Nasuh Al-Matrak, a noteworthy Ottoman Artist-Mathematician of the Sixteenth Century



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Nasuh Al-Matrakî, A Noteworthy Ottoman Artist-Mathematician  

of the Sixteenth Century 

By: Salim Ayduz 

Matrakci Nasuh was a famous Ottoman polymath, writer and knight who produced important 

books in several fields. He made contributions in the fields of mathematics, geography, 

history and calligraphy. He also invented a military lawn game called "Matrak", a kind of 

animation of battle.  

 called "Matrak", a kind of 

animation of battle.  

Nasûh b. Karagöz al-Bosnawî or Nasûh b. Abdullah al-Silahî al-Matrakî or for short 

Matrakçi Nasuh Bey came from a Bosnian family. Either his father or grandfather was 

drafted into the state service. He was renowned in the 16th century as a mathematician, 

historian, geographer, cartographer, topographer, musketeer, and was an outstanding knight, 

calligrapher and engineer. Because he was a musketeer, he was also called al-Silâhî (the 

musketeer or gunman). He was a polymath thinker, writer, an artist (he pioneered a particular 

artistic style for depicting cities) and a theoretician. He wrote books in these fields, all in 

Turkish. A brief discussion of these books follows. He received the nickname "Matrakçi" 

after he created the game called Matrak. Matrak means 'amazing' in Turkish and 'çi' is a 

suffix. Therefore his nickname means "who plays (invents) the amazing game [1]." 

Nasûh b. Karagöz al-Bosnawî or Nasûh b. Abdullah al-Silahî al-Matrakî or for short 

Matrakçi Nasuh Bey came from a Bosnian family. Either his father or grandfather was 

drafted into the state service. He was renowned in the 16th century as a mathematician, 

historian, geographer, cartographer, topographer, musketeer, and was an outstanding knight, 

calligrapher and engineer. Because he was a musketeer, he was also called al-Silâhî (the 

musketeer or gunman). He was a polymath thinker, writer, an artist (he pioneered a particular 

artistic style for depicting cities) and a theoretician. He wrote books in these fields, all in 

Turkish. A brief discussion of these books follows. He received the nickname "Matrakçi" 

after he created the game called Matrak. Matrak means 'amazing' in Turkish and 'çi' is a 

suffix. Therefore his nickname means "who plays (invents) the amazing game [1]." 

Matrakçi Nasuh was educated and trained in the Palace school during the reign of Bayezid II 

(1481-1512) and studied with Sâî Çelebi, one of Sultan Bayezid II's teachers. During the reign 

of Sultan Selim I (1512-1520), he started to distinguish himself as a knight. He went to Egypt 

in 1520, for advanced studies and attended military games, at which he became unrivalled. He 

was given a decree on war games indicating his outstanding talent. 

Matrakçi Nasuh was educated and trained in the Palace school during the reign of Bayezid II 

(1481-1512) and studied with Sâî Çelebi, one of Sultan Bayezid II's teachers. During the reign 

of Sultan Selim I (1512-1520), he started to distinguish himself as a knight. He went to Egypt 

in 1520, for advanced studies and attended military games, at which he became unrivalled. He 

was given a decree on war games indicating his outstanding talent. 

Figure 1: The paper fortresses of Matrakçi depicted in his book Tuhfat al‐Ghuzat  

(Süleymaniye Library, Esad Efendi, MS 2206).

 

1




Inventor of the game called "Matrak" 

Matrakçi Nasuh was known as al-Matrakî because he invented a war game called matrak which 

was a contest with either a stick, called a labut, or a cudgel or rapier. The purpose of this widely 

used game was training for war. He also wrote a drill-book for it and taught it to the soldiers. A 

decree of 1529 of Sultan Süleyman Kanuni praises al-Matrakî as the master knight –"ustad" or 

"raîs"– of his time, incomparable in the whole Ottoman Empire in the art of war and methods of 

using the lance. He copied this decree into his book Umdat al-Hussab. According to the decree, 

he used to play war games while he was in Egypt during governorship of Hayr Bey. 

