Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire (; Ottoman Turkishدَوْلَتِ عَلِيّهٔ عُثمَانِیّه, Devlet-i Aliyye-i OsmâniyyeModern TurkishOsmanlı İmparatorluğu), also historically referred to as the Turkish Empire or Turkey, was a Sunni Islamic state founded by Oghuz Turks under Osman I in northwestern Anatolia in 1299.[7] With conquests in the Balkans by Murad Ibetween 1365 and 1389, and the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II in 1453, the Ottoman sultanate was transformed into an empire.[8][9][10]

During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast EuropeWestern Asia, the CaucasusNorth Africa, and the Horn of Africa.[11] At the beginning of the 17th century the empire contained 32 provinces and numerous vassal states. Some of these were later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries.[dn 4]

With Constantinople as its capital and control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman Empire was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. Following a long period of military setbacks against European powers and gradual decline, the empire collapsed and was dissolvedin the aftermath of World War I, leading to the emergence of the new state of Turkey in the Ottoman Anatolian heartland, as well as the creation of modern Balkan and Middle Eastern states.[12]


The word “Ottoman” is a historical anglicisation of the name of Osman I, the founder of the Empire and of the ruling House of Osman (also known as the Ottoman dynasty). Osman’s name in turn was derived from the Persian form of the name ʿUṯmān عثمان of ultimately Arabic origin. In Ottoman Turkish, the empire was referred to as Devlet-i ʿAliyye-yi ʿOsmâniyye (دَوْلَتِ عَلِيّهٔ عُثمَانِیّه),[13] or alternatively Osmanlı Devleti (عثمانلى دولتى).[dn 5] In Modern Turkish, it is known as Osmanlı İmparatorluğu (“Ottoman Empire”) or Osmanlı Devleti (“The Ottoman State”).

In the West, the two names “Ottoman” and “Turkey” were often used interchangeably, with “Turkey” being increasingly favored both in formal and informal situations.[14] This dichotomy was officially ended in 1920–23, when the newly established, Ankara-based Turkish government chose Turkey as the sole official name.


RISE (1299–1453)

Ertuğrul, father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, arrived in Anatolia from Merv (Turkmenistan) with 400 horsemen to aid the Seljuks of Rum against the Byzantines.[15] After the demise of the Turkish Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 14th century, Anatolia was divided into a patchwork of independent, mostly Turkish states, the so-called Ghazi emirates. One of the emirates was led by Osman I (1258–1326), from which the name Ottoman is derived.[16] Osman I extended the frontiers of Turkish settlement toward the edge of the Byzantine Empire. It is not well understood how the Osmanli came to dominate their neighbours, as the history of medieval Anatolia is still little known.[17]

In the century after the death of Osman I, Ottoman rule began to extend over the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. Osman’s son, Orhan, captured the city of Bursain 1324 and made it the new capital of the Ottoman state. The fall of Bursa meant the loss of Byzantine control over northwestern Anatolia. The important city of Thessaloniki was captured from the Venetians in 1387. The Ottoman victory at Kosovo in 1389 effectively marked the end of Serbian power in the region, paving the way for Ottoman expansion into Europe.[18] The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, widely regarded as the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages, failed to stop the advance of the victorious Ottoman Turks.[19]

With the extension of Turkish dominion into the Balkans, the strategic conquest of Constantinople became a crucial objective. The empire controlled nearly all former Byzantine lands surrounding the city, but the Byzantines were temporarily relieved when the Turkish-Mongolian leader Timur invaded Anatolia from the east. In the Battle of Ankara in 1402, Timur defeated the Ottoman forces and took Sultan Bayezid I as a prisoner, throwing the empire into disorder. The ensuing civil war lasted from 1402 to 1413 as Bayezid’s sons fought over succession. It ended when Mehmet I emerged as the sultan and restored Ottoman power, bringing an end to the Interregnum, also known as the Fetret Devri.[20]

Part of the Ottoman territories in the Balkans (such as Thessaloniki, Macedonia and Kosovo) were temporarily lost after 1402 but were later recovered by Murad II between the 1430s and 1450s. On 10 November 1444, Murad II defeated the Hungarian, Polish, and Wallachian armies under Władysław III of Poland (also King of Hungary) and János Hunyadi at the Battle of Varna, the final battle of the Crusade of Varna, although Albanians under Skanderbeg continued to resist. Four years later, János Hunyadi prepared another army (of Hungarian and Wallachian forces) to attack the Turks but was again defeated by Murad II at the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448.[21]


