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Introduction to Ottoman Empire

Explain the rise and fall of ottoman empire.

The aim of the essay is to give the detailed description of the rise and fall of Ottoman Empire. It will describe the period of expansion of Ottoman state (1298-1453) and how the empire reached its peak (1453-1683). It will give details on the domination of South-eastern Europe and the Middle East. It will highlight the classical Ottoman society and its administration.  The essay will describe the stagnation and reform period that prevented the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the period between 1683-1687.  Eventually, it will describe the decline phase of the empire (1828-1908) and identify the internal problems in Ottoman Empire. It will review the effort and contribution of each Ottoman king and describe the role played by each one of them to build the dynasty. The essay will explain how each king slowly added new territories to expand the Ottoman Empire and the important battles conquered by the king during the process. The essay will explain the historical importance and contribution of important Ottoman kings like Murad I, Mehmed the conqueror, Selim I and many others. It will specifically derive the strategic conquest between Mongols leader Timur and how they strategically took control over Constantinople. The essay will describe in detail about the peak period when Murad II redeveloped the Ottoman Empire. It has described the kings who were threat to the Ottoman expansion and how they overcome those obstacles to expand the empire. It will finally describe the stagnation period after the death of Suleiman and the short period of revival and reforms in the empire. It will explain the eventual decline of the empire in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It will highlight the reform efforts by the people and how the whole military was defeated finally. The essay seeks to explain important reasons because of which they could not recover from financial and technological losses and how the Europeans finally dominated their position. The Janissary revolt and World War I gave the final death blow to the empire from which they could not recover and the empire disintegrated into independent kingdoms.

The Ottoman Empire or the Turkish Empire came into being in 1299 under the rule of Osman I, a nomadic Turkmen chief in north-western Anatolia. The term Ottoman is due to the dynastic appeal, and it is derived from the name from the founder of the dynasty, Osman I. It became one of the most powerful empires in the world during 15th to 16th centuries. The Ottoman period existed for more than 600 years, and it came to final decline in 1922. The Turkish Republic replaced the Ottoman Empire and various other successor states in Europe and the Middle East. During its dominion period, it expanded to southeastern part of Europe till the Vienna gates, the Balkan region, Greece, Ukraine, Middle East, North Africa and Arabian Peninsula (Inalcik 2013).

Periods of Expansion and Peak

It became a transcontinental empire after Murad I annexed the Balkan region between 1362 and 1389 and became a claimant to the caliphate. The Ottomans were responsible for the decline of Byzantine Empire in 1453 after the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed, the Conqueror. The empire reached great height under the reign of Suleiman, the magnificent king in the period between 16th and 17th centuries. During his reign, it became a multi-national empire with control of power in much of Western Asia, The Caucasus, North Africa, etc. At the start of 17th century, the empire consisted of 32 provinces and many naval states. Some of this came from Ottoman dominion, and others were granted autonomous status with the passage of time (Davison 2015).

The Ottoman Empire remained the center of communication between Eastern and Western part of the world for six centuries when Constantinople was its capital, and it had control over Mediterranean Basin. After a prolonged empire military setback against a European power, the Ottoman Empire came to a decline in the late nineteenth centuries (Trumpener 2015).

The initial stage of Ottoman dynasty was characterized by continuous territorial expansion. It amalgamated political, economic and social practices of Islamic empires with those inherited from Byzantine and Turkish empire of Central Asia. It was reformed in new ways. The line of successors playing a role in Ottoman expansion took place under Osman I, Orkhan, Murad I, and Beyazid I after the loss of Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, and Serbia. The rise of Ottoman Empire took place between 1299 and 1453. Osman, I expanded the Turkish settlement and his rule extended to Eastern Mediterranean and The Balkans. Osman's son Orhan annexed the city of Bursa in 1324 and took it under Ottoman Empire. With this conquest, the Byzantines lost control over northern part of Anatolia. The victory at Kosovo in 1389 lead to the end of Serbian empire and further paved the way for the expansion of Ottoman Empire into Europe. Even the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 failed to prevent the progress of victorious Ottomans (Wittek 2013).

