The Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful and influential empires in world history, spanning Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa for over 600 years. The empire was founded in 1299 by Osman I and peaked in the 16th century under the reign of Süleiman the Magnificent. Despite its impressive military power, economic strength, and cultural achievements, the Ottoman Empire began to decline in the 18th century and was dissolved shortly after World War I. This paper explores the factors that contributed to the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, with a particular focus on the impact nationalism had on its decline. Recognising that some of the words used may be ‘foreign’ to many readers, I explain them in the Explanatory Glossary at the end of this paper.
Picture: [Cropped] Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
Attribution: Unidentified painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Lepanto_1571.jpg
The Ottoman Empire was a vast and powerful empire spanning Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa for over six centuries. At its height, the Ottoman Empire was a major political and economic power in the world, known for its strong military, impressive architecture, and rich cultural achievements. The empire was also known for its religious tolerance, which allowed different ethnic and religious groups to coexist under the same government.
Many scholars and researchers recognise the Ottoman Empire as the largest caliphate that had a great influence on various countries and formed a magnificent civilisation. It was famous for its military power and was built on a multi-ethnic and multi-religious concept. The concept of millet allowed each religious group to live together peacefully and in brotherhood. However, the Ottoman Empire started to decline in the 18th century (but see later text) due to its defeat in wars, European intervention, and economic downturns, which were exacerbated by internal factors.
By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was called The Sick Man of Europe and continued to decline and reached its peak of downfall with the emergence of the concept of nation-states and the influence of modernisation.
The Impact of Nationalism on the Ottoman Empire
Influenced by the rise of the Western notion of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, it eventually caused the breakdown of the Ottoman millet system. The concept of nationhood, which was different from the preceding religious community concept of the millet system, was a key factor in the decline of the Ottoman Empire. In the Ottoman Empire, the Islamic faith was the official religion, with members holding all rights, as opposed to Non-Muslims, who were restricted. Non-Muslim (known as dhimmi) ethno-religious legal groups were identified as different millets, meaning “nations”.
Ideas of nationalism emerged in Europe in the 19th century when most of the Balkans were still under Ottoman rule. The Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire, starting with Serbs and Greeks but later spreading to Montenegrins and Bulgarians, began to demand autonomy in a series of armed revolts beginning with the Serbian Revolution (1804–17) and the Greek War of Independence (1821–29), which established the Principality of Serbia and Hellenic Republic. The first revolt in the Ottoman Empire fought under a nationalist ideology was the Serbian Revolution. Later the Principality of Montenegro was established through the Montenegrin secularisation and the Battle of Grahovac. The Principality of Bulgaria was established through the process of the Bulgarian National Revival and the subsequent National awakening of Bulgaria, the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate, the April Uprising of 1876, and the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).
The radical elements of the Young Turk movement in the early 20th century had grown disillusioned with what they perceived to be the failures of 19th century Ottoman reformers, who had failed to stop the advance of European expansionism or the spread of nationalist movements in the Balkans. These sentiments were shared by the Kemalists. These groups abandoned the idea of Ittihad-i anasır (“Unity of the Ethnic Elements”), which had been a fundamental principle of the reform generation, and instead took up the mantle of Turkish nationalism.
Michael Hechter, the American sociologist and Foundation Professor of Political Science at Arizona State University and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, argues that the rise of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire was the result of a backlash against Ottoman attempts to institute more direct and central forms of rule over populations which had previously had greater autonomy.
The Rise of the Empire
The rise of the Ottoman Empire can be traced back to the late 13th century when a tribal leader named Osman I (1259–1326), a Turkish Muslim prince in Bithynia, established a small principality in western Anatolia and conquered neighbouring regions once held by the Seljūq dynasty and founded his own ruling line circa 1300. Osman I and his descendants gradually expanded their territory through military conquests, diplomacy, and strategic alliances with other rulers.
Ottoman troops first invaded Europe in 1345, sweeping through the Balkans. Though defeated by Timur in 1402, by 1453, the Ottomans, under Mehmed II (the Conqueror), had destroyed the Byzantine Empire and captured its capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul), which subsequently served as the Ottoman capital.
The Height of Power and Glory
The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest-lasting Empires in history. Under the reign of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), it attained the height of its power and glory. Süleiman was a great military commander, diplomat, and patron of the arts.
During his reign, the empire extended its territory to its greatest extent, including much of southeastern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Süleiman also implemented significant legal and administrative reforms, including the creation of a centralised government and a legal system based on Islamic law.
Beginning with Selim (Süleiman the Magnificent’s father), the Ottoman sultans held the title of Caliph, the spiritual head of Islam.
Over time, the Ottoman Empire began to decline due to a combination of internal problems such as corruption, economic instability, and social unrest, as well as external pressures from European powers seeking to expand their influence in the region.
The Tanzimat – Leading to the end of the Old Regime period
In the late 18th century, the Ottoman Empire faced numerous enemies. In response to these threats, the empire initiated internal reforms (the period known as the Tanzimat), which led to the end of the Old Regime period. The Ottoman central state was significantly strengthened, despite the Empire’s precarious international position and over the 19th century, the Ottoman state became increasingly powerful and rationalised, exercising a greater degree of influence over its population than in any previous era. The process of reform and modernisation in the empire began with the declaration of the Nizam-I Cedid (New Order) during the reign of Sultan Selim III and was punctuated by several reform decrees, such as the Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane in 1839 and the Hatt-ı Hümayun in 1856.
Yet, despite these attempts at revitalisation, the empire could not stem the rising tide of nationalism, especially among the ethnic minorities in its Balkan provinces. Numerous revolts and wars of independence, together with repeated incursions by Russia in the northeast and France (and later Britain) in the North African eyalets, resulted in a steady loss of territories throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The rise of nationalism continued inexorably and swept through many countries during the 19th century, affecting territories within the Ottoman Empire. A burgeoning national consciousness, together with a growing sense of ethnic nationalism, made nationalistic-thought one of the most significant Western ideas imported to the Ottoman Empire, forcing it to deal with nationalism from both within and beyond its borders.
By 1908, the Ottoman military became modernised and professionalised along the lines of Western European armies. The period was followed by the defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1922).
The Fall from Glory
Picture: The Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese
Attribution: Paolo Veronese, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Battle_of_Lepanto_by_Paolo_Veronese.jpeg
After Süleiman’s death, the empire began to decline after being defeated at the Battle of Lepanto (1571), losing almost its entire navy. The naval engagement took place on 7th October 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Catholic states (comprising Spain and its Italian territories, several independent Italian states, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta) arranged by Pope Pius V, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras.
The Empire declined further during the next centuries and was effectively finished by the First World War and the Balkan Wars. The Ottomans faced increasing competition and pressure from European powers such as Russia, Austria, and Britain, as well as suffering from internal problems such as corruption, economic stagnation, and ethnic and religious tensions. The empire lost many of its territories and suffered military defeats, such as the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The reforms and modernisation efforts of the Tanzimat era in the 19th century were not enough to stop the decline.
In the early 20th century, the Empire was weakened further by unabated internal rebellion and external threats from European powers.
World War I proved to be the final blow. The Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who initiated significant political, social, and cultural reforms aimed at modernising and secularising the country.
Picture: Partition of the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Sèvres
Attribution: English translation and updates: Spesh531Derivate of File:Turkey map.svg: Thomas Steiner, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Treaty_of_S%C3%A8vres_1920.svg
Secret Treaty with Germany and attempts at a Peace Treaty
Aligning with Germany in World War I may have been the most significant reason for the Ottoman Empire’s ultimate demise. Before the war, the Ottoman Empire had signed a secret treaty of alliance with Germany, which transpired to be a bad choice. During the ensuing conflict, the Empire’s army fought a brutal, bloody campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula to protect Constantinople from invading Allied forces in 1915 and 1916. In the process, it lost nearly half a million soldiers, most of them to disease, plus about 3.8 million more injured or ill. In October 1918, the Empire signed an armistice with Great Britain and quit the war, and its territories were divided among various European powers under the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.