The son of Murad II, Constantinople on 29 May 1453. Mehmed allowed the Orthodox Church to maintain its autonomy and land in exchange for accepting Ottoman authority.[22] Because of bad relations between the states of western Europe and the later Byzantine Empire, the majority of the Orthodox population accepted Ottoman rule as preferable to Venetian rule.[22] Albanian resistance was a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion on the Italian peninsula.[23]

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of expansion. The Empire prospered under the rule of a line of committed and effective Sultans. It also flourished economically due to its control of the major overland trade routes between Europe and Asia.[25][dn 6]

Sultan Selim I (1512–1520) dramatically expanded the Empire’s eastern and southern frontiers by defeating Shah Ismail of SafavidPersia, in the Battle of Chaldiran.[26] Selim I established Ottoman rule in Egypt, and created a naval presence on the Red Sea. After this Ottoman expansion, a competition started between the Portuguese Empire and the Ottoman Empire to become the dominant power in the region.[27]

Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) captured Belgrade in 1521, conquered the southern and central parts of the Kingdom of Hungary as part of the Ottoman–Hungarian Wars,[28][29] and, after his historical victory in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, he established Turkish rule in the territory of present-day Hungary (except the western part) and other Central European territories. He then laid siege to Vienna in 1529, but failed to take the city.[30] In 1532, he made another attack on Vienna, but was repulsed in the Siege of Güns.[31][32][33]TransylvaniaWallachia and, intermittently, Moldavia, became tributary principalities of the Ottoman Empire. In the east, the Ottoman Turks took Baghdad from the Persians in 1535, gaining control of Mesopotamia and naval access to the Persian Gulf.

France and the Ottoman Empire, united by mutual opposition to Habsburg rule, became strong allies. The French conquests of Nice (1543) and Corsica (1553) occurred as a joint venture between the forces of the French king Francis I and Suleiman, and were commanded by the Ottoman admirals Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha and Turgut Reis.[34] A month prior to the siege of Nice, France supported the Ottomans with an artillery unit during the Ottoman conquest of Esztergom in 1543. After further advances by the Turks in 1543, the Habsburg ruler Ferdinand officially recognized Ottoman ascendancy in Hungary in 1547.

In 1559, after the first Ajuran-Portuguese war the Ottoman Empire would later absorb the weakened Adal Sultanate into its domain. This expansion furthered Ottoman rule in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. This also increased its influence in the Indian Ocean to compete with the Portuguesewith its close ally the Ajuran Empire.[35]

By the end of Suleiman’s reign, the Empire’s population totaled about 15,000,000 people extending over three continents. [36] In addition, the Empire became a dominant naval force, controlling much of the Mediterranean Sea.[37] By this time, the Ottoman Empire was a major part of the European political sphere. The success of its political and military establishment has been compared to the Roman Empire, by the likes of Italian scholar Francesco Sansovino and the French political philosopher Jean Bodin.[38]


The stagnation and decline, Stephen Lee argues, was relentless after 1566, interrupted by a few short revivals or reform and recovery. The decline gathered speed so that the Empire in 1699 was, “a mere shadow of that which intimidated East and West alike in 1566.”[39] Although there are dissenting scholars, most historians point to “degenerate Sultans, incompetent Grand Viziers, debilitated and ill-equipped armies, corrupt officials, avaricious speculators, grasping enemies, and treacherous friends.”[40] The main cause was a failure of leadership, as Lee argues the first 10 sultans from 1292 to 1566, with one exception, had done quite well. The next 13 sultans from 1566 to 1703, with two exceptions, were lackadaisical or incompetent rulers, says Lee.[41] In a highly centralized system, the failure at the center proved fatal. A direct result was the strengthening of provincial elites who increasingly ignored Constantinople. Secondly the military strength of European enemies grew stronger and stronger, while the Ottoman armies and arms scarcely improved.[42][43] Finally the Ottoman economic system grew distorted and impoverished, as war caused inflation, world trade moved in other directions, and the deterioration of law and order made economic progress difficult.[44]


The effective military and bureaucratic structures of the previous century came under strain during a protracted period of misrule by weak Sultans. The Ottomans gradually fell behind the Europeans in military technology as the innovation that fed the Empire’s forceful expansion became stifled by growing religious and intellectual conservatism.[45] But in spite of these difficulties, the Empire remained a major expansionist power until the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe.

