ABSTRACT

Aleppo was no longer a region bordering a belligerent rival power. The campaigns of Selim I in 1514 and 1516-17 ended a pernicious three-way battle for northern Syria and brought it under Ottoman rule. Iran’s aspirations in Anatolia were effectively blocked by this warrior sultan’s crushing victory in 1514 over the newly risen Safavid dynasty. Then Selim’s extinction of the venerable Mamluk sultanate in the Levant (1516) and Egypt (1517) turned Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo into major Ottoman capitals. It also brought the holy sites of Jerusalem, Mecca, and Medina under Ottoman overlordship. Aleppo’s future as an international commercial emporium was secured by Süleyman’s first encounter with the Safavids in 1535. The two-year eastern war of 1534-1535, fought by the sultan and his famous grand vezir Ibrahim Pasha, yielded Baghdad and with it control of Iraq. The southeastern domains of Süleyman’s empire now encompassed virtually the whole of the Fertile Crescent, which stretched in an arc from the Persian Gulf north along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and then curved south again through the eastern Mediterranean coastal region. Aleppo sat atop the curve, a kind of keystone that capped trade routes now integrated under Ottoman sponsorship. As one historian has put it, “in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the mere mention of Aleppo’s name could evoke for western Europeans images of the wealth of the fabulous East.”2 Over the course of Süleyman’s reign, the city became the third metropolis of the empire after Istanbul and Cairo. The so-called Pax Ottomanica-that stabilizing effect of a large empire in its heyday-brought security of highways and even byways and thereby fostered a revival of commerce and communication links. The increasing prosperity of northern Syria was soon manifested in the rising levels of tax revenue exacted by Istanbul from Aleppo and its hinterlands. Visible proof of better and safer times included the return of Venetian merchants to the city in the 1530s after an absence of fifteen years and the resumption of religious pilgrimage by the empire’s Christian, Jewish, and Muslim subjects.3