The Ottoman Empire, called the Osmanli
, is the name of the greatest of the Islamic empire
s. It was ruled over by an unbroken dynasty
of 38 Amir
s and Caliph
s from the early days in the 13th century
until the early 20th century. The empire was never conquered and no usurper
gained the throne. At it’s height, the empire spanned much from the Balkans
, across Asia Minor
, into Iraq
and down through Egypt
, some of Nubia
and much of North Africa
During its zenith, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most enlightened nations. They plied the waters of the Mediterranean for trade, were the trade bridge between Asia and Europe and ruled over a vast stretch of land. This would not last forever though. The Ottoman Empire reached its height under the Sultan Suleyman I (the Magnificent) who ruled from 1520 – 1566, after which it began a slow decline that lasted for almost 400 years.
Beyond I shall show you some of the richness of this great Empire, which caused the Byzantium to finally fall, Rome to tremble, and the Islamic peoples to be represented by a great and glorious empire.
Early Ottoman History
The legend of the Ottoman origins (and I call it a legend because it is not specifically verified) is that the Kayi tribes led by a leader named Suleyman had been mostly settled in northeastern Iran. With the coming of the Mongols this tribe was forced to flee the area and made their way west. When Suleyman died during the travel, one of his sons, Ertugrul, took a part of the tribe into Anatolia. There they were given a small area of land known as Sogut in return for fighting for the Seljuks of Rum. His son would be the great Osman, the founder of the Turkish state.
Situated on the then shrinking borders of the Byzantine Empire, the Turks had a great advantage. Many mercenaries streamed into this area from all over the Islamic states in order to fight against and hopefully plunder the weakening Orthodox empire. The Turks continued to be helped by a flood of refugees, fleeing from the Mongols. Of these, many where ghuzâh, or fighters for Islam, basically a breed of border fighter which believed that he was fighting for the glory of Islam. Under Osman I, the Turks during this time began to fight with the Byzantium Empire. Unfortunately, the Turkish cavalry forces were unable to assault cities and had to instead rely on sieges.
Finally, under Osman’s son, Orhan, in 1326 the Turkish forces conquered Prusa. This would be renamed Bursa and became the first Ottoman capital. Within a short time the Byzantium cities of Nicomdedia, Nicaea and Scutari fell to the Turkish forces as well. The Ottoman territory could now be seen from the walls of Constantinople itself. The Turkish growth under Orhan and his successor, Murat I, was one of peaceful acquisition of lands in Anatolia and war against Europe.
Murat himself broadened the form of slave state that the Ottoman Empire was. While most Turkish lands had used slaves for many years as politicians and diplomats, Murat expanded this, making them soldiers and commanders of forces too. These would become the janissaries (yeni ceri). After a few years focusing on Anatolia, Murat again turned his attention to the west and to Byzantium and now the Balkans also. In 1361, the Byzantium city of Adrianople (Edirne) fell to the Turkish forces, and was made the new capital, now further west.
After dealing several defeats to the Byzantium, and defeating a Serbian army, at the Battle of Kosovo, which had tried to force the Turks out of the southern Balkans, southern Bulgaria, most of Macedonia, the Bulgarian ruler and the Byzantine Emperor were forced to accept vassalage to the Ottomans. In Anatolia, Murat expanded his influence and lands through politics, marriages, and the purchase of lands. The Ottoman Empire now stood on both sides of a devastated Byzantine Empire. The new European vassals were forced to contribute troops and funds to the Ottoman Empire.
With the Balkans and the Byzantium in vassalage, the Turkish forces had no place to turn now but east against other Turkish peoples. This posed a major problem. The original conquests by the Turkish forces to the west had been accomplished through the ghuzâh. Now it was highly unlikely that the ghuzâh would actually fight against Islamic peoples, or those that held less wealth to be plundered than peoples in the west. The current Turkish ruler, Bayezid I began to use his European vassals as troops suppliers in his push towards the east. Within a few short years the switch was made in the makeup of the Ottoman’s armies. The Turkish forces were left as garrisons in the west, while the Christian vassals were used to fight in the east, only the most lost loyal of the Sultan’s Turkish troops were brought. Along with this, Beyazid changed the Ottoman government in a major way, and one against normal traditions. Christian advisors and bureaucrats were used to run the state.
Bayezid’s conquest expanded the empire far to the east, where it eventually came into contact with the mighty land of Timur. In a battle outside the city of Ankara in 1402, the forces of Timur strongly defeated the Turkish armies. Bayezid was captured and later died in captivity. The next few years were ones of chaos. Bayezid’s four sons competed for the throne. Finally Muhammad I rose to triumph. Under Muhammad’s hand the empire was restored to more traditional functions. The slave army was greatly reduced in power and the Christian advisors and bureaucrats were expelled from their positions.