Matrakçi Nasuh worked on the engineering aspects of weapon production, demonstrating his 

talent as a technical builder of machines when he constructed two moving fortresses made of 

paper for a celebration to mark the circumcision of Mustafa, Mehmed and Selim, the sons of 

Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent in Sultanahmed Atmeydani on 21st June 1529 (see figure 

1). According to his description, each fortress had five towers and four gates. The walls were 

decorated, guns and muskets were mounted on the walls and each fortress contained sixty 

armed men. The fortresses advanced towards each other from different sides of the arena 

when the first gate was opened, soldiers with swords came out, followed by soldiers with 

maces from the second, armoured soldiers with lances and white caps from the third and 

finally archers from the fourth gate. 



Figure 2: Matrakçi's plan of Baghdad 

showing the city plan with its great walls, 

buildings and streets (Topkapi collection). 

Reproduced on the website of Bilkent 

University. (Source)

 

 



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Following this success, in 1529 Matrakçi Nasuh completed his five-chaptered book Tuhfat al-

Ghuzât on the art of using and making weapons. In this illustrated work, he writes about arrows, 

bows, swords and maces, and gives information on military tactics and chivalry. He also mentions 

war games, military education, practices, and horsemanship with particular reference to the 

cavalryman. In one of the illustrations for the book, he drew his two moving fortresses. 



Miniaturist, Calligrapher and Painter 

Matrakçi Nasuh Bey was also a skilled illuminator and painter working with a group of other 

artists. He took part in several expeditions and sketched at least the outlines of his 

documentary paintings of townscapes from life. He drew relief type land maps for his Bayân-i 



Manâzil-i Safar-i Iraqayn-i Sultan Süleyman Khan. This book contains detailed information 

about Sultan Süleyman's first expedition against Safavid Iran between 1533 and 1536. 

Matrakçi's illustration drew every place where the royal army encamped during the 

expedition. He also described every city visited on the route from Istanbul to Baghdad via 

Tabriz including those cities captured from the Safavids. The army took a different route on 

the outward and return journeys. They went to Baghdad from Istanbul through Sivas-

Erzurum, and returned by way of Diyarbakir-Aleppo [2]. The distance between each 

encampment was given in miles instead of hours of travel. 



Figure 3: Plan of Tabriz, Iran (from 

Matrakçi's Beyân‐i Menâzil‐i Sefer‐i 

‘Irakeyn). (Source).

 

 



3


Matrakçi invented a new type of ta'lik style calligraphic script (see figure 5) called "kalem-i 

dîvânî" for the "Dîvânî" (or cep) in the central bureaucracy at the Dîvân, where he was head of the 

kalem-i divan clerks. Until that time, the Ottomans had used Iranian ta'lik style calligraphy. 

Matrakçi as Historian 

In 1520, Matrakçi began his career as a historian by making the first translation from Arabic into 

Turkish of al-Tabarî's famous history Târih al-Rasûl wa al-Mulûk. The title of this translation was 

Madjma' al-tawârikh, and the manuscript comprises three huge volumes. He also wrote a Turkish 

supplement to his translation as the fourth volume of the work. This includes the history of the 

Ottomans from their beginning to the year of 1551. But we have manuscripts from this period 

dealing only with the time of Bâyezid II, Selim I and Süleyman I, such as Ta'rikh-i Sultan Bâyezid 



wa-Sultan Selim, the illuminated Ta'rikh-i Sultan Selim, the illuminated Ta'rikh Sultan Bayezid

the illuminated Bayân-i Manâzil-i Safar-i Iraqayn-i Sultan Süleyman Khan. (also known as 



Majmua'-i Manâzil) (1537), Süleyman-nâme (between years 1520-1537), Fath-nâme-i 

Karabughdan (1538), the illuminated  Ta'rikh-i Feth-i Shiklos wa Estergon wa Istolnibelgrad 

(contain years between 1542-1543), and the second part of the Suleymân-nâme (contains years 

between 1543-51). Finally, in 1550, with the encouragement of Rüstem Pasha, the famous Grand 

Vizier of Süleyman, he produced a second version of al-Tabarî's history, the Djâmi' al-tawârikh



Figure 4: City of Diyarbakir illumination 

(from Matrakçi's Beyân‐i Menâzil‐i Sefer‐

i ‘Irakeyn).

