Tursun Beg
(b. 829/1426? - d. 896/1491? )
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T.B. gives his name as Tur-ı Sina. While Halil İnalcık notes that the court registers of Bursa provide some information on the author and his family, most of what is known of T.B.’s life derives from his work entitled Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth [Henceforth Tarih]. Even though T.B. does not give his father’s name and mentions only his uncle Cebe Ali Beg (d. before 1491), the governor of Bursa, entries in court registers record his name as “Tursun Beg ibn Hamza Beg.” Considering that the father of Hamza Beg (d. ?) and Ali Beg, the governor of Izniq in 825/1422, was Firuz Beg (d. 825 /1421), T.B.’s family appears to have played an important role in Ottoman affairs between the years 782-885/1380-1480. Thus it becomes clear why under Mehmed II (r. 848-850/1444-1446 and 855-886/1451-1481) T.B. was entrusted with the most important and delicate missions which he relates in his history. His name is also mentioned in the court records of Bursa in 889/1484, 892-93/1487, and 896-97/1491.

T.B.’s date of birth is unknown but must have been sometime after 829/1426. The fact that Bursa court registers refer to him as “mevlana” suggests that he must have had a medrese education, which appears to have equipped him with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform the duties of a münşi. In his Tarih, T.B. not only shows his knowledge of Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, but also displays the subtleties of the literary arts, and his complete mastery of all the skills of a münşi. T.B. also maintains that during his forty years of service, he held the offices of the Secretary of the Council of State (divan katibi), Chief Financial Officer of Anatolia (Anadolı defterdarı), Stewart of the Chief Financial Officer of Anatolia (Anadolı Defter Kethüdalıgı), and states that he also served as scribe (yazıcı) in the registration of houses, fields, and vineyards of Constantinople after its conquest.

While T.B.’s detailed description of the building of the Bogazkesen castle (Rumeli hisarı) suggests that he was present during its construction in 856/1452 as well as during the siege of Constantinople in 857/1453, the information he provides on Mehmed II’s 860/1456 Belgrade campaign suggests that he participated in that expedition as well. He also appears to have been present in the circumcision feast of princes Bayezid and Mustafa in Edirne in 861/1457.

Having entered Grand Vizier Mahmud Paşa’s (d. 879/1474) service most probably in the years 861-862/1456-1457, T.B. participated in every campaign his master led until his dismissal from office in 872/1468. It is certain that he was with Mahmud Paşa on his Serbian campaign of 862/1457 and partook in Mehmed II’s Qastamonu campaign as secretary of council (divan katibi) under Mahmud Paşa in 865/1460. After participating in the Wallachian campaign of 866/1461 and in the capture of the island of Lesbos (Midilli), he served Mahmud Paşa on the Bosnian campaign of 867/1462, Morean campaign of 869/1464, and on the Bosnian campaign against the Hungarians in 869/1464. Later he was present with the Sultan and his Grand Vizier on the first and second Albanian campaigns of 870-871/1466-1467.

In 872/1468, in the aftermath of the campaign against Qaramanoglı Pir Ahmed (d. 878-879/1474), Mahmud Paşa was dismissed from office. T.B., however, was again in Mahmud Paşa’s service in 874/1470 upon the latter’s appointment to the office of High Admiral (Qapudan-i Derya) when the Sultan set out to conquer the island and castle of Negroponte (Eğriboz). T.B. was also present in the 878/1473 Otluqbeli campaign. Following Mahmud Paşa’s dismissal from office and his subsequent execution on the Sultan’s order, T.B. participated in the campaigns which were personally led by Mehmed II, namely, the Moldavian campaign in the summer of 881/1476, the Hungarian campaign in the following winter, and the Albanian campaign of 883/1478. The information T.B. provides on the conquest of Ala’iye in 876/1471, the Crimean campaign of 879/1474, and the campaigns against Rhodes in 885/1480 is limited.

Tarih provides important insight on T.B.’s life after Mehmed II’s death. In the introduction, T.B. states that he committed a sin and deserved to be killed but was forgiven by Bayezid II (r. 886-918/1481-1512). The famous Ottoman statesman and historian Kemalpaşazade (d. 940/1534) sheds light on this particular matter stating that, when Mehmed II’s princes Bayezid and Cem fought for the Ottoman sultanate, T.B. actually did not side with Prince Bayezid but served Prince Cem as Chief Financial Officer (defterdar). When Cem was defeated by Bayezid at the Battle of Yeñişehr (22 Rebi’ü’l-ahir 886/20 June 1481), T.B. was captured with prominent members of Prince Cem’s retinue. Kemalpaşazade explains that T.B. was forgiven by the Sultan. The effects of this event can be seen in T.B.’s Tarih.