The Treaty of Sèvres was superseded by The Treaty of Lausanne, a peace treaty negotiated during the Lausanne Conference of 1922–23 and signed in the Palais de Rumine, Lausanne, Switzerland, on 24th July 1923. The Treaty of Lausanne officially and finally settled the conflict that had originally existed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied French Republic, British Empire, Kingdom of Italy, Empire of Japan, Kingdom of Greece, Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Romania since the onset of World War I.
The Treaty of Lausanne resulted from a second attempt at peace after the failed and unratified Treaty of Sèvres, which aimed to divide Ottoman territories. The ceding of Eastern Mediterranean lands saw the introduction of novel polities, including the British Mandate for Palestine and the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. The earlier treaty had been signed in 1920 but later rejected by the Turkish National Movement, which fought against its terms in the Turkish War of Independence. As a result of the Greco-Turkish War (see below), Izmir was retrieved, and the Armistice of Mudanya was signed in October 1922. It provided for the Greek-Turkish population exchange and allowed unrestricted civilian, and non-military, passage through the Turkish Straits. The Treaty of Lausanne was ratified by Turkey on 23rd August 1923, and all of the other signatories on 16th July 1924 and came into force on 6th August 1924, when the instruments of ratification were officially deposited in Paris.
The Greco-Turkish War
The Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922 was fought between Greece and the Turkish National Movement during the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I, between May 1919 and October 1922.
The main cause of the Greek campaign was that the western Allies, particularly British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had promised Greece territorial gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, recently defeated in World War I. Greek claims stemmed from the fact that Anatolia had been part of Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire before the Turks conquered the area in the 12th-15th centuries. The armed conflict started when the Greek forces landed in Smyrna (now İzmir) on 15th May 1919. They advanced inland and took control of the western and northwestern part of Anatolia, including the cities of Manisa, Balıkesir, Aydın, Kütahya, Bursa, and Eskişehir. Their advance was checked by Turkish forces at the Battle of the Sakarya in 1921.
The Greek front collapsed with the Turkish counter-attack in August 1922, and the war effectively ended with the recapture of Smyrna by Turkish forces and the great fire of Smyrna. As a result, the Greek government accepted the demands of the Turkish National Movement and returned to its pre-war borders, thus leaving Eastern Thrace and Western Anatolia to Turkey. The Allies abandoned the Treaty of Sèvres to negotiate a new treaty at Lausanne with the Turkish National Movement. The Treaty of Lausanne recognised the independence of the Republic of Turkey and its sovereignty over Anatolia, Istanbul, and Eastern Thrace. The Greek and Turkish governments agreed to engage in a population exchange.
The demise of the Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Caliphate) made a lasting impact on the Muslim world. Britain and France carved up the Middle East through Sykes-Picot Agreement and gave birth to a new Middle East where oil and petrodollar shaped the politics and economy under their patronage. The agreement also led to the decade-long conflict between the native Palestinians and the Jewish settlers from Europe in the occupied territories.
The Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman Caliphate are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two:
- The Ottoman Empire was a large, multi-ethnic empire that emerged in the 14th century in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and eventually grew to encompass much of southeastern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. The empire was ruled by the Ottoman dynasty, which was founded by Osman I in 1299 and lasted until the abolition of the sultanate in 1922.
- On the other hand, the Ottoman Caliphate was the political and religious institution headed by the Caliph – the Muslim world’s leader. The caliphate was established after the Ottoman Empire conquered the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517 and took control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Ottoman sultan assumed the title of Caliph and became the spiritual leader of the Muslim world, which gave the empire greater legitimacy in the Islamic world.
- The demise of the Ottoman Empire refers to the decline and eventual collapse of the Ottoman state in the early 20th century. The empire suffered from several internal and external factors that weakened its economy, military, and political institutions. It lost much of its territory in the Balkans and the Caucasus in the 19th century, and its defeat in World War I led to the partitioning of the empire by the victorious Allied powers.
- In 1922, the Ottoman sultanate was abolished, and the empire was replaced by the Turkish Republic, which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The caliphate, which had been weakened by the decline of the Empire and the rise of secularism, was abolished in 1924 by the Turkish National Assembly.
List of Battles
There follows a list of some of the battles that took place, contributing to the decline of the Ottoman Empire and its eventual abolition:
- Battle of Kosovo (1389): Fought between the Ottoman Empire and a coalition of Balkan states, the battle resulted in an Ottoman victory but at the cost of the life of Sultan Murad I.
- Battle of Nicopolis (1396): A major defeat for the Ottomans, who were under the command of Bayezid I, at the hands of a Christian coalition led by King Sigismund of Hungary.
- Battle of Chaldiran (1514): A victory for the Ottoman Empire over the Safavid Empire of Iran, which marked the beginning of a long-lasting rivalry between the two powers.
- Battle of Mohács (1526): This battle was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary. The Ottomans won a decisive victory, resulting in the death of King Louis II of Hungary and the capture of Buda, the Hungarian capital. It was a major victory for the Ottoman Empire and led to the occupation of much of Hungary by the Ottomans.
- Battle of Lepanto (1571): This naval battle occurred between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League (a coalition of Catholic states). It was a naval engagement that took place on 7th October 1571, when a fleet of the Holy League (an alliance of Catholic states comprising Spain and its Italian territories, several independent Italian states, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta) arranged by Pope Pius V, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras. The Ottomans lost almost their entire navy, which severely weakened their naval power.
- Siege of Vienna (1683): The Ottoman Empire, under the leadership of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, tried to conquer Vienna, which was a key city in Central Europe. The Ottomans were defeated by the Holy League, a coalition of European states which was led by Polish King John III Sobieski. This battle marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman expansion in Europe.
- Battle of Vienna (1739): A decisive victory for the Ottoman Empire over Austria in the War of the Polish Succession, which allowed the Ottomans to maintain their territorial gains in southeastern Europe.
- Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774): This war was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire. The Ottomans were defeated, and the war resulted in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, which gave Russia several territories that had previously been part of the Ottoman Empire.
- Greek War of Independence (1821-1832): This war was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Greeks, who were seeking independence. The Greeks were eventually successful, and the war resulted in the establishment of the modern Greek state.
- Crimean War (1853-1856): This war was fought between the Ottoman Empire, Britain, France, and Sardinia against Russia. The Ottomans were supported by their allies and emerged victorious, but the war weakened the Ottoman Empire and paved the way for further European intervention in the region.
- Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878): This war took place between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, which was seeking to expand its territory into the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire was defeated, and as a result, they had to cede several territories to Russia, including the territories of Batumi, Kars, and Ardahan. This defeat weakened the Ottoman Empire and showed its vulnerability to external threats.
- Balkan Wars (1912-1913): These wars occurred between the Ottoman Empire and several Balkan states, including Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro. The Balkan states sought independence from Ottoman rule and succeeded in that endeavour. The Ottomans were defeated and lost much of their territory in the Balkans.
- Battle of Gallipoli (1915-1916): This battle took place during World War I between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied forces, which included troops from Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The Allied forces attempted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople by launching a naval attack on the Dardanelles strait and then invading the Gallipoli peninsula. However, the Ottoman Empire successfully repelled the invasion, which led to a stalemate. This battle was a significant loss for the Allies and resulted in heavy casualties.
Picture: Gallipoli campaign. (2023, March 11).
In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli
The life span of the Ottoman Empire was more than six centuries, and the maximum territorial extent, at the zenith of its power in the second half of the 16th century, stretched from central Europe to the Persian Gulf and from the Caspian Sea to North Africa. The number of battles the empire fought was high, and only the more important battles are listed above. These battles, among others, played significant roles in shaping the history of the Ottoman Empire and the wider world and led to the weakening and eventual collapse of the Empire.
Picture: 16th-century depiction of Osman I by Paolo Veronese
Attribution: Paolo Veronese, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paolo_Veronese_(Nachfolger)_-_Sultan_Osman_I._-_2242_-_Bavarian_State_Painting_Collections.jpg
From First to Last: Leaders of the Ottoman Empire
- Osman I or Osman Ghazi, and sometimes transliterated archaically as Othman (1299-1326) – (Founder of the Ottoman Empire and the first Ottoman Bey (chief).