The discovery of new maritime trade routes by Western European states allowed them to avoid the Ottoman trade monopoly. The Portuguesediscovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 initiated a series of Ottoman-Portuguese naval wars in the Indian Ocean throughout the 16th century. The Ajuran Empire allied with the Ottomans defied the Portuguese economic monopoly in the Indian Ocean by employing a new coinage which followed the Ottoman pattern, thus proclaiming an attitude of economic independence in regard to the Portuguese.[46]

Under Ivan IV (1533–1584), the Tsardom of Russia expanded into the Volga and Caspian region at the expense of the Tatar khanates. In 1571, the Crimean khan Devlet I Giray, supported by the Ottomans, burned Moscow.[47] The next year, the invasion was repeated but repelled at the Battle of Molodi. The Crimean Khanate continued to invade Eastern Europe in a series of slave raids,[48] and remained a significant power in Eastern Europe until the end of the 17th century.[49]

In southern Europe, a Catholic coalition led by Philip II of Spain won a victory over the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). It was a startling, if mostly symbolic,[50] blow to the image of Ottoman invincibility, an image which the victory of the Knights of Malta against the Ottoman invaders in the 1565 Siege of Malta had recently set in motion eroding.[51] The battle was far more damaging to the Ottoman navy in sapping experienced manpower than the loss of ships, which were rapidly replaced.[52] The Ottoman navy recovered quickly, persuading Venice to sign a peace treaty in 1573, allowing the Ottomans to expand and consolidate their position in North Africa.[53]

By contrast, the Habsburg frontier had settled somewhat, a stalemate caused by a stiffening of the Habsburg defences.[54] The Long War against Habsburg Austria (1593–1606) created the need for greater numbers of infantry equipped with firearms, resulting in a relaxation of recruitment policy. This contributed to problems of indiscipline and outright rebelliousness within the corps, which was never fully solved.[55] Irregular sharpshooters (Sekban) were also recruited, and on demobilization turned to brigandage in the Jelali revolts (1595–1610), which engendered widespread anarchy in Anatolia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.[56] With the Empire’s population reaching 30,000,000 people by 1600, the shortage of land placed further pressure on the government .[57] In spite of these problems, the Ottoman state remained strong, and its army did not collapse or suffer crushing defeats (except for the war in Persia). However, its campaigns became increasingly inconclusive, even against weaker states with much smaller forces such as Poland or Austria.

During his brief majority reign, Murad IV (1612–1640) reasserted central authority and recaptured Yerevan (1635) and Baghdad (1639) from the Safavids.[58] The Sultanate of women (1648–1656) was a period in which the mothers of young sultans exercised power on behalf of their sons. The most prominent women of this period were Kösem Sultan and her daughter-in-law Turhan Hatice, whose political rivalry culminated in Kösem’s murder in 1651.[59] During the Köprülü Era (1656–1703), effective control of the Empire was exercised by a sequence of Grand Viziers from the Köprülü family. The Köprülü Vizierate saw renewed military success with authority restored in Transylvania, the conquest of Crete completed in 1669 and expansion into Polish southern Ukraine, with the strongholds of Khotyn and Kamianets-Podilskyi and the territory of Podolia ceding to Ottoman control in 1676.[60]

This period of renewed assertiveness came to a calamitous end in May 1683 when Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha led a huge army to attempt a second Ottoman siege of Vienna in the Great Turkish War of 1683–1687. The final assault being fatally delayed, the Ottoman forces were swept away by allied Habsburg, German and Polish forces spearheaded by the Polish king Jan III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna. The alliance of the Holy League pressed home the advantage of the defeat at Vienna, culminating in the Treaty of Karlowitz (26 January 1699), which ended the Great Turkish War.[61] The Ottomans surrendered control of significant territories, many permanently.[62]Mustafa II (1695–1703) led the counterattack of 1695–96 against the Habsburgs in Hungary, but was undone at the disastrous defeat at Zenta (11 September 1697).[63]


During this period Russian expansion presented a large and growing threat.[64] Accordingly, King Charles XII of Sweden was welcomed as an ally in the Ottoman Empire following his defeat by the Russians at the Battle of Poltava in 1709 (part of the Great Northern War of 1700–1721.)[64] Charles XII persuaded the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III to declare war on Russia, which resulted in the Ottoman victory at the Pruth River Campaign of 1710–1711.[65]

