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From Jason Goodwin's popular history of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons:

At the siege of Baghdad in 1683, when the Persians demanded the contest be decided by single combat, they put up a Herculean warrior from their ranks, and Sultan Mehmet IV took him on himself, splitting the Persian champion's mailed head in two with a single blow.

Big if true! But there's no source given, and, googling around, I can't even establish that there was a siege of Baghdad in 1683. I've found another couple of instances of the anecdote, but nothing with references.

Is there a reliable primary source for this story? If not, is it even plausible?

  • May be of some relevance : en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Baghdad_(1638) I suspect a very bad mangling. – Display name Jul 26 '18 at 21:20
  • I hopped over to Goodreads, and the very first review there calls out numerous factual errors, including the date of the siege in question (reviewer says it was the 1623-24 capture he was talking about). More damning, he mentions a similar battle incident story to the one you're asking about being physically impossible to have occurred. If the dude did it once... – T.E.D. Jul 26 '18 at 21:37
  • ...another reviewer called him out for quoting a non-existent Koranic verse. If true, that's appalling. – T.E.D. Jul 26 '18 at 21:43
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    As an aside, a claim of people agreeing to single combat involving an emperor should be raising all sorts of alarm bells. – Display name Jul 26 '18 at 21:44
  • @T.E.D why would a non-existing verse be worse than non-existing history (unless it's a deliberate attempt to blacken)? – Display name Jul 26 '18 at 21:49
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As I have been unable to find any mention of a siege of Baghdad in that year, plus the fact that the Ottomans and Persians do not seem to have been at war at that time ( see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman–Persian_wars ) I am fairly certain that this is a corruption of the 1638 capture by Murad IV (note the year and similarity of name); where the single combat came from I do not know.( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Baghdad_(1638)

Note that 1683 saw the Ottomans active military at the other end of their empire ( which ended badly https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vienna). A war with Persia stretching their capabilities and drawing the Sultan there would be mentioned.

  • The double coincidence (of 1638 and Vienna) does look suspicious, doesn't it? Though it seems quite unlikely that either of the other (more recent) books above would have used Goodwin as a source, so if it's a corruption it's probably a much older one. – Biro Cash Jul 27 '18 at 7:37
  • I can't find anything on Mehmet's whereabouts in 1683. It doesn't seem he was ever present at the (anyway quite brief) siege of Vienna, but you're surely right that it would have been notable for him to have been campaigning at the other extreme of the empire. – Biro Cash Jul 27 '18 at 7:40
  • @BiroCash he wasn't at Vienna. One of the problems with this all is that the Sultans tended to send other people to lead their armies, certainly by late 1600's: see this list (its wiki, so not guaranteed accurate, but still)en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Display name Jul 27 '18 at 8:25

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