Muhammad’s successor, Murad II, continued the internal strengthening of the empire. Much of his reign was spent improving the public works. Trade was strengthened, roads were built and art was encouraged. Under his reign the Ottoman Empire became more of a solid state than in the past. Very little military action took place during this time. Murad reduced the size of the southern Anatolian state of Karaman and brought Serbia back into the empire when it swore vassalage to Hungary.
Murat was very much a peaceful leader, after some rather extensive fighting with Venice and Hungary, and even after the victory at the Battle of Varna, Murat II abdicated his throne to his twelve-year-old son Muhammad II. Murat was forced to take back the throne when Venice and Hungary threatened, and ruled until his death in 1451.
The Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire
Muhammad II fatih (The Conqueror) was the architect of the resounding fall of Constantinople. With Venice and Genoa tied up in treaties with the empire, and Europe showing no signs of opposition, Muhammad was able to convince the nobles of the empire that the time was right to take Constantinople.
After several months of siege, Constantinople fell to the Turkish armies. The Byzantine Empire was dead, the last emperor dead in the fighting. Instead of plundering the city, Muhammad seized only a few churches as mosques. The rest was left intact, including the Orthodox order. Feeling that the maintaining of this order would help to keep control over the populace and vacillate the goodwill of his Christian subjects, Muhammad maintained the current order. The capital was moved to the great Byzantine capital and the city-renamed Istanbul.
Muhammad now completely annexed Serbia, pushed the Hungarians back and vassalized Moldavia and the Tartars (present day Ukraine). Overall though, his campaign against the remnants of the Byzantium was his main accomplishment and the rest of his years were spent ruling in relative peace. Over the next few years, the empire was strengthened internally, small areas were annexed, including the coastal areas of Moldavia.
It was Selim I who would expand the Ottoman Empire again. The major battle at Marj Dabik was basically the only great battle between the Mameluk and Ottoman forces. This Mameluks were defeated easily and before winter of the same year, the conquest was complete. Selim’s conquest of the Mameluks gave the Ottoman Empire control over the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, Egypt and parts of Nubia. He then turned towards the Safavids, who ruled the areas stretching into present day Iran.
The Safavids were followers of the offshoot form of Islam, Shia (Shiite) and thus gathered a great many followers across the Islamic lands to their cause. Thus Selim would first purge Anatolia of Safavids followers before he moved on with his attack. Though he thoroughly defeated the Safavid armies. At the Battle of Caldiran the Ottoman forces defeated their rivals and then moved on to take Tabriz, the Safavid capital. Unfortunately a lack of supplies caused the Ottoman armies to have to withdraw. From that time on the Safavids maintained a scorched earth tactic to protect themselves from the Ottomans.
Suleyman I “the Magnificent”
This was the empire that Suleyman I came to power in. Under Suleyman, the Ottoman controlled pirates who plied the Mediterranean waters were consolidated, giving a strong hold over the areas of North Africa they were based from. Hungary was absorbed into the empire in 1521, and Suleyman made his march on Austria, culminating in the Siege of Vienna. Though Vienna did not fall, the gains made by the Turks were enormous. A few more years of warfare proved that Austria would not give much more. The European expansion was over.
A new stage of warfare had begun. Portugal was the first European power to begin sea trade to the east. In order to cement their monopoly of the trade, they began to systematically destroy the Turkish economies in the areas leading to the east. Suleyman was now determined to destroy the Safavids and cement his control over the lands between the east and west, thus ensuring trade. First though a peace treaty was arranged with Austria and was penned in 1553, now Suleyman was free to attack east.
Instead of attacking from the north as the Safavids had expected, and prepared for, Suleyman led his troops over the mountains of central Iraq and smashed into Baghdad. By the end of 1553 Baghdad had fallen, very shortly thereafter, Basra fell and all of present-day Iraq was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.
During the rest of his reign, the Ottoman Empire was given a codified set of laws. Another extensive period of public works was undertaken. The poor were cared for, the arts flourished and the economy grew rich. This unfortunately would be the greatest time for the Ottoman Empire, its ascent was at an end, and only a decline could follow.
Suleyman’s conquests had a result that was both good and bad at the same time. His power made him a legitimate part of the European balance of power. While this meant that his goals and aims were respected and that the empire was now considered in diplomacy, it also meant that there was a much greater chance of future conquests being met by alliances of European powers.
