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Asian RoyalsHistoryHistoryPalaces & Buildings

The night 19 Ottoman princes were killed by their brother

The former church Haga Sophia has been widely reported in the media over recent weeks after the building has been converted into a mosque for the second time. However, what isn’t known to many is that right next to the famous building is a unique hidden story. In a burial chamber, 19 Ottoman princes are buried next to each other, all of whom were killed on the same evening, by their only surviving brother.

The bloody royal massacre of the Ottoman princes took place on 28 January 1595 in what is known to be the darkest and most bloody day of in the history of Topkapi Palace in the 15th and 16th centuries. Until 1595, Murad III ruled the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire had its greatest expansion in the Middle East under his reign.

Sultan Mehmed III. Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Mehmed III became Sultan on 15 January 1595. Mehmed III came to power after his father, Murad III, and a few nights after he ascended the throne, he killed his nineteen brothers. Never before had so many royals been executed in one night. The Sultan used deaf-mute servants to carry out the mission, so they could not testify. The assassinations were made with a bowstring so that royal blood would not flow.

This type of fratricidal successions was quite common in the Ottoman Empire. However, this execution frightened the population. Never before or since have so many Ottoman royals been killed on the same night, by a member of their family

The burial chamber of the murdered princes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Fratricide was not a legal practice in the foundation of the Ottoman Empire. The method of fratricide was legalised by Mehmed II following a long civil war against his brothers Suleyman, Isa, and Musa. The civil war lasted eight years and weakened the empire.

It was an honour to be strangled with a bowstring, rather than be beheaded and lose one’s head. Nevertheless, it was a meagre consolation for the young princes. The nineteen princes were buried next to each other close to Haga Sophia. Their burial chamber can still be visited.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written five books on historical subjects and more than 700 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.