Ottoman Building Inscriptions I

Some context: Two 15th century Ottoman building inscriptions from Edirne [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 4, September 2015]

by Georg LEUBE

While analyzing building inscriptions like the great proclamation of power of Uzun Ḥasan in the qibla-īwān of the masjid-i jāmi‘ of Iṣfahān (see here), it is easy to lose sight of their context. During the same period in which Uzun Ḥasan inscribed his claim to authority in the long-established Islamicate sphere of the Friday-mosque of Iṣfahān, the building program in the Balkans ‒ connected with the Ottoman family ‒ served to Islamize a landscape only recently included in the dār al-islām. While adding some background to the inscriptions produced in the same timeframe further east, the Ottoman inscriptions discussed below are notable for founding a new sphere in their own right. Where Uzun Ḥasan had to be content merely restoring a collapsed ceiling, the founding of the Eski Cami at Edirne, destined for embellishment with fragments from the rukn al-yamanī of the ka‘’bah in Mecca, established a new, uniquely Islamic topography in South-Eastern Europe. In the following passages, I would like to discuss two building inscriptions dated 1414 CE and 1445 / 1446 CE, affixed to monumental mosques of Edirne in what is today Turkish Thrace, then capital of the Ottoman realm.

Edirne Eski CamiThe first inscription is located above the main entrance of the Eski Cami or Old Mosque in Edirne, built in 1414 CE.

Building Inscription Eski Cami EdirneThe Arabic text on a gilded marble plaque runs as follows:

1) Qāla l-nabī, ‘‘alayhi l-salām, man banā li-llāhi masjidan banā llāhu lahū baytan fī l-jannati. Amara bi-‘’imārati hādhā l-jāmi‘’i l-sharīfi l-sulṭānu l-mu’’ayyadu l-mujāhidu

2) l-murābiṭu manṣūru l-liwā’’ qāhiru l-a‘’dā’’ nāshiru l-‘’adli wa-l-iḥsāni ‘’alā ahli l-dunyā l-sulṭānu bnu l-sulṭāni bni l-sulṭāni ghiyāthu l-dunyā

3) wa-l-dīni Muḥammadu bnu Bāyazīd khān khallada llāhu sulṭānahū wa-awḍaḥa ‘’alā l-‘’ālamayni burhānahū fī muntaṣafi shawwāli sanati sitti ‘’ashari wa-thamānmi’’ah.

1) The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: Who builds a masjid for God, God builds him a house in paradise. The righteous sulṭān, striving in jihād, has ordered the building of this noble jāmi‘’

2) [He who is] guarding the frontiers of Islam, victorious with his flag, overwhelming the enemies, spreading justice and beneficience over the inhabitants of the earth, the sulṭān, son of the sulṭān, son of the sulṭān, helper of the earth

3) And the religion, Muḥammad, son of Bāyazīd, Khān, may god make his reign eternal and make his proof manifest on both worlds, in the middle of the [month of] shawwāl of the year eight hundred sixteen.

The structure of this inscription is not ordered strictly according to lines. Instead, the beginning ḥadīth ‒ or saying of Muḥammad ‒ commonly found on Ottoman mosques (see the following examples) only runs to about half of the first line, to be followed by the extensive titles of the Ottoman ruler patronizing the construction. These titles repeatedly jump the end of the lines in which the inscription is arranged. This impressive length of titles runs through line 2) to include about two thirds of line 3), followed by the written-out date of construction. Neither does the internal structure of the titles accord to the structure of the lines of the text: Of the three determined participles of al-mu’’ayyad, al-mujāhid, and al-murābiṭ, the first two stand in line 1), while the last stands a bit forlorn in the beginning of line 2).

This first tricolon is followed in line 2) by the again tripartite structure of participles determined by following genitives of manṣūru l-liwā’’, qāhiru l-a‘’dā’’, and nāshiru l-‘’adli wa-l-iḥsāni ‘’alā ahlī l-dunyā. This second triple of victorious with his flag, overwhelming the enemies, spreading justice and boon over the inhabitants of the earth is coupled together not only in its parallel grammatical construction, but also in the rhyme of liwā’’ / a‘’dā’’ / dunyā, forming a passage in the type of Arabic rhymed prose known as saj’‘.

Another instance of an arrangement of phrases grammatically conjoined but broken by the division into lines occurs at the shift from line 2) to line 3) where ghiyāthu l-dunyā runs to the close of line 2) while wa-l-dīn, the second genitive determining ghiyāth, fills the beginning of line 3). When comparing this layout to the inscription of Uzun Ḥasan in Iṣfahān adhering strictly to the structure of the lines in which it was written, this enjambment seems even more curious and may present a consciously intended feature. Finally, the eulogy at the end of khallada llāhu sulṭānahū wa-awḍaḥa ‘‘alā l-‘’ālamayni burhānahū is composed in a strict parallelism of may God make his reign eternal and make his proof manifest on both worlds. This parallelism is additionally strengthened by the rhyme of sulṭānahū / burhānahū forming again an instance of rhymed prose or saj’‘.

