I've read a couple of texts, including on wikipedia, that claims that the Ottoman sultans kill or imprison their own brothers for life to remove rival claims for the throne.

In the Ottoman Empire a policy of judicial royal fratricide was introduced by Sultan Mehmet II whose grandfather Mehmed I had to fight a long and bloody civil war against his brothers (which brought the empire near to destruction) to take the throne. When a new Sultan ascended to the throne he would imprison all of his surviving brothers and kill them by strangulation with a silk cord as soon as he had produced his first male heir. The largest killing took place on the succession of Mehmed III when 19 of his brothers were killed and buried with their father.

That sounds too barbaric, even for the medieval age - I suppose this practice didn't actually make it until after WW I.

Is there any historically accurate evidence that this claim is correct? If it is true, is there any information as to what extent this was implemented, and what the other members of the family, the people, and the Islamic scholars said?

  • can someone add more tags to the question? I don't have the necessary privileges to create new tags. Perhaps: murder, royal-families ?
    – Fitri
    Apr 5, 2011 at 15:56
  • Could you please clarify the question? Questions on Skeptics.SE are generally expected to refer to specific claims, if possible link to an online version of the claim you're skeptical about. Your question is very vague right now and in danger of being closed, please try to make it more specific.
    – Mad Scientist
    Apr 5, 2011 at 15:59
  • 14
    "too barbaric"? When power is involved? Surely, you are joking?
    – Lagerbaer
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:30
  • 5
    @lagerbear: occassional or covert murder plot to kill some people, driven by one person or faction, sure. but killing a large number of your own family in a supposedly systematic, approved policy is a different thing.
    – Fitri
    Apr 5, 2011 at 23:51

1 Answer 1


According to Goodwin (Lords of the Horizons), it was indeed common practice, especially in the early period. Some sultans did not have the stomach for killing their brothers, and would instead confine them to a prison within palace walls ("kafes", cage) in perpetuity. Several of those captive siblings (e.g. Ahmet III) eventually assumed power, and were somewhat deranged due to long years in captivity.

Barbarity was not uncommon in the Ottoman empire -- they used to make towers from skulls of their defeated enemies (likely including some innocents as well).

  • the Wikipedia article said that the skulls were from killed combatants.
    – Louis Rhys
    Apr 6, 2011 at 5:43
  • @Louis. Yes, enemy combatants (Serbian rebels).
    – dbkk
    Apr 6, 2011 at 11:59
  • I suggest you edit your answer. "defeated enemies" is not very precise because it can sound like some of the skulls might be obtained by killing them - where the article you cited only said that they are from the combatants who were already dead from the battle.
    – Louis Rhys
    Apr 6, 2011 at 12:33
  • @Louis, though I didn't say it explicitly, it would be safe to say that at least some of the skulls were obtained from killing the the soldiers after the battle (though in that specific case, the Serbian unit blew itself up). It was common practice at the time in the region.
    – dbkk
    Apr 8, 2011 at 8:02
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    It would be nice to add a quote from the book to demonstrate it supports your claim (as not all of us have access to it.) Note also the claim that they were "somewhat deranged due to long years in captivity" suffers from post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 16, 2014 at 1:26

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