March 15th, 2011 Headsman
On this date in 1536,* the Ottoman Empire’s mightiest Grand Vizier was strangled at the order of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
An Albanian [update: and/or Greek] Christian, Ibrahim Pasha — not to be confused with several other historical figures of that name, notably an Egyptian general — found his way into the Ottoman slave quarters and became a boyhood friend of the young Suleiman.
Thereafter the two would rise together: as Sultan, Suleiman rapidly promoted his trusted friend, and even married a sister to him.
So absolute was Ibrahim’s power that Italian diplomats** called him “Ibrahim the Magnificent”. At the Ottomans’ acme, his word was law as surely as his distinguished master’s. Ibrahim’s achievements in war, diplomacy, and as a patron of the arts attested his worthiness of the honors.
Unfortunately, he may have taken those honorifics a little too much to heart.
We do not know the precise cause of Ibrahim Pasha’s fall: only that it was precipitous. Two months after returning from a campaign against the Safavids that reconquered Baghdad, he was put to death, reputedly spurning an opportunity to flee and loyally submitting himself to the Sultan’s punishment. Much as this smacks of poetic amplification, Ibrahim’s last meal was said to be taken dining alone with Suleiman.
It’s impossible that in 13 years as Grand Vizier, this Islamic convert and upstart slave had not won himself powerful enemies — but he lived in Suleiman’s favor, and was destroyed when that favor reversed. One theory of Ibrahim’s fall has it that his self-awarded titles started getting a little bit, er, “magnificent” and Suleiman jealously snuffed out any potential for actual political rivalry. Another looks towards the Ukrainian slave girl who was taking over Suleiman’s harem — Roxelana, who would ruthlessly destroy all the political obstacles to her son’s eventual succession.
Between those two, or other palace machinations, or factors yet un-guessed, Suleiman was induced to destroy his boyhood companion and right-hand man. And in the thirty years the sultan had to outlive his vizier, who knows what pangs conscience held in store.
Dear Lord! Shower me with your grace
Whether there is any remedy other than You I do not know.
Help me, forgive my sins,
Please, help me, forgive my sins.
-poetry by Suleiman the Magnificent, writing as “Muhibbi”
* There are some other March 1536 dates out there, but the Ides seems like the strongest.
Also on this date
- 1963: Victor Feguer, by the feds
- 1865: Marcellus Jerome Clarke, "Sue Mundy"
- 1990: Farzad Bazoft, journalist
- 1957: Burton Abbott, reprieved too late
- 1938: Seventeen former Bolshevik officials from the Trial of the 21