 

 



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by abridging the original. The part of the one large volume of Djâmi' al-tawârikh, containing 

the events of the reign of Süleyman up to 1561, is attributed to Rüstem Pasha himself. 



Achievements in Mathematics 

In the field of mathematics, Matrakçi wrote two books in Turkish with the purpose of 

facilitating the work of clerks of the imperial council (Divan kâtipleri) and the state 

accountants (muhasebeciler). These two books are important in understanding the 

development of Ottoman Turkish language to a level where it was suitable for use as a 

mathematical language. They are also important in following the history of the Ottoman 

solution of accountant's mathematical problems. It is the second most important book after 

Atmacaoglu's work in this field. 

Matrakçi wrote his first book, Jamâl al-Kuttâb wa Kamâl al-Hussâb in 1517 and dedicated it 

to Sultan Selim I (1512-1520). His second book entitled Umdat al-Hussab fi'l-furûz al-



mukaddar bi'l-kulliyat written in 1533, was an expanded version of the first.  

Jamâl al-Kuttâb included two chapters. The first 

one on Indian numerals, mathematical 

operations, fractions, scales, and measurements. 

Although he says that the second chapter is 

devoted to "miscellaneous matters", we do not 

find it in any extant manuscript. 

On the other handUmdat al-Hussab is an 

expanded version of the previous book in two 

chapters. The title of the first chapter is 

"miscellaneous subjects", it has twenty-two sub 

chapters (fasl). The second chapter is entitled 

"solution of the 50 problems". Some figures and 

diagrams were added in this version. In addition 

to the subjects mentioned, this book also contains 

weights, measurements (zira, endaze, kilejât, 

qantar, misqal, dirham), ratio, division with 

proportion and geometric methods, all essential 

for accountants. After every subject, Matrakçi 

gives examples offering new measurement 

divisions which were unknown before. In the first 

part, the six fundamental operations of classical 

arithmetic are extensively investigated for 

positive integers and rational numbers. In 

 

5

Figure 5Süleyman the Magnificent Tughra and 



one of his decrees written in Jeli Divani style. 

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul. 

Photo taken from Muhittin Serin's book Hat 

Sanati ve Meshur Hattalar by his permission

.

 



addition, the "double-false" rule used to find an exact solution for a linear equation is 

analysed. In the second part, several issues are explored. According to Matrakçi, these issues 

were rarely mentioned in previous manuscripts; but accountants should definitely learn them. 

The book deals with various subjects, such as inheritance and tax, essential to accountants; 

they are studied through examples of calculations. When Matrakçi wrote the second book, the 

first one had been almost forgotten. While we have about fifteen copies of the second book, 

only four copies remain of the first one. This indicates how common and well used by 

accountants the second book was. 



Descriptive Geography 

document for the study of Istanbul in the 1530's, the illustration is an example of the 

topographic genre of painting initiated by Nasuh that continued for centuries. 

Matrakçi Nasuh was an important figure in the field of descriptive geography. His first 

noteworthy book Bayân-i Manâzil-i Safar Iraqayn (Explanation of encamping places of two 

expeditions of Iraq) was in Turkish. His miniatures showing the roads connecting Istanbul, 

Tabriz and Baghdad are like maps. His history of the 1534-36 campaign to Iran and Iraq 

includes a double folio depicting Istanbul with all the contemporary structures of the city 

shown in remarkable detail (see figure 6). The Golden Horn runs vertically in the centre, 

separating the Galata section with its famous tower (on the left) from the city proper (on the 

right), which includes such major structures as the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, At Meydani 

(Hippodrome), Grand Bazaar, Old Palace, and the complex (kulliya) of Mehmed II. A major 

Figure 6: City of Istanbul and Develi illumination from Matrakçi's Beyân‐i Menâzil‐i Sefer‐i 

‘Irakeyn. (

H

Source

H

).

 

 



6


As a result, Matraçi's land maps are considered equal with Piri Reis' Portland maritime maps 

to be found in his Kitâb-i Bahriye. Two other works of Matrakçi containing miniatures are 

 accompanied Süleyman the Magnificent on 

various campaigns and carefully recorded the events and illustrated the cities and ports 



 

bargir (kethüdây-i istabl-i ‘âmire /Chamberlain of the royal horses). 

mentary film about him 

was produced by the Turkish Radio and Television in 1979. 

