Oct 192010
Sultan Suleiman by Deliogul

All friendships are dynamic. They change with time and experience. Some friendships start badly but end up well. Others begin well but end badly. There are also friendships that just stagnate for years. But the truest and strongest of friendships survives the test of time. There are many factors, both internal and external that can affect and change the strongest of friendships. Nowhere is this clearer than the friendship between Suleiman the Magnificent and his Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha. Read on to learn how a great friendship ended in tragedy.

The Sultan and his Vizier

The Beginning

In the 16th century, there were two friends. On the one hand was Suleiman. Calm and aloof by nature, he was also the heir to the throne of the mighty Ottoman Empire. On the other hand was Ibrahim. Coming from a much humbler background, he was intelligent, lively and good-looking. While serving as a page to Suleiman at Manisa, Ibrahim caught the eye of his master who was around the same age as him. Impressed by Ibrahim, the future Sultan befriended him even though the former was a slave. Both men soon became firm friends who knew and trusted each other deeply.

The Rise of Ibrahim

When Suleiman became Sultan, he did not forget his friend. At first, he placed Ibrahim in charge of his personal affairs. But soon, he made his friend the Grand Vizier to ease his workload. As the Sultan’s chief minister, Ibrahim could decide matters on behalf of his master. Even then, the empire proved too large to manage. As a sign of trust, Suleiman made Ibrahim the Governor of the Turkish domains in Europe. In effect, he gave half of his empire to his friend to rule as he saw fit.

Ibrahim did not disappoint. He was a skilled organizer, diplomat and military leader. In war, he led and won many battles on behalf of the Sultan. In diplomacy, he managed to obtain favourable deals for his master. This unique friendship went on for another 13 years. Thanks to the two friends, the empire reached the height of its power and struck fear into the hearts of its enemies.

The Fall of Ibrahim

But as the years passed, Ibrahim allowed his wealth and power to blind him. Humble at the start of his career, his pride knew no bounds towards the end. He was fond of making ungrateful boasts that weakened the prestige of his master in the eyes of foreign envoys. He even dared to assume the title of Sultan for himself, which was a grave insult to Suleiman.

His prideful ways and great power earned him many jealous rivals who plotted against him. The most fearsome of them was Hurrem, the scheming and ambitious wife of the Sultan. Wanting complete control over her husband, she sought to remove Ibrahim for good. In the end, these plots led the Sultan to believe that Ibrahim was planning with the Persians to take his throne. Steeling his resolve, the Sultan ordered his best friend’s death. On March 15, 1536, after thirteen years at the height of power, Ibrahim was no more.

Former Palace of Ibrahim Pasha by Chapultepec

The Causes of the Tragedy


During his younger days, Ibrahim did his best to maintain the bond he shared with Suleiman. This included watching his conduct with care. But as he grew in wealth and power, he became complacent. His many boastful and ungrateful comments gave his rivals many chances to turn the Sultan against him. Even so, Ibrahim naively believed that the Sultan’s affection for him would remain the same. This complacency led him to lose his life.

There is no room for complacency in any relationship, let alone a deep friendship. It is not prudent to take your friends for granted, especially if they mean a lot to you. This means that you have to watch the way you behave with them. Remember, your friends deserve your effort and respect. They are not obliged to do you any favours. Therefore, you should always be grateful for what they choose to do and give. Taking a friendship for granted is a sure way to destroy the bond between friends.

Breakdown in Communication

At the start of their friendship, Suleiman and Ibrahim spoke in an open and honest manner. But by the time the Sultan ordered his friend’s death, the two men were hardly on speaking terms. This breakdown in communication did not happen at once. It took years of scheming by jealous rivals and the foolish actions of Ibrahim to alienate the Sultan from him. In the end, the Sultan no longer felt the need to clear the air with his former friend before the execution. Nothing Ibrahim could say would save him from death either.

Communication is vital to any friendship. If you cannot be open and honest with each other, there are bound to be problems. The reason for this is simple. A breakdown in communication leads to misunderstanding. It causes friends to misjudge and accuse each other wrongly. Since neither party is willing to listen and talk things out, nothing gets resolved.

Lack of Consideration

Ibrahim failed to consider the impact of his actions on his friend. Due to his arrogant conduct, his rivals often complained to the Sultan about him. These complains put Suleiman in a difficult spot. He could not defend his friend forever without looking bad in front of his subjects. A ruler, who lost the respect of his followers, lost his hold on power. The Sultan could not clean up his friend’s messes all the time.

Failing to consider the feelings and position of your friend can cause problems in a friendship. It is hard for anyone to write off the thoughtless actions of their friends on a constant basis. After awhile, they will start to wonder if their friends really have their interests at heart. They will wonder if it is worth having a friend who has become a liability.

Lack of Trust

Suleiman was not without blame either. Despite knowing Ibrahim for years, he allowed the rumours and intrigues to affect him. His doubts clouded his judgment. For what could Ibrahim possibly hope to gain by plotting against others to take his throne? Suleiman had given him so much wealth and power that Ibrahim was almost his equal. Due to his doubts, the Sultan hastily killed his friend instead of reviewing the matter more closely.