Several spheres of authority may be adduced in the inscription. After the ḥadīth stressing the responsibility of the ruler to provide places for worship, the patron of the building is legitimized as Islamic sulṭān by means of his personal virtue as righteous, mu’’ayyad, striving in jihād, mujāhid, and guarding the frontiers of Islam, murābiṭ. While mu’’ayyad, literally aided by God, is a rather generic title appropriate to any form of just rule in Islam, the designations as mujāhid and murābiṭ are closely connected to a piously militant frontier spirit founded in the Salvation History of the first century of Islamic history. This milieu is portrayed by Josef van Ess in his Fehltritt des Gelehrten.

Following this proclamation of the personal virtue of the sulṭān, his reign is described as victorious with his flag, overwhelming the enemies, spreading justice and boon over the inhabitants of the earth. The words manṣūr, victorious, and qāhir, translated here as overwhelming, have an auspicious or even apocalyptic connotation. For more detail see the chapter on the designation of the famed rebel Ibn al-Ash‘ath as al-manṣūr in my forthcoming dissertation on the depiction of the Arab tribe of Kinda in the first century of Islamic history and the article by Paul Kunitzsch “Zur Namengebung Kairos” respectively. On the other hand, the third part describing the reign of the Ottoman sulṭān over his domain mirrors an ideal of beneficent rule also represented, for example, in the early Ottoman historian ‘‘Āshiqpāshāzāde’s famous account of the dream of Osman (p. 25 in Greutel’s translation).

The titles given to the Ottoman ruler are the Islamic title of sulṭān and the title of khān usually related to the Mongols. The latter follows the name of the ruler and ‒ in line with its etymology ‒ refers to a “Central Asian” sphere of authority (see Nişanyan Sözlük) similar to the sphere implied by the title of Bahādur, hero, following the name of Uzun Ḥasan in his inscription in Iṣfahān. While khān designates the supreme ruler in this “Central Asian” hierarchy of authority, a similar notion of supreme rule in an “Islamic” hierarchy is implied by the Arabic-Islamic sulṭān preceding the name of the ruler. It would certainly be interesting to further explore the overlap and permeability of these and other systems of authority: This must, however, await another time.

Particularly interesting is the chain of sulṭān, son of the sulṭān, son of the sulṭān in line 2) stressing a form of legitimacy transferred by virtue of belonging to patrilinear chain of ‒ presumably ‒ just rulers. This prestigious chain of rulers, establishing what is commonly understood as the dynasty of the Ottomans, glosses over the rather frequent struggles of succession from a post-festum-perspective, suppressing bids for power from rival members of the Ottoman family-lineage, here understood as a genealogically formulated network referring to an eponymous founder. Ghiyāthu l-dunyā wa-l-dīn, helper of the earth and the religion on line 2) and 3) is a fairly generic laqab or regnal title. The name of Muḥammad or Mehmed refers back to the Prophet Muḥammad central to Islam, while the name of his father, Bāyazīd or Beyazit eventually alludes to the Persianate tradition of the mystic Bāyazīd-i Bisṭāmī. As stated before, the naming patterns in “family”networks of the 15th century could indeed make for some interesting finds!

The eulogy of khallada llāhu sulṭānahū, may God make his reign eternal, is also found in the inscription of Uzun Ḥasan at Iṣfahān, unlike the following wa-awḍaḥa ‘‘alā l-‘’ālamayni burhānahū, and make His proof manifest on both worlds. This formula is especially curious by reason of the dual of ‘‘ālamayni alluding to the attribute of God in the first Ṣūra of the Qur’ān, as rabbu l-‘‘ālamayni, Lord of both worlds. Some further consideration of this term will be presented in another post, here it remains to be noted that God’s proof, possibly to be understood as an ideal system of rule and society, is urged to become manifest on both worlds, usually understood to comprise the earth and the hereafter.

In conclusion, the spheres of authority adduced in this inscription span the emulation of Prophetic admonition, personal virtue of the ruler, the positive qualities of his reign, the prestige of the lineage of Ottoman rulers preceding the present patron, and the inclusion of the Ottoman ruler in a Salvational plan to make the proof of God manifest on both worlds.

Located across the street from the Eski Cami in the center of Edirne, the Üç Şerefeli Camii was built between 1437 and 1447 CE by Murād, the son of Muḥammad / Mehmed, the builder of the Eski Cami whose inscription is discussed above.

