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Ottoman Empire


OTTOMAN EMPIRE. The Ottoman Empire emerged circa 1300 with the establishment by the first Ottoman ruler, Osman, of a small principality bordering on Byzantine territory in western Anatolia. It reached its greatest extent in 1590, when the empire comprised central Hungary, the Balkan Peninsula, Anatolia, Mespotamia, Syria and Palestine, western Arabia, Egypt, and lands in the Caucasus and western Iran. In Europe, Transylvania, Walachia, Moldavia, and the Crimea were tributary principalities, while in North Africa, Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers were semiautonomous provinces. Between 1603 and 1606, the Ottomans lost the lands in Iran and the Caucasus that had been ceded to them in 1590. In 1669, however, they took control of Crete.

By 1450, the Ottoman Empire was a regional power, comprising western and northern Anatolia and much of the Balkan Peninsula. Mehmed II (ruled 14511481) expanded and consolidated Ottoman rule in this region. His conquest of Constantinople in 1453 finally extinguished the Byzantine Empire. In the Balkans, he annexed Serbia between 1455 and 1458, Bosnia in 1463, and, in 1466, defeated George Kastriote (Scanderbeg) in central Albania. In 1460 he removed the last two Byzantine rulers of the Peloponnese, and in 1461 conquered Trebizond, the last independent Greek city.

In 1463, fearing for its Greek colonies, Venice declared war. The war was fought in the Peloponnese, in Albania, and on the Aegean, the naval conflict encouraging the growth of the Ottoman fleet. Mehmed had used a fleet at the siege of Constantinople, and he inherited the naval dockyard at Pera when he annexed this Genoese colony in 1453. He used the fleet first against the Genoese, taking Enez and Phokaia in the 1450s, Amasra on the Black Sea in 1459, and Lesbos in 1462. The amphibious war with Venice culminated with the conquest of the Venetian island of Evvoia (Negroponte) in 1470.

To defeat the Ottomans, Venice allied with Hungary in 1464, with no results, and then with the Akkoyunlu Sultan Uzun Hasan, lord of much of Iran, Iraq, and eastern Anatolia. In 14671468, Mehmed had conquered and annexed the emirate of Karaman in south-central Anatolia, bringing him into dispute with Uzun Hasan, who also coveted the principality. The dispute led to war in 1473 and an Ottoman victory that secured Ottoman territories in Anatolia.

The removal of this danger allowed Mehmed to extend his conquests to the Black Sea. Using a dispute within the Tatar khanate as a pretext, in 1475 he sent a fleet to the Crimea, reducing the khan to the status of Ottoman tributary, and capturing the Genoese city of Caffa. An attempt to strengthen his domination of the region with an incursion into Moldavia in 1476 merely provoked a Hungarian counterattack. Two years later, Mehmed led an assault on Venetian settlements in northern Albania, persuading the Venetians to cede Shkodër and to conclude a peace in 1479. In the same year, the Ottomans occupied Cephalonia, Levkas, and Zante as a preliminary to capturing Otranto on the Italian mainland in 1480. Simultaneously, Mehmed's fleet unsuccessfully attacked Rhodes.

Mehmed's son Bayezid II (ruled 14811512) withdrew the garrison from Otranto and adopted a conciliatory policy toward the West. In 1482 his brother Jem had fled to Rhodes, and the threat to foment civil strife in the Ottoman Empire by releasing him from captivity provided Catholic Europe with a new weapon. It was only after Jem's death in 1495 that Bayezid opened hostilities in the West. Before this, in 1483, he had attacked Moldavia, seizing the ports of Kilia and Akkerman, and, between 1485 and 1490, had waged an unsuccessful war against the Mamluks, rulers of Syria and Egypt since the mid-thirteenth century. In 1499, however, following the public burial of Jem's remains, Bayezid declared war on Venice, capturing several Venetian strongholds in the Peloponnese despite the formation of a Venetian-French-Spanish alliance.

During Bayezid's final years, the most significant political development was the unification of Iran under the Shiite Safavid dynasty, which claimed the religious and political loyalties of many Ottoman subjects and posed both an internal and an external threat. It was adherents of the Safavids who formed the core of a rebellion that broke out in 1511 in southwest Anatolia. The rebellion, suppressed with great difficulty, coincided with a succession struggle between Bayezid's sons. It was the youngest who forced his father to abdicate and ascended the throne as Selim I (ruled 15121520).


After defeating and executing his brothers Korkud and Ahmed, Selim attacked the Safavids, routing Shah Ismail I's army at Chaldiran in 1514. Over the next four years he expelled the Safavids from southeast Anatolia. This war led to a new conflict. Ismail I had sought an alliance with the Mamluk sultanate, which by 1516 shared a border with the Ottomans in northern Syria. In 1516 Selim invaded and defeated a Mamluk army near Aleppo. In early 1517, he defeated a second Mamluk army outside Cairo, bringing the Mamluk domains, which included the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, under his control. Gunpowder technology was a significant element in these Ottoman successes. A further addition to Selim's empire was Algiers, whose ruler Hayreddin Barbarossa, seeking protection against Spain, submitted voluntarily to Selim's overlordship.

Selim's son Suleiman I (ruled 15201566) opened his reign with the conquests of Belgrade in 1521 and Rhodes in 1522. The loss of Belgrade weakened Hungary's defenses and, in 1526, Suleiman invaded and killed the Hungarian king at Mohács. After the battle, he supported the newly elected John Szapolyai against the claims to the Hungarian throne of the Habsburg Ferdinand of Austria. In 1529, Suleiman expelled Ferdinand from the Hungarian capital Buda and unsuccessfully laid siege to Vienna. Peace with Ferdinand in 1532 allowed him to lead a campaign against Iran, which by 1536 had added Baghdad and Erzurum to the empire. During this campaign, in 1533, Suleiman invited Hayreddin Barbarossa to command the Ottoman fleet. The war at sea opened with the loss of Tunis to a Spanish force under the command of Ferdinand's brother, Charles V. The loss made Suleiman welcome the French king Francis I's proposal for an anti-Habsburg alliance. However, the plan for a Franco-Ottoman attack in 1537 on the Habsburgs' Italian possessions did not materialize. Suleiman instead unsuccessfully attacked the Venetian island of Corfu. In response, Venice allied with Charles V, Austria, and the pope. Barbarossa, however, defeated the allied fleet at Prevesa in 1538, and the war concluded with the cession to Suleiman of most of the Venetian insular and mainland possessions in Greece.

After 1540, Suleiman made no more major conquests. The death of Szapolyai in 1540 led to war as Ferdinand again tried to assert his claims to the Hungarian crown. Suleiman's response was to convert central Hungary to an Ottoman province, and to appoint Szapolyai's infant son ruler of Transylvania, the eastern part of the old Hungarian kingdom. A campaign in 1543 restored Ottoman authority in Hungary. Meanwhile, in 1541 Charles V had made an unsuccessful attack on Algiers, the war in the Mediterranean continuing in 1543 with the Franco-Ottoman capture of Nice. A treaty in 1547 between Suleiman and the Habsburgs Charles V and Ferdinand concluded the war in Hungary but, since Ferdinand still claimed the crown of Transylvania, hostilities continued on a smaller scale until 1556, with Suleiman occupying Temesvár and Lipova in 1552. Immediately after 1547, however, his preoccupation was with Iran. Two expeditions in 15481549 and 15531554 brought no gains, and concluded with the treaty of Amasya in 1555, confirming the existing eastern border.

However, the war in the Mediterranean continued. In 1551, the Ottomans conquered Tripoli, and later in the decade they occupied Wahran and Bizerta, near Algiers. In 1560, the Admiral Piyale Pasha expelled the Spaniards from Jerba, off the Tunisian coast. Then, in 1565, Suleiman's fleet unsuccessfully attacked the Knights of St. John on Malta. Outside the Mediterranean, the Ottomans tried but failed to establish their power in the Indian Ocean and to control the trade coming from India and southeast Asia.