 

ritime maps 

to be found in his Kitâb-i Bahriye. Two other works of Matrakçi containing miniatures are 

 accompanied Süleyman the Magnificent on 

various campaigns and carefully recorded the events and illustrated the cities and ports 

 

bargir (kethüdây-i istabl-i ‘âmire /Chamberlain of the royal horses). 

mentary film about him 

was produced by the Turkish Radio and Television in 1979. 

 

important from a geographical perspective. In one called Ta'rikh-i Feth-i Shiklos wa Estergon 



wa Istolnibelgrad, Matrakçi drew the inns between Istanbul and Budapest as well as the cities 

of Nice, Toulon and Marseilles during Barbaros' visits and the Ottoman fleet with which he 

came (see figures 7 and 9). The other book called Tarih-i Sultan Bayezid includes miniature 

paintings of the places mentioned in the text. 

As a member of the administration, Nasuh

important from a geographical perspective. In one called Ta'rikh-i Feth-i Shiklos wa Estergon 



wa Istolnibelgrad, Matrakçi drew the inns between Istanbul and Budapest as well as the cities 

of Nice, Toulon and Marseilles during Barbaros' visits and the Ottoman fleet with which he 

came (see figures 7 and 9). The other book called Tarih-i Sultan Bayezid includes miniature 

paintings of the places mentioned in the text. 

As a member of the administration, Nasuh

conquered by the Ottomans. He participated in the Mohac campaign (1526) and the two 

Baghdad expeditions of Kanuni. He illuminated the picture of every city where the army was 

billeted or passed by. Turkish history institution (Turk Tarih Kurumu) published the city 

paintings he made during the expedition (edited and published by H. G. Yurdaydin, in 1976). 

When he passed away on 28 April 1564, he was the head of the office of the kethüda-yi

conquered by the Ottomans. He participated in the Mohac campaign (1526) and the two 

Baghdad expeditions of Kanuni. He illuminated the picture of every city where the army was 

billeted or passed by. Turkish history institution (Turk Tarih Kurumu) published the city 

paintings he made during the expedition (edited and published by H. G. Yurdaydin, in 1976). 

When he passed away on 28 April 1564, he was the head of the office of the kethüda-yi

Matrakçi Nasuh may be compared with Leonardo da Vinci. A docu

Matrakçi Nasuh may be compared with Leonardo da Vinci. A docu

Figure 7: Ottoman fleet in the French port Toulon in 1543 (from Matrakçi's Beyân‐i Menâzil‐i Sefer‐i ‘Irakeyn). 

Reproduced on the website of Bilkent University . (Source).

 

 



7


Sources 

1) Manuscripts 

 



Matrakçi Nasuh, Bayân-i Manâzil-i Safar-i Irakayn-i Sultan Süleyman Hân, Istanbul 

University Library, MS TY 5964. 

 

Nasuh b. Abdullah Matrakçi Nasuh, Beyan-i menazil-i sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan 



Süleyman Han, published by Hüseyin G. Yurdaydin, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1976. 

 



Matrakçi Nasuh, Tuhfat al-Ghuzât, Süleymaniye Library, Esad Efendi collection, MS 

2206. 


 

Matrakçi Nasuh, Umdat al-Hussab, Nuruosmaniye Library, MS 2080/2. 



 

Matrakçi Nasuh, Jamâl al-Kuttâb wa Kamâl al-Hussab, Istanbul University Library, 



MS TY 2719.  

2) Bibliography 

 



Adivar, A., Osmanli Türklerinde Ilim, Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, pp. 95-98, Appendix 26. 

 



Atil, Esin, "Art and Architecture". In History of the Ottoman State, Society and 

Civilization, II, Istanbul: IRCICA, 2002, pp. 617-618. 

 



Bolay, Süleyman Hayri, "The Ottoman Thought in the Classical Age and the Tehafüt 

Ambition in the Ottomans". In The Great Ottoman-Turkish Civilization, Ankara: Yeni 

Türkiye Yayinlari, 2000, volume III, pp. 5-23. 