- Orhan I (1326-1362) – Expanded the Ottoman territories and established the capital in Bursa.
- Murad I (1362-1389) – Consolidated Ottoman power and defeated the Serbian and Bulgarian armies.
- Bayezid I (1389-1402) – Conquered much of the Balkans but was defeated by Timur at the Battle of Ankara.
- Mehmed I (1413-1421) – Restored Ottoman power after the defeat of Bayezid I and established the Janissary corps.
- Murad II (1421-1444, and 1446-1451) – Fought against the Hungarians and the Venetians and defeated the Crusader army at the Battle of Varna.
- Mehmed II (1451-1481) – Conquered Constantinople in 1453, expanded Ottoman territories into Europe, and established Istanbul as the new capital.
- Bayezid II (1481-1512) – Maintained peace and stability within the empire, and welcomed Jewish and Muslim refugees from Spain.
- Selim I (1512-1520) – Conquered the Safavid Empire, expanded Ottoman territories into the Middle East, and proclaimed himself the Caliph.
- Süleiman I (1520-1566) – the 10th and longest-serving of all the Ottoman leaders, he was commonly known as Süleiman the Magnificent in the West and Süleiman the Lawgiver in his realm, conquered Hungary and much of Eastern Europe, modernised the Ottoman army and ushered in the Ottoman Golden Age of culture and art.
- Selim II (1566-1574) – Fought against the Venetians and established the Ottoman navy.
- Murad III (1574-1595) – Consolidated Ottoman power and maintained peace within the empire.
- Mehmed III (1595-1603) – Defeated the Safavids and conquered Azerbaijan and Georgia.
- Ahmed I (1603-1617) – Promoted arts and culture, established the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and oversaw the first printing press in the Ottoman Empire.
- Mustafa I (1617-1618, 1622-1623) – Suffered from mental illness and was deposed twice.
- Osman II (1618-1622) – Attempted to modernise the Ottoman army and was assassinated by Janissaries.
- Murad IV (1623-1640) – Fought against the Safavids, suppressed rebellion within the empire, and reformed the Ottoman legal system.
- Ibrahim (1640-1648) – Suffered from mental illness and was deposed and executed.
- Mehmed IV (1648-1687) – Conquered Crete, fought against the Holy League, and signed the Treaty of Karlowitz, ceding much of Hungary to Austria.
- Süleiman II (1687-1691) – Fought against the Holy League and reclaimed parts of Hungary.
- Ahmed II (1691-1695) – Maintained peace within the empire and signed the Treaty of Carlowitz, ending the Great Turkish War.
- Mustafa II (1695-1703) – Fought against the Habsburgs and the Venetians and lost much of Hungary to Austria.
- Ahmed III (1703-1730) – Encouraged trade and arts, reformed the Ottoman military, and established the Tulip Era, known for its cultural achievements.
- Mahmud I (1730-1754) – Restored order to the Ottoman government after political instability and maintained peace with Europe.
- Osman III (1754-1757) – Continued Mahmud I’s policies of peace and stability but suffered from mental illness and died young.
- Mustafa III (1757-1774) – Conquered Crimea and fought against Russia in the Russo-Turkish War but was ultimately defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji.
- Abdulhamid I (1774-1789) – Reformed the Ottoman legal system and established a modern postal service.
- Selim III (1789-1807) – Attempted to modernise the Ottoman army and government but faced opposition from conservative forces and was eventually overthrown in a palace coup.
- Mustafa IV (1807-1808) – Succeeded Selim III but was deposed and executed after a rebellion.
- Mahmud II (1808-1839) – Abolished the Janissary corps, established a new army and navy, and implemented a series of reforms known as the Tanzimat.
- Abdulmejid I (1839-1861) – Continued the Tanzimat reforms, abolished the Ottoman slave trade, and established a new education system.
- Abdulaziz (1861-1876) – Presided in a period of economic growth and modernisation but faced opposition from conservative forces and was ultimately deposed.
- Murad V (1876) – Succeeded Abdulaziz but suffered from mental illness and was deposed after only three months.
- Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) – Abolished the Ottoman parliament and ruled as an autocrat but also oversaw a period of modernisation and infrastructure development.
- Mehmed V (1909-1918) – Succeeded Abdulhamid II, but the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire overshadowed his reign.
- Mehmed VI (1918-1922) – Last Ottoman Sultan, who presided over the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the transition to a republic.
Between 1402 and 1413, there was a period of Ottoman Interregnum, during which the Ottoman Empire was in a state of civil war, and no single ruler emerged as the empire’s leader. Between 1444 and 1446, Murad II abdicated the throne in favour of his son Mehmed II, a voluntary abdication, meaning Mehmed II became the de facto ruler during that time, although he did not officially assume the title of Sultan until 1451.
There were other leaders whose names do not appear above – they were not sultans but grand viziers and regents, but nevertheless played significant roles in the history of the Ottoman Empire.
Picture: 36th and last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, also 115th Caliph of Islam; Mehmed VI.
Attribution: George Grantham Bain, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sultan_Mehmed_VI_of_the_Ottoman_Empire.jpg
Concluding Comments and Observations
The Ottoman Empire was vast, powerful and influential in world history spanning multiple continents and lasting over six centuries. It held sway over territories stretching, at their greatest, from Hungary to the Persian Gulf and North Africa to the Caucasus. During this time, it made significant contributions to humanity in various fields, examples of which are:
- Cultural Diversity: The Ottoman Empire was home to diverse cultures and religions, which led to a rich exchange of ideas and traditions. This diversity gave birth to a unique Ottoman culture that blended elements from different civilizations and enriched the global culture.
- Architecture: The Ottomans were renowned for their impressive architecture, which incorporated various styles, such as Byzantine, Islamic, and European. Some of the most famous Ottoman architectural masterpieces include the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia.
- Scientific Progress: The Ottomans made significant contributions to scientific progress, particularly in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. They built observatories and established schools to promote scientific inquiry.
- Legal System: The Ottomans developed a sophisticated legal system that included sharia law and a complex bureaucracy. Their legal system influenced many other societies, including European ones.
- Trade: The Ottomans were excellent traders and established a vast network of trade routes that connected Asia, Africa, and Europe. They facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas, which helped to spur economic growth and cultural exchange.
Nationalism created instability and conflict within the Empire and was exploited by European powers to further their own interests. Ultimately, nationalism played a significant role in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and shaped the course of history in the Middle East and beyond.
Picture: Ottoman troops attempting to halt the advancing Russians during the Siege of Ochakov in 1788.
Attribution: January Suchodolski, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:January_Suchodolski_-_Ochakiv_siege.jpg
I will end this paper by sharing some lesser-known or obscure facts about the Ottoman Empire, how women were treated, Ottoman children and finally, life expectation.
The Lesser-known or Obscure Facts:
- Sultans’ reigns were not always peaceful: While the Ottoman Empire is often viewed as an exemplar of political stability, many sultans faced significant opposition and even uprisings during their reigns. For example, Mehmed II faced multiple rebellions, and Selim I was challenged by his brothers for the throne.
- Ottoman women had significant influence: Women in the Ottoman Empire often held significant power behind the scenes, particularly in the imperial harem. The sultan’s mother, known as the Valide Sultan, had much influence over the imperial court and could even act as regent in the sultan’s absence.
- The empire was multicultural: While the Ottomans were Muslims and Turkish-speaking, their empire was incredibly diverse, with many different ethnic and religious groups living within its borders. Christians, Jews, Armenians, and other groups coexisted with the Muslim majority and were allowed to maintain their cultural and religious practices.
- The Ottomans invented the first coffeehouse: While coffee is now enjoyed worldwide, it was first popularised in the Ottoman Empire. The first coffeehouse opened in Istanbul in the 16th century, and these establishments quickly became popular gathering places for intellectuals, poets, and other cultural figures.