After the entry of Turkish into the Balkans, their main objective was the strategic conquest of Constantinople. The Empire had control over all Byzantine lands, but they were relieved when Mongol leader Timur, founder of Timurid Empire invaded eastern Anatolia. Timur defeated the Ottoman army in the Battle of Ankara in 1402 and took King Bayezid as a prisoner with them. The empire became much disorganized, and his arrest put the empire into disorder. The war between Timur and Ottoman Empire lasted from 1402 to 1413 when Bezzie's son tried to fight succession battles. The civil war finally came to an end when Mehmed I became the sultan and tried to restore the Ottoman Empire back to its original glory. This brought an end to the Interregnum period (Fleischer 2014). Several territories of Ottoman Empire in the Balkans were lost temporarily in 1402, but it was recovered back by Murad II in the period between  1430-1450. Murad II defeated Hungarian and Wallachian armies in 1444 under Wladyslaw III of Poland and John Hunyadi at the Battle of Varna. Four years later, John Hunyadi prepared another army for attacking the Turks, but Murad II again defeated him at the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448 (Miller 2013).

Classical Ottoman Society and Administration

The Ottoman dynasty reached its peak period in 1453-1566. After Murad II his son Mehmed (the Conqueror) redeveloped the empire and military of Ottoman Empire and conquered Constantinople on 1453. He allowed Church to stick to its autonomy and land only after they agreed to accept Ottoman authority. A significant number of Orthodox Christians accepted Turks dominion due to the bad relation between Western European states and the Byzantine empire (Walz 2014). The resistance of Albanian was a significant roadblock to Ottoman expansion in the Italian peninsula. It reached expansion period in the 15th and 16th century.  It grew positively under the rule of efficient Sultans like Selim I (1512-1520). He had a role in dramatically expanding the empire after defeating Shah Ismail of Persia in Battle of Chaldrian. He strengthened the Turk rule in Egypt and a naval center on the Red Sea. This expansion led to fierce competition between Portuguese Empire and Ottoman Empire for becoming a powerful kingdom in that region (Braude 2013).

After Selim I, Suleiman further expanded the empire by capturing Belgrade in 1521 and countries of Hungary after the historical battle of Mohacs in 1526. He tried seizing Vienna in 1529 but failed, so he made another attack on Vienna. Transylvania, Wallachia, etc. also became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman seized Baghdad from the Persians in 1535 and gained control over Mesopotamia and Navy in the Persian Gulf. The official partition of Caucasus in 1555 existed until the end of Russia-Turkish War in 1768-74 (Barbir 2014).  The France and the Ottoman Empire became strong allies. The joint venture between French kings Francis I and Suleiman lead to the conquest of Nice and Corsica. In 1559, the Ottomans acquired East Adal Sultanate in its domain. This further expanded Ottoman territory till Somalia and Horn of Africa. It increased their power in the Indian Ocean thus helping them compete against Portuguese. When Suleiman’s rule came to an end, the empire had a population of 15 million people extending to more than three continents. It also became a dominant naval force across the Mediterranean Sea. The extent of political and military achievement of the Ottoman Empire has been compared to the Roman Empire (Kunt and Woodhead 2014).

This section will describe the stagnation and reform period of Ottoman Empire between 1556-1827. The stagnation and decline of Ottoman Empire became evident after the death Suleiman in 1566. The period has short revival and recovery time for them. The decline of the empire gradually increased and by 1699, it was like a wretched kingdom (Davison 2015). The different historian has a different view on the reason for the downfall of the dynasty. Some explained that weak and degenerated successors, ill-equipped army, incompetent soldiers, corrupt official, enemies and treacherous members led to the downfall of the empire. The main weakness was that there was a lack of leadership. Some say that only one sultan out of 10 from 1292 to 1556 had admirable leadership qualities. Beside this from next group of Sultans between 1266 to 1703, only two were competent rulers. Therefore in a centralized system, failure of power at the center proved hazardous for the empire (Inalcik 2013). They consistently ignored Constantinople leading to these consequences. The Europeans were growing in their military strength while the strength of Ottoman army and their arms were hardly improved. It had an effect on their economic system too which became impoverished due to inflation caused by war. All their earnings suffered as world trade moved to other regions and law and order problem further made the economic progress difficult (Findley 2014). 

