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Ottoman Empire

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Ottoman Empire


Ottoman Empire- The Ottoman Empire was the last of a series of Turkish  Muslim empires. It spread from Asia minor beginning about 1300, eventually encompassing most of the Middle East, most of North Africa, and parts of Europe, including modern Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Rumania and Yugoslavia. In the Middle East, the Ottomans ruled Syria, Palestine, Egypt, parts of Arabia and Iraq. Only Persia (Iran) and the Eastern part of the Arabian peninsula remained free of Ottoman rule.  The empire reached around the Black sea and into the Caucasus in Central Asia, including Aremenia. The Ottoman armies reached as far as the gates of Vienna, where they were repulsed for a second time in 1683, the height of their expansion on land. The map below  shows the extent of the Ottoman Empire in 1683.

Map of Ottoman Empire, 1683

The Ottoman Empire was founded about 1307 by Osman I, whose father Ertuğrul was a Ghazi mercenary who migrated from central Asia to Western Asia minor, as part of the migration of Turkic peoples under pressure of Mongol expansion in central Asia. In return for services, the Seljuk Turks gave Ertuğrul, a territory in Eskisehir. Osman expanded his Ghazi territory.  and conquered a significant portion of Asia minor, dying before he captured Bursa. Bursa was captured by his son, Orkhan, who made it his capital. Subsequent rulers continued the expansion. The ruler of the Ottoman Empire after its rise assumed the title of Sultan. The Sultan also assumed the role of the Muslim Caliph. The Ottoman Turks were fierce fighters, supplementing their Muslim troops with an elite corps of converted Christian slaves, the Yeni Chery (new troops) or in English, Janissaries.


The progress of the empire was explosive.  In 1453, the Sultan Mohamad II conquered Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) putting an end to the Eastern Roman Empire. The Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent conquered modern Yugoslavia in 1521, and conquered Hungary after his victory at the battle of Mohacs in 1526. However, he failed to take Vienna after winter forced an end to his siege in 1529. The Ottomans went on to take Transylvania and Wallachia as well. The  Ottoman Empire had become a significant part of European politics. It entered into a military alliance with France, England and the Netherlands against Habsburg Spain, Italy and Habsburg Austria. The Ottoman navy aided Francis the I to take Nice from the Holy Roman Empire.


The Ottoman fleet attracted the attention and antagonism of Portugal and other sea powers. In 1571, Ottoman forces suffered a temporary setback when their fleet was defeated at the battle of Lepanto. Authorities differ on whether this battle had a permanent effect on Ottoman power.


In 1683, Ottoman power was checked at its final zenith when the siege of Vienna failed. The empire began a decline marked by increasing backwardness relative to Europe as well as corruption and dissipation and poor judgment of several of the Sultans. The Janissaries became corrupt and ineffective as soldiers and used their power to dictate political affairs. For a time, the empire was ruled essentially by the women of the Harem, mothers of the Sultans.


The victories of Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century and exposure to Western armaments close to home served as a wake up call. Several attempts were made at reform, including the Tanzimat reforms of 1838 and 1858. Ottoman Turkey was clearly in decline however, and Western powers decided to prop it up in order to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East. However the decline  gone into an accelerated. The Ottomans lost Egypt and then Greece, Serbia and other territories in the nineteenth century. Attempts at modernization and profligate spending bankrupted the empire, which was forced to find financial support where it could. Attempted reform (the Tanizmat) which was aimed primarily at raising new taxes, failed. The backward agrarian lands ruled by the Ottomans did not produce enough, and the tax farmers were too greedy and oppressive. Investment of borrowed capital and new infrastructure failed to modernize the country or the army sufficiently to make it competitive with the West or able to hold its own against European armies.


In 1908 a revolution of Young Turks put into power the government of Enver Bey and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). They promised greater autonomy to Arabs and to minorities, and efficient constitutional government, but were unable to keep their promises. The Ottoman Empire became involved in several disastrous wars under the CUP, with the usual inevitable loss of territory.


Despite constitutional reforms, the new government failed to check the decline, which was particularly evident in the army, and Turkey lost Bulgaria to the Bulgarian independence movement. The Turks sided with the Central Powers in World War I. They were pressed by the Russians and Armenians from the North, and by British and allied forced from the south. The Russians recruited the Armenians to revolt, and the Turks responded by perpetrating large scale indiscriminate murder of Armenians. Between 600,000 and 1.4 million Armenians are said to have died. The Turks officially deny that any genocide took place.