- The empire was technologically advanced: While the Ottomans are often viewed as a pre-modern civilization, they were actually quite technologically advanced for their time. They developed advanced military technologies such as artillery and firearms and made significant contributions to fields such as astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.
- The Ottomans were skilled shipbuilders and sailors: The Ottoman Empire had a powerful navy and could control important Mediterranean and Black Seas sea routes. The Ottomans were also skilled shipbuilders and were the first to develop the “floating battery,” a type of ship that was heavily armoured and could be used to attack fortresses.
- Ottoman music was highly diverse: Ottoman music was not limited to traditional Turkish and Arabic music but also included influences from Persia, Greece, and the Balkans. Ottoman court music was highly sophisticated and had instruments such as the oud, ney, and kanun.
- The Ottomans used a unique form of currency: The Ottoman Empire used a currency known as the akçe, which was made of silver and copper alloy. The coins were thin and easily transportable, allowing for easy trade within the empire.
- The Ottomans had a complex system of governance: The Ottoman Empire was governed through a complex system of central and local institutions, including the imperial divan (council), the governors of provinces (beylerbeyis), and the judiciary. The empire was also divided into administrative units known as vilayets, which were further divided into sanjaks and kazas.
- The Ottomans were involved in global trade: The Ottomans had extensive trade networks and were involved in the global spice and silk trades. They also exported goods such as textiles, ceramics, and carpets, highly prized in Europe and Asia.
- The Ottomans had a unique taxation system: The Ottomans used a taxation system known as the timar system, which involved granting land to military officers in exchange for military service. This system allowed the Ottomans to maintain a large and well-trained army without paying for it directly.
- The Ottomans had a strong tradition of calligraphy: Calligraphy was considered a high art form in the Ottoman Empire, and many sultans and other court members were skilled calligraphers. Ottoman calligraphy was heavily influenced by Islamic art and included elaborate scripts such as thuluth and naskh.
- The Ottomans were skilled traders: In addition to being involved in global trade, the Ottomans were skilled negotiators and often used trade as a means of diplomacy. They negotiated trade agreements with European powers such as Venice and France and used their position as a major trading power to their advantage.
- The Ottomans had a complex system of social classes: The Ottoman Empire was divided into a complex system of social classes, including the ruling elite, the military class, and the commoners. Within these classes, there were further subdivisions based on factors such as religion and ethnicity.
- The Ottomans had a rich literary tradition: Ottoman literature was highly diverse and included poetry, fiction, and historical works. Some of the most famous Ottoman writers include the poet Fuzuli and the historian Mustafa Ali.
- The first newspapers in the Ottoman Empire were owned by foreigners living there who wanted to make propaganda about the Western world. The earliest was printed in September 1795 by the Palais de France in Pera (now Beyoğlu) during the embassy of Raymond de Verninac-Saint-Maur. It is believed to have been issued fortnightly as “Bulletin de Nouvelles” until March 1796. Afterwards, it was published as “Gazette française de Constantinople” from September 1796 to May 1797 and “Mercure Oriental” from May to July 1797. Its main purpose was to convey information about the politics of Post-Revolutionary France to foreigners living in Istanbul, and it had little impact on the local population. The first official gazette of the Ottoman State was published in 1831, on the order of Mahmud II. It was entitled “Moniteur Ottoman“, perhaps referring to the French newspaper Le Moniteur Universel.
How Women were Treated
The treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire varied depending on factors such as social class, ethnicity, and religion. However, women in the Ottoman Empire generally had limited rights and were subject to strict social norms and gender roles.
Women in the upper classes had more freedom and opportunities than those in the lower classes. For example, the mother and wife (or wives) of sultans, known as the Valide Sultan and Harem Sultan, respectively, wielded significant influence and power within the imperial court. They were often involved in the education of their sons, and the mother was able to act as regent in the sultan’s absence.
However, women in the lower classes had fewer opportunities and were subject to more restrictions. They were expected to be modest and obedient, and their roles were primarily limited to domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. Women in rural areas were often isolated and had little access to education or healthcare.
Polygamy was also practised in the Ottoman Empire, although it was limited to the upper classes. Wealthy men could have multiple wives and concubines, and the children of these relationships were considered legitimate heirs. However, this practice was not common among the general population.
In general, the Ottoman Empire was a patriarchal society, and men held most of the power and authority. Women were expected to be submissive and obedient to male authority figures, and their opportunities for education and employment were limited. However, it is important to note that the experiences of women in the Ottoman Empire were diverse and varied depending on factors such as social class, ethnicity, and religion.
Children in the Ottoman Empire were typically treated with care and affection, especially within the family unit. However, child labour was also common, especially among the lower classes, and many children were expected to work from a young age to contribute to the family’s income.
The number of children parents had in the Ottoman Empire varied depending on social class, religion, and culture. Among the upper classes, having many children was often seen as a sign of wealth and status. In contrast, having many children could be a burden among the lower classes, as they were often expected to work and contribute to the family’s income.
The life expectancy of people in the Ottoman Empire varied depending on factors such as social class, occupation, and access to healthcare. However, in general, life expectancy was lower than it is today. According to some estimates, life expectancy at birth in the Ottoman Empire was around 30-40 years, although this varied depending on factors such as region and occupation. Factors such as war, famine, and disease also had a significant effect on life expectancy.
This section explains Islamic words and other terms used in this paper (in alphabetical order):
- Anatolian Seljuks: a Turkic Muslim dynasty that ruled over parts of present-day Turkey and Iran in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were one of the several branches of the Seljuk Empire, which emerged in the 11th century in Central Asia and quickly expanded across the Middle East, Anatolia, and Central Asia. The Anatolian Seljuks emerged after the collapse of the Great Seljuk Empire, which was divided into smaller, more manageable states. The Anatolian Seljuks were based in the city of Konya, in present-day Turkey, and were led by a series of powerful sultans, including Kilij Arslan I, who fought against the Byzantine Empire and the Crusaders during the First Crusade.Under the Anatolian Seljuks, the region saw significant cultural, economic, and political developments. The Seljuk sultans patronised the arts, literature, and architecture, commissioning many impressive buildings and monuments that still stand today, such as the Alaeddin Mosque and the Mevlana Museum in Konya.
The Anatolian Seljuks were eventually weakened by internal conflicts and external pressures from the Mongols, who invaded the region in the 13th century. The Seljuk state was gradually absorbed into the expanding Ottoman Empire, which emerged as the dominant power in the region by the 15th century. However, the legacy of the Anatolian Seljuks can still be seen in the architecture, art, and culture of Turkey and the wider Islamic world.
- Beylerbeyis: Beylerbey (romanised: beylerbeyi or beylerbeyis): the ‘commander of commanders’ or ‘lord of lords’, a high rank in the western Islamic world in the late Middle Ages (lasting approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries), and early modern period (lasting from the late 15th to the late 18th centuries) from the Anatolian Seljuks (see above) and the Ilkhanids to the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
- Bithynia: an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) adjoining the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, and the Black Sea. It bordered Mysia to the southwest, Paphlagonia to the northeast along the Pontic coast, and Phrygia to the southeast towards the interior of Asia Minor.Bithynia was an independent kingdom from the 4th century BC. Its capital Nicomedia was rebuilt on the site of ancient Astacus in 264 BC by Nicomedes I of Bithynia. Bithynia was bequeathed to the Roman Republic in 74 BC and became united with the Pontus region as the province of Bithynia et Pontus. In the 7th century, it was incorporated into the Byzantine Opsikion theme. It became a border region to the Seljuk Empire in the 13th century and was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks between 1325 and 1333.