Suleiman died in 1566 on campaign in Hungary. As he had already executed one son, Mustafa, in 1553, and another, Bayezid, in 1562 following the latter's rebellion and flight to Iran, Selim II (15661574) came to the throne unopposed. The effective ruler throughout his reign was the grand vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha. Sokollu's plans to facilitate Ottoman navigation in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean by constructing a canal across the isthmus of Suez, and on the Caspian by constructing a canal between the Don and Volga rivers, both failed. Instead the major amphibious undertaking was the assault in 1570 on Cyprus. In 1573, and despite the rout of the Ottoman fleet off Lepanto in 1571, Venice ceded the island. Then in 1574 an Ottoman expedition expelled the Spaniards from Tunis. Ottoman expansion did not end with these wars. Taking advantage of Safavid dynastic problems, the Ottomans, in a war between 1578 and 1590, captured Safavid territory in the Caucasus and western Iran, bringing the empire to its maximum size.


Following a series of incidents on the Bosnian border, in 1593 the grand vizier Koja Sinan Pasha successfully pressed for a war against Austria. Despite unexpected victories at Eger and Mezö-Keresztes in 1596, at Kanizsa in 1600, and the reconquest of Esztergom in 1605, the war showed that the Ottomans had lost their military superiority over the Habsburg forces. Furthermore, they suffered from the defection of Walachia in 1595 and the uncertain loyalty of Transylvania. In 1606, the Treaty of Zsitva-Török brought the war to an inconclusive end. By this time, the Ottomans were fighting on three fronts. In Anatolia, a series of uprisings seriously shook Ottoman power. In 1603, war broke out with Iran, and by 1606, Shah Abbas had reconquered Erivan and Tabriz, and all the territories that Iran had lost between 1578 and 1590. To add to Ottoman troubles, the governor of Aleppo, Janbuladoghlu Ali, rebelled against the sultan Ahmed I (16031617), cooperating with the rebels in Anatolia. It was at this time too that Cossack raiders from the Ukraine began to launch attacks on Ottoman settlements on the Black Sea coast, which were to continue into the 1640s.

Between 1607 and 1609, the grand vizier, Kuyuju Murad defeated Janbuladoghlu Ali of Aleppo and the rebels in Anatolia. However, renewed war with Iran failed to recapture the territory lost to Shah Abbas, and the death of Ahmed I in 1617 precipitated another crisis. His successor was his mentally defective brother Mustafa (ruled 16171618, 16221623). Within a year a faction had deposed Mustafa and placed Ahmed's son Osman II (ruled 16181622) on the throne. Osman's declaration of war on Poland and his treatment of the janissaries during the unsuccessful siege of Chotin, and the suspicions of the janissaries that he wished to abolish the corps, led to a janissary insurrection, the reinstatement of Mustafa on the throne, and finally to Osman's murder. During Mustafa's second reign, unrest continued in the capital. In Anatolia the governor-general of Erzurum, Abaza Mehmed Pasha, rebelled, claiming to seek vengeance on Osman's murderers. Then Shah Abbas captured Baghdad. In 1623, Mustafa was deposed. His successor was the twelve-year-old Murad IV (ruled 16231640), with effective power going to his mother, Kösem Sultan.

Unrest continued for much of Murad's reign. Abaza Mehmed Pasha did not surrender until 1628, and campaigns against Iran in 1626 and 1630 failed to recapture Baghdad. In the early 1630s, the soldiery in the capital rebelled, with the agitations of fundamentalist preachers adding to the tense atmosphere. With the restoration of order, Murad led his armies against the Safavids, in 1638 recapturing Baghdad, which was to remain in Ottoman hands until World War I. A treaty in 1639 fixed the Ottoman-Safavid border, essentially as agreed at the Treaty of Amasya. Murad IV died in 1640, having restored Ottoman military prestige, and having begun to reform the Ottoman fiscal system. The grand vizier Kemankesh Mustafa Pasha continued this work under Ibrahim I "the Mad" (16401648), also a son of Ahmed I and Kösem. In 1644, however, as Ibrahim's mental condition deteriorated, a faction gained power that catered to his extravagant whims. The invasion of the Venetianheld island of Crete in 1645 exacerbated the crisis. Despite the capture of Chania, Herakleion (Candia) and other fortresses resisted, while naval superiority allowed Venice to blockade the Dardanelles. In 1648, the crisis led to the deposition and execution of the sultan.


The seven-year-old Mehmed IV (ruled 16481687) succeeded Ibrahim, with his mother Turhan Sultan as regent. Faced with political instability and a Venetian blockade of the straits, Turhan in 1656 invited a provincial governor, Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, to become grand vizier. Within a year, he had defeated the Venetians and reoccupied Tenedos and Limni at the entrance to the straits. By the time of his death in 1661, he had suppressed a rebellion in Anatolia, and reformed the financial system so that, for the first time in almost a century, income almost balanced expenditure. His successor was his son, Fazil Ahmed. His period of office opened with a war with Austria between 1662 and 1664 in support of the Ottoman candidate to the throne of Transylvania. Ottoman forces captured the fortress of Nové Zamky and, by the Treaty of Vasvar in 1664, retained it, despite a defeat at St. Gotthard. Fazil Ahmed next turned his attention to the war on Crete, completing the conquest with the fall of Herakleion in 1669. This new phase of expansion continued with the capture of Kamieniec in the Polish Ukraine, the call for assistance from the Cossacks of the Dnieper providing the pretext for war. Hostilities with Poland continued until 1676, the year of Fazil Ahmed's death. In addition to the conquest of Crete and strengthening the empire's northern frontier through intervention in Transylvania and the Ukraine, Fazil Ahmed continued his father's internal reforms.


Fazil Ahmed's successor as grand vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha, tried unsuccessfully to strengthen the empire's northern border, and to reassert Ottoman power in Hungary. His campaigns between 1676 and 1681 against Russia in the Ukraine failed. The Treaty of Radzin, which concluded the war, was unfavorable, establishing the frontier along the the Dnieper and the Bug, forcing the Ottomans to recognize the tsar as sovereign of Russia and protector of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, and permitting the creation of a patriarchate at Moscow, as a rival to the patriarchate of Constantinople. However, it was Kara Mustafa's ambitions in Hungary that led to catastrophe.

In support of the rebel Imre Thököly's claim to part of Austrian-ruled Hungary, Kara Mustafa besieged Vienna in 1683. The failed siege led to his execution and, in the following year, to the formation of the Holy League of Austria, Russia, Poland, Venice, and the papacy. In 1686, Buda fell to the Austrians. Belgrade followed in 1688. In 1687, Venice occupied Athens and most of the Peloponnese. War taxes and harvest failure increased unrest among the sultan's subjects, leading to the deposition of Mehmed IV in 1687. The measures of his successor, Suleiman II (ruled 16871691), and the grand vizier Köprülü Fazil Mustafa restored the authority of the government and the military position. In 1690, Fazil Mustafa recaptured Niš, Smederovo, and Belgrade. However, in 1691, with the death of Suleiman II, and the defeat and death of Fazil Mustafa at the battle of Slankamen, the counteroffensive failed. So too did English and Dutch attempts to broker a peace, which would have enabled the Austrians to join a western alliance against France. Some successes against the Venetians followed the accession of Mustafa II (ruled 16951703), but the Russians took Azov in 1696, and the defeat in 1697 at Zenta forced the Ottomans to seek peace. By the Treaty of Carlowitz of 1699, the sultan ceded Hungary and Transylvania to Austria, Podolia and western Ukraine to Poland, Azov and part of Ukraine to Russia, and Athens, Corinth, the Peloponnese, and some sites in Dalmatia to Venice.


After the Treaty of Carlowitz, the grand vizier Amjazade Hüseyn Pasha reformed the fiscal system by lowering taxes, reducing expenditure by cutting janissary numbers, and controlling the grant of fiefs. A new stability in the currency is one indication of his success. However, the reforms made him enemies and forced both his resignation and the abdication of Mustafa II in 1703. His successor, Ahmed III (ruled 17031730), suppressed the rebellion, reestablishing the authority of the sultanate.

Encouraged by this new stability, the grand vizier Silahdar Ali Pasha, attempted to regain the losses of 16831699. The flight to the Ottoman court of Charles XII of Sweden after his defeat by the Russians in 1709 led to a war with Russia that, by the Treaty of Edirne in 1713, forced Peter the Great to cede most of what he had gained at Carlowitz. In 17141715, the Ottomans reconquered territories lost to Venice, and in 1716 attacked Austria only to lose Belgrade, northern Serbia, Temesvár, and western Walachia. The Treaty of Passarowitz of 1718 confirmed the Austrians in possession. Acknowledging Ottoman military weakness, the grand vizier Damad Ibrahim Pasha sought peaceful diplomatic relations with the European powers, in the 1720s sending embassies to Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, and Moscow.

