One of the most benevolent rulers in history was Suleiman I (also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, Suleiman the First, and Suleiman the Lawgiver...he was given a lot of names). Suleiman was the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and he presided over it for nearly 50 years.
During Suleiman's reign the Ottoman Empire peaked, in many ways. Judicially, he personally set in motion a series of laws pertaining to society, education, and taxation, which unified his people by bringing together the sultanic and religious forms of Ottoman law. Artistically, not only was he an accomplished poet and goldsmith, he also supported culture in all of its various forms such that the arts, literacy, and architecture flourished during his reign. Militarily, he personally led the Ottoman armies in conquest of several areas of southern Europe, including many Balkan provinces, and he annexed large areas of the Middle East and North Africa. In terms of naval power, the Ottoman fleets dominated the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.
Suleiman I, the Magnificent, the First, the Lawgiver, etc.
Suleiman's own assessment of his influence can be summed up in this inscription, which he imparted on the citadel of Bendor in Moldova:
"I am God's slave and sultan of this world. By the grace of God I am head of Muhammad's community. God's might and Muhammad's miracles are my companions. I am Süleymân, in whose name the hutbe is read in Mecca and Medina. In Baghdad I am the shah, in Byzantine realms the caesar, and in Egypt the sultan; who sends his fleets to the seas of Europe, the Maghrib and India. I am the sultan who took the crown and throne of Hungary and granted them to a humble slave. The voivoda Petru raised his head in revolt, but my horse's hoofs ground him into the dust, and I conquered the land of Moldovia."
Clearly, Suleiman was not ashamed of broadcasting his achievements...and yet, he did so whilst acknowledging a greater power that had allowed him to actualize them. However, beyond himseklf and this greater power, Suleiman also received substantial assistance from a number of important allies and administrators in achieving his victories, people such as the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, the Grand Mufti Ebussuud Efendi, and Chancellor Celalzade Mustafa.
Thus, the Ottoman Empire's peak was not the product of Suleiman alone (plus or minus a greater power), it was also the product of the people under him. The question is, which was more important? For example, was Suleiman himself necessary for the achievements (nobody but Suleiman could have resulted in the achievements), or were they more a product of the talented figures below him (any number of rulers would have sufficed, so long as these others were present)?
Great Man Theory
In 1840, the Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle proposed in his book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, that the history of what man had done in the world was created "from above," meaning it was largely the result of a handful of great men (2). Basically, he considered the history of the world to be little more than the biography of such men. He epitomized his view with this quotation:
"Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realisation and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world's history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these."
Thomas' proposal later became known as the Great Man Theory, which rested on two assumptions. First, any great leader was born with a distinctive set of traits that allowed him to rise and lead on instinct. Second, the need for this man's traits was pressing, such the traits were fostered and allowed to develop. Beyond their personal traits, Carlyle also noted that great men shaped history through a strong sense of divine inspiration.
Thomas Carlyle, original supporter of the Great Man Theory.