 



Fazlioglu, Ihsan, "Osmanli Klasik Muhasebe Matematik Eserleri Üzerine Bir 

degerlendirme." TALID, I (1) 2003, pp. 356-8. 

 

Flemming, B., Die Türkische Handshriften. Wiesbaden, 1968, p. 118. 



 

Goodrich, Thomas D., "Old Maps in the Library of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul", Imago 



Mundi, vol. 45. (1993), pp. 120-133. 

 



Grabar, Oleg, "An Exhibition of High Ottoman Art". Muqarnas, vol. 6 (1989), pp. 1-11. 

 



Habib, Khatt ve khattâtîn. Istanbul, 1928, p. 159. 

 



History of Geography Literature during the Ottoman Period. Edited by Ekmeleddin 

Ihsanoglu et al., Istanbul: IRCICA, 2000, I, 42-45. 

 

History of Mathematical Literature during the Ottoman Period. Edited by Ekmeleddin 



Ihsanoglu et al., Istanbul: IRCICA, 1999, I, 68-73. 

 



History of Military Art and Science Literature During the Ottoman Period. Edited by. 

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu et al., Istanbul: IRCICA, 2004, I, 10-11. 

 

Ihsanoglu, Ekmeleddin, "The Ottoman Scientific-Scholarly Literature". In History of the 



Ottoman State, Society and Civilization, II, Istanbul: IRCICA, 2002, pp. 543, 567-568. 

 



Johnston, Norman J., "The Urban World of the Matraki Manuscript", Journal of Near 

Eastern Studies, vol. 30, No. 3. (July 1971), pp. 159-176. 

 

8




 

9



 

Kara, I., "Nasuh Matrakçi", Türk Dili ve Edebiyati Ansiklopedisi, Devirler, isimler, 



terimler. Istanbul: Dergah Yayinlari, 1977, VI, pp. 527-8. 

 



Mahir, Banu-Ihsan Fazlioglu, "Nasuh (Matrakçi)", Yasamlari ve Yapitlariyla Osmanlilar 

Ansiklopedisi. Istanbul: YKB, 1999, II, 350-351. 

 



Matrakçi Nasuh Bey b. Abdulah (Karagöz) al-Silahi, Beyân-i Menâzil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i 

sultan süleyman han. Published by H. G. Yurdaydin. Ankara, 1976. 

 



Mustakimzâde, Tuhfe-i Hattatîn. Istanbul, 1928, p. 568. 

 



Selen, H. S., "16inci asirda yapilmis Anadolu atlasi: Nasuh Silahi'nin Menâzil'i", Ikinci 

türk tarih kongresi, Istanbul 20-25 Eylül 1937 kongrenin çalismalari, kongreye sunulan 

tebligler. Istanbul, 1943, pp. 813-817; 

 



Soucek, S., "Islamic Charting in the Mediterranean", in The History of Cartography: 

Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies, edited by J. B. Harley 

and David Woodward. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1992, pp. 235-253. 

 

Taeschner, Franz, "The Itinerary of the First Persian Campaign of Sultan Süleyman, 



1534-36, According to Nasuh al-Matraki", Imago Mundi, vol. 13 (1956), pp. 53-55. 

 



Yurdaydin, H. G., "An Ottoman Historian of the XVIth Century: Nasuh al-Matrakî and 

his Beyân-i Menâzil-i Sefer-i ‘Irakeyn and its Importance for some Iraki Cities", Turcica

vii (1975), pp. 179-87. 

 



Yurdaydin, H. G., "Matrakçi Nasuh'un Minyatürlü iki yeni eseri". Atti II. Congree 

International Acta Turca, Venezia, 1963. Venedik, 1965, pp. 283-286. 

 



Yurdaydin, H. G., "Matrakçi", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden: Brill, CD version, 2001. 

 



Yurdaydin, H. G., Matrakçi Nasuh. Ankara, 1963.  

End Notes 

[1] "Matrakçi Nasuh" from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online here. 

[2] For illuminations see figure 2 for Baghdad, figure 3 for Tabriz, and figure 4 for 

Diyarbakir. 



 

Document Outline

  • Nasuh Al-Matrakî, A Noteworthy Ottoman Artist-Mathematician 
  • of the Sixteenth Century


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