After the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–1718 the Treaty of Passarowitz confirmed the loss of the Banat, Serbia and “Little Walachia” (Oltenia) to Austria. The Treaty also revealed that the Ottoman Empire was on the defensive and unlikely to present any further aggression in Europe.[66] The Austro-Russian–Turkish War, which was ended by the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739, resulted in the recovery of Serbia and Oltenia, but the Empire lost the port of Azov to the Russians. After this treaty the Ottoman Empire was able to enjoy a generation of peace, as Austria and Russia were forced to deal with the rise of Prussia.[67]

Educational and technological reforms were made, including the establishment of higher education institutions such as the Istanbul Technical University.[68] In 1734 an artillery school was established to impart Western-style artillery methods, but the Islamic clergy successfully objected under the grounds of theodicy.[69] In 1754 the artillery school was reopened on a semi-secret basis.[69] In 1726, Ibrahim Muteferrika convinced the Grand VizierNevşehirli Damat İbrahim Pasha, the Grand Mufti, and the clergy on the efficiency of the printing press, and Muteferrika was later granted by Sultan Ahmed III permission to publish non-religious books (despite opposition from some calligraphers and religious leaders).[70]Muteferrika’s press published its first book in 1729 and, by 1743, issued 17 works in 23 volumes, each having between 500 and 1,000 copies.[70][71]

In 1768 Russian-backed Ukrainian Haidamaks, pursuing Polish confederates, entered Balta, an Ottoman-controlled town on the border of Bessarabia, and massacred its citizens and burned the town to the ground. This action provoked the Ottoman Empire into the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774. The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774 ended the war and provided freedom to worship for the Christian citizens of the Ottoman-controlled provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia.[72] By the late 18th century, a number of defeats in several wars with Russia led some people in the Ottoman Empire to conclude that the reforms of Peter the Great had given the Russians an edge, and the Ottomans would have to keep up with Western technology in order to avoid further defeats.[69]

Selim III (1789–1807) made the first major attempts to modernize the army, but reforms were hampered by the religious leadership and the Janissary corps. Jealous of their privileges and firmly opposed to change, the Janissary created a revolt. Selim’s efforts cost him his throne and his life, but were resolved in spectacular and bloody fashion by his successor, the dynamic Mahmud II, who eliminated the Janissary corps in 1826.

The Serbian revolution (1804–1815) marked the beginning of an era of national awakening in the Balkans during the Eastern QuestionSuzeraintyof Serbia as a hereditary monarchy under its own dynasty was acknowledged de jure in 1830.[73][74] In 1821, the Greeksdeclared war on the Sultan. A rebellion that originated in Moldavia as a diversion was followed by the main revolution in the Peloponnese, which, along with the northern part of the Gulf of Corinth, became the first parts of the Ottoman Empire to achieve independence (in 1829). By the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire was called the “sick man” by Europeans. The suzerain states – the Principality of Serbia, Wallachia, Moldavia and Montenegro – moved towards de jure independence during the 1860s and 1870s.


During the Tanzimat period (1839–1876), the government’s series of constitutional reforms led to a fairly modern conscripted army, banking system reforms, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the replacement of religious law with secular law[75] and guilds with modern factories. The Ottoman Ministry of Post was established in Istanbul on 23 October 1840.[76][77]

Samuel Morse received a patent for the telegraph in 1847, which was issued by Sultan Abdülmecid who personally tested the new invention.[78]Following this successful test, installation works of the first Turkish telegraph line (Istanbul-EdirneŞumnu)[79] began on 9 August 1847.[80] The reformist period peaked with the Constitution, called the Kanûn-u Esâsî. The empire’s First Constitutional era was short-lived. The parliament survived for only two years before the sultan suspended it.

The Christian population of the empire, owing to their higher educational levels, started to pull ahead of the Muslim majority, leading to much resentment on the part of the latter.[81] In 1861, there were 571 primary and 94 secondary schools for Ottoman Christians with 140,000 pupils in total, a figure that vastly exceeded the number of Muslim children in school at the same time, who were further hindered by the amount of time spent learning Arabic and Islamic theology.[81] In turn, the higher educational levels of the Christians allowed them to play a large role in the economy.[81] In 1911, of the 654 wholesale companies in Istanbul, 528 were owned by ethnic Greeks.[81]