In 1730, a rebellionin part against the extravagance of the courtled by the janissary Patrona Halil secured both the execution of Damad Ibrahim and the abdication of the Ahmed III. His successor, Mahmud I (ruled 17301754) suppressed the insurrection. Abroad, Mahmud faced a war in Iran. In 1723, the collapse of the Safavid dynasty had given the Ottomans the opportunity to occupy territory in the Caucasus and western Iran, but by the mid-1730s the consolidation of Nadir Shah's power in Iran led to their abandonment and a new peace in 1736. Another factor in Ottoman withdrawal was the Russian seizure of Azov in 1736. The sultan declared war, hoping to form an alliance with Austria. The Austrians, however, allied with Russia, launching attacks into Bosnia and Bulgaria. The Ottoman counteroffensive thwarted the allies, and the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739 restored to the Ottomans the territory lost at Passarowitz and maintained the status quo with Russia. The last war of Mahmud I's reign, against Iran, aimed to check the ambitions of Nadir Shah. The outcome was the treaty of 1746, reconfirming the treaty of 1639.

A rare period of peace followed, allowing the grand vizier Koja Ragib Pasha (ruled 17571763) to initiate military and fiscal reforms. The prosperity of this period tempted the grand vizier Silahdar Hamza Pasha in 1768 to respond to a Polish call for assistance by declaring war on Russia. The war was disastrous. The Russians occupied Moldavia in 1769 and Walachia in 1770. In 1769 the Russian Baltic fleet sailed to the Mediterranean but, despite destroying the Ottoman navy at Çeşme in 1770 and offering support to rebels in the Peloponnese and Egypt, achieved very little. On land the Russian advances continued into the Crimea, Walachia, and the Dobrudzha. In 1772, following failed peace negotiations, they crossed the Danube into Bulgaria. In 1774, the new sultan Abdülhamid I (17741789) sued for peace. By the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca the Russians acquired Azov, the territory between the Dnieper and the Bug, and the districts of Kuban and Terek, while the Crimea became independent of Ottoman overlordship. Equally significantly, the Russians obtained the right to "protect" Orthodox subjects in Istanbul, and the right to navigate freely in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Aware of the weakness in the army, Abdülhamid I retained the services of the Frenchmen De Tott and Aubert and the Scot Campbell to improve the Ottoman artillery and to reopen the school of military engineering that the Frenchman Count Bonneval had established in 1734. Aware, too, of the forces of autonomy in the empire's provinces, the sultan attempted to reach personal agreements with the powerful notables. His reign, however, ended with further losses. By the treaty of Aynali Kavak in 1784, he recognized the Russian annexation of the Crimea. However, the Russian annexation of Georgia and establishment of naval bases on the Black Sea again led to war. The Treaty of Jassy, which ended hostilities in 1792, while less unfavorable than the treaty of 1774, confirmed Russian occupation of Georgia and the Crimea and placed the Ottoman Empire under increased Russian pressure.

By the end of the eighteenth century, therefore, the major themes of the later history of the empire were already visible: the threat of Russian expansion, contained as much by the opposition of European powers as by effective Ottoman resistance; the reform of the Ottoman armed forces; and internal political reforms intended to convert what was effectively a medieval empire into a modern state.


The Ottoman Empire was a multinational, dynastic state. Its territories comprised the inherited lands of the reigning sultan and, in addition, any that he may have won through conquest. From the beginning of the empire, Ottoman territory was indivisible. All male heirs were entitled to inherit and, since there was no law governing succession, from the fourteenth until the sixteenth century, whichever of the deceased sultan's sons defeated and killed his brothers occupied the throne. However, after the accession of Murad III (ruled 15741595) and Mehmed III (ruled 15951603)both elder sonsseniority became the usual, although not invariable, mode of succession. The practice of automatic fratricide also came to an end with the accession of Ahmed I (ruled 16031617), as a reaction to the scandal caused by Mehmed III's execution of his nineteen brothers.

For most of the sultan's subjects, the primary focus of loyalty was to their own religious or other community, but the sultan alone was the single, if secondary, focus of loyalty for all the multifarious groups throughout the empire. Allegiance to the sultan was therefore the principle that gave the empire its unity, a notion that found a practical expression in the system of appointments. The leaders of important institutions within the empirefor example, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs, and the heads of urban craft guildsheld their positions by virtue of a sultanic warrant. The institutions themselves might be virtually autonomous, but their heads were always royal appointees. For most subjects the loyalty that the sultan demanded consisted simply of paying taxes in cash, kind, or services. He required, however, a more active allegianceto the extent of submitting willingly to executionfrom those who served him in political and military office. These men and their families, together with those who held judicial or religious office, had, by the mid-fifteenth century, come to form a distinct class of non-taxpaying royal servants. By 1500, members of this classdesignated "military" (askeri or askeriye) were subject to a separate jurisdiction from ordinary taxpayers.

At the pinnacle of the military class were the viziersusually three of four until their numbers increased from the late sixteenth centurywho sat on the sultan's Imperial Council (Divan). This met in the palace under the presidency of the grand vizier, and issued decrees in the sultan's name. By the second half of the fifteenth century, viziers had typically served as provincial governors before their elevation. Viziers, like the sultan himself, also served as military commanders. So too did governors of provinces and of sub-provinces (sanjaks), each sanjak consisting of the lands in a specific area distributed as fiefs to cavalrymen, who fought in times of war under their sanjak governor. It was these cavalrymen who made up the bulk of the military class. In addition, men holding Islamic judicial-religious posts were also designated "military."

Between 1450 and 1600, the ways of recruitment to judicial, military, and political office were fairly clear. Graduates of Muslim colleges (madrasas) received, with appropriate patronage, office as judges in the provinces, as madrasa teachers, or as imams, although the highest judicial offices, notably the two military judgeships with the right to a seat on the Imperial Council, became from the sixteenth century the preserve of a few elite families. The fiefholding cavalrymen were mainly Muslim by birth, and the right to a fief was hereditary. However, the viziers and provincial governors were usually converts from Christianity. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a succession of viziers were scions of Byzantine or Balkan dynasties. For example, two of the viziers of Bayezid II (ruled 14811512), Mesih Pasha and Hersekzade Ahmed Pasha, were, respectively, members of the Byzantine imperial family and of the ducal house of Hercegovina. By conversion, therefore, the pre-Ottoman ruling class became absorbed into the Ottoman elite. From the mid-sixteenth century, more of the governing class entered the sultan's service through the devshirme, the system whereby the sultan made a levy within his own domains of Christian lads, usually peasants from the Balkan peninsula. After conversion to Islam, most of these served in the janissaries, the sultan's household infantry. A select group, however, received an education in the palace and, after serving the sultan within the palace, received appointments as provincial governors. The most succcessful could then return to the capital as viziers.

From about 1580 this system began to change. The need to increase revenues raised the status of financial officers, who began sometimes to replace military appointees in governorships. At the same time, in the Austrian war of 15931606, the Ottomans encountered a new form of warfare, with larger armies and an increased use of infantry carrying firearms. The need for more infantrymen led to a decline in the system of fiefholding, which had supported cavalry, and to the recruitment of more foot soldiers either as irregulars or as janissaries, whose numbers had risen to about forty thousand by 1609. With this expansion, their role as an elite corps ended, and the system of recruitment through the devshirme broke down. By the eighteenth century, the devshirme had ceased altogether. To pay for these troops, the government converted many former fiefs into tax farms.

These changes in the fiscal, military, and political structure of the empire affected the elite. Viziers were no longer typically recruited through the devshirme, although links with the palace remained essential to preferment. From the seventeenth century, viziers were usually of Albanian or Caucasian descent and, once in power, furthered the careers of their kinsmen from their native areas. The Köprülüs, who from 1656 established a vizieral dynasty, were Albanians. With the decline of the fiefholding cavalry, sanjaks, which had essentially been agglomerations of fiefs, and with them, sanjak governors, declined in importance, while the role of the governors-general of provinces expanded. A new land code, in force from the 1670s until 1858, acknowledged these changes. The increasing importance of tax farms from 1600 onward and the introduction in the eighteenth century of lifetime tax farms, allowed some holders to transform these into estates, which could pass to their heirs. In the eighteenth century these local "estate owners," such as the Karaosmanoğlu family of Manisa, became local powers on whom the sultan relied for essential tasks, such as the levy of troops for war. Throughout this same period, however, the structure of the Ottoman legal establishment remained essentially the same as it had been in the sixteenth century, with the mufti of Istanbul and the two military judges at its head, and a network of Islamic courts throughout the empire. The efficiency of the legal system, which, by and large, enjoyed the trust of the sultan's Muslim and non-Muslim subjects, was a factor that allowed the empire to survive in times of crisis.