- (The) British Mandate for Palestine: a legal framework established by the League of Nations in 1922, which granted Britain control over the territory of Palestine (which included modern-day Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza) after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. The Mandate resulted from the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret agreement between Britain and France to divide the former Ottoman territories in the Middle East between them.Under the terms of the Mandate, Britain was responsible for administering Palestine and ensuring the establishment of a Jewish national home in the territory while also safeguarding the rights of the Arab population. The Mandate recognised the importance of the Balfour Declaration, a statement issued by the British government in 1917 that expressed support for establishing a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
During the period of the British Mandate, the population of Palestine increased significantly due in large part to Jewish immigration. The British government faced numerous challenges in balancing the interests of the Jewish and Arab people, and tensions between the two groups grew increasingly tense over time. In 1947, the British government announced its intention to withdraw from Palestine. The United Nations General Assembly voted to partition the territory into two separate states: Jewish and Arab. This decision was opposed by many in the Arab world, and it led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
The British Mandate for Palestine was a significant chapter in the history of the Middle East, and its legacy continues to be felt today in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- [A] Burgeoning National Consciousness: refers to a growing or developing a sense of shared identity and pride in one’s nationality. It suggests that a group of people or a nation is becoming more aware of their collective identity, culture, and history and is beginning to embrace these aspects of their identity more fully. This term often implies a sense of positive change or progress, as a burgeoning national consciousness can inspire a sense of unity, common purpose, and social cohesion. It can also contribute to the development of a shared vision for the future and a greater sense of pride in one’s country and its achievements.The word “burgeoning” suggests that this national consciousness is in the process of emerging or growing and may not yet be fully formed or mature. Nonetheless, it implies that there is potential for further growth and development, which could have significant social, cultural, and political implications.
- [The] Byzantine Empire: a continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire, which emerged after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. The empire was centred around the city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), which was founded by Roman Emperor Constantine in 324 AD and became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire lasted over 1,000 years, from 324 AD until 1453 AD, when the Ottoman Turks conquered it. It underwent significant political, social, and cultural changes during this time but remained one of the most powerful and influential states in Europe and the Mediterranean world. The Byzantine Empire was characterised by a strong centralised government led by an emperor who wielded religious and secular (relating to matters such as government, education, and culture) power. It was initially dominated by Greek and Roman cultural traditions, but it later incorporated elements of Christian theology and Byzantine art and architecture.The Byzantine Empire faced numerous challenges over the centuries, including invasions by barbarian tribes, wars with neighbouring powers such as the Sassanid Empire and the Islamic Caliphate, and internal conflicts such as the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Christian Church into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches. Despite these challenges, the Byzantine Empire maintained its power and influence and made significant contributions to the development of European civilisation. The empire was a major centre of learning and culture, producing influential thinkers such as Procopius, John of Damascus, and Michael Psellos and playing a key role in preserving and transmitting classical Greek and Roman knowledge to later generations.The Byzantine Empire officially ended when Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks on 29th May 1453. This marked the end of over a thousand years of Byzantine rule and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire in the region. The Byzantine Empire had been in decline for centuries, weakened by internal conflicts, invasions, and economic instability. The fall of Constantinople was a significant event in world history, marking the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance.
- Dhimmī (meaning “the people of the covenant”) or muʿāhid: a historical term for non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection. In its literal sense, the word means “protected person”, referring to the state’s obligation under sharia law to protect the individual’s life and property, as well as freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax, in contrast to the zakat, or obligatory alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmi were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims if they paid the poll tax (jizya) but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. Historically, dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians, and Sabians, who are considered “People of the Book” in Islamic theology. This status was later applied to Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. Jews and Christians were required to pay the jizyah while others, depending on the different rulings of the four Madhhabs, might be required to accept Islam, pay the jizya, be exiled, or be killed.
- [The] Grand Vizier and Regent: these were important political positions in the Ottoman Empire. The Grand Vizier was the highest-ranking official in the Ottoman government, serving as the chief minister and advisor to the Sultan.
* The Grand Vizier was responsible for overseeing the administration of the empire, including the collection of taxes, the maintenance of public order, and the management of the military. The Grand Vizier was appointed by the Sultan and served at his pleasure. He was typically chosen from among the members of the imperial household or the Ottoman aristocracy and was often a person of great wealth and influence.
* The Regent, however, was a temporary position that was created if the Sultan were incapacitated or unable to rule. The Regent was responsible for managing the affairs of state in the Sultan’s absence and was given the authority to make decisions on behalf of the Sultan. The position of Regent was typically held by a close family member of the Sultan, such as his mother, wife, or brother. The Regent was also assisted by a council of advisors (known as the Divan) which included the Grand Vizier and other high-ranking officials of the Ottoman government.Both the Grand Vizier and the Regent played important roles in the governance of the Ottoman Empire, and their actions and decisions often had significant impacts on the course of Ottoman history.
- Harem Sultan: the wife (or wives) of the Ottoman sultan who lived in the harem and wielded significant influence within the imperial court.
- [The] Ilkhanid Empire: a Mongol state that ruled over parts of Central Asia and the Middle East from the mid-13th century to the mid-14th century. The Ilkhanids were descended from Genghis Khan and were part of the larger Mongol Empire. Under the Ilkhanids, the Middle East saw significant cultural and economic development. The Ilkhanid rulers were patrons of the arts and literature, and they commissioned many impressive buildings and monuments, such as the mausoleum of the famous Persian poet Hafez in Shiraz.In the mid-14th century, the Ilkhanid Empire collapsed due to a combination of factors, including economic decline, political instability, and the Black Death. The region was then divided into smaller states, including the Timurid Empire, which emerged in the late 14th century.
- Interregnum: the period of time between the reigns of two monarchs or rulers, for example:
* Roman Empire Interregnum (193 AD): Following the assassination of Emperor Pertinax, a period of civil war and political turmoil ensued before Septimius Severus emerged as the new emperor.
* Byzantine Empire Interregnum (1057-1059 AD): Following the death of Emperor Theodora, there was a power struggle between various factions in the Byzantine court that lasted for over a year before Isaac I Komnenos was crowned as the new emperor.
* English Interregnum (1649-1660 AD): After the execution of King Charles I during the English Civil War, there was a period of republican rule under Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard Cromwell, which lasted until the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II.
* Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Interregnum (1672-1674 AD): Following the death of King Michael I of Poland, there was a period of political instability and conflict between various factions that lasted for over two years before Jan III Sobieski was elected as the new king.
* Qing Dynasty Interregnum (1861-1875 AD): Following the death of Emperor Xianfeng, there was a power struggle between his widow, Empress Dowager Cixi, and other members of the imperial court that lasted for over a decade before Cixi emerged as the de facto ruler of China.
- Ittihad-i Anasır: (also known as Ittihad-i Osmani or Ottoman Unity): a political movement that emerged in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. The movement aimed to promote Ottoman unity and identity and to counter the rising nationalism and separatism that threatened to break up the empire. Ittihad-i Anasır was founded in 1909 by a group of Ottoman intellectuals, politicians, and military officers, including Abdullah Cevdet, Ali Kemal Bey, and Enver Pasha. The movement advocated adopting a more inclusive and egalitarian form of Ottomanism based on a shared sense of Ottoman identity rather than ethnic or religious affiliation.The movement sought to unite different ethnic and religious groups within the Ottoman Empire, including Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians. It aimed to create a more pluralistic and democratic society where all citizens would have equal rights and opportunities regardless of their background. However, the Ittihad-i Anasır movement was also criticised for its centralising tendencies and role in suppressing dissent and opposition within the Ottoman Empire. It was closely associated with the Young Turks movement, which emerged in 1908 and implemented a series of reforms to modernise the Ottoman state. Despite its initial goals of promoting unity and inclusivity, the Ittihad-i Anasır movement ultimately failed to prevent the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. The empire was dissolved after World War I, and its territories were divided among the victorious Allied powers.
- Kanun: A term used in the Ottoman Empire to refer to both secular law and the entire legal system.
- Kazas: administrative divisions in the Ottoman Empire, equivalent to modern-day districts or counties.
