman were defeated by Mehmed I.

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Mehmed I 1413 - 1421

Mehmed I

Bettmann/Getty Images

Mehmed was able to unify the Ottoman lands under his rule (at the price of his brothers), and received assistance from Byzantine emperor Manuel II in doing so. Walachia was turned into a vassal state, and a rival who pretended to be one of his brothers was seen off.

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Murad II 1421 - 1444

Murad II

 Heritage Images/Getty Images

Emperor Manuel II might have assisted Mehmed I, but now Murad II had to fight against rival claimants sponsored by the Byzantines. This was why, having defeated them, Byzantine was threatened and forced to climb down. Initial advances in the Balkans caused a war against a large European alliance which cost them losses. However, in 1444, after these losses and a peace deal, Murad abdicated in favor of his son.

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Mehmed II 1444 - 1446

Portrait of Sultan Mehmed II with a young dignitary Artist: Bellini, Gentile, (Follower of)
Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

Mehmed was just twelve when his father abdicated, and ruled in this first phase for just two years until the situation in the Ottoman warzones demanded his father resume control.

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Murad II (2nd time) 1446 - 1451

Portrait of Murad II (Amasya, 1404-Edirne, 1451), Sultan of Ottoman Empire, illustration from Turkish Memories, Arabic manuscript, Cicogna Codex, 17th century
Portrait of Murad II (Amasya, 1404-Edirne, 1451), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, illustration from Turkish Memories, Arabic manuscript, Cicogna Codex, 17th century. DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

When the European alliance broke their agreements Murad led the army which defeated them, and bowed to demands: he resumed power, winning the Second Battle of Kosovo. He was careful not to upset the balance in Anatolia.

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Mehmed II, the Conqueror (2nd time) 1451 - 1481

The Entry of Mehmet II into Constantinople

Heritage Images / Getty Images 

If his first period of rule had been brief, his second was to change history. He conquered Constantinople and a host of other territories which shaped the form of the Ottoman Empire and led to its dominance over Anatolia and the Balkans. He was brutal and intelligent.

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Bayezid II the Just 1481 - 1512

Bayezid II


Heritage Images/Getty Images

A son of Mehmed II, Bayezid had to fight his brother to secure the throne and fought to secure the great expansion of his father, whose euro-centricity Bayezid reacted against. He didn’t fully commit to a war against the Mamlūks and had less success, and although he defeated one rebel son Bayezid couldn’t stop Selim and, fearing he had lost support, abdicated in favor of the latter. He died very soon after.

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Selim I 1512 - 1520 (Both Sultan and Caliph after 1517)

Selim I


Heritage Images/Getty Images

Having taken the throne after fighting against his father, Selim made sure to remove all similar threats, leaving him with one son, Süleyman. Returning to his father’s enemies, Selim expanded into Syria, Hejaz, Palestine, and Egypt, and in Cairo conquered the caliph. In 1517 the title was transferred to Selim, making him the symbolic leader of the Islamic states.

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Süleyman I (II) The Magnificent 1521 – 1566

Caliph Soliman

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Arguably the greatest of all the Ottoman leaders, Süleyman not only extended his empire greatly but he encouraged an era of great cultural wonder. He conquered Belgrade, shattered Hungary at the Battle of Mohacs, but could not win his siege of Vienna. He also fought in Persia but died during a siege in Hungary.

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Selim II 1566 – 1574

Selim II


Heritage Images/Getty Images

Despite winning a power struggle with his brother, Selim II was happy to entrust increasing amounts of power to others, and the elite Janissaries began to encroach on the Sultan. However, although his reign saw a European alliance smash the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto, a new one was ready and active the next year. Venice had to concede to the Ottomans. Selim’s reign has been called the start of the decline of the Sultanate.

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Murad III 1574 - 1595

Portrait of Murad III (1546-1595), Sultan of Ottoman Empire, illustration from Turkish Memories, Arabic manuscript, Cicogna Codex, 17th century
Portrait of Murad III (1546-1595), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, illustration from Turkish Memories, Arabic manuscript, Cicogna Codex, 17th century. DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

The Ottoman situation in the Balkans began to fray as vassal states united with Austria against Murad, and although he made gains in a war with Iran the finances of the state were decaying. Murad has been accused of being too susceptible to internal politics and allowing the Janissaries to transform into a force that threatened the Ottomans, not their enemies.

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Mehmed III 1595 - 1603

Mehmed III's Coronation in the Topkapi Palace in 1595 (From Manuscript Mehmed III's Campaign in Hungary)
Mehmed III's Coronation in the Topkapi Palace in 1595 (From Manuscript Mehmed III's Campaign in Hungary). Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

The war against Austria that started under Murad III continued, and Mehmed did have some success with victories, sieges, and conquests, but faced rebellions at home due to the declining Ottoman state and a new war with Iran.

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Ahmed I 1603 – 1617

Ahmed I


Heritage Images/Getty Images

On the one hand, the war with Austria that had lasted several Sultans came to a peace agreement in Zsitvatörök in 1606, but it was a damaging result for Ottoman pride, allowing European traders deeper into the regime.