In the mid-fifteenth century, the western European polities with the closest links to the Ottoman Empire were the Italian city-states, particularly Venice and Genoa. These maintained fortresses and colonies in the Levant to protect trade routes, to serve as entrepôts, or for production. Genoese Caffa or Venetian Negroponte, for example, served as centers for the slave trade, while the Genoese produced mastic on Chios, alum in Phocaea (Foça), and salt at Enez. From 1451, Mehmed II began to occupy these enclaves, with a view to financial as much as territorial gain, the resulting loss of commerce being the major factor in Genoese disengagement from the Levant. The Venetian presence was more long-lived, but the loss of Levantine colonies was the major cause of the withdrawal of Venetian capital from maritime commerce. Venice nonetheless retained a commercial presence in the Ottoman Empire and, as spoils of war, even gained possession of the Peloponnese and of Athens between 1699 and 1715.

From the sixteenth century onward, the commercial power of western European states with an Atlantic seaboard began to be felt in the Ottoman Empire. During the sixteenth century, the Portuguese, having established themselves in the Indian Ocean, tried with partial success to gain a monopoly of the trade from southeast Asia to Europe, which had previously passed through Egypt and the Gulf and provided a source of revenue for the Ottoman sultans. Ottoman attempts to dislodge the Portuguese from Diu in Gujarat in 1538 and from Hormuz in 1552, and to encounter them in the open sea, failed. By the seventeenth century, when the Dutch, English, and French began to dominate long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean, the Ottoman presence was no longer significant. At the same time, the Atlantic powers came to dominate foreign trade within the Ottoman Empire itself, although without completely displacing Italian and other traders. Foreigners in the empire gained the right to trade through a grant of privileges from the sultan, the earliest such concessions being to Genoa and Venice. The French obtained a grant from the sultan in 1569, obliging the English, Spaniards, Portuguese, and others to trade under the French flag. The English negotiated concessions in 1583, and the Dutch in 1612.

These powers came to play an important role in the Ottoman economy, in the mid-seventeenth century even supplying coin to the Ottoman currency market. The Ottoman government, for its part, was able to exploit these concessions to political ends. During the war of 16831699, the sultan granted new trading concessions to France in order to maintain her support, and after 1697 to England. After the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718, the Austrian Habsburgs and later Russia obtained concessions, marking the beginning of a period when the European powers were able to use the concessionary regimes to exert political pressure on the weakened empire, and to treat it as an economic colony of western Europe.

Commerce and diplomacy both stimulated a European interest in the Ottoman Empire. In the sixteenth century, descriptions of the empire multiplied, outnumbering works on any other parts of the non-European world. These were often the product of diplomatic and commercial interest. The following of the French ambassador Gabriel d'Aramon, who departed for Istanbul in 1546, included the botanist Pierre Belon, the traveler Nicolas de Nicolay, and the scholar Guillaume Postel. The Habsburg ambassadors and their retinues, notably Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq who, between 1553 and 1562, negotiated a peace between Suleiman I and Ferdinand of Austria, were equally productive. This tradition continued in the following centuries: The Present State of the Ottoman Empire of 1668 by the English consul Sir Paul Rycaut, and the letters of Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the English ambassador to Ahmed III in 17171718, belong to the same genre.

These books enjoyed an educated readership. They did not, however, form the popular European perception of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans entered the consciousness of Catholic Europe particularly after their defeat of crusading armies in 1396 and 1444, while the Ottoman assault on central Europe following the battle of Mohács in 1526 produced an apocalyptic fear of "the Turks." In the German-speaking lands in particular, pamphlets and woodcuts circulated that place the Turkish threat in an eschatological context, drawing on Joachimite and other medieval prophetic traditions. This eschatological fear, spread through sermons, prints, and pamphlets, had a long-lasting and popular following, especially in central Europe, where it enabled the Austrian Habsburgs to justify their rule as "bulwarks against the Turk." By the eighteenth century, when Ottoman military power had declined, so did the apocalyptic vision. By the end of the century, the sultan's palace even figured as the setting for popular entertainment. Nonetheless, hostility to the Ottomans persisted throughout western Europe. The Ottomans had, and still have, little place in Western cultural perceptions.

See also Austro-Ottoman Wars ; Harem ; Holy Leagues ; Janissary ; Mediterranean Basin ; Ottoman Dynasty ; Russo-Ottoman Wars .


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Kunt, I İ. Metin. The Sultan's Servants: The Transformation of Ottoman Provincial Government, 15501650. New York, 1983.

Mantran, Robert, ed. Histoire de l'Empire Ottoman. Paris, 1989.

Pamuk, Şevket. A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 17001922. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Colin Imber

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Ottoman Empire: Overview


multiethnic, multireligious, monarchical muslim empire founded by the ottoman (or osmanli) turks in the late thirteenth century; it survived until after world war i, when, as one of the losing central powers, it was formally dissolved by the peace treaties of 19181922. mustafa kemal (atatürk) overthrew the last sultan in 1922.

In the thirteenth century, as the power of the Seljuk Turks declined, the Ottoman Turks began to absorb their small states. In the fourteenth century, the Ottomans took over some of the Byzantine Empire's territories and, late in that century, several Balkan states. Under Selim I and Süleyman I (the Magnificent), the Ottomans brought Hungary and much of the Balkan peninsula, parts of Persia (now Iran), and the Arab lands under their rule. In 1453, they conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) and made it their capital. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire was at its peak and controlled much of southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, comprising some 1.2 million square miles (1.9 million sq. km) with some sixteen million people. That area would today include parts or all of the following: southeast Hungary, Albania, the six republics that were pre-1991 Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina), Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, southern and Caucasian Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.

By 1914, only about 11,000 square miles (17,700 sq. km) remained of the Ottoman Empire in Europe of the 232,000 square miles (373,000 sq. km) controlled during the sixteenth century, with 613,000 square miles (986,000 sq. km) remaining overallabout half the territory of the sixteenth century. That greatly reduced territory included only what is now Turkey, the Arab states, and Israel until the empire's official dissolution (19181922).

The empire's early capitals included Bursa and Edirne (formerly Adrianople), but Constantinople (Turkish, Konstantiniye) served as its capital from its capture in 1453 until 1923, when the Republic of Turkey declared its new capital at Ankara. Constantinople was by far the largest Ottoman city, with about 400,000 population in 1520 and some 1 million in 1914. Other major Ottoman cities included Belgrade, Aleppo, Cairo, and Damascus. After 1800, cities such as İzmir (Smyrna), Beirut, and Alexandria rose to prominenceproducts of increasing nineteenth-century economic ties with Europe.

The empire's administrative divisions changed with time. By the nineteenth century, most provinces (vilayets) were divided into districts (sanjaks) and sub-districts (kazas), each of which had a number of village areas (nahiyes).

The Sprawling Empire

Geography and climate varied greatly, since the empire ranged over three continents, including much of what is today's Middle East. Mountains of modest height cut by corridor valleys and heavy forests characterized part of the European provinces, while in Anatolia, narrow coastal plains and high interior plateaus with little vegetation rose to rugged snow-capped mountains in the eastern part of the peninsula. In the Syrian province, similarly narrow coastal plains bordering the Mediterranean rose to the mountains of Lebanon. To the east, highlands yielded to desert and, beyond, to the alluvial lowlands of Mesopotamia (now Iraq). A spine of mountains branches south from the Syrian province, just inlandwith one range heading into the Sinai peninsula and the other emerging along the western edge of the Arabian peninsula, reaching the greatest height in Yemen. The great rivers of the empire included the Danube, Tigris, Euphrates, and Nilebut navigable rivers were comparatively rare in both the European and Middle Eastern areas of the empire.

Climatic conditions ranged from the cold heights of eastern Anatolia to the heat of the Egyptian, Arabian, and North African deserts, including the sweltering heat and humidity of the coast of the Persian (Arabian) Gulf. Almost everywhere rainfall was sparsea fact of Ottoman life.