According to Victor Ménage, the last campaign T.B. attended was the expedition of 893/1488 against the Mamluks which culminated in the Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Agaçayırı. Tarih indeed ends suddenly with this event. According to the Ottoman historian Sa’adü’d-din (d. 1007/1599), after that battle, a number of officers alleged to have shown cowardice including “the kethüda and the defterdar of Anatolia” were sent to Istanbul and imprisoned for a while. Considering that these were posts T.B. recorded among the offices he held during Mehmed II’s reign, it is possible that the author was among the officers disgraced after the campaign, which may explain the abrupt ending of his Tarih.

Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth

T.B.’s major historical work, Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth, is not a systematic chronicle of events but essentially a panegyric on the reigns of Mehmed II and of its dedicatee Bayezid II. It belongs to a genre of history writing with a literary pedigree that goes back to Juvayni’s (d. 681/1283) Tarih-i Cihanguşa and is the first example of its type in Ottoman Turkish. The introduction of the work can be placed in the tradition of nasihatname literature (Mirrors for Princes’), in which an imperial servant, in this case T.B., offers advice on rulership to the reigning Ottoman sultan. The main section of Tarih conforms to its Persian models in that T.B. uses the events he describes as exemplary incidents or occasions for eulogizing the Sultan. Hence his tendency to omit or gloss over events which, to the modern mind, might seem important, and to emphasize incidents which might appear trivial. For example, the most prominent incident in T.B.’s account of the first Qaraman campaign in 855/1451 is Mehmed II’s refusal to accede to the demands of the janissaries, which the author evidently selected as an exemplary instance of the sultanic siyaset (execution for the greater good of the state and order) necessary for the preservation of order. In other places, T.B. highlights events, notably the defeat of the Moldavians in 866 /1461-62, because they are exemplary illustrations of divine intervention in human affairs.

The most prominent element in Tarih is panegyric. The specific models, which T.B. seems to have had in mind, were the panegyric histories of Timur. This is suggested not simply by the literary style, which emulates Niẓamaddin Shami (d. 812 /1409) and Sharafaddin Yazdi (d. 858/1454), but also by T.B.’s direct reference to Yazdi and his comments that Mehmed II had waged more Holy Wars than Timur. While this favorable comparison with Timur is above all a panegyric device, it is possible that T.B. intended to hint that the Ottomans had thrown off the ignominy of the defeat of 804/1402. The panegyric mode frequently determines the way in which T.B. presents events. Most obvious in this regard perhaps is the fact that the failed siege of Belgrade in 860/1456 is presented as a victory. In this specific case, T.B. glosses over the scale of the Ottoman defeat entirely and uses the death of Yanqo (Janos Hunyadi) as evidence that the Sultan had achieved his end.

T.B. makes it clear that he used a variety of sources for his introduction although he does not, for the most part, specify them. In several cases T.B. refers to his sources simply as “kütüb-i hikemiyye,” or uses phrases such as “kütüb-i mu’teberede gördügümüz üzere,” “hükemadan menquldur ki,” and “hikayeti taqrir buyurdu,” “hikayet ederler ki.” While most of these phrases indicate a plurality of sources (for instance, “philosophical books”), it is not clear whether these are to be taken literally or simply as devices used to add weight to T.B.’s own statements.

T.B. seems to have interwoven material from both oral and written sources with that drawn from his personal experiences. A source which he identifies by name and parts of which can be collated with passages in his introduction is Nasiraddin Tusi’s (d. 672/1274) Ahlaq-ı Nasiri. A second identifiable source T.B. seems to have used but does not mention by name is the Chahar Maqala of Niẓami-i Arudi of Samarqand (d. 552/1157). Although T.B. himself does not acknowledge, it is certain that his written sources are not limited to those he used in his introduction. While T.B.’s skill in modifying his sources renders them hard to detect, it is clear that he used Neşri’s Cihan-nüma, which disproves the commonly held idea that T.B. did not use written sources in the composition of his Tarih.

Of the oral sources T.B. used in his introduction, the most important was Mahmud Paşa, the Grand Vizier of Mehmed II, whom he mentions by name and to whom he devoted almost half of Tarih’s foreword. Apart from Mahmud Paşa; T.B. sometimes implies that he quotes other people, whom he does not identify.