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Mustafa I 1617 - 1618

Portrait of Mustafa I (Manisa, 1592 - Istanbul, 1639), Sultan of Ottoman Empire, illustration from Turkish Memories, Arabic manuscript, Cicogna Codex, 17th century
Portrait of Mustafa I (Manisa, 1592 - Istanbul, 1639), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, illustration from Turkish Memories, Arabic manuscript, Cicogna Codex, 17th century. DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Regarded as a weak ruler, the struggling Mustafa I was deposed shortly after taking power, but would return in 1622…

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Osman II 1618 - 1622

Osman II

DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images 

Osman came to the throne at fourteen and determined to stop the interference of Poland in the Balkan states. However, a defeat in this campaign made Osman believe the Janissary troops were now a hindrance, so he reduced their funding and began a plan to recruit a new, non-Janissary army and power base. They realized​ and murdered him.

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Mustafa I 1622 - 1623 (2nd time)

Portrait of Mustafa I (Manisa, 1592 - Istanbul, 1639), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, watercolour, 19th century
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Put back on the throne by the once elite Janissary troops, Mustafa was dominated by his mother and achieved little.

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Murad IV 1623 - 1640

Sultan Murad IV
Circa 1635, Engraving of Sultan Murad IV. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

As he came to the throne aged 11, Murad’s early rule saw the power in the hands of his mother, the Janissaries, and grand viziers. As soon as he could, Murad smashed these rivals, took full power and reconquered Baghdad from Iran.

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Ibrahim 1640 – 1648

Portrait of Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

When he was advised in the early years of his reign by an able grand vizier Ibrahim made peace with Iran and Austria; when other advisors were in control later, he got into a war with Venice. Having exhibited eccentricities and raised taxes, he was exposed and the Janissaries murdered him.

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Mehmed IV 1648 – 1687

Mehmed IV (1642-1693), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, 17th century. Found in the collection of the Vienna Museum.
Heritage Images/Getty Images

Coming to the throne at six, practical power was shared by his maternal elders, the Janissaries, and grand viziers, and he was happy with that and preferred hunting. The economic revival of the reign was down to others, and when he failed to stop a grand vizier from starting a war with Vienna, he could not disassociate from the failure and was deposed. He was allowed to live in retirement.

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Süleyman II (III) 1687 – 1691

Suleiman II (1642-1691), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Artist: Anonymous
Heritage Images/Getty Images

Suleyman had been locked away for forty-six years before becoming Sultan when the army expelled his brother, and now couldn’t stop the defeats his predecessors had set in motion. However, when he gave control to grand vizier Fazıl Mustafa Paşa, the latter turned the situation around.

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Ahmed II 1691 – 1695

Achmet II
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Ahmed lost the very able grand vizier he’d inherited from Suleyman II in battle, and the Ottomans lost a great deal of land as he was unable to strike out and do much for himself, being influenced by his court. Venice now attacked, and Syria and Iraq grew restless.

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Mustafa II 1695 – 1703

Mustafa II
By Bilinmiyor - [1], Public Domain, Link

An initial determination to win the war against the European Holy League led to early success, but when Russia moved in and took Azov the situation turned, and Mustafa had to concede to Russia and Austria. This focus caused rebellion elsewhere in the empire, and when Mustafa turned away from world affairs to just hunt he was deposed.

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Ahmed III 1703 – 1730

Sultan Ahmed III Receiving a European Ambassador, 1720s. Artist: Vanmour (Van Mour), Jean-Baptiste (1671-1737)
Sultan Ahmed III Receiving a European Ambassador, 1720s. Found in the collection of the Pera Museum, Istanbul. Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

Having given Charles XII of Sweden shelter because he had fought Russia, Ahmed fought the latter to throw them out of the Ottoman’s sphere of influence. Peter I was fought into giving concessions, but the struggle against Austria didn’t go as well. Ahmed was able to agree to a partition of Iran with Russia, but Iran threw the Ottomans out instead, a defeat which saw Amhed deposed.

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Mahmud I 1730 - 1754

Mahmud I
Jean Baptiste Vanmour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Having secured his throne in the face of rebels, which included a Janissary rebellion, Mahmud managed to turn the tide in the war with Austria and Russia, signing the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739. He couldn’t do the same with Iran.

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Osman III 1754 – 1757

Osman III

Public Domain

Osman’s youth in prison has been blamed for the eccentricities which marked his reign, like trying to keep women away from him, and the fact he never established himself.

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Mustafa III 1757 – 1774

Portrait of Sultan Mustafa III (1757-1774), Second Half of the 18th cen.. Artist: Turkish master
Heritage Images/Getty Images

Mustafa III knew the Ottoman Empire was declining, but his attempts at reform struggled. He did manage to reform the military and initially was able to keep the Treaty of Belgrade and avoid European rivalry. However, Russo-Ottoman rivalry could not be stopped and a war started which went badly.

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Abdülhamid I 1774 - 1789

Portrait of Abdul Hamid I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Having inherited a war going wrong from his brother Mustafa III, Abdülhamid had to sign an embarrassing peace with Russia which simply wasn’t enough, and he had to go to war again in the later years of his reign. He tried to reform and to aggregate power back.