The empire had a wide base of natural resources; and much of its expansion can be understood as an effort to seize and control areas rich in various resources. For example, the Ottoman conquest of Serbia derived, in part, from an interest in its silver mines. As the empire lost territory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it also lost the rich diversity of its resource base. The Ottoman state bent the economy to meet its imperial needs before any others. Edicts directed mineral, agricultural, and industrial products to satisfy both the imperial military and the bureaucracy.

The Empire's Agricultural History

Agriculture was the basic economic activity, providing a livelihood for the majority of Ottoman subjects through the centuriesalthough the produce varied according to time and place. Some areas were not cultivated during periods of political disorder but were tilled again with the guarantee of political security. During the sixteenth century, the areas under cultivation were so extensive that they remained at peak production until the post-1830 period of increasing governmental recentralization. The fertility of the soil was legendary in some areas, such as the Nile delta or the Aydin river valley in western Anatolia. More commonly, however, the soil was not rich or, when fertile, lacked sufficient rainfall. In many areas, agriculture was a precarious enterprise; crop failures and famines were normal in the cycle of life. Consequently, to survive, many families mixed animal raising and handicraft production with farming. Landholdings were usually small, a pattern preferred by the state, which sought direct relations with the farming families (and fiscal and political control over them). Large estates became more common after 1750, as agriculture became increasingly commercialparticularly on new land being brought into cultivation. Hence, great estates were most common in the eastern Syrian and Iraqi regions that were settled or resettled in the later nineteenth century. Such large holdings grew cereal grains; generally, overall grain output increased because of rising market opportunities. Vineyards and olive orchards flourished in the Mediterranean provinces of the empire, and cotton grew in the Macedonian, Anatolian, Syrian, and Egyptian regionsbut their yields fluctuated greatly over time. Forest products were common to the Balkan regions and along sections of the Anatolian Black Sea coast, while dates were harvested in the Iraqi areas.

Industrial production first served both international and domestic markets but, after about 1800, internal demand predominated. Textiles, leather making, and food processing were of great importance; urban-based enterprises were highly visible, but rural manufactories were extensive and important. Until the nineteenth century, guildlike bodies (esnaf) in the cities and towns played important roles in organizing and controlling production. They worked in an uneasy cooperation with the state, helping it to obtain goods in exchange for government support of esnaf privileges.

Significant economic changes in the Ottoman Empire resulted from the rising economic, political, and military power of Europe in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Until about 1750, the Ottoman economy was autarkicthat is, relatively self-sufficientby government design. It imported comparatively little and exported a variety of textiles and other manufactured goods, both to the East and the West. Thereafter, the export of many finished products decreased, but the export of agricultural products and raw materials, such as cereal grains and raw cotton, increasedalmost exclusively to Western markets. Ottoman industry received a rude shock from the competition of European manufactured goods. Ottoman textile manufacturers then restructured their enterprises along nonguild lines with unregulated production and lower wages, so most of the craft guilds lost power and ceased functioning. Using machine-made thread and other low-technology imports, many nineteenth-century local textile makers survived and even increased production for the expanding domestic market. In addition, several new international export industries emerged that employed tens of thousands of poorly paid workers, notably in raw-silk reeling and carpet making.

The Challenges of Ethnic Diversity

The ethnic and religious makeup of the Ottoman Empire was diverse and intermingled. As if to lead by example, the Ottoman ruling family was truly international, counting dozens of ethnic groups among its ancestors. The relative size of the empire's ethnic groups is very difficult to determine, since the pertinent statistics were manipulated for use as weapons by nineteenth-century nationalism. Various ethnic groups sought their own states or attempted to deny the claims of competitors. In the era before territorial shrinkage, speakers of Turkish and of the Slavic languages formed the two largest groups in the empire. The largest ethnic groups were the Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Slovenians, Serbs, Albanians, Ruthenians, Wallachians, Moldavians, Croatians, Armenians, Laz, and Kurds. The official language of the empire was Ottoman Turkish, an administrative language consisting largely of Turkish grammar, with Turkish, Arabic, and some Persian vocabulary. The elite classes spoke and wrote in Ottoman Turkish, exchanging official correspondence and sharing a high culture, which gave the empire a unity that was superimposed over its diversity. The religious makeup was equally diverse. Until the nineteenth century, when districts with large Christian populations broke away, most Ottoman subjects were Christians of various denominations, usually of the Orthodox church, the descendant of the Byzantine state church. There also were Armenian and Greek Orthodox Catholics, Maronites, and those belonging to smaller Christian denominations; there was as well a diverse but small population of Jews. Within the Ottoman Islamic community, adherents of Sunni Islam slightly out-numbered adherents of Shiʿism. During the nineteenth century, Islam became the predominant religion in the empire, just as Turks became the dominant ethnic group. By 1914, about 83 percent of the population practiced Islam.

During the four centuries before 1850, the Ottoman state had sought to organize the various ethnic and religious communities into a smaller number of religious nations, called millets. Under the leadership of its own religious authority, each millet organized, funded, and administered its own religious and educational institutions. The Greek
Orthodox millet, for example, ran schools and churches for the lay population, as well as seminaries to train its clergy. The sultan, who had descended from Osman, the fourteenth-century founder of the dynasty, ruled the empire throughout its history. Until 1453, the sultans shared power with other important families, as the first among equals. Thereafter, they theoretically were without peer, although power passed from the sultan to members of his government after about 1640. Until the end of the seventeenth century, power rested with the central state in the capital; during the eighteenth century, power became dispersed among provincial notables. A centralized state emerged during the early 1800sbased on internal evolutionary developments, as well as borrowings from Western models. Struggles for control of the state between the reforming sultans and the reforming bureaucrats swung in favor of the bureaucracy between 1839 and 1878 and then back to the sultan until 1908. After the revolution of the Young Turks in July of 1908, the last sultans reigned rather than ruled.

During the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire lost its Balkan territories to rising European nationalism and imperialismespecially panSlavism as instigated by Russia. Various Balkan ethnic groupsthe Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgariansabandoned, with great-power sponsorship, the Ottoman multicultural formula and opted for nation-statehood, which aspired to ethnic homogeneity but did not achieve it. Government efforts to create a competing Ottoman nationality foundered in the face of exclusivist nation-state identity. Efforts to eradicate differences among its remaining subjects were similarly unsuccessful. Take for example the state program to abolish the millets; fearing a loss of influence, various religious authoritiesboth Christian and Muslimas well as many European statesmen opposed the move.

Increased Westernization Shapes the Empire

At the same time, ongoing domestic-reform efforts produced a revitalized, powerful Ottoman state that reasserted its presence in an unprecedented fashion. A series of reform decreesthe Hatt-i Şerif of Gülhane (1839) and the Hatt-i Hümayun (1856)presented the path that Ottoman leaders intended
to follow. Ottoman military forces successfully adopted Western weapons, strategy, and tactics and crushed local notables, nomadic tribes, and other domestic challenges to the central regime. The state apparatus became marked by increasing centralization, specialization of function, and ever greater size. Knowledge of Western languages, administrative practices, and culture became critical to advancement in the political and, finally, social spheres. The government, for example, founded a vast network of secular, nonsectarian, Westernizing schools to inculcate the new values. In the realm of popular culture, entertainment forms of Western originthe theater and novelsbecame increasingly popular, as did European-style clothing and manners. Nineteenth-century Ottoman experiences foreshadowed those of third-world states of the twentieth century in yet other ways. After increasing taxation to finance the expensive civil and military changes, the Ottoman Empire ultimately resorted to borrowing vast sums from abroad, which eventually resulted in virtual bankruptcy and a partial foreign takeover of the Ottoman economy. Toward the end, despite centuries of success, the empire could not compete with the explosion of twentieth-century European economic, military, and political power; after participating as a member of the losing Central powers in World War I, it was partitioned.

see also tanzimat; young turks.


Davison, Roderic H. Turkey. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Faruqhi, Suraiya. "Agriculture and Rural Life in the Ottoman Empire, ca. 15001878." New Perspectives on Turkey 1 (1987): 334.

Gerber, Haim. The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 1987.

El-Haj, Rif'at Ali Abou. Formation of the Ottoman State: The Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries. Albany, NY: 1991.

Inalcik, Halil. "Application of the Tanzimat and Its Social Effects." Archivum Ottomanicum (1973): 97128.