- Kemalists: a political and intellectual movement that emerged in Turkey in the early 20th century, inspired by the ideas and reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the founder and first president of modern Turkey. The Kemalists were supporters of Atatürk’s vision of a secular, democratic, and modern Turkey and played a major role in shaping the country’s political, social, and cultural development. The Kemalist movement was based on six principles, known as the “Six Arrows,” which were defined by Atatürk as the core principles of the new Turkish state: Republicanism, Nationalism, Populism, Statism, Secularism, and Reformism.The Kemalists aimed to modernise Turkey by secularising society, replacing Islamic institutions with secular ones, and adopting Western-style political and legal systems. During the early years of the Turkish Republic, the Kemalists implemented a series of sweeping reforms aimed at transforming Turkish society and culture. These reforms included the adoption of a new legal code, the establishment of a secular education system, the promotion of women’s rights, the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, and the adoption of a new Turkish alphabet. The Kemalists also modernised Turkey’s economy, introducing new industries and encouraging foreign investment. The Kemalist movement remains influential in modern Turkey, and the principles of Kemalism are enshrined in the country’s constitution. However, the movement has also been the subject of controversy and debate, with some critics arguing that it was used to suppress political opposition and limit freedom of speech.
- Madhhabs, also known as the Sunni schools of Islamic law, are the following:
* Hanafi: the Hanafi school was founded by Abu Hanifa (699-767 AD), based in Kufa, Iraq. The Hanafi school is known for its emphasis on reason and analogy (qiyas) in legal reasoning.
* Maliki: the Maliki school was founded by Malik ibn Anas (711-795 AD), based in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The Maliki school is known for its emphasis on the practice and customs of the people of Medina (al-amal bi al-Madina) in legal reasoning.
* Shafi’i: the Shafi’i school was founded by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i (767-820 AD), based in Baghdad, Iraq. The Shafi’i school is known for its emphasis on the Quran and the Sunnah in legal reasoning.
* Hanbali: the Hanbali school was founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855 AD), based in Baghdad, Iraq. The Hanbali school is known for its strict adherence to the Quran and the Sunnah in legal reasoning.Each school listed has its own methodologies, interpretations, and opinions on Islamic law. They all share a common belief in the importance of the Quran and the Sunnah as sources of Islamic law but differ in their approach to legal reasoning and the weight they give to other sources of Islamic law.
- Millet: refers to a system of communal autonomy based on religious affiliation used in the Ottoman Empire to govern non-Muslim communities, such as Christians and Jews. Under the millet system, each religious group was allowed to govern itself according to its own laws and customs and was given a degree of self-governance in matters such as education, social welfare, and religious affairs.
- Naskh: a calligraphic script used in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish writing.
- Nationhood and Nationalism: Nationhood and Nationalism are related concepts but differ. Nationhood refers to the status of a nation, a community of people who share a common culture, history, language, and territory.
* Nationhood is a sense of shared identity and a common set of values and beliefs. A nation may or may not have a sovereign state, but it is defined primarily by its cultural and social characteristics rather than its political structure.
* Nationalism, on the other hand, is a political ideology that emphasises the importance of a nation’s identity and interests. Nationalism is based on the belief that each nation should have its own sovereign state and that this state should serve the interests of its people. Nationalists often advocate for preserving their nation’s cultural and social identity and may see other nations as threats to their own.In other words, nationhood is a cultural and social concept, while nationalism is a political ideology that seeks to advance the interests of a particular nation. While some forms of nationalism may be based on a genuine desire to protect a nation’s identity and way of life, others can be driven by more aggressive or exclusionary agendas that seek to promote one nation’s interests at the expense of others.
- Ney: a type of traditional flute used in Turkish classical music.
- [The 19th century] Ottoman Reformers: a group of thinkers, politicians, and intellectuals who sought to modernise and reform the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. This period of reform is often referred to as the Tanzimat era (1839-1876) and was marked by a series of reforms aimed at modernising the Ottoman state, society, and economy. These reformers sought to strengthen the Ottoman state, improve its economy, and modernise its institutions to meet the challenges of the modern world. Their efforts laid the foundation for the modernisation of Turkey in the 20th century. Some of the prominent Ottoman reformers of the 19th century include:
* Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839): He initiated a series of reforms in the military, administrative, and legal systems of the Ottoman Empire.
* Mustafa Reşid Pasha (1800-1858): a leading statesman and diplomat who played a major role in the Tanzimat reforms, including the establishment of a new legal code and the introduction of secular education.
* Midhat Pasha (1822-1884): a prominent statesman and reformer who played a major role in adopting a new Ottoman constitution in 1876.
* Namık Kemal (1840-1888): a prominent journalist, playwright, and political thinker who advocated for constitutional government, freedom of the press, and women’s rights.
* Ahmet Vefik Pasha (1823-1891): a prominent statesman, intellectual, and translator who played a major role in modernising Ottoman culture and education.
- [The] Ottoman Reform Decrees: a series of proclamations issued by the Ottoman sultans in the 19th century aimed at modernising and strengthening the Ottoman Empire in the face of growing European influence and military power. Two of the most significant of these decrees were the Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane in 1839 and the Hatt-ı Hümayun in 1856:
* The Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane, also known as the Imperial Rescript of 1839: issued by Sultan Abdulmecid I in response to a growing wave of nationalist and reformist sentiment within the Ottoman Empire. The decree abolished the practice of slavery, guaranteed the security of life and property for all Ottoman subjects, and established a system of equal taxation for Muslims and non-Muslims. It also created new institutions, such as a modern legal system and a council of advisors to the sultan, to modernise the Ottoman state.
* The Hatt-ı Hümayun, issued by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1856: was another important reform decree that aimed to modernise the Ottoman Empire further. The decree abolished the tax farming system, granted equal legal rights to all Ottoman subjects regardless of religion, and established a new method of education that emphasised science, technology, and modern languages.These reform decrees were part of a broader effort to modernise and reform the Ottoman Empire in response to Europe’s growing power and influence. While the decrees represented significant steps towards modernisation, they also faced resistance from conservative forces within Ottoman society who were wary of Western influence and the erosion of traditional Islamic values. Nonetheless, these reform decrees laid the groundwork for further reforms and modernisation efforts in the years to come.
- Oud: a type of traditional stringed instrument used in Turkish and Middle Eastern music.
- [The] Safavid Empire: the Safavid Empire emerged in the early 16th century as the dominant power in Iran and eventually absorbed the territories of the former Timurid Empire. The Safavids were a Shi’a Muslim dynasty, and their reign saw the establishment of Shi’ism as the dominant religion in Iran. The Safavid Empire was also known for its patronage of the arts, and it saw the development of a distinctive Safavid style of art and architecture. Under the Safavids, Iran saw significant economic and cultural development, with the establishment of a thriving carpet industry, the promotion of Persian literature, and the construction of many impressive buildings and monuments, such as the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan. The Safavid Empire lasted until the 18th century when internal conflicts and external pressures from the Ottoman Empire and Russia weakened it.
- Sanjaks: administrative divisions in the Ottoman Empire, equivalent to modern-day provinces.
- Secularisation: refers to the process by which society and culture become less influenced by religion and religious institutions. It involves a shift away from traditional religious beliefs, practices, and institutions and moves towards more secular or non-religious ways of thinking and living – in other words, the separation of religion from civil affairs and the state. The process of secularisation can take many forms, including (a) the decline in the number of people who identify themselves as religious, (b) the diminishing role of religion in public life, and (c) the increasing importance of non-religious institutions and values. Some factors contributing to secularisation include the rise of science and rationalism, the growth of democracy and individualism, and the increasing diversity of beliefs and values within society. Secularisation has had a significant impact on social and cultural norms, as well as on the role of religion in politics and public life. Whilst viewed as a positive development that has allowed for greater individual freedom and diversity and thought, others see it as a threat to traditional values and social cohesion.It’s important to note that secularisation is a complex and multifaceted process that can take different forms in different societies and historical contexts. Nonetheless, it is a significant trend that has shaped the modern world in many ways.
- [The] Serbian Revolution: a national uprising and constitutional change in Serbia that took place between 1804 and 1835, during which this territory evolved from an Ottoman province into a rebel territory, a constitutional monarchy, and modern Serbia.
- [The] Sick Man of Europe: a derogatory nickname given to the Ottoman Empire by Western European powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It referred to the Empire’s perceived decline and weakness, which was seen as a result of its inability to modernise and adapt to the changing geopolitical landscape of Europe. The Ottoman Empire was increasingly seen as a backward and stagnant power, unable to compete with the rapidly industrialising nations of Europe.