The British fleet missed an opportunity to open the Bosporus with their navy and allied ships at the beginning of World War I. Had they acted quickly, they might have  separated European and Asiatic Turkey and possibly taken Istanbul and removed Turkey from the war. Instead, they chose to attack by land on the Gallipoli peninsula, wasting nearly two years in a very bloody campaign that achieved nothing. Turkish and Arab troops fought bravely and stubbornly at Gallipoli and inflicted huge losses on British, Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces. At Gallipoli, the Ottoman army proved that when properly supplied and officered, it could be a very formidable fighting force.


Failure to open the Bosporus doomed Russia, which could not sell its wheat and could not be resupplied. The British organized an Arab revolt in the Turkish rear however, and ultimately a British expeditionary force under General Allenby conquered Palestine and Syria and forced the Turks to sue for peace under very unfavorable conditions granted at the treaty of Sevres. The Turks were to lose a large part of western Asia minor to the Greeks, leaving a rump Turkey in Eastern Anatolia.


However, an opposition Turkish government was organized by a young army officer who had distinguished himself at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The allies overextended themselves, and Ataturk won victories over the Greeks in particular. The British had neither the troops nor the will to retrieve the over-extended Greek position and a more favorable peace was granted at the Lausanne conference in 1919, leaving Turkey with all of Asia Minor Ataturk abolished the Caliphate and the Sultanate and set up a Turkish secular republic. The breakup of the Ottoman Turkish empire resulted in about 40 new countries, including 22 Arab states.


Society in the Ottoman Empire


The Ottoman Empire was not really the barbarian despotism that is often pictured in Western accounts. However, Ottoman society remained isolated and more or less frozen in time. What was innovative in 1300 was reactionary and dangerously inefficient by 1700. The Ottoman Empire virtually stood still, while Europe progressed. The agricultural economy was based on tenant farming and plagued by rapacious tax farmers. Slavery was legal in the Ottoman Empire and there were slaves in most Ottoman lands until well after the end of the empire. Women were veiled and repressed, though the mothers of the Sultans and prospective Sultans in the Harem played an important role in deciding the future of the empire at times.


Books and printed matter in Turkish and Arabic were unknown before the end of the 18th century, and even then they were of limited impact because of widespread illiteracy. Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition established a Hebrew printing press about 1494.  Armenians had a press in 1567, and Greeks had press in 1627. These presses were not allowed to print in Turkish or in Arabic characters, owing to objections of the religious authorities.  One result of this delay was to give Greeks, Armenians and Jews an advantage in literacy, and therefore an advantage in commerce, and in having a means to preserve and propagate their culture, that was denied to Turks and Arabs. The major result  was to retard the development of modern literate society, commerce and industry. The first Turkish printing press in the Ottoman Empire was not established until 1729. It was closed in 1742 and reopened in 1784. The press operated under heavy censorship throughout most of the Ottoman era. Elections were unknown of course, though government decisions were usually reached by consultation of the government, provincial chiefs and religious authorities.


Understanding the Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire


The rapid rise of Ottoman Turkey was due to opportunity as well as merit. The Ottomans arrived when the Byzantine empire was in decay. Asia Minor and Eastern Europe were up for grabs. Europeans had not yet devised centralized monarchical states, and were slow to unite against the Turks. Ottoman advances were met by shaky feudal coalitions and took advantage of the divisive political quarrels of the Italian republics and European principalities. The Ottomans were the only power with a standing army for hundreds of years, the  Janissaries, which made them the world's only superpower in effect.


The motives for conquest were probably a mixture of three factors: ordinary greed and power lust, religious fervor, and a system that must rely on expansion to perpetuate itself. Many of the wars, like the siege of Vienna, were declared to be "Jihads" but this may have been in part a political move, to enlist the support of Muslim allies and client states, rather than an expression of true religious fervor. It is hard to draw the line between the motivations or to really separate them. Like the Roman Empire, the Ottoman empire relied to an extent on slavery. It also tended to spend more money than it could get in revenue. Slaves tended to become integrated into society. Their children and grandchildren often were freed, especially if they became Muslims. This progression is generally natural in a slave society and necessitates the constant import of slaves, That is accomplished most cheaply by conquest. Slaves could also be purchased from African slave traders, but this used up foreign exchange. More generally, the opulence of the court and the funds to maintain an army could not be produced by the agriculture-based economy of the Ottoman Empire, providing an important motive for expansion.  Ottoman Turkey controlled the overland spice routes through parts of central Asia. For a while, they benefited from the revival of European commerce as the Middle ages waned. However, the conquest of Constantinople and the hostility of the Ottomans to foreign merchants and foreign influence in general encouraged the search for alternative sea routes to China, which were soon developed by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Central Asia became an unimportant backwater.