Karpat, Kemal H. Ottoman Population 18301914: Demographic and Social Characteristics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Owen, Roger. The Middle East in the World Economy, 18001914. London: Methuen, 1981.

Pamuk, Şevket. The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism, 18201913: Trade, Investment, and Production. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Pitcher, Donald Edgar. An Historical Geography of the Ottoman Empire from Earliest Times to the End of the Sixteenth Century. Leiden, Neth.: Brill, 1968.

Quataert, Donald. Social Disintegration and Popular Resistance in the Ottoman Empire, 18811908: Reactions to European Economic Penetration. New York: New York University Press, 1983.

donald quataert

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Ottoman Dynasty


OTTOMAN DYNASTY. Osman I, the eponymous founder of the Ottoman dynasty, established a state in northwestern Anatolia in the late thirteenth century and was, according to later tradition, invested by the Seljuk sultan. This tradition formed part of the legitimation of the dynasty as successors to the Seljuk Turkish dynasty of Anatolia, while a genealogy tracing the family back to Oghuz Khan gave them an ancestry superior to their rivals. Very little is actually known, however, about the origins of this dynasty, which ruled for over six hundred years.

During the course of the fourteenth century, the Ottoman state, merely one of a number of Turkish principalities and by no means the largest or most important, swallowed up many of its Turkish rivals and emerged as the preeminent power. Quite why this happened is not clear. Many of the characteristics used to explain Ottoman success, such as the role of gazi (warrior for Islam) or commercial acumen, are equally attributable to other states. The Ottomans, however, do not appear to have had damaging internal power struggles, their early rulers were long-lasting and apparently talented, and the Ottomans may also have been particularly astute diplomats in their dealings with their neighbors.


Before the middle of the sixteenth century, succession did not pass automatically to the eldest son but to the son who succeeded in a power struggle. This changed after the death of Suleiman I (ruled 15201566), with succession usually going to the eldest son and, from 1617, to the oldest surviving male of the family. By the seventeenth century what took a son to the throne was the success of a particular palace faction. Ahmed I (ruled 16031617), Mustafa I (ruled 16171618, 16221623), Osman II (ruled 16181622), and Ibrahim (ruled 16401648) all came onto, and on occasion off, the throne through factional intriguing, which also, in the cases of Osman II and Ibrahim, resulted in the murder of the deposed ruler. The systematic practice of fratricide, later justified as essential to safeguard the stability of the state, ended after the reign of Mehmed III (ruled 15951603), who on his accession in 1595 murdered his nineteen brothers.


While succession could pass only through the male line, women nevertheless played a major role in power politics of the dynasty. Kösem Mahpeyker, mother of both Murad IV (ruled 16231640) and Ibrahim, effectively controlled government until she was ultimately murdered in 1651, apparently at the instigation of Turhan Sultan, mother of Mehmed IV (ruled 16481687), herself a figure of political importance. Later in the century power passed largely from these women not to the sultan but to the grand viziers from the Köprülü family.

While the mothers of the sultans were mostly slaves, the early Ottoman rulers did marry but for political rather than reproductive purposes. Once the practice ceased to be of use, it was discontinued. The last marriage of an Ottoman ruler or son of the ruler to a foreign princess was that of Bayezid II (ruled 14811512). Initially princesses of the royal house were married to the sons of foreign royal houses, but the importance of such "foreign" marriages was limited. Women could not marry non-Muslims, which thus restricted their use politically, and any children from such marriages were not useful for any territorial claims the Ottomans might make as descent was through the male, not the female, line. From around the middle of the fifteenth century the princesses were married to men of the ruling elite within the empire, a system useful for the Ottoman dynasty as it tied those men more

Ottoman Ruling Dynasties
Osman (ruled ??1324)
Orhan (ruled ?13241362)
Murad I (ruled 13621389)
Bayezid I (ruled 13891402)
Mehmed I (ruled 14131421)
Murad II (ruled 14211444)
Mehmed II (ruled 14441446)
Murad II (ruled 14461451)
Mehmed II (ruled 14511481)
Bayezid II (ruled 14811512)
Selim I (ruled 15121520)
Suleiman I (ruled 15201566)
Selim II (ruled 15661574)
Murad III (ruled 15741595)
Mehmed III (ruled 15951603)
Ahmed I (ruled 16031617)
Mustafa I (ruled 16171618)
Osman II (ruled 16181622)
Mustafa I (ruled 16221623)
Murad IV (ruled 16231640)
Ibrahim (ruled 16401648)
Mehmed IV (ruled 16481687)
Suleiman II (ruled 16871691)
Ahmed II (ruled 16911695)
Mustafa II (ruled 16951703)
Ahmed III (ruled 17031730)
Mahmud I (ruled 17301754)
Osman III (ruled 17541757)
Mustafa III (ruled 17571774)
Abdülhamid I (ruled 17741789)

closely to the ruling house and lessened the possibility of rival households forming.


Although at first sons or brothers of the ruler apparently were involved in government, this soon changed as the sultan became the dominant figure. Young sons were sent as governors to the provinces to gain experience under the guidance of their tutors. This practice changed with the death of Suleiman I and was restricted to only the eldest son. From the end of the sixteenth century, sons were confined to the palace until one of them succeeded to the throne. Confinement produced, in general, sultans less able than their predecessors. There were, of course, exceptions, such as Murad IV, who became known for his great severity, avarice, and absolutist rule. According to the Venetian bailo at Istanbul, no other sultan attained such total dominance.

In a system where power was so highly centralized on the figure of the sultan, the character of the individual was of considerable importance. When the state was in the hands of competent rulers, the empire functioned well. But with the accession of sultans who were mentally unhinged, as in the cases of Mustafa I and Ibrahim, or of minors, such as Osman II and Mehmed IV, government could easily fall prey to palace intrigues and janissary revolts.

Initially great warriors who personally led their armies on the field of battle, the sultans after Suleiman I rarely set off to war. Such warlike qualities, important in the legitimation of the early rulers, became much less significant, and sultans after Suleiman I were not war leaders in the way their predecessors had been. However, both Mehmed III and Osman II sought to exploit the warrior image in a period when the empire's need for reform and restructuring was becoming evident. Mustafa II (ruled 16951703) also took a more active military role.

Mustafa II also tried to wrest power away from the viziers and back into the hands of the sultan. He was unsuccessful, however, and the center of political power during the eighteenth century lay not in the palace but with the pashas. With effective control elsewhere, the Ottoman sultans sought other ways to maintain their position at the center of power and underline their legitimacy. Ahmed III (ruled 17031730) and the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha (17181730), created a "court of consumption," a world of lavish display, luxury, and cultural extravagance during what came to be known as the Tulip Era, in an attempt to put the court back at the center.

Political power and decision making, however, largely lay elsewhere through the eighteenth century as the empire struggled with ever less success to face the growing economic, technological, and military threat from Europe.

See also Islam in the Ottoman Empire ; Janissary ; Mehmed II (Ottoman Empire) ; Ottoman Empire ; Suleiman I ; Sultan ; Vizier .


Alderson, A. D. The Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty. Oxford, 1956. Standard work on the Ottoman dynasty.

Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 13001481. Istanbul, 1990. Good political history of the early period.

. The Ottoman Empire, 13001650. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 2002. Contains an interesting section on the Ottoman dynasty.

İnalcik, Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 13001914. Cambridge, U.K., 1994. Detailed coverage of Ottoman economy and society.

McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. Harlow, U.K., 1997.

Peirce, Leslie P. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford and New York, 1993. Assessment of the political power of royal women.

Kate Fleet

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FLEET, KATE. "Ottoman Dynasty." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. 2004. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404900820.html

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire (ŏt´əmən), vast state founded in the late 13th cent. by Turkish tribes in Anatolia and ruled by the descendants of Osman I until its dissolution in 1918. Modern Turkey formed only part of the empire, but the terms "Turkey" and "Ottoman Empire" were often used interchangeably.

Organization of the Empire

Economically, socially, and militarily, Turkey was a medieval state, unaffected by the developments in the rest of Europe. Turkish domination over the northern part of Africa (except Tripoli and Egypt) was never well defined or effective, and the eastern border was inconstant, shifting according to frequent wars with Persia. Of the vassal princes, only the khans of Crimea were generally loyal.