- [The] Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM): also known as the Order of Malta, is a Catholic religious order and a sovereign subject of international law. The Order traces its origins back to the Crusades in the 11th century and was originally founded as a military organisation to protect and care for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Today, the Order of Malta is a humanitarian organisation that operates in over 120 countries, providing medical aid, disaster relief, and social services to those in need. The Order also maintains diplomatic relations with over 100 states and is recognised as a sovereign subject of international law. The Order is led by the Grand Master, who is elected for life by the members of the Order’s Council Complete of State. The Grand Master is assisted by the Sovereign Council, which is responsible for the governance of the Order.The Order of Malta has its headquarters in Rome and is known for its distinctive black and white uniform and its emblem, a white eight-pointed cross on a red background. The Order’s mission is to uphold the principles of the Catholic faith and to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation.
- [The] Tanzimat era: a period of reform in the Ottoman Empire that began with the Gülhane Hatt-ı Şerif in 1839 and ended with the First Constitutional Era in 1876. The Tanzimat era started with the purpose not of radical transformation but of modernisation, desiring to consolidate the social and political foundations of the Ottoman Empire. It was characterised by various attempts to modernise the Ottoman Empire and to secure its territorial integrity against internal nationalist movements and external aggressive powers. The reforms encouraged Ottomanism among the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire and attempted to stem the tide of the rise of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire.
- Thuluth: a type of calligraphic script used in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish writing.
- Timurids: a Turkic-Mongol dynasty that ruled over parts of present-day Iran, Central Asia, and India. They were known for their patronage of the arts and literature, and their reign saw the development of a distinctive Timurid style of art and architecture.
- [The] Treaty of Sèvres: a 1920 treaty signed between the Allies of World War I and the Ottoman Empire, ceding large parts of the Ottoman territory to France, the UK, Greece and Italy and creating large occupation zones within the Ottoman Empire. It was one of a series of treaties that the Central Powers signed with the Allied Powers after their defeat in World War I. Hostilities had already ended with the Armistice of Mudros. The treaty was signed on 10th August 1920 at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres porcelain factory in Sèvres, France, and marked the beginning of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.The treaty’s stipulations included the renunciation of most territory not inhabited by Turkish people and their cession to the Allied administration. The ceding of Eastern Mediterranean lands saw the introduction of novel polities, including the British Mandate for Palestine and the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. The terms stirred hostility and Turkish nationalism. The treaty’s signatories were stripped of their citizenship by the Grand National Assembly, led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, which ignited the Turkish War of Independence. Hostilities with Britain over the neutral zone of the Straits were narrowly avoided in the Chanak Crisis of September 1922, when the Armistice of Mudanya was concluded on 11th October, leading the former Allies of World War I to return to the negotiating table with the Turks in November 1922. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which superseded the Treaty of Sèvres, finally ended the conflict and saw the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
- Turkish Nationalism: a political ideology that emphasises the importance of Turkish identity, culture, and history. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the Ottoman Empire faced challenges from rising nationalist movements in Europe and the Middle East. Turkish nationalism was closely associated with the Young Turks movement, a group of intellectuals and military officers who came to power in the Ottoman Empire in 1908 and implemented a series of reforms to modernise the state. The Young Turks advocated for a more centralised and unified Turkish state based on a common sense of Turkish identity and culture.After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, Turkish nationalism played a major role in the establishment of the modern Turkish state. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of modern Turkey, Turkish nationalism was enshrined in the country’s constitution and became a key element of Turkish politics and society. Atatürk sought to create a modern, secular, and democratic Turkish state based on the principles of Turkish nationalism. He implemented a series of reforms to promote Turkish identity and culture, including adopting a new Turkish alphabet, promoting Turkish as the official language, and introducing compulsory education. However, Turkish nationalism has also been associated with assimilation policies and repression of ethnic and cultural minorities within Turkey, such as Kurds and Armenians. The use of Turkish nationalism as a political tool has been the subject of ongoing debate and controversy in Turkey and the wider region.
- Valide Sultan: the mother of the Ottoman sultan, who had great influence over the imperial court and could even act as regent in the sultan’s absence.
- Vilayets: a term used in the Ottoman Empire to refer to a first-level administrative division similar to a province or state. The vilayets were created in the mid-19th century as part of administrative reforms designed to centralise and modernise the Ottoman state. They were each governed by a governor appointed by the central government and were further divided into sub-provincial districts called sanjaks (see above). The number and borders of the vilayets changed over time as the Ottoman Empire expanded and contracted and as new administrative reforms were implemented.
- [The] Young Turks Movement: a political and social reform movement in the Ottoman Empire that emerged in the early 20th century, led by a group of young intellectuals and military officers who sought to modernise the Ottoman state and society. The Young Turks were united by a desire for political and social reform and a commitment to Ottomanism, emphasising the importance of Ottoman identity and unity over ethnic or religious differences. The movement gained momentum after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and the subsequent loss of territory in the Balkans. The movement gained support among the educated and progressive segments of Ottoman society, who saw it as a way to save the empire from decline and disintegration. In 1908, the Young Turks staged a successful revolution against the Ottoman government, overthrowing the ruling regime and establishing a new government based on constitutional principles.The movement was supported by many in the Ottoman military, and the new government was led by a committee of Young Turk leaders. Under the Young Turks’ government, the Ottoman Empire underwent significant reforms to modernise the state and society. These reforms included the adoption of a new constitution, the establishment of a parliament, the promotion of education and literacy, and the introduction of secular legal codes. However, the Young Turks government was also criticised for its authoritarian tendencies and its repression of political opposition. The movement was closely associated with Turkish nationalism and was accused of promoting policies favouring ethnic Turks over other ethnic and religious groups within the empire. The Young Turks Movement played a significant role in the development of modern Turkey and the broader Middle East, and its legacy continues to be debated and analysed by scholars and historians today.
