Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

Turkey, AD 1520-1566

This magnificent tughra was made for Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, known as kanuni, the law giver, who ruled from 1520 to 1566, the tenth and one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman Empire.

The tughra is an intricate decorative device that served as the imperial monogram of the Ottoman sultans and was the ultimate symbol of their power. First adopted on documents - the earliest examples are from the fourteenth century - its use extended to coins, seals and other inscriptions.

This tughra exquisitely illuminated in blue and gold, was once at the head of a document, a firman (order) or a berat (written document) which no longer survives and which would have been issued by the Council of State on all manner of subjects concerned with the functioning of the Ottoman empire from relations with other states to petitions from individuals. In order to avoid forgery, the tughra was drawn and illuminated only when the document was ready to be dispatched.

Different fanciful theories have been advanced to explain the shape of the tughra. One romantic suggestion is that it represented the form of the fabulous bird the tughri, the totem of the Oghuz tribe from whom the Ottomans were descended. Another is that it represented the thumb and three fingers of Sultan Murad I (1356-1389) who, it is alleged being illiterate, dipped his thumb and three fingers into ink and made his mark on the page – a form which then inspired the tughra.

Each sultan generally chose the precise form of his tughra on the day of his accession from specimens prepared for him in advance. This one bears the name, Suleiman Shah, and that of his father, Selim, and the phrase 'the one who is always victorious' (common to all tughras).


Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

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Object details

Height: 45.5 cm
Width: 61.5 cm




    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    A.C. Hess, 'The Evolution of the Ottoman Seaborne Empire in the Age of the Oceanic Discoveries’, American Historical Review, 75 (1970),  1,892–1,919

    S. Labib, ‘The Era of Suyeyman the Magnificent: Crisis of Orientation’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 10 (1979), 435–451

    H. Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300–1600 (Burtonsville, 2001)

    A. Nadir, Imperial Ottoman Fermans (London, 1986)

    G. Necipoglu, ‘Suleyman the Magnificent and the Representation of Power in the Context of Ottoman-Hapsburg-Papal rivalry’, Art Bulletin, 71 (1989 ), 401–427

    R. Pinder-Wilson, ‘Tugras of Suleyman the Magnificent’, British Museum Quarterly, 23 (1960), 23–25

    J.M. Rogers, and R.M. Ward, Süleyman the Magnificent (London, 1988)