The sultans themselves had sunk into indolence and depravity. Until the ascension (1603) of Ahmad I, the succession to the throne was habitually contested by all the sons of the deceased sultan, and it was the patriotic duty of the victor to kill his rivals in order to restore order. Although this practice was barbarous, when it ceased other problems arose. The eldest male member of the family was recognized as the heir-designate, but to prevent threats to the sultan the imperial prince was denied any involvement in public affairs and was kept in luxurious imprisonment. When the prince finally ascended the throne, he was often alcoholic or lunatic.

Actual rule was usually exercised by the grand viziers, many of whom were able men (notably those of the Köprülü family). The sultans themselves often were the creatures of the Janissaries, whose favor was purchased by large gifts at the ascension of a sultan.

One of the most nefarious aspects of the court of Constantinople (known as the Seraglio and the Sublime Porte) was the all-pervading corruption and bribery that had been raised to a system of administration. The pashas and hospodars (governors) who administered the provinces and vassal states purchased their posts at exorbitant prices. They recovered their fortunes by extorting still larger sums from their subjects. The peasantry was thus reduced to abject misery.

A positive feature in Ottoman administration was the religious toleration generally extended to all non-Muslims. This, however, did not prevent occasional massacres and discriminatory fiscal practices. In Constantinople the Greeks and Armenians held a privileged status and were very influential in commerce and politics. The despotic system of government was mitigated only by the observance of Muslim law.



The Ottoman state began as one of many small Turkish states that emerged in Asia Minor during the breakdown of the empire of the Seljuk Turks. The Ottoman Turks began to absorb the other states, and during the reign (1451–81) of Muhammad II they ended all other local Turkish dynasties. The early phase of Ottoman expansion took place under Osman I, Orkhan, Murad I, and Beyazid I at the expense of the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Bursa fell in 1326 and Adrianople (the modern Edirne) in 1361; each in turn became the capital of the empire. The great Ottoman victories of Kosovo Field (1389) and Nikopol (1396) placed large parts of the Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman rule and awakened Europe to the Ottoman danger. The Ottoman siege of Constantinople was lifted at the appearance of Timur, who defeated and captured Beyazid in 1402. The Ottomans, however, soon rallied.

The Period of Great Expansion

The empire, reunited by Muhammad I, expanded victoriously under Muhammad's successors Murad II and Muhammad II. The victory (1444) at Varna over a crusading army led by Ladislaus III of Poland was followed in 1453 by the capture of Constantinople. Within a century the Ottomans had changed from a nomadic horde to the heirs of the most ancient surviving empire of Europe. Their success was due partly to the weakness and disunity of their adversaries, partly to their excellent and far superior military organization. Their army comprised numerous Christians—not only conscripts, who were organized as the corps of Janissaries, but also volunteers. Turkish expansion reached its peak in the 16th cent. under Selim I and Sulayman I (Sulayman the Magnificent).

The Hungarian defeat (1526) at Mohács prepared the way for the capture (1541) of Buda and the absorption of the major part of Hungary by the Ottoman Empire; Transylvania became a tributary principality, as did Walachia and Moldavia. The Asian borders of the empire were pushed deep into Persia and Arabia. Selim I defeated the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, took Cairo in 1517, and assumed the succession to the caliphate. Algiers was taken in 1518, and Mediterranean commerce was threatened by corsairs, such as Barbarossa, who sailed under Turkish auspices. Most of the Venetian and other Latin possessions in Greece also fell to the sultans.

During the reign of Sulayman I began (1535) the traditional friendship between France and Turkey, directed against Hapsburg Austria and Spain. Sulayman reorganized the Turkish judicial system, and his reign saw the flowering of Turkish literature, art, and architecture. In practice the prerogatives of the sultan were limited by the spirit of Muslim canonical law (sharia), and he usually shared his authority with the chief preserver (sheyhülislam) of the sharia and with the grand vizier (chief executive officer).

In the progressive decay that followed Sulayman's death, the clergy (ulema) and the Janissaries gained power and exercised a profound, corrupting influence. The first serious blow by Europe to the empire was the naval defeat of Lepanto (1571; see Lepanto, battle of), inflicted on the fleet of Selim II by the Spanish and Venetians under John of Austria. However, Murad IV in the 17th cent. temporarily restored Turkish military prestige by his victory (1638) over Persia. Crete was conquered from Venice, and in 1683 a huge Turkish army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa surrounded Vienna. The relief of Vienna by John III of Poland and the subsequent campaigns of Charles V of Lorraine, Louis of Baden, and Eugene of Savoy ended in negotiations in 1699 (see Karlowitz, Treaty of), which cost Turkey Hungary and other territories.


The breakup of the state gained impetus with the Russo-Turkish Wars in the 18th cent. Egypt was only temporarily lost to Napoleon's army, but the Greek War of Independence and its sequels, the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29 (see Adrianople, Treaty of), and the war with Muhammad Ali of Egypt resulted in the loss of Greece and Egypt, the protectorate of Russia over Moldavia and Walachia, and the semi-independence of Serbia. Drastic reforms were introduced in the late 18th and early 19th cent. by Selim III and Mahmud II, but they came too late. By the 19th cent. Turkey was known as the Sick Man of Europe.

Through a series of treaties of capitulation from the 16th to the 18th cent. the Ottoman Empire gradually lost its economic independence. Although Turkey was theoretically among the victors in the Crimean War, it emerged from the war economically exhausted. The Congress of Paris (1856) recognized the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire, but this event marked the confirmation of the empire's dependency rather than of its rights as a European power.

The rebellion (1875) of Bosnia and Herzegovina precipitated the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, in which Turkey was defeated despite its surprisingly vigorous stand. Romania (i.e., Walachia and Moldavia), Serbia, and Montenegro were declared fully independent, and Bosnia and Herzegovina passed under Austrian administration. Bulgaria, made a virtually independent principality, annexed (1885) Eastern Rumelia with impunity.

Sultan Abd al-Majid, who in 1839 issued a decree containing an important body of civil reforms, was followed (1861) by Abd al-Aziz, whose reign witnessed the rise of the liberal party. Its leader, Midhat Pasha, succeeded in deposing (1876) Abd al-Aziz. Abd al-Hamid II acceded (1876) after the brief reign of Murad V. A liberal constitution was framed by Midhat, and the first Turkish parliament opened in 1877, but the sultan soon dismissed it and began a rule of personal despotism. The Armenian massacres (see Armenia) of the late 19th cent. turned world public opinion against Turkey. Abd al-Hamid was victorious in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897, but Crete, which had been the issue, was ultimately gained by Greece.


In 1908 the Young Turk movement, a reformist and strongly nationalist group, with many adherents in the army, forced the restoration of the constitution of 1876, and in 1909 the parliament deposed the sultan and put Muhammad V on the throne. In the two successive Balkan Wars (1912–13), Turkey lost nearly its entire territory in Europe to Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and newly independent Albania. The nationalism of the Young Turks, whose leader Enver Pasha gained virtual dictatorial power by a coup in 1913, antagonized the remaining minorities in the empire.

The outbreak of World War I found Turkey lined up with the Central Powers. Although Turkish troops succeeded against the Allies in the Gallipoli campaign (1915), Arabia rose against Turkish rule, and British forces occupied (1917) Baghdad and Jerusalem. Armenians, accused of aiding the Russians, were massacred and deported from Anatolia beginning in 1915; an Armenian uprising in Van (1915) survived until relieved by Russian forces. In 1918, Turkish resistance collapsed in Asia and Europe. An armistice was concluded in October, and the Ottoman Empire came to an end. The Treaty of Sèvres (see Sèvres, Treaty of) confirmed its dissolution. With the victory of the Turkish nationalists, who had refused to accept the peace terms and overthrew the sultan in 1922, modern Turkey's history began.


See P. Wittek, The Rise of the Ottoman Empire (1938); W. Miller, The Ottoman Empire and its Successors, 1801–1927 (rev. ed. 1936, repr. 1966); L. Cassels, The Struggle for the Ottoman Empire, 1717–1740 (1968); B. Lewis, Emergence of Modern Turkey (2d ed. 1968); H. Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300–1600 (tr. 1973); C. H. Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the Ottoman Empire (1986); S. Pamuk, The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism 1820–1913 (1987); H. Islamoglu-Inan, ed., The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy (1988); R. Lewis, Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey (1988); A. Wheatcroft, The Ottomans (1993) and The Enemy at the Gate (2009); J. Goodwin, Lords of the Horizons (1999); R. Crowley, Empires of the Sea (2008); E. Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans (2015).