The Ottomans began to meddle in the schism between the Catholic and Protestant factions of Europe. It was much due to the Ottoman’s actions that the Hapsburgs were forced to offer concessions to the Protestants. This combined with the conquest of Cyprus in 1570 and 1571 caused the formation of a Spanish, Venetian and Papal (Papal States) alliance against the Ottoman Empire. This alliance culminated in the Battle of Lepanto in October of 1571. Here the Ottomans were soundly defeated. And though the alliance paid a war indemnity to the Ottoman Empire, it was obvious that myth of Ottoman invulnerability was not true.
With this defeat, the Ottomans now found themselves at war with the Hapsburgs in the west and the newly restructured Safavids in the east. Much of Hungary was lost to Austria, while the Safavids were held back. Even when the Spanish Armada was defeated, the Ottoman Empire was not able to regain its position in control of the Mediterranean. The Turkish navy now basically was committed only to the area directly around Istanbul. This allowed pirates to prey on the Ottoman shipping and severed contact with the far-flung Egyptian and North African holdings.
During the reign of the Murat IV, the sickness of the Ottoman Empire was remarked upon many times by those knowledgeable souls who were not corrupted within the government. Finally Murat took action and began a system of reforms. Like many reformers though, he cracked down on moral sickness, outlawing coffee and tobacco among other things. But the fact was the reforms worked for a time, the army was renewed and enemies were pushed back a bit. The Safavids, who had taken Baghdad back, were pushed out again. Any revolts against the reforms were violently put down. All in all, the Ottoman Empire was pushed back into a traditional form; an approach that succeeded, but only while Murat himself lived.
Following this time, the problem with the reforms was that the basic consideration was that if it was traditional it was the right way to go. This is not necessarily true, and this period of the Ottoman decline fully detailed why.
As if the decline of the political stability was not enough for the Ottoman Empire, this was an age of huge growths in military technology by the European powers. The Ottomans found that their conventional military could not stand up to the new European armies. The janissaries lacked the manpower even when equipped with modern weapons. The Ottoman government turned slowly to a modern army. They conscripted and trained Anatolia's peasants in warfare, easily able to give them weapons as the price and skill required for guns declined. It did not hurt this effort that at the time many of the people in Anatolia already owned a gun of some sort. These units would become the Ottoman’s modern military arm, or sekbans.
Unfortunately, while the sekbans proved VERY able at handling the European armies, the Ottoman Empire was not able to support them. Pay was slow in coming and sometimes stopped for long periods at a time. Quickly these trained units defected, sometimes in whole units, under the same commander. They became the biggest revolting faction in the Ottoman Empire and were hard to put down. Along with the fact that the population of Anatolia supported these rebels and fought with them, they were just as well trained, by the government in fact, as any unit sent against them.
As the 17th century drew to a close, the Ottoman Empire no longer had to compete with solely Portugal (a competition they were winning by a small margin) for trade towards the east. They now had to compete with the highly effective Dutch traders also. The trade from the east to Europe now came almost exclusively from the sea-lanes around Africa, completely bypassing the Ottoman lands.
The Tulip Era (1718 – 1730)
The Tulip era was thus named because of the extreme growth in the number of gardens in the empire. It seemed that tulip gardens were all the rage. Turkish people began to build European houses and palaces and to dress in European clothing. This also became the time for one of the final great eras of attempted reform in the empire. Even so, new ideas only trickled in and many had to be approved before they were deemed as safe to be included in the culture. The printing press was finally brought to the Ottoman Empire, but it was decreed that while it was acceptable to print other forms of literature on it, no Islamic holy material might be reproduced this way. The French convert to Islam, the Comte de Bonneval helped to reform the Ottoman army, by instituting military colleges where mathematics and medicine were taught. Overall though, the reforms accomplished very little. Even revolts by conservative parties like the janissaries failed to motivate the government and the decline continued unchecked.
18th Century: A Nation in Decline
During the last few years of the 17th century, military defeat became endemic for the Ottoman Empire. In 1699 Peace of Karlowitz handed the provinces of Hungary and Transylvania over to Austria. This left only Macedonia and the, already revolting, Balkans in the hands of the Ottomans in Europe. The rest of the century would be dominated by war. Both Russian and Austria attempted to push their way into Ottoman dominated lands. Venice occasionally came into conflict also. They already ragged empire was being run every which way.
Even as the military was being stretched to the limits, internally the Ottoman Empire was no better. Failure to modernize held back improvements and progress and increased unemployment and unrest. During the late 17th and early 18th century, the Ottoman Empire had actually seen a short period of economic prosperity. This resulted in a huge population growth and thus endemic unemployment and famine. The resources of the empire simply could not support the new needs of the empire.
Ottoman trade declined as European routes increasingly bypassed the Middle East. They could not compete industrially as they had not completed mechanization, their economic system was still in guild form and European goods cost less. The European mercantilist approach of buying unfinished goods from the Ottoman Empire and selling finished goods that were cheaper even when shipped across the Mediterranean effectively destroyed any growth in the economy.
19th Century and 20th Century: The End of an Empire
As the European powers scrambled madly for land around the world, the Ottoman Empire increasingly had chunks bitten from it. The Crimean War was one of the last blows to Ottoman Nationalism. Here was the empire itself forced to accept defense from two other nations simply to survive. Though the invading Russians were beaten back by the allied Ottomans, French and British, the war loudly stated to both the Ottomans and the Europeans that the empire no longer could stand up for itself. It now began a long period of being kicked around by all those around it.
Russia and the Ottoman Empire continued to fight and each new battle brought a new defeat for the Ottomans. In the year 1875, the pro-Russian, Orthodox, Balkans revolted. The Ottoman Empire had no way to keep the rebellion down. With the help of the then independent Montenegro and Serbia, the original revolution spread from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Ottoman controlled Bulgaria. These groups were anxious to form under their protector state Russia.
Thus it was that Russia again declared war and by 1878, the Ottoman Empire sued for peace and gave up all its Balkan territories.
France and Italy now verbally fought over who would get control of the Ottoman territory of Libya, Italy finally moved first and in the peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire assumed control of all of Libya, plus the Dodacanese Islands. This would precipitate the aggressiveness of the newly independent Balkan states.
The Balkan Wars would strangely see the Ottoman Empire lost the last of its European holdings outside Thrace and also win its final military victory. The First Balkan War saw several of the newly independent countries form an alliance against the Ottoman Empire. The Empire was pushed back and almost out of Thrace, only narrowly managing to maintain hold of Istanbul. The Second Balkan War would include the same group except now all, including the Ottoman Empire, were fighting against Bulgaria, who they felt had taken to much land. The war ended in victory for the Ottoman’s side, the last military victory they would have.
During this period, the Ottoman Empire had been allowing their nation to draw close to Germany. In return, the Germans were working feverishly to modernize the Ottoman Empire. This work was not even remotely completed when World War I broke out. The Ottoman Empire made its last great mistake in allying with the Central Powers. Winning almost no victories, they even lost land to the ineffective Russian army.
After the war, the Ottoman Empire was split into pieces, with the victorious European allies seizing all land outside of Thrace and Asia Minor. In 1922, the Ottoman Empire was declared the Republic of Turkey. The change had been precipitated by the activities of the group known as "The Young Turks," a nationalistic group that fought for a modern Turkish republic and were responsible for the Armenian Genocide. Mustafa Kemal was made President of Turkey from 1922 – 1928. It was the end of millennia of empire in the Middle East.
Osman I 1290 - 1326
Orkhan (Orhan) 1326 - 1359
Murad I 1359 - 1389
Bayezid I Yildirim the Thunderbolt 1389 - 1402
Mehmed I (Muhammad) 1402 - 1421
Murad II 1421 - 1451
Mehmed II the Conquerer (Muhammad) Fatih 1451 - 1481
Bayezid II 1481 - 1512
Selim I Yavuz the Grim 1512 - 1520
Süleyman the Magnificent 1520 - 1566
Selim II 1566 - 1574
Murad III 1574 - 1595
Mehmed III (Muhammad) 1595 - 1603
Ahmed I 1603 - 1617
Mustafa I 1617 - 1618
Osman II 1618 - 1622
Ahmed I 1622 - 1623
Murad IV 1623 - 1640
Ibrahim 1640 - 1648
Mehmed IV (Muhammad) 1648 - 1687
Suleyman II 1687 - 1691
Ahmed II 1691 - 1695
Mustafa II 1695 - 1703
Ahmed III 1703 - 1730
Mahmud I 1730 - 1754
Osman III 1754 - 1757
Mustafa III 1757 - 1774
Abdul-Hamid I 1774 - 1789
Selim III 1789 - 1807
Mustafa IV 1807 - 1808
Mahmud II 1808 - 1839
Abdul-Mejid I 1839 - 1861
Abdul-Aziz I 1861 - 1876
Murad V 1876 - 1876
Abdul-Hamid II the Damned 1876 - 1909
Mehmed V (Muhammad) 1909 - 1918
Mehmed VI (Muhammad) 1918 - 1922
Abdul-Mejid II 1922 - 1924
An absolutely EXCELLENT source about Ottoman History