T.B.’s Tarih’s purpose, apart from being a history of his time, was also to guide and aid Bayezid II and justify his rule. This is evident above all in the “Introduction” to the book, where he follows the usual conventions of “Advice to Kings” literature. The historical events that the Tarih includes are as follows: An introductory section praises the Ottoman dynasty and especially Murad II. Murad II’s abdication and accession to throne for a second time in 848/1444. Mehmed II’s ascension to the throne in 855/1451. Mehmed II’s campaign to Qaraman; 855/1451. The construction of the Bogazkesen castle; 856/1452. The characteristics of the Bogazkesen castle. The conquest of Constantinople; 857/1453. The re-building of Constantinople. The conquest of the castles of Eynoz (Enez) and Taşoz (Thasos); 858/1454. The causes of the battle of Belgrade; 860/1456. The circumcision feast of the Sultan’s sons; 861/1457. The battle of Mora (Morea) and Mahmud Pasha’s mission to Serbia; 862/1458. A description of Mora. Mahmud Pasha’s setting forth to the Serbian lands. The Sultan’s expedition Mora; 863/1459. The Conquest of Semendire (Smederevo) and Amasra; 864/1459. The conquest of the province of İsfendiyar, Sinop and Qoylu-hisar; 865 /1461, The Eflak (Wallachia) expedition; 866/1462. The conquest of Midilli (Mitylene); 866/1462. The Conquest of Bosna (Bosnia); 867/1463. The death of Qaramanoglı İbrahim Bey; 868/1464. The alliance of the crusaders, their attack on the Ottoman provinces and their defeat; 867/1463.

The second expedition to Bosnia; 868/1464. The Venetian siege of the castle of Midilli and the dispatch of Mahmud Pasha. The dispatch of Mahmud Pasha to the Balkans; 868/1464. The first Arnavud (Albanian) expedition and the construction of the fortress of İlbasan; 870/1466. The second Albanian expedition; 871/1467. The Qaraman expedition and the expulsion of Pir Ahmed; 872/1468. The conquest of the castle of İgriboz (Negroponte); 874/1470. The expeditions to Qaraman; 875/1471. The conquest of Ala’iyye (Alanya); 876/1471. The Aqqoyunlu attack on the Ottoman lands; 877/1472. The defeat of Uzun Hasan; 878/1473. The conquest of the castle of Kefe (Caffa); 879/1475. The Qara Bogdan (Moldavia) expedition; 881 /1476. The conquest of İskenderiyye (Shkodër) and Aqçahisar (Krujë); 883/1478. Gedük Ahmed Pasha’s expedition against the island of Pulya (Apulia); 884/1479 and Mesih Pasha’s expedition to the island of Rodos (Rhodes); 885/1480. The expedition on to the Mamluks and the death of  Mehmed II; 886/1481. The interregnum. The accession of  Bayezid II to the Ottoman throne; 886/1481. The Qara Bogdan expedition and the conquest of Kili (Kilia) and Akkerman; 889/1484. The dispatch of Qaragöz Beg to the Arabian lands and the dispatch of ʿAli Pasha to Qara Bogdan; 890/1485. ʿAli Pasha and Admiral Hersekzade Ahmed Pasha’s Arabian expedition; 893/1488.

T.B.’s Tarih finishes abruptly with a mes̱nevi in which he prays for the ruling Sultan and for the Ottoman dynasty, expresses his thanks to God for granting him the facility to expound on the Sultan’s holy wars, and finally states his intent to continue his Tarih if his health and life allows. This suggests that T.B. unwillingly abandoned his history’s composition. While it is possible that he was too unwell to continue his work, it is also possible that some unknown event forced him to abandon it. A comparison of T.B.’s introductory and concluding remarks suggests that the author anticipated writing a rather long and ornamented conclusion to his work. Thus, it seems reasonable to deduce that something possibly went awry for T.B. during Ali Paşa’s Arabian expedition in which the former was most probably present.

The inconsistencies and weakness in T.B.’s panegyric, together with the frequent clumsiness of his style, makes it difficult to judge his Tarih as an unqualified literary success, which may account for the later neglect of the work. Only Kemalpaşazade seems to have made use of it before the twentieth century. However, since it was the first work of its kind in Ottoman Turkish, some deficiencies in style can be considered inevitable.