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Ottoman Empire: Civil Service


government administrative service exclusive of the military.

In the sense of an administrative system that recruits and promotes officials on merit and operates by impartially applied rules, civil service is an anachronistic concept almost anywhere (except China) before the mid-nineteenth century. Even after that time, to apply the concept to the Ottoman Empire is questionable, in that the regulatory apparatus, although created, was used to thwart its impartiality.

For centuries, however, the Ottoman Turks had had a branch of the ruling elite whose functions were civilin the sense of being neither military nor religious. Until the end of the eighteenth century, this group is best understood as scribes. Ottomans referred to them with terms like kalem efendileri ("men of the pen" or "of the offices"), or the corresponding abstract noun kalemiye. The scribes conducted the government's correspondence and kept its financial accounts and records on land tenure. Nineteenth-century reforms expanded and changed this branch of service into something like the civil services then emerging in Europe. From the late 1830s on, it also was referred to with a different term, mülkiye, having implications associated with land tenure and sovereignty. Particularly relevant to local administration, this term came to refer generally to civil officials, memurin-i mülkiye.

The state of the late eighteenth-century scribal service shows where this change began. It had a core of fifteen hundred men, serving in Istanbul in the Land Registry (Defterhane-i Amire), the grand-vizierial headquarters that Europeans called the Sublime Porte (Bab-i Ali), and the Treasury (Bab-i Defteri). Considering that scribes also served in military organizations or on provincial governors' staffs, an outside total can be estimated at two thousand. While it may seem odd that so few could suffice for a large empire, the Ottomans did not historically use scribes as administrators. In the years of conquest and through the sixteenth century, for example, local administration had been largely in cavalry officers' hands. By the eighteenth century, an able man might rise through scribal ranks to provincial governor, a kind of proto-foreign minister (reis ülküttab), or grand vizier. Such careers were exceptional, and an ordinary scribe's role remained that of secretary (katib).

Many traits of the scribal service indicated its obscurity within the ruling elites. It had as yet no recruitment system beyond familial and patronage networks. It lacked its own form of training, other than apprenticeship. Except for those raised to heights that exposed them to elite factional politics, career patterns bore imprints of the guild tradition and the Sufi ethos that permeated it. To serve as a scribe was the chief practical application of the adab-traditionthe worldly, literary aspect of the learned Islamic culture. Building on an ancient Middle Eastern cultural elitism, Ottoman scribes had elaborated their craft to a high point in which mastery of stylistic conventions became more important than clear communication.

The shift from scribal to civil service began under sultans Selim III (17891807) and Mahmud II (18081839). In response to defeat by Russia during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, Selim's "New Order" (Nizam-i Cedit), the first attempt at comprehensive governmental overhaul, included both reform of existing agencies and the first Ottoman attempt to create European-style systems of permanent consular and diplomatic representation. In 1821, Mahmud II created the Translation Office (Tercüme Odasi) at the Sublime Porte, which trained young Muslims as translators. Following his abolition of the janissary infantry (1826), administrative reform accelerated. In the 1830s, Mahmud II revived the diplomatic corps and reorganized government departments as ministries. To support his efforts at centralization, he also laid the bases of civil personnel policy by reforming conditions of service. He created a new table of civil ranks, abandoned the practice of annual reappointment (tevcihat) to high office, replaced old forms of compensation (such as fee collecting) with salaries, founded the first secular civil schools, and enacted laws eliminating some insecurities inherent in officials' historical status as the sultan's slaves. These reforms climaxed with the Gülhane Decree, which proclaimed "security for life, honor, and property" and equality for allcivil officials included.

Several weak sultans followed Mahmud II. This enabled top civil officialstheir position in relation to the ruler now much secured, and their importance increased by their role in negotiating with the European powers on whom the empire was becoming dependentto run the government until another strong sultan emerged. The period so opened became known as the Tanzimat (the Reforms, 1839c. 1871). The center of power shifted from the palace to the Sublime Porte. As civil officialdom's Westernizing diplomatic vanguard grew in power, a new line of promotion appeared, running from the Translation Office through the embassies to the post of Foreign Minister and the grand vizierate. Westernizing policy changes followed en masse, as the Ottoman government grew in size and in its impact on people's lives. Civil officials now did take responsibility for local administration. Westernizing legal reform and the creation of secular courts gave them judicial roles. Modern census and population registration systems required Ottomans to face civil officials to get identity papers and passports. The teachers in the new secular schools were civil officials. Out of the Westernist official elite a literary vanguard emerged, too; from it the region's first Western-style political protest movement, the Young Ottomans (Yeni Osmanlilar), in turn arose to exploit the tensions created by rapid change.

Between the death of Grand Vizier Ali Paşa (1871) and Sultan Abdülhamit II's accession (1876), the Tanzimat political configuration broke up. Abdülhamit shifted power back to the palace, making it the hub of a police state. Administrative reform continued along the lines charted during the Tanzimat, however. For example, Abdülhamit's reign became a growth period for education, publishing, and public works, especially railroads. In addition, his reign became the most important since Mahmud II's for the development of personnel policy for civil officials. The process began with creation of the personnel records system (sicill-i ahval, 1877). A decree on promotion and retirement followed, in 1880, introducing the idea of a retirement fund (tekaüd sandiği) financed by salary deductions. Commissions were set up to supervise the appointing of civil officials. With these, the civil personnel system assumed the general outlines of a modern, merit-based civil service, except that Abdülhamit manipulated the system, using it rather as a tool by which to control his officials. Under him, the growth of civil officialdom continued, as he pressured the politically conscious to accept office, in which they would become dependent on him. Ultimately, he had about 35,000 career officials and an equal number of hangers-on in civil service.

With the revolution of the Young Turks (Jön Türkler) in 1908 came a bold start in purging civil officialdom and streamlining administrative agencies. Despite gains like the 1913 provincial administration law, World War I and the dismemberment of the empire overcame these efforts. Still, in terms of elites, legislation, and organization, the Republic of Turkey inherited enough so that the early development of its administrative system has been described as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

see also abdÜlhamit ii; mahmud ii; sublime porte; tanzimat; young ottomans; young turks.


Findley, Carter Vaughn. Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte, 17891922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Findley, Carter Vaughn. Ottoman Civil Officialdom: A Social History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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Ottoman Military: Ottoman Army


Military organization that defended the Ottoman Empire and helped establish the Turkish republic.

The origins of the modern Ottoman army date to the destruction of the janissaries by Sultan Mahmud II (June 1826). Mahmud then laid the foundation for a new military organization based on Western models. Its centerpiece was a European-style infantry corps, the Trained Victorious Troops of Muhammad (Muallem Asakir-i Mansure-yi Muhammadiye, Mansure for short). Other military servicescavalry, artillery, and transportwere established mainly by reforming existing military units. Mahmud also created a modern corps of imperial guards out of the Bostanci corps, which had guarded imperial palaces.

There also were attempts to centralize the command structure. The authority of the commander in chief (ser asker) of the Mansure was gradually extended over the other services and branches. Thus his headquarters (Bab-i Ser Asker) gradually came to combine the roles of a ministry of war and general staff, and eventually was in charge of all land forces.

Under Mahmud II the military engineering schools were rejuvenated and reformed. He also established a military medical school (1827) and an officer school (1834). Russia and Britain sent military instructors. Most useful services were rendered by a Prussian military mission that grew from one officer (Helmuth von Moltke) in 1835 to twelve in 1837.

In the 1830s Mahmud sought to strengthen the army. Large permanent units with regular commanding officers and staffs were formed. In 1834 a provincial militia (redif) was established to provide reserve forces. However, the commissary system could not support the rapid increase of the military. Epidemics were rife, and over a quarter of all recruits succumbed to disease. Desertion was very common. Although the army had been successfully employed as an instrument of coercion and centralization, as a military force it remained relatively small and poorly organized, trained, and equipped. By the end of Mahmud's reign there were only some 90,000 men in all the services. The wars with Russia (18281829) and with Muhammad Ali's Egypt (18311833, 1839) resulted in heavy losses and the disruption of the army's development.

During the Tanzimat period (18391876) the army consolidated and built on the shaky foundations
laid in the previous era. The Bab-i Ser Asker continued to acquire new departments. The army steadily grew, and recruitment and training improved. In 1843 the army, renamed the Regular Imperial Troops (Asakir-i Nizamiye-yi Şahane