Stagnation and Reform Period

The period of 1566-1683 was a period of revolts and revivals of Ottoman Empire. The effective military and bureaucratic systems were highly affected due to a continuous period of misrule by the weak sultans. It lagged behind the Europeans regarding innovative military technology. The Ottoman Empire was crippled by increasing religious and intellectual conservatism. Despite all these issues the empire remained a dominion power until the Battle of Vienna in 1683 (Motyl 2013). The battle was responsible for the end of Ottoman empowerment from Europe. The Europeans discovered new business sea routes and this prevented Ottoman trade monopoly. The discovery of new route from Africa to Asia from Cape of Good Hope in 1488 by the Portuguese lead to some Ottoman-Portuguese naval wars in the Indian Ocean during the 16th century. The alliance of Somali Muslims with Ottoman led to the development of new coinage according to Ottoman pattern. It promoted economic independence (Clogg 2013).

A Catholic coalition took place between Philip II of Spain and the Ottoman naval army at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. It gave a great blow to the invincibility of Ottoman. Their image was also eroded by the victory of soldiers of Malta against the Ottoman invaders in 1565. It significantly damaged Ottoman navy, and the loss of manpower was huge than the loss of ships. The ships could be replaced but not the skills of soldiers who died. The Ottoman navy recovered soon, and they signed a peace treaty with Venice in 1573. This treaty leads to Ottoman expansion and strengthens their holding in Africa. The need of Ottoman infantry was required in the Long War against Habsburg Austria in 1593-1606. It created problems of indiscipline, disorder and rebelliousness within the soldiers. When the population of Ottoman Empire reached 30 million by 1600, shortage of land became a new burden on the government. In spite of all these problems Ottoman Empire did not collapse but they lost campaigns against Safavid dynasty of Persia (Masters 2013).

During the rule of Murad IV (1612-1640), he recaptured Iraq from Safavids. The period between 1648-1656 was the period of the Sultanate of women. In this period mother of young sultans exerted the powers of their son. Two women of importance were Kosem Sultan and her daughter-in-law Turhan Hatice. The political rivalry between the two women leads to Kosem's murder in 1651. The period of renewal came to an end in 1683 when Mustafa Pasha leads the second siege of Vienna in the Great Turkish War of 1683-1687. The final attack was postponed a lot, and it culminated in the Treaty of Karlowitz which ended the Great Turkish War. The Ottomans surrendered and Lost control of places forever. Mustafa II was also defeated at Zenta in 1697 (Gürkan 2015).

Decline Phase and Internal Problems

The Russian expansion was a significant threat for the Ottomans. King Charles II of Sweden persuaded Sultan Ahmed III to declare war on Russia in which Ottomans were victorious in 1710-1711. The war ended with the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739 resulting in the recovery of Serbia and Oltenia. This treaty gave peace to the Ottoman Empire as Austria and Russia were forced to check the development of Prussia. There were many educational and technical reforms in this period (Hutchinson 2012). Istnabul Technical University and an artillery school were opened. Repeated defeats in a war with Russians made people believe that Russians had an edge, and Ottomans should now keep western technology to prevent further defeats. So, first attempt to modernize the army was taken by Selim III (1787-1807). The Jannisary corps revolt lead to the death of Selim III. In 1821, Greeks also fought with Sultans. So some part of Ottoman Empire became independent (McCarthy 2014).

The period between 1828-1908 is the period of decline and modernization. The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a long battle for gaining control over declining Ottoman Empire. The war leads to massive financial losses for the Ottomans. There attempt of modernization was also affected by several threats from creditors. So the Ottoman state was bankrupt in 1875. In 1881, it agreed to have its debt controlled by Ottoman Public Debt Administration (Ahmad 2014). The Ottoman Empire gradually decreased in size after it lost Balkan War in 1912-1913. Many Muslims fled with Ottoman armies. The gradual dissolution and defeat of the army began with the beginning of the Second Constitution Era in 1908-1922. A ray of hope was established with Young Turk Revolution. It brought back Ottoman Constitution of 1876. This constitution rejuvenated the empire strength and enabled to hold its position amidst outside power. So this period was the twilight struggle of the dynasty (Macfie 2014).