T.B. evidently learned to write in this inşa style as a result of his employment in the Ottoman chancery. This chancery style, exemplified in the inşa manuals, was one in which Ottoman men of letters aspired to write, and T.B.’s Tarih is an early example of this genre.



Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth

Manuscripts: (1) Istanbul, Istanbul Üniversitesi Kütüphanesi, TY 4369; 256 pages, 15 lines, taliq. (2) Istanbul, Ayasofya Kütüphanesi, No. 3032; 180 fol., 13 lines, naskh. Presentation copy to Bayezid II. (3) Istanbul, Topkapı Sarayı Kütüphanesi, Revan 1097; 194 fol., 13 lines, naskh. (4) Istanbul, Topkapı Sarayı Kütüphanesi, Revan 1098; 193 fol., 13 lines, naskh. (5) Istanbul, Topkapı Sarayı Kütüphanesi, Hazine 1470; 171 fol., 13 lines, naskh. (6) Vienna, Österreichische Natioalbibliothek, no. 984, 169 fol., 13 lines, naskh (Gustav Flügel, Die arabischen, persischen, türkischen Handschriften der kaiserlichen und königlichen Hofbibliothek zu Wien, No. 984.)

Editions: (1) Tursun Bey Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth. Ed. A. Mertol Tulum (Istanbul, 1977). (2) Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth. Ed. Mehmed Arif. Tarih-i Os̱mani Encümeni Mecmu’ası İlavesi (Istanbul, 1330/1912). (3) The History of Mehmed the Conqueror / by Tursun Beg. Ed. Halil İnalcık and Rhoads Murphey (Minneapolis, 1978). Facsimile with English translation.

General Bibliography

Agah Sırrı Levend. Gazavâtnâmeler ve Mihaloğlu Ali Bey’in Gazavâtnâmesi (Ankara, 1956). V.L. Ménage. “The Beginnings of Ottoman Historiography.” In Historians of the Middle East. Ed. B. Lewis and P.M. Holt (London, 1962). Halil İnalcık. “The Rise of Ottoman Historiography.” In Historians of the Middle East. Ed. B. Lewis and P.M. Holt (London, 1962), 164-167. V.L. Ménage. Neshri’s History of the Ottomans (London, 1964). Yahya bin Mehmed el-Katib. Menahicü’l-inşa’: The Earliest Ottoman Chancery Manual. Ed. Şinasi Tekin (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971). Halil İnalcık. “Tursun Beg, Historian of Mehmed the Conqueror’s Time.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, LXIX (1977), 55-71. Halil İnalcık. “The Policy of Mehmed II toward the Greek Population of Istanbul and the Byzantine Buildings of the City.” In The Ottoman Empire, Conquest, Organization, and Economy (London, 1978), 231-249. Selahattin Tansel. Sultan II. Bâyezid’in Siyasi Hayatı (Istanbul, 1966). V.L. Ménage. “[A review of] H. İnalcık and R. Murphey: The History of Mehmed the Conqueror by Tursun Bey.” BSOAS, XLIII (1980), 144-145. Colin Imber. The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1481 (Istanbul, 1990). Kenan İnan. A Summary and Analysis of The Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth (History of the Conqueror) of Tursun Bey (1488). Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation (The University of Manchester, 1993). Mehmed Neşri. Kitab-i Cihan-nüma: Neşri Tarihi. Eds. F.R. Unat and M.A. Köymen. Vol. 2 (Ankara, 1995). Selahattin Tansel. Osmanlı Kaynaklarına Göre Fatih Sultan Mehmed’in Siyasi ve Askeri Faaliyeti (Ankara, 1999). Kenan İnan. “The Incorporation of Writings on Periphery in Ottoman Historiography: Tursun Bey’s Comparison of Mehmed II and Bayezid II.” International Journal of Turkish Studies, 9/1-2 (2003), 105-117. Kenan İnan. “On the Sources of Tursun Bey’s Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth.” The Ottoman Empire: Myths, Realities and Black Holes’. Ed. Eugenia Kermeli and Oktay Özel (Istanbul, 2006), 75-109. Kenan İnan. “The Effects of Ornamented Prose Style on Ottoman Historiography: The Tarih-i Ebü’l-feth [History of the father of Conquest] by Tursun Bey.” In Public Power in Europe: Studies in Historical Transformations. Ed. James S. Amelang and Siegfried Beer (Pisa, 2006), 125-142.

Kenan İnan
October 2011