Cigalazade Yusuf Sinan Paşa, Clement VIII, and the Question of Conversion in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM
Blue Room Prefunction (Omni Shoreham)
Eric R. Dursteler, Brigham Young University
Cigalazade Yusuf Sinan Paşa was one of the pivotal figures in the Ottoman Empire during the challenging last decades of the sixteenth and the first years of the seventeenth centuries. Born Scipione Cigala in the mid-sixteenth century in Sicily to a branch of a noted Genoese noble family, he was captured by corsairs as a boy and taken to Istanbul, where he quickly converted to Islam. He then began a quite spectacular rise through the Ottoman hierarchy: He married a granddaughter of Suleiman the Magnificent, and progressed through an Ottoman cursus honorum of increasingly important offices. He become one of the sultan’s most effective military men, and played a key role in an era of endemic Ottoman warfare with the Safavids and the Habsburgs. For a brief time he even held the office of grand vizier, the summit of the Ottoman hierarchy. 

At the height of his fame, an elaborate plot was hatched by Pope Clement VIII to try and reconvert Cigala to the Christian cause, and then use him as a means to bring down the Ottoman Empire. On the surface this plot seems absurd, and indeed it never advanced much beyond the level of conspiracy and fleeting conversations. The plot lays bare, however, some of the complexities of conversion and religious identity in the early modern Mediterranean. Despite his achievements and his standing, as a convert Cigala was dogged throughout his career with doubts about the extent of his conversion, both in Istanbul among his peers, and more broadly throughout the region. This paper will examine both the plot to convert Cigala, but also the larger issue of conversion and religious identity in the early modern Mediterranean.

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