The Ottoman engagement during World War I occurred with the link in the Middle Eastern Theatre. They had significant victories in Battle of Gallipoli and the Seige of Kut. The Revolt of Arabs in 1916 proved fatal for the Ottomans, and the partition of Ottoman Empire took place under the Treaty of Sevres. This treaty gave the Sultan power to retain his title. The Turkish War of Independence was fought under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal, which he won. The Sultnate was abolished in 1922 and the last sultan, Mehmed VI had to leave the country in 1922. The Calipahte rule was also abolished on March 1924. When the Russian Cuacasn army advanced towards eastern Anatolia in 1915, the Ottomans began deportation of the Armenian population. It leads to the death of 1.5 million people in the Armenian genocides. It was carried out by mass killing of the male population, the subjection of the army to forced labor and deportation of women and children. All the deportees did not have a supply of food and water, and they were subjected to atrocities like robbery, rape, and massacre (Macfie 2014).

Contribution of Each Ottoman King and Their Reign

Now the question arises what prevented the collapse of Ottoman Empire for such a long time. The Ottoman Empire was a significant threat in Europe. The religious and cultural difference made Europeans hostile toward Ottomans.  The reasons that allowed Ottomans to venture into inner areas of Europe were:

  • The discouragement of the Byzantine Empire by Europeans in 1200-1453.
  • Religious strife in Europe caused by reformation leading to isolation of the Catholics and providing Ottomans with European allies.
  • Superior and well developed military planning.

So the Ottoman power persisted due to a power play between Europeans. During the period between 1683 to 1923, the Ottoman power was not seriously challenged by anybody except the Russians. Habsburg their other enemy was also content with the territories seized then, and they did not go for further annexations. Venice had also declined its power. After 1830, the European powers also propped up the Ottoman empire as they are afraid of antagonistic attacks. Other secondary reasons were no more crusades taking place. The Ottoman reformation made them invincible, and there were limited enemies till 1683. By granting religious tolerance and exploiting Orthodox Church, the Ottomans refused Orthodox subjects from comparing them with a European power. This continued till the contest of Russia. Until the 15th century, all empires in Eurasia were under the threat of attack by the deportation of the population. But the Ottomans only faced one invasion in 1400 by Timur Lane. After this invasion, the Mongols became allies of the Turks in their war against Russia and Persia. Just like Constantinople was the reason for the existence of Byzantine Empire. Similarly, Istanbul also played the same role for the Ottomans (Motyl 2013). 

Therefore, the Ottoman Empire finally started going into decline due to internal and external factors. Internally the Ottomans had three major problems. Firstly, after the death of Suleiman, the other sultans who came to power were weak, incapable and less energetic. They spent their time in useless activities in courts and so the empire lost its sheen due to the lack of influential sultans. Without the lack of empowering sultan at the center, corruption in the capital became a significant problem (Sajdi 2014). Secondly, the Janissaries became a virtual hereditary caste who demands more pay although they worked less and were lazy. The size of the empire also became a problem for the Ottomans. Controlling such a large empire was impossible. The sultan was expected to lead the army but as the frontiers expanded it took much time for the army to reach their enemy (Schoon 2015). So it leads to the shortening of the campaign season, and hardly any new land was conquered. This had a great impact on the Ottoman at the siege of Vienna in 1529. The Turks could not reach Vienna till Spring and early winter lead to disastrous suffering for the troops not used to European weathers. Because of all these reasons, the Ottomans conquered very little territories after 1565 and so they earned very fewer revenues that could come from these campaigns (Chapra 2015).

Historical Importance of Critical Conflicts

External economic factors also had an impact on the Ottomans arising due to Age of Exploration. The Portuguese discovery of new route from Africa to Asia leads to loss of monopoly of spice trade to Europe. It cost them huge losses financially. Another problem was the huge influx of gold and silver to Europe by Spanish. It leads to rampant inflation within the Ottoman Empire in the year 1500. This inflation along with other factors affected the revenue of Empire resulting in the financial decline of Ottomans (Balsoy 2015).

So it can be concluded that Ottoman Empire was highly affected by economic decline. Their military powers also suffered due to loss of revenues and less conquest. After 1600, the Turks military edge in an army and they had no technological equipment for wars. While the European army constantly upgraded their artilleries and weapons, the Ottomans used stagnated weapons putting them to disadvantage against their enemies. At that time, the Europeans were reviving the army by strict drill and discipline. But the Ottomans failed to adapt these techniques and were at a loss while fighting against European armies. The Janissary revolt further disrupted the empire. The Ottomans suffered from a political and economic decline in the following centuries. The final blow was dealt with World War I which destroyed the Ottoman Empire and disintegrated into many independent kingdoms.


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