Building Inscription Üc Serefeli Camii EdirneThe panel recording its foundation is situated above the main portal and is composed of a rather difficult Arabic inscription in black starting with bi-smi llāhi l-raḥmāni l-raḥīm, in the name of God the Merciful and Compassionate, the golden letters of the actual founding inscription and a background of intricate palmette scrolls. The founding inscription runs as follows:

Amara bi-‘’imārati hādhā l-jāmi’‘i l-sharīfi l-sulṭānu bnu l-sulṭāni zaynu l-dunyā wa-l-dīni Abū l-Fatḥi Murādu bnu Muḥammadin khān khallada llāhu mulkahū fī sanati tis’‘i wa-arba‘’īna wa-thamānmi’’ah.

The building of this noble jāmi’‘ was ordered by the sulṭān, son of the sulṭān, ornament of the earth and the religion, Abū l-Fatḥ Murād, son of Muḥammad, Khān, may god make his reign eternal, in the year eight hundred forty-nine.

The structure of this inscription is fairly straightforward. A certain complication to its legibility is presented by the laqab given by me as zaynu l-dunyā wa-l-dīn, ornament of the earth and the religion. While Murād’s laqab is given by al-Sakhāwī in his Dictionary of People of the (Islamic) 9th Century as ghiyāth al-dīn, helper of the religion (al-Sakhāwī, X, 140; compare the inscription on the Eski Cami above, where Muḥammad, the father of Murād bears the laqab ghiyāth al-dunyā wa-l-dīn), this is most certainly not what is written in the founding inscription of the Üç Şerefeli Camii. It is, therefore, rather faute de mieux that I read the doubtful letters preceding al-dunyā wa-l-dīn as zaynu, for which there is, at least, some sort of precedence in the existence of a contemporary figure known as zaynu l-dīn registered in the chapter on alqāb in al-Sakhāwī’s work (al-Sakhāwī, XI, 153).

The spheres of authority drawn upon are the prestige of the lineage of Ottoman rulers preceding the present patron and ‒ tentatively if one can indeed read zaynu l-dunyā wa-l-dīn ‒ a reference to the ruler’s positive influence on his realm. A new element is the Arabic kunyah, teknonym, of Abū l-Fatḥ, father of conquest, paralleling the Abū l-Naṣr, father of victory, in the inscription of Uzun Ḥasan at Iṣfahān. This element would seem to draw on the sphere of military might and success implied by the victorious flag overwhelming the enemies in the inscription of the Eski Cami discussed above. The titles given to the ruler also encompass the coupling of Islamic sulṭān and Central Asian khān discussed above.

In conclusion, when the Ottoman rulers Muḥammad and his son Murād established landmarks of an Islamic Topography in their capital inside the European territories which had recently been conquered by Ottoman arms, they clad their authority in a Language of Forms of mainly Islamic connotations with some Central Asian elements. This is represented in the language of the inscriptions as well, which are both composed in Arabic, a language with connotations of Islamic normativity in the context of Ottoman society. While this Language of Forms parallels the iconography of Uzun Ḥasan’s inscription in Iṣfahān discussed in an earlier post on this blog, there are notable differences in the use of its elements as well as in the architectural-material idiom of forms used. While Uzun Ḥasan constructed his contribution to the Great Mosque of Iṣfahān in the locally established vernacular of brick and glazed brick īwān-architecture, the Ottomans affixed their founding inscriptions as slabs of marble above the entrance of an architecture dominated by the use of stone.

Georg Leube (Marburg, September 23rd 2015)


‘‘Āshiqpāshāzāde, translated by R. F. Greutel as Vom Hirtenzelt zur Hohen Pforte, Graz 1959.

van Ess, J. Der Fehltritt des Gelehrten, Heidelberg 2001.

Kunitzsch, P. „Zur Namengebung Kairos (al-Qāhir = Mars?),“ Der Islam, 52, 2, pp. 209–225, 1975. Reprint in P. Kunitzsch The Arabs and the Stars, XXV, Northampton 1989.

Nişanyan, S. Sözlük,

al-Sakhāwī al-Ḍaw’’u l-lāmi’‘u li-ahli l-qarni l-tāsi’‘, ed. ‘’Abdallaṭīf Ḥasan ‘‘Abdarraḥmān, Beirut 2003 (12 Vols.).

To quote this publication:

Leube, Georg, “Ottoman Building Inscriptions I. Some context: Two 15th century Ottoman building inscriptions from Edirne”, DYNTRAN Working Papers, n° 4, online edition, September 2015, available at:

Cite this blog post
Georg Leube (2015, September 24). Ottoman Building Inscriptions I. DYNTRAN: Dynamics of Transmission. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from

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