Sources and Further Reading
- A History of the Ottoman Empire by Douglas A. Howard (Cambridge University Press, 2017), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Ottoman-Empire-Douglas-Howard/dp/0521727308
- A Peace to End All Peace: 20th Anniversary Edition: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin (Henry Holt & Co., 2001), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Peace-End-All-Ottoman-Creation/dp/0805068848
- Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923 by Caroline Finkel (Basic Books, 2006), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Osmans-Dream-History-Ottoman-Empire/dp/0465023967/
- Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition by Norman Itzkowitz (University of Chicago Press, 1980), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-Islamic-Tradition-Phoenix/dp/0226388069
- Ottoman Empire and Its Successors, 1801-1927 by William Miller (Routledge, 1966), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-Its-Successors-1801-1927/dp/0714619744
- The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Palmer (Barnes & Noble Inc., 1992), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Decline-Fall-Ottoman-Empire/dp/156619847X/
- The Emergence of the Ottoman Empire by Stanford Shaw (Cambridge University Press, 1977), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Ottoman-Empire-Modern-Turkey/dp/B00SLUBOA6
- The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe by Daniel Goffman (Cambridge University Press, 2002), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-Approaches-European-History/dp/0521459087
- The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It by Suraiya Faroqhi (I.B. Tauris, 2011), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-Around-Library-Studies/dp/1845111222/
- The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy by Resat Kasaba (Cambridge University Press, 1988), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-World-Economy-Nineteenth/dp/0887068057
- The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power by Colin Imber (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-1300-1650-Structure-Power/dp/0230574513
- The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1600 by Halil Inalcik (W&N, 2000), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-1300-1600-Halil-Inalcik/dp/1842124420/
- The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 by Donald Quataert (Cambridge University Press, 2005), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-1700-1922-Approaches-European-History/dp/0521547822
- The Ottoman Empire, 1801-1913 by William Miller (Wentworth Press, 2019), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Empire-1801-1913-Miller-William/dp/0526304499
- The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 by Sean McMeekin (Penguin Press, 2016), available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottoman-Endgame-Revolution-Making-1908-1923/dp/0143109804
- Encyclopaedia of the Ottoman Empire, Hardcover, by Gabor Agoston (Author), Bruce Alan Masters (Author), Facts on File, 2008, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Encyclopedia-Ottoman-Empire-Gabor-Agoston/dp/0816062595
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source: Compiled from research using the information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
- Explanation: A magnificent civilisation refers to the Ottoman Empire’s impressive cultural, artistic, and architectural achievements during its long history. The Ottomans made significant contributions to the arts, literature, and sciences, and their empire was renowned for its grand mosques, palaces, and public buildings. ↑
- Explanation: The concept of millet refers to a system of communal autonomy based on religious affiliation that was used in the Ottoman Empire to govern non-Muslim communities, such as Christians and Jews. Under the millet system, each religious group was allowed to govern itself according to its own laws and customs and was given a degree of self-governance in matters such as education, social welfare, and religious affairs. ↑
- Explanation: The term Sick Man of Europe was a derogatory nickname given to the Ottoman Empire by Western European powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It referred to the empire’s perceived decline and weakness, which was seen as a result of its inability to modernise and adapt to the changing geopolitical landscape of Europe. The Ottoman Empire was increasingly seen as a backward and stagnant power, unable to compete with the rapidly industrialising nations of Europe. ↑
- Source: Translated from Indonesian: from the abstract of a paper titled ‘Ottoman Empire: Its Rise, Decline and Collapse’, by Ahmad Fuad Fanani (a PhD candidate at the Department of Political & Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, Mahasiswa Pascasarjana Flinders University, Adelaide-Australia; Dosen Universitas Muhammadiyah Prof. Dr HAMKA, Jakarta, at: https://edwardwimberley.com/courses/10580/ottoman.pdf↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: Roshwald, Aviel (2013). “Part II. The Emergence of Nationalism: Politics and Power – Nationalism in the Middle East, 1876–1945“. In Breuilly, John (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 220–241. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199209194.013.0011. ISBN 9780191750304. ↑
- See End Note 3, above. ↑
- Source: Antonello Biagini; Giovanna Motta (19 June 2014). Empires and Nations from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century: Volume 1. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 143–. ISBN 978-1-4438-6193-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Explanation: Dhimmī (meaning, “the people of the covenant”) or muʿāhid is a historical term for non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection. In its literal sense, the word means “protected person”, referring to the state’s obligation under sharia law to protect the individual’s life, property, as well as freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax, in contrast to the zakat, or obligatory alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmi were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims if they paid the poll tax (jizya) but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. Historically, dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians, and Sabians, who are considered to be “People of the Book” in Islamic theology. This status later also came to be applied to Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. Jews and Christians were required to pay the jizyah while others, depending on the different rulings of the four Madhhabs, might be required to accept Islam, pay the jizya, be exiled, or be killed. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhimmi ↑
- Source: Cagaptay, Soner (1 February 2014). The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power. Potomac Books, Inc. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-1-61234-650-2. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: Antonello Biagini; Giovanna Motta (19 June 2014). Empires and Nations from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century: Volume 1. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 143–. ISBN 978-1-4438-6193-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire#cite_note-Roshwald_2013-1 ↑
- Source: Stojanović, Mihailo D. (1968) . The Great Powers and the Balkans, 1875-1878. Cambridge University Press. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire#cite_note-Hanio%C4%9Flu2010-5 ↑
- Explanation: The Serbian Revolution was a national uprising and constitutional change in Serbia that took place between 1804 and 1835, during which this territory evolved from an Ottoman province into a rebel territory, a constitutional monarchy, and modern Serbia. Source: “The Serbian Revolution and the Serbian State” staff.lib.msu.edu. See: https://staff.lib.msu.edu/sowards/balkan/lecture5.html. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_Revolution ↑
- Source: Roshwald, Aviel (2013). “Part II. The Emergence of Nationalism: Politics and Power – Nationalism in the Middle East, 1876–1945”. In Breuilly, John (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 220–241. ISBN 9780191750304. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: Zürcher, Erik J. (2010). The Young Turk Legacy and Nation Building: From the Ottoman Empire to Atatürk’s Turkey. I.B. Tauris. p. 60.ISBN 9781848852723. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: Hechter, Michael (2001). Containing Nationalism. Oxford University Press. pp. 71–77. ISBN 0-19-924751-X. OCLC 470549985. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_nationalism_in_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Explanation: Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), adjoining the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, and the Black Sea. It bordered Mysia to the southwest, Paphlagonia to the northeast along the Pontic coast, and Phrygia to the southeast towards the interior of Asia Minor. Bithynia was an independent kingdom from the 4th century BC. Its capital Nicomedia was rebuilt on the site of ancient Astacus in 264 BC by Nicomedes I of Bithynia. Bithynia was bequeathed to the Roman Republic in 74 BC and became united with the Pontus region as the province of Bithynia et Pontus. In the 7th century, it was incorporated into the Byzantine Opsikion theme. It became a border region to the Seljuk Empire in the 13th century and was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks between 1325 and 1333. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bithynia ↑
- See my Blog on Süleiman the Magnificent at: https://martinpollins.com/2023/02/08/Süleiman-the-magnificent/↑
- Source: Quataert, Donald (1994). “The Age of Reforms, 1812-1914”. In İnalcık, Halil; Donald Quataert (eds.). An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 762. ISBN 0-521-57456-0. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decline_and_modernization_of_the_Ottoman_Empire ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lepanto ↑
- Explanation: The Tanzimat era was a period of reform in the Ottoman Empire that began with the Gülhane Hatt-ı Şerif in 1839 and ended with the First Constitutional Era in 1876. The Tanzimat era began with the purpose, not of radical transformation, but of modernisation, desiring to consolidate the social and political foundations of the Ottoman Empire. It was characterised by various attempts to modernise the Ottoman Empire and to secure its territorial integrity against internal nationalist movements and external aggressive powers. The reforms encouraged Ottomanism among the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire and attempted to stem the tide of the rise of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanzimat ↑
- Explanation: The Treaty of Sèvres was a 1920 treaty signed between the Allies of World War I and the Ottoman Empire. The treaty ceded large parts of the Ottoman territory to France, the United Kingdom, Greece and Italy, as well as creating large occupation zones within the Ottoman Empire. It was one of a series of treaties that the Central Powers signed with the Allied Powers after their defeat in World War I. Hostilities had already ended with the Armistice of Mudros. The treaty was signed on 10 August 1920 in an exhibition room at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres porcelain factory in Sèvres, France, and marked the beginning of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The treaty’s stipulations included the renunciation of most territory not inhabited by Turkish people and their cession to the Allied administration. The ceding of Eastern Mediterranean lands saw the introduction of novel polities, including the British Mandate for Palestine and the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. The terms stirred hostility and Turkish nationalism. The treaty’s signatories were stripped of their citizenship by the Grand National Assembly, led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, which ignited the Turkish War of Independence. Hostilities with Britain over the neutral zone of the Straits were narrowly avoided in the Chanak Crisis of September 1922, when the Armistice of Mudanya was concluded on 11th October, leading the former Allies of World War I to return to the negotiating table with the Turks in November 1922. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which superseded the Treaty of Sèvres, finally ended the conflict and saw the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Avres ↑
- Sources: “Palais de Rumine”. www.lonelyplanet.com, and “Palais de Rumine & Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts”. MySwitzerland.com. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lausanne ↑
- Source: Xypolia, Ilia (2021). “Imperial Bending of Rules: The British Empire, the Treaty of Lausanne, and Cypriot Immigration to Turkey”. Diplomacy & Statecraft. 32 (4): 674–691. doi:10.1080/09592296.2021.1996711. S2CID 246234931. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lausanne ↑
- Source: Treaty of Peace with Turkey signed at Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, 24 July 1923. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lausanne. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lausanne ↑
- Source: “League of Nations, Official Journal”. 4. October 1924: 1292.↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Turkish_War_(1919-1922) ↑
- Source: https://themedialine.org/mideast-streets/the-fall-of-the-ottoman-empire-and-its-consequences-in-the-middle-east/ ↑