Trust is a crucial element in a friendship. It is the foundation of all solid friendships. Without trust, friendships cannot grow deep, or survive for long in a meaningful manner. Not only do doubts cloud a friendship without trust, they can also cause misunderstandings that lead to hasty words and actions.

Taking Action

It is easy to be the best of friends when all is well. But the strongest friendship is one that survives many trials and tribulations. Such a friendship is truly worth its weight in gold. Thankfully, it is not an impossible dream to have such a friendship. The first step towards forging a strong friendship is to be aware of the possible problems that could arise. As long as you learn from the lesson of Suleiman and Ibrahim, you will have a more solid and lasting friendship with those you hold dear.

Are there any other problems that can cause a friendship to sour? What other dangers, both internal and external, can you think of that threatens a friendship? Do share your thoughts and comments below.


Andre Clot. Suleiman the Magnificent. Translated by Matthew J. Reisz. London: Saqi Books, 2005.

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  9 Responses to “How a Great Friendship Ended in Tragedy”

  1. Hi The Vizier,

    Open communication is key in any healthy friendship. Very few problems can’t be solved with some honest dialogue. Without this, we can never really sort out issues that threaten the very survival of the friendship. Sometimes, it can be helpful to involve a third party (like another friend) to act as a go-between and kickstart the conversation.

    I think jealousy can also poison a good friendship, Of course, the ideal is when we celebrate our friends’ successes, but we can also be envious of them too. Negative feelings will subtly come out in our behaviour towards our friend… over time, these can really affect the relationship.

    • Hi Scott,

      I love your suggestion about involving a third party to act as a mediator in a conflict or misunderstanding. But I just want to add that this third party has to be respected and trusted by both sides. When such a person is found, he or she is likely to resolve rather than worsen matters. This is a great point you have raised!

      You are right about jealousy and envy. These emotions can indeed destroy a friendship over time especially if one friend is more successful than the other. There might also be certain expectations whereby the more successful friend is expected to help the less successful one. Failure to do so might cause a rift in the friendship as well. The problem at hand here is mindset and expectations. If the mindset and expectations are not right, jealousy and envy is the result. Having said that, it takes a truly big-hearted person to be so magnanimous.

      For the rest of us mortals, communication that is honest and open is the key here. Also helping the less successful friend out where possible might be a helpful way to maintain the friendship. If this means changing the way that person thinks or offering them pointers for success, then so be it. This problem should be nipped in the bud early.

      Thank you for the thoughtful insights you have raised!

  2. Hi Irving,

    You have a great site here and what an insightful post about friendship and lesson in history itself. I think Sultan was at fault for listening to rumors and his wife (without checking things out for himself) and Ibrahim for letting power corrupt him. As you already mentioned, lack of open communication was probably caused downfall of friendship, which we can see happen in real life with same result.

    Thanks for sharing this story and its moral. I like the name Vizier too.

    • Hi Zengirl,

      Thank you for your compliments. I am glad you like my site.

      You are perfectly right in your assessment of the Sultan and Ibrahim. In any relationship, both parties have to share the blame when things go wrong. This is why it is so important to have open communication. Thankfully, most friendships do not take place in a charged atmosphere like the imperial court. So there are less external factors to deal with when it comes to healing a rift or resolving a problem.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Hi Irving,

    Another way a friendship could easily sour is if there is a general lack of presence from the other; simply put, one person does not put in as much effort into a friendship as the other. It is unfortunate that this scenario has happened to me too often, all with good people that I genuinely cared about. This would probably go under stagnation, but it is still important to note how sad it is to sometimes see apathy take over our good friends that we truly cared about.

    • Hi Michelle,

      I agree with you that a lack of effort and presence is likely to cause a friendship to suffer. A friendship is a lifelong commitment that requires nurturing and care by both parties. If we cherish the dear friends we have in our lives, we should never stagnate in our efforts or take them for granted.

      People come and go in our lives. But as long as you never stop trying and caring, I believe you will have true friends whom you can rely on in the future.

      Thank you for your efforts! :D

  4. Everything you say about the power of friendship is very true. It is of essential importance to keep open communication, consideration and trust in any relationship and never allow complacency to come in.

    Similar versions of this story happened again and again through history. Since history is written by the winners it is even possible that Ibrahim was innocent of all charges except for letting communication break down.

    When power is absolute those with the leader’s ear will easily drip poison into it and lies can become believable over time. This can really showcase the importance of openness and communication to battle this.

    • Hi Steve,

      Yes you raise good points. History is indeed written by the victors. The extent to which those in absolute power can pull wool over the eyes of people with their own version of facts is shocking.

      Even though we don’t have to deal with the extent of the intrigues which plague an imperial court in our daily lives, most relationships nowadays are not as deep as they can be. It’s funny how the more interconnected we are, the harder it is to practice open communication, consideration, trust and vigilance against complacency.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Communicating with one another, can keep their relationship alive. So, one of the most important signs of a good relationship is a strong friendship bond and open communication.
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