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Selim III 1789 - 1807

Selim III, detail from Reception at Court of Selim III at Topkapi Palace, gouache on paper, Detail, Turkey, 18th century
Detail from the Reception at the Court of Selim III at the Topkapi Palace, gouache on paper. DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Having also inherited wars going badly, Selim III had to conclude peace with Austria and Russia on their terms. However, inspired by his father Mustafa III and the rapid changes of the French Revolution, Selim began a wide-ranging reform program. Now also inspired by Napoleon, Selim westernized the Ottomans but gave up when faced with reactionary revolts. He was overthrown in one such revolt and murdered by his successor.

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Mustafa IV 1807 – 1808

Mustafa IV
By Belli değil - [1], Public Domain, Link

Having come to power as part of a conservative reaction against reforming cousin Selim III, who he’d ordered murdered, Mustafa himself lost power almost immediately and was later murdered on the orders of his own brother, the replacement Sultan Mahmud II.

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Mahmud II 1808 - 1839

Sultan Mahmud II Leaving The Bayezid Mosque, Constantinople, 1837
Sultan Mahmud II Leaving The Bayezid Mosque, Constantinople, 1837. Private Collection. Artist : Mayer, Auguste (1805-1890). Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

When a reform-minded force tried to restore Selim III, they found him dead, so deposed Mustafa IV and raised Mahmud II to the throne, and more troubles had to be overcome. Under Madmud’s rule, Ottoman power in the Balkans was collapsing in the face of Russia and nationalism, suffering defeats. The situation elsewhere in the empire was little better, and Mahmud tried some reforms himself: obliterating the Janissaries, bringing in German experts to rebuild the military, installing cabinet government. He achieved a lot in spite of military losses.

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Abdülmecit I 1839 – 1861


By David Wilkie - Royal Collection Trust, Kamu Malı, 

In keeping with the ideas sweeping Europe at the time, Abdülmecit expanded the reforms of his father to transform the nature of the Ottoman state. The Noble Edict of the Rose Chamber and the Imperial Edict opened an era of Tanzimat / Reorganization. He worked to keep the Great Powers of Europe mostly on his side to better hold the empire together, and they helped him win the Crimean War. Even so, ground was lost.

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Abdülaziz 1861 – 1876

By Рисовал П. Ф. Борель, гравировал И. И. Матюшин [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although continuing his brother’s reforms and admiring the western European nations, he experienced a turn in policy around 1871 when his advisors died and when Germany defeated France. He now pushed forward a more ‘Islamic’ ideal, made friends with and fell out with Russia, spent a huge amount as debt rose and was deposed.

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Murad V 1876

Sultan Murad V
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

A western looking liberal, Murad was placed on the throne by the rebels who had ousted his uncle. However, he suffered a mental breakdown and had to retire. There were several failed attempts to bring him back.

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Abdülhamid II 1876 – 1909

Newspaper illustration of Abdülhamit (Abdul Hamid) II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Newspaper illustration of Abdülhamit (Abdul Hamid) II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from a 1907 article entitled "The Sour Sick Sultan as He Is". By Francis (San Francisco Call, January 6, 1907) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Having tried to stave off foreign intervention with the first Ottoman constitution in 1876, Abdülhamid decided the west was not the answer as they wanted his land, and he instead scrapped the parliament and the constitution and ruled for forty years as a strict autocrat. Nonetheless, the Europeans, including Germany, managed to get hooks in. He sponsored a pan-Islamism to hold his empire together and attack the outsiders. The Young Turk uprising in 1908 and a counter-revolt saw Abdülhamid deposed.

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Mehmed V 1909 - 1918

Mehmed V
By Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Brought out of a quiet, literary life to act as Sultan by the Young Turk revolt, he was a constitutional monarch where practical power rested with the latter’s Committee of Union and Progress. He ruled through the Balkan Wars, where the Ottomans lost most of their remaining European holdings and opposed entry into World War I. This went terribly, and Mehmed died before Constantinople was occupied.

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Mehmed VI 1918 - 1922

36th and last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, also 115th Caliph of Islam; Mehmed Vahideddin VI.
By Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mehmed VI took power at a critical time, as the victorious allies of World War One were dealing with a defeated Ottoman Empire and their nationalist movement. Mehmed first negotiated a deal with the allies to stave off nationalism and keep his dynasty, then negotiated with the nationalists to hold elections, which they won. The struggle continued, with Mehmed dissolving parliament, the nationalists sitting their government in Ankara, Mehmed signing the WW I peace Treaty of Sevres which basically left the Ottomans as Turkey, and soon the nationalists abolished the sultanate. Mehmed was forced to flee.

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Abdülmecit II 1922 – 1924 (Caliph only)

Abdülmecit II

Von Unbekannt - Library of Congress

The sultanate had been abolished and his cousin the old sultan had fled, but Abdülmecit II was elected caliph by the new government. He had no political power, and when the new regime’s enemies gathered round, caliph Mustafa Kemal decided to declare the Turkish Republic, and then have the caliphate abolished. Abdülmecit went into exile, the last of the Ottoman rulers.