Forget Stranger Things, Breaking Bad and House of Cards, Dirilis Ertugrul is the only Netflix series Muslims need to be concerned with at the moment.
First aired in 2013, Dirilis Ertugrul tells the story of “Ertugrul Gazi” – the father of Sultan Osman I, who founded the Ottoman Empire. Set in the early thirteenth century, the series dramatises Ertugrul’s mission to find a permanent homeland for his tribe, the Kayi, while fighting the Knights Templers, the Mongols, treacherous Seljuk governors and generals, as well as routing out spies within his own tribe.
But the epic fight scenes, the nail biting plots, and the mushy loves stories aside, how historically accurate is Dirilis Ertugrul?
Well, it’s important to state from the outset that very little information is known about the life of Ertugrul except what was orally transmitted through generations of Ottoman elders. There is no doubt that the brave warrior and tribal leader existed, and that he was indeed the son of Sulayman Shah – but whether Ertugrul or the Ottomans themselves descended from the Kayi tribe is not conclusive. Furthermore, I highly doubt whether any of the action-packed skirmishes and adventures Ertugrul embarks in the series is remotely true.
However, Dirilis Ertugrul is impressively accurate when it comes to the historical chronology of the context in which the show is set in. When indulging in historical semi-fiction, I tend to read around the respective topic or era because it allows me to distinguish between fact and fiction.
So I did the same while watching Dirilis Ertugrul, and I was surprisingly pleased with some of my findings.
I found out the following facts in relation to Dirilis Ertugrul, which I hope will make the show more enjoyable for fans.
1. Sultan Ala ad-Din Kayqubad I was the ruler of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum – or the western wing of the Seljuk Empire – who reigned from 1220–1237. Dirilis Ertugrul viewers will be aware of this character from the very first episode of season 1 right through to season 4, which is currently being aired in Turkey. For English-speaking audiences, we are yet to put a face to the name of “Sultan Aladeen” – but rumours say that he does reveal himself in season 4!
2. “Sultan El-Aziz” who features in season 1, is in fact Al-Aziz Muhammad, the Ayyubid emir who ruled Aleppo from 1216-1236. He was also the grandson of Salahudeen al-Ayyubi.
3. The marriage between Sultan Ala ad-Din Kayqubad did take place with the Ayyubid princess, Ghaziya Khatun, in an attempt to strengthen ties between the warring dynasties. However, Dirilis Ertugrul incorrectly depicts this wedding as being between Sultan Ala ad-Din and Sultan Al-Aziz’s niece.
4. The character “Noyan” from season 2 is based on a man called “Baiju Noyan” – a Mongol commander who was appointed by Ögedei Khan (the third son of Genghis Khan) to expand the Mongol Empire westward towards the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. However, I doubt very much that he was killed by Ertugrul, or such intense and personal skirmishes took place with the Kayis.
5. The reason why Noyan and his troops retreated to the forest and resorted to sporadic raids on Turkic tribes was because during that period (mid thirteenth century) there was a major split emerging within the Mongol Empire, and a leadership race ensued after the death of Ögedei Khan, hence the shortage of Mongol reinforcements in the West to fight the Seljuks and Turkic tribes head on.
6. Emir Sadatin Kopek, the Machiavellian vizier who appears in the middle of season 2 and throughout season 3 and 4 is in fact “Sa’ad al-Din Kopek” – a high-ranking Seljuk court administrator who also served as “Master of the Hunt” and “Minister of Works” under Sultan Ala ad-Din Kayqubad, and later his son, Kaykhusraw II.
Let’s just say that based on the accounts documented about him from Seljuk and Ayyubid chroniclers, Sa’ad al-Din Kopek has been depicted very accurately in Dirilis Ertugrul.
It is also common knowledge that Kopek had Sultan Kaykhusraw’s two half-brothers strangled to death, along with their mother, Ghaziya Khatun – the daughter of Emir Al-Aziz (see the historical fact above under Season 1).
7. The caravanserai (roadside inn) where all the fights and secret meetings take place was built by Sa’ad al-Din Kopek in 1235-1236, and it is located 16 miles from Konya on the road to Aksaray. The caravanserai remains today and bears two inscriptions: one naming Kopek as the founder, and the other indicating the patronage of both Sultan Ala al-Din Kayqubad and his successor, Sultan Kaykhusraw.
8. Dundar Bey, the youngest brother of Ertugrul, who was a young boy in season 1 and 2, and a grown Bey in season 3 and 4 was killed by his nephew Sultan Osman (the son of Ertugrul and the founder of the Ottoman Empire). The incident occurred when Sultan Osman decided to attack a small Greek island, and his uncle Dundar disobeyed the order and rebelled because he thought it would destroy the tribe. Sultan Osman killed his uncle with his own hands to prevent mutiny within the ranks during the expedition.
9. The Kayis were part of a wider tribal Turkic federation who migrated from the steppes of Central Asia to escape the Mongol invasion. They eventually settled in modern-day Anatolia and were loyal to the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, until the Seljuk Empire began to disintegrate, and independent Turkic Beyliks (principalities) began to emerge. The Ottoman Sultanate was born out of the Anatolian Beyliks, which was born out of the decline of the Seljuk Empire of Rum.
10. The vast majority of these Turkic tribes and Anatolian Beyliks, including the Ottoman Empire, were Hanafi in jurisprudence, Maturidi in theological creed, and Sufi in practice. Different sultans and caliphs varied between which Sufi orders they subscribed to.