Ottoman Turkey never developed extensive industry, though the lands it controlled had extensive natural resources. There were no universities or technical schools that could teach either the basic skills or the theoretical knowledge needed for an industrial revolution and a modern economy. Banks could not develop because of the Muslim prohibition on interest. Turkish guns and ships and railroads had to be purchased from France, Germany and Britain, who vied with each other for the lucrative trade. The Ottoman Empire did not produce much that could pay for these purchases and eventually went bankrupt, forcing its rulers to conclude disadvantageous terms with its European creditors.


In the much of the Middle East, there were no real challenges to Turkish rule at first. But in Europe it met the rising power of nationalism and the industrial economy, and in central Asia it met Russia. Russia was very much like the Ottoman Empire in some ways, but it was nonetheless more developed, and the Turks began to lose some of their over-extended possessions in around the Black Sea. In North Africa, Ottoman possessions were picked off one by one by greedy European colonialist powers, or they became independent or semi-independent.


The Ottoman empire built a bureaucratic centralized state, in many ways resembling the Byzantine Roman state it had replaced. Given the vast distances to be traversed and the poor means of communications and transport, as well the lack of literate personnel to man official posts, this state was vulnerable in the same ways, and for the same reasons, as the Byzantine and ancient Roman empires had been. The means of ensuring that orders were being carried out at remote outposts were meager. There were few clerks to tabulate and report on remote administrators, or auditors to check the collection of taxes and disbursement of funds. A message could take weeks in reaching its destinations, especially as the Ottomans, unlike the Romans, did not develop an adequate system of roads and relay messengers. Local administrators were open to "liberal" interpretation of the laws, especially unpopular ones, since unrest at home was preferable to incurring the ire of the very remote and often weak central government, more especially if the administrators were of the same ethnic group as the local inhabitants, and most especially if they were offered a bribe. The word "Bakshish" - the bribe - became an integral and very essential part of the workings of Ottoman administration.


Attempts at reform were repeatedly frustrated by the Ulema, the religious authorities, who had considerable influence over the empire, and by various regional and essentially feudal lords. Having virtually no industry or commerce, the Ottoman Empire had no middle class that could oppose the feudal classes or the religious establishment.  While the rest of the world had progressed, the Ottoman Empire Tstood still.


Timeline of the Ottoman Empire


1326: Sultan Orkhan conquers Bursa.
1338: Ottomans drive tje Byzantines  out of all of Anatolia save Constantinople and environs.
1354: The region of Ankara is conquered.
1355: Turks conquer Gallipoli (Gelibolu) peninsula. It becomes an important staging post for the Ottoman's European expansion.
1361: Adrianople (Edirne) on the western side of the Bosphorus, is conquered.
1393: Capture of northern Greece.
1402: Ottomans are heavily defeated by Timerlane near Ankara,
1453: After a long siege, the Ottomans conquer Constantinople.
1466: Conquest of Albania.
1475: Crimea becomes a vassal state.
1514: Iran is defeated at the battle of Chaldiran.
1517: Mamelukes of Egypt and Syria are defeated, and their territories are annexed, including western Arabia and the holy cities. i.
1519: Algiers becomes  a vassal state.
1521: Barka (northeastern Libya) is added to the empire; capture of Belgrade
1526: Victory over Hungary at the Battle of Mohacs.
1529: Sultan Süleyman 1 besieges Vienna, but fails.
1531: Tunis becomes a tributary.

1547: Most of Hungary under Ottoman power.
1551: Tripoli becomes a tributary.
1534: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) is annexed.
1571: - Turkish fleet defeated at Lepanto

1683: Turks fail to take Vienna.

1699: Turks cede Hungary.

1718: Treaty of Passarowitz. The Ottoman Empire lost the Banat of Temeswar (in Transylvania), northern Serbia (including Belgrade), northern Bosnia and Lesser Walachia (Oltenia) to Austria. Venice lost its possessions on the Peloponnesus peninsula and on Crete, gained by the Treaty of Karlowitz, retaining only the Ionian Islands, cities of Preveza and Arta and Dalmatia.

1739: Turks regain Northern Bosnia, northern Serbia including Belgrade and Lesser Walachia.

1798-1801: Napoleon in Egypt and Palestine

1829: Greece ceded autonomy
1830: Serbia ceded autonomy; Northern Algeria is taken by France.

1831: Revolt of Mehmet Ali in Egypt.
1832: Greece becomes independent.
1839: Beginning of Tanzimat reform.

1853: Crimean war demonstrates Turkish backwardness.

1862: United Romania established.

1875: The Ottoman empire is bankrupt, and stops paying interest on its debt.
1876: Sultan Abdülhamid II grants the first Ottoman constitution.
1877: Second Russo-Turkish war (1877- 1878); Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and part of Bulgaria become independent by the Treaty of San Stefano.

1878: The constitution is suspended.
1881: The Ottoman empire accepts European financial control; Tunisia is taken by the French.
1882: Egypt is occupied by Britain.

1908: Bosnia occupied by Austro-Hungary, without a fight; Bulgarian independence.
1912: Libya is annexed by Italy.
1914: The Ottoman empire enters the World War 1 in alliance with Germany,

1915-16: Between 600,000 and perhaps 1.4 million Armenians died during deportation or were massacred in what is known as the Armenian genocide
1917: Beginning of British campaigns in Iraq, Palestine and Syria. This leads to several Ottoman defeats, and the following year the loss of the Middle Eastern territories.
1919:  Greece attacks Anatolia at Smyrna, conquers part of Western Anatolia. 
1920: The Ottoman empire is forced to sign the Treaty of Sèvres, losing all Middle Eastern territories and part of Anatolia.
1922: Turks drive the Greeks out of western Anatolia under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; The Ottoman empire is abolished;

1923: Turkish Republic declared. 

1924: March 3: Caliphate abolished.

Sultans of the Ottoman Empire

01 - Sultan Osman Khan Ghazi I (1300-1326)
02 - Sultan Orkhan Khan Ghazi I (1326-1360)
03 - Ghazi Sultan Mourad Khan I (1360-1389)
04 - Ghazi Sultan Yldirim Baiezid I (1389-1413)
05 - Ghazi Sultan Muhammed Khan I (1413-1421)
06 - Sultan Mourad Khan II (1421-1451)
07 - Ghazi Sultan Muhammed Khan II (1440-1481)
08 - Sultan Baiezed Khan II (1481-1512)
09 - Ghazi Sultan Selim Khan I (1512-1520)
10 - Sultan Suleyman Khan I (1520-1566)
11 - Ghazi Sultan Selim Khan II (1566-1574)
12 - Sultan Mourad Khan III (1574-1595)
13 - Ghazi Sultan Muhammed Khan III (1595-1603)
14 - Sultan Ahmed Khan I (1603-1617)
15 - Sultan Mustapha Khan I (1617-1623)
16 - Sultan Osman Khan II (1617-1622)
17 - Ghazi Sultan Mourad Khan IV (1623-1640)
18 - Sultan Ibrahim Khan I (1639-1648) (deposed)
19 - Sultan Muhammed Khan IV (1648-1687) (deposed)
20 - Sultan Suleyman Khan II (1687-1691)
21 - Sultan Ahmed Khan II (1691-1695)
22 - Ghazi Sultan Mustapha II (1695-1703)(abdicated)
23 - Sultan Ahmed Khan III (1703-1730) (abdicated)
24 - Sultan Mahmoud Khan I (1730-1754)
25 - Sultan Osman Khan II (1754-1757)
26 - Sultan Moustapha Khan III (1757-1774)
27 - Sultan Abdulhamid Khan I (1774-1789)
28 - Sultan Selim Khan III (1789-1807)deposed)
29 - Sultan Moustapha Khan IV (1807-1808)(deposed)
30 - Ghazi Sultan Mahmoud Khan III (1808-1839)
31 - Sultan Abdul Majid Khan (1839-1861)
32 - Sultan Abdul Asis Khan (1861-1876) (deposed)
33 - Sultan Mourad Khan V (1876-1876) (abdicated/deposed)
34 - Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan II (1876- April 1909) (deposed, 1909)
35 - Sultan Mehmed VI (1909-1926) (Sultanate abolished, 1922)

Synonyms and alternate spellings:  

Further Information: Reference: Lord Kinross, the Ottoman Centuries, Harper Collins, 1977.

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More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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Ottoman Empire