Sultan Mustafa was very influenced by mysticism. Oracles predicted his son Selim would be a world-conqueror, so he organized a joyous feast lasting seven days. Selim was very well educated in the palace. Sultan Mustafa III bequeathed his son as his successor; however, Selim's uncle Abdulhamid I ascended the throne after Mustafa's death. Sultan Abdulhamid I took care of Selim and put great emphasis on his education.
After Abdulhamid's death Selim succeeded him on 7 April 1789, not yet 27 years old. Sultan Selim III was very fond of literature and calligraphy; many of his works were put on the walls of mosques and convents. He wrote many poems, especially about Crimea's occupation by Russia. He spoke Arabic and Persian fluently. Selim III was very religious, and very patriotic. He was a poet, a musician and very fond of fine arts.
Selim was a very modern man and a reformist ruler. He planned to modernize the Ottoman Empire. Prince Selim developed plans for modernizing the Ottoman Army. Selim came to the throne during the 1787–92 war with Austria and Russia and had to postpone serious reform efforts until its completion. Selim’s early efforts to modernize the Janissary corps created such opposition that thereafter he concentrated on creating a new European-style army, using modern weapons and European tactics. Officers and military experts sent by the different European powers trained in Constantinople and in a number of Anatolian provincial centers. This new force never numbered more than 10,000 active soldiers. In order to avoid disrupting the established Ottoman institutions, it was financed by an entirely new treasury whose revenues came from taxes imposed on previously untaxed sources and from the confiscation whose holders were not fulfilling their military and administrative duties to the state. Under the guidance of European technicians, factories were erected to manufacture modern weapons and ammunition and technical schools were opened to train Ottoman officers. Limited efforts were also made to rationalize the Ottoman administrative machinery, but largely along traditional lines. The older military corps, however, remained intact and hostile to the new force, and Selim was therefore compelled to limit its size and use.
The talents and energy with which Selim III was endowed had endeared him to the people, and great hopes were founded on his accession. He had associated much with foreigners, and was thoroughly persuaded of the necessity of reforming his state.
However, Austria and Russia gave him no time for anything but defense, and it was not until the Peace of Iaşi (1792) that a breathing space was allowed him in Europe, while Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Syria soon called for Turkey's strongest efforts.
Selim III profited by the respite to abolish the military tenure of fiefs; he introduced salutary reforms into the administration, especially in the fiscal department, sought by well-considered plans to extend the spread of education, and engaged foreign officers as instructors, by whom a small corps of new troops called nizam-i-jedid were collected and drilled in 1797. This unit was composed of Turkish peasant youths from Anatolia and supplied with modern weaponry.
These troops were able to hold their own against rebellious Janissaries in the Balkan provinces such as the Sanjak of Smederevo against its appointed Vizier Hadži Mustafa Pasha, where disaffected governors made no scruple of attempting to make use of them against the reforming sultan.
Emboldened by this success, Selim III issued an order that in future picked men should be taken annually from the Janissaries to serve in the nizam-i-jedid. Selim III was unable to integrate the nizam-i jedid with the rest of the army which overall limited its role in the defense of the state.Selim introduced domestic reforms to strengthen his government. He solicited suggestions throughout the governing institutions. As a basis for change: he created a new treasury, filled in large part from confiscatory punishment leveled at fief holders who had ceased to respect their military obligations, schools were opened, attention was given to printing and to the circulation of Western translations, and young Turks were sent to Europe for further study. The most significant reforms, however, involved the military. The navy was strengthened, and a navigationfd school was opened. The army commissariat was changed, officer training was improved, the Bosphorus forts were strengthened, the artillery was revitalized, and the new engineering school was reorganized. The major innovation was the founding of a new body of regular troops known as the Nizam-i-Cedid (new regulation), a term also applied to the reforms as a whole. A former Turkish lieutenant in the Russian army formed the first of these new units, uniformed, well disciplined and drilled, in 1792. Other units followed, involving, in some instances, extensive barracks building with related town facilities, such as the mosques and baths of Scutari. Such buildings constitute Selim's major architectural legacy.
Before the reforms, education in the Ottoman Empire had not been a state responsibility but had been provided by the education for Muslims. The first inroads into the system had been made with the creation of naval engineering, military engineering, medical and military science colleges. In this way specialized Western-type training was grafted onto the traditional system to produce specialists for the army. Similar institutions for diplomats and administrators were founded, including the translation bureau and the civil service school the latter was reorganized and eventually became the political science department of the University of Ankara and the major training center for higher civil servants.
The first comprehensive plan for state education was put forward. It provided for a complete system of primary and secondary schools leading to the university level, all under the Ministry of Education. A still more ambitious educational plan, inaugurated in 1869, provided for free and compulsory primary education. Both schemes progressed slowly because of a lack of money, but they provided a framework within which development toward a systematic, secular educational program could take place. There were more than 36,000 Ottoman schools, although the great majority were small, traditional primary schools. The development of the state system was aided by the example of progress among the non-Muslim millet schools, in which the education provided was more modern than in the Ottoman schools included more than 1,800 Greek schools with about 185,000 pupils and some 800 Armenian schools with more than 81,000 pupils. Non-Muslims also used schools provided by foreign missionary groups in the empire
Selim III ascended the throne only to find that the Ottoman Empire of old had been considerably reduced due to conflicts outside the realm. From the north Russia had taken the Black Sea through the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774. Selim realized the importance of diplomatic relations with other nations, and pushed for permanent embassies in the courts of all the great nations of Europe, a hard task because of religious prejudice towards Muslims. Even with the religious obstacles, resident embassies were established in Britain, France, Prussia and Austria. Selim, a cultured poet and musician, carried on an extended correspondence with Louis XVI. Although distressed by the establishment of the republic in France, Ottoman government was soothed by French representatives in Constantinople who maintained the goodwill of various influential personages.
On 1 July 1798, however, French forces landed in Egypt, and Selim declared war on France. In alliance with Russia and Britain, the Turks were in periodic conflict with the French on both land and sea until March 1801. Peace came in June 1802, The following year brought trouble in the Balkans. For decades a sultan's word had had no power in outlying provinces, prompting Selim's reforms of the military in order to reimpose central control. This desire was not fulfilled. One rebellious leader was Austrian-backed Osman Pazvantoğlu, whose invasion of Wallachia in 1801 inspired Russian intervention, resulting in greater autonomy for the Dunubian provinces. Serbian conditions also deteriorated. They took a fateful turn with the return of the hated Janissaries, ousted 8 years before. These forces murdered Selim's enlightened governor, ending the best rule this province had had in the last 100 years. Neither arms nor diplomacy could restore Ottoman authority.
French influence with the Sublime Porte (the European diplomatic designation of the Ottoman state) did not revive but it then led the Sultan into defying both St. Petersburg and London, and Turkey joined Napoleon's Continental System. War was declared on Russia on 27 December and on Britain in March 1807.
The Sultan's most ambitious military project was the creation of an entirely new infantry corps fully trained and equipped according to the latest European standards. This unit, called the nizam-i jedid (the new order), was formed in 1797 and adopted a pattern of recruitment that was uncommon for the imperial forces; it was composed of Turkish peasant youths from Anatolia, a clear indication that the devshirme system was no longer functional. Officered and trained by Europeans, the nizam-i jedid was outfitted with modern weapons and French-style uniforms. By 1806 the new army numbered around 23,000 troops, including a modern artillery corps, and its units performed effectively in minor actions. But Selim III's inability to integrate the force with the regular army and his reluctance to deploy it against his domestic opponents limited its role in defending the state it was created to preserve.
From the start of Selim's reign, the Janissaries had viewed this entire program of military reform as a threat to their independence, and they refused to serve alongside the new army in the field. The powerful derebeys were alarmed by the way in which the sultan financed his new forces—he confiscated timars and directed the other revenue toward the nizam-i jedid. Further opposition came from the ulama and other members of the ruling elite who objected to the European models on which Selim based his military reforms.
Led by the rebellious Janissaries, these forces came together in 1806, deposed Selim III, and selected a successor, Mustafa IV, who pledged not to interfere with their privileges. The decree of deposition accused Selim III of failing to respect the religion of Islam and the tradition of the Ottomans. Over the course of the next year, the embassies in Europe were dismantled, the nizam-i jedid troops were dispersed, and the deposed sultan, whose cautious military reforms were intended to do no more than preserve the tradition of the Ottomans, was murdered.
The Austro-Turkish War of 1787 was an inconclusive struggle between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires. It took place concomitantly with the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792 during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III.
The first major Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) began after Turkey demanded that Russia’s ruler, Catherine II the Great, abstain from interfering in Poland’s internal affairs. The Russians went on to win impressive victories over the Turks. They captured Azov, the Crimea, and Bessarabia, and under Field Marshal Pyotr Rumyantsev they overran Moldavia and also defeated the Turks in Bulgaria. The Turks were compelled to seek peace, which was concluded in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. This treaty made the Crimean khanate independent of the Turkish sultan advanced the Russian frontier. Russia was now in a much stronger position to expand, and in 1783 Catherine annexed the Crimean Peninsula outright.
War broke out in 1787, with Austria again on the side of Russia. Under General Alexander Suvorov, the Russians won several victories that gave them control of the lower Dniester and Danube rivers, and further Russian successes compelled the Turks to sign the Treaty of Jassy on 9 Jan. 1792. By this treaty Turkey ceded the entire western Ukrainian Black Sea coast to Russia. When Turkey deposed the Russophile governors of Moldavia and Walachia in 1806, war broke out again, though in a desultory fashion, since Russia was reluctant to concentrate large forces against Turkey while its relations with Napoleonic France were so uncertain. But in 1811, with the prospect of a war between France and Russia in sight, the latter sought a quick decision on its southern frontier. The Russian field marshal Mikhail Kutuzov’s victorious campaign of 1811–12 forced the Turks to sign the Treaty of Bucharest on 18 May 1812. Ending the war that had begun in 1806, this peace agreement established the Ottoman cession of Bessarabia to Russia.
The Russians also secured amnesty and a promise of autonomy for the Serbs, who had been rebelling against Turkish rule, but Turkish garrisons were given control of the Serbian fortresses. Implementation of the treaty was forestalled by a number of disputes, and Turkish troops invaded Serbia again the following year.
Tipu Sultan was an independent ruler of the Sultanate of Mysore, with high regards of loyalty to the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. He had urgently requested Ottoman assistance during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, in which he had suffered an irreversible defeat. Tipu Sultan then began to consolidate his relations with France. In an attempt to junction with Tipu Sultan, Napoleon invaded Ottoman Egypt in the year 1798, causing a furor in Constantinople.
The British then appealed to Selim III to send a letter to Tipu Sultan requesting the Sultanate of Mysore to halt its state of war against the British East India Company. Selim III then wrote a letter to Tipu Sultan criticizing the French, and also informed Tipu Sultan that the Ottomans would act as intermediary between the Sultanate of Mysore and the British. Tipu Sultan wrote twice to Selim III, rejecting the advice of the Ottomans, unfortunately before most of his letters could arrive in Constantinople, the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War broke out and Tipu Sultan was killed during the Siege of Seringapatam (1799).
At the same time the 30-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte, a general of the French Republic, returned from his ill-fated Egyptian Campaign. The French seizure of Egypt had produced results contrary to those which Napoleon had intended. Instead of striking a blow at the colonial power of Britain, the invasion had alarmed the Ottoman Porte and driven it into an alliance with the British as well as the long-standing enemy of the Turks, Russia. Yet, by 1802, the Peace of Amiens would put an end to the war between France and the Second Coalition. The Peace would give Napoleon, who was now the First Consul of France, a respite during which he could begin to mend French relations with the Ottoman Empire.
The years 1802-1807 would witness a decidedly pro-Turkish policy on the part of Napoleon. For him, this slowly deteriorating empire would come to play, in these years, an integral role in his European diplomatic strategy. Friendship and alliance with the Ottoman Empire could serve him not only as a useful tool against the commercial power of his greatest enemy, Britain, but even more so (by 1805) as a means to bend Russia and its Tsar to his will. In his goal to rebuild and strengthen Franco-Turkish relations, Napoleon benefited from two things. The first factor riding in his favor was the long history of diplomatic and economic relations that had existed between France and the Ottoman Empire - since the 16th Century. While many European nations had, over the centuries, made agreements and sent ambassadors to the Turkish court, the French had been one of, if not the most highly favored nation. The French were the first to conclude a commercial treaty with the Turks. French businessmen invested heavily in the Ottoman Empire and by the late 18th Century, all Roman Catholics in the Ottoman Empire were placed under French protection. A second factor which benefited Napoleon was that the Ottoman sultan, Selim III, had, for most of his life, been somewhat disposed towards the French.
As the nephew of the Sultan Abdul Hamid, Selim had ascended to the throne in the same year that revolution had exploded in France: 1789. Since the time that he had been a young prince, secluded in the palace, Selim had apparently developed a personal taste for things European. Though he had a fondness for Western European theater, music, art and poetry, his greatest interest was in European military institutions and practices. Even before he became sultan, he had secretly written to the French court of Louis XVI requesting advice on how to build up the Ottoman armed forces to the level of those in Europe. This early desire for military reform would come to fruition after he became sultan, when the wars between the Ottoman Empire and the ambitious Catherine the Great of Russia had revealed the overall weakness, lack of discipline and lack of training among the Ottoman forces.
After the Peace of Jassy in 1792, which ended the war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, Selim had hoped to stay out of the European conflicts that had arisen as a result of the French Revolution, though he personally sympathized with the French in their struggle. Selim's desire for neutrality stemmed from his wish to have time in which to implement his plans for military reform. One of the most important of these was to be the reform of the unruly janissary corps. Selim also had other grand designs such as the creation of an entirely new military force, the Nizam-i-Cedid (or "new order"), which was to be equipped, clothed, drilled and instructed in a totally European manner with rank to be based on ability. To aid him in these reforms, Selim at first utilized the skills of General Albert Dubayet, French ambassador to the Porte in 1796. Dubayet had brought with him several model artillery pieces as well as French artillery officers, drill sergeants and engineers to aid the sultan in bringing his army up to date. Selim wished to reform the janissaries along the same lines as the Nizam-i-Cedit, trained, equipped and clothed in the European manner. In the end Selim's efforts were not overly successful. The janissaries bitterly opposed the reforms and refused to be trained in the manner of Europeans. In addition they did all that they could to hamper the creation of the Nizam-i-Cedit. Except for some marked improvements in the artillery corps, by the end of his reign, Selim's forces remained at the same low level as they had been when he first became sultan.
This period of reform was interrupted, however, as Selim found himself forced to take sides in the European conflict when General Bonaparte's forces invaded Egypt and Syria. As a result, Selim would declare war on France on 11 September 1799. In doing so, he not only allied himself to England, but also with his oldest and most important enemy - Russia. As it is well known with the death of Catherine the Great in 1796, her son Paul I became tsar. He made overtures for rapprochement with the Turks in order to secure, via the alliance signed with the Turks in 1799, the right for Russian warships to pass through the Straits. He also gained concessions on the issue of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (which will be discussed later). Selim would be troubled by these alliances in the years to come. Yet, Russia withdrew from the anti-French coalition not long after signing the alliance with the Porte and by 1801, Britain had agreed to negotiate a peace with France. In June 1802, a formal peace treaty was signed between Britain and France at Amiens. Among the many articles in this treaty, Article 8 stated that the possessions and integrity of the Ottoman Empire were to be preserved as they were before the war. More importantly, the Turks decided to enter into a separate peace with France, in conjunction with Amiens - a peace for which they received little British or Russian support. Through this agreement, France regained her former privileges (such as capitulations and as the protectors over the sultan's Catholic subjects) and for the first time, the Porte gave French merchant vessels the right to trade freely on the Black Sea. With this treaty, Napoleon restored many of the rights that had been enjoyed prior to the Revolution and set the Ottoman Empire and France on the road to rebuilding their diplomatic relations. In addition, Napoleon had opened up new markets by which France could trade with Russia, the Balkans and even into Persia. These new markets, he hoped, would rival and perhaps surpass British commercial interests in the East.
For Napoleon, his signature on the Peace of Amiens did not mean that he had suddenly abandoned all his plans to destroy Britain's commercial and naval supremacy, nor did mean that he had forgotten his territorial ambitions for France in the realm of the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon especially desired to regain French control over the Ionian Islands (which he won in 1797, but lost to Russia after 1799) and also had his sights set on controlling key areas on the Adriatic Coast in the Balkans. The key point in his future plans was Constantinople, now Istanbul. In reality, Amiens (for both France and Britain) was regarded as more of truce than a definite termination to their conflicts. Not only did Napoleon continue to concern himself with plans for Britain, but he soon found his attentions turned more seriously towards Russia as well.
In 1801, a new tsar, the young Alexander I, had ascended to the Russian throne, after assassination of his father Paul I. Like his grandmother Catherine, Alexander held definite designs for the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire, which lay south of his realm. He especially desired to control the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the Dardanelle and naturally set his sights at the historical goal of Russia - the acquisition of Constantinople. But, Alexander's ambitions did not lead him to take rash actions. Instead, he decided it best, for the moment, to approach the Porte in a cautious and amicable manner. Only in this way could he maintain the privileges, which Russia still enjoyed from the 1799 alliance (The Porte was at this time still permitting Russian ships to pass through the straits and to continue to hold a protectorate over the Ionian Islands) and keep his influence with the Porte strong enough to rival any ambitions of Napoleon.
Selim III was, however, thoroughly under the influence of French ambassador to the Porte Horace Sébastiani, and the fleet was compelled to retire without effecting its purpose. But the anarchy, manifest or latent, existing throughout the provinces proved too great for Selim III to cope with. The Janissaries rose once more in revolt, induced the Sheikh ul-Islam to grant a fetva against the reforms, dethroned and imprisoned Selim III, and placed his cousin Mustafa on the throne, as Mustafa IV (1807–08), on May 29, 1807
The ayan of Rustchuk, Alemdar Mustafa, a strong partisan of the reforms, collected an army of 40,000 men and marched on Constantinople with the purpose of reinstating Selim III, but he came too late. The ill-fated reforming Sultan had been stabbed in the seraglio by the Chief Black Eunuch and his men. Upon his arrival in the capital, Bairakdar's only resource was to wreak his vengeance on Mustafa IV and to place on the throne Mahmud II (1808–1839), the sole surviving member of the house of Osman.
Another version about his murder states that at the time of his deposition, Selim was staying at the Harem. The night of Thursday, 28 July 1808, he was with his favourite wife, Empress Re’fet Kadın, and a lady-in-waiting Pakize Hanım in attendance. Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, a loyalist of Selim, was approaching the city with his army to reinstate Selim. Therefore, Mustafa IV gave orders to murder him and his brother Prince Mahmud.
The assassins were apparently a group of men, including the Master of the Wardrobe called Fettah the Georgian, the Treasury steward Ebe Selim, and black eunuch named Nezir Ağa. Selim apparently knew his end was coming when he saw their swords drawn. Pakize Hanım threw herself between them and her lord, she was cut in her hand. Re’fet Kadın started screaming in terror, another slave girl who rushed in fainted when she saw what was about to happen. A struggle ensued and the former sultan was cut down and murdered, his last words apparently being "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great").
Re’fet Kadın threw herself on the body but was dragged away. The body was quickly wrapped in a quilt. The assassins moved on to find Prince Mahmud and attempt to murder him too, he was more fortunate though and later ordered the assassins to be executed. Selim III would be the only Ottoman sultan to be killed by the sword. He was buried in Laleli Mosque near his father's tomb.
A great lover of music, Sultan Selim III was a composer and performer of significant talent. He created fourteen makam-s (melodic types), three of which are in current use today. Sixty-four compositions by Selim III are known today, some of which are part of the regular repertory of Turkish classical music performerance. Aside from composing music, Selim III also performed on the ney (reed flute) and tanbur (long-necked, fretted lute).
Selim III's interest in music started in his days as a prince (shahzade) when he studied under Kırımlı Ahmet Kamil Efendi and Tanburi İzak Efendi. He was especially respectful of Tanburi İzak Efendi, and it is recounted that the Sultan rose in respect when Tanburi İzak Efendi entered the court.
As a patron of the arts, Selim III encouraged musicians of his day, including Dede Efendi and Baba Hamparsum. The Hamparsum notation system that Selim commissioned became the dominant notation for Turkish and Armenian music. His name is associated with a school in Classical Turkish Music due to the revival and rebirth of music at his court. Selim III was also interested in western music and in 1797 invited an opera troupe for the first opera performance in the Ottoman Empire.
Writing under the nom de plume ″İlhami″, Selim's poetry is collected in a divan. Among regular attendees of his court were Şeyh Galib, considered one of the four greatest Ottoman poets. Galib is now considered to have been not only an intimate friend of the Sultan, as they were both quite close in age, but through Galib's poetry you find an overwhelming support for his new military reforms
Selim III was a member of the Mevlevi Order of Sufi Whirling Dervishes, and entered into the order at the Galata Mevlevihanesi under the name ″Selim Dede". He was a renowned composer, creating many musical compositions, including a Mevlevi ayin, a long and complex liturgical form performed during the semâ (religious ceremonies) of the Mevlana (Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi) Tariqah of Sufi Whirling Mystics, in makam Suzidilara.
He extended his patronage to Antoine Ignace Melling, whom he appointed as the court architect in 1795. Melling constructed a number of palaces and other buildings for the Sultan and created engravings of contemporary Constantinople.Consorts
Selim had eight wives:Safizar Kadın (died at Topkapı Palace, 30 May 1792, buried in Mustafa III Mausoleum, Laleli Mosque, Istanbul), the principal consort;
Aynısafa Kadın, the principal consort;
Zibifer Kadın (died at Beylerbeyi Palace, 1 January 1817, buried in Selimiye Mosque, Üsküdar, Istanbul), the second consort;
Tabısafa Kadın (died at Fındıklı Palace, 15 March 1855, buried in Mustafa III Mausoleum, Laleli Mosque, Istanbul), the third consort;
Refet Kadın (died at Beșiktaș Palace, 22 October 1867, buried in Mihrişah Sultan Mausoleum, Eyüp Cemetery, Istanbul), the fourth consort;
Gongenigar Kadın, the fifth consort;
Nuruşems Kadın (died at Kuruçeșme Palace, May 1826, buried in Mustafa III Mausoleum, Laleli Mosque, Istanbul), the fifth consort;
Hüsnümah Kadın (died 1814, buried in Mustafa III Mausoleum, Laleli Mosque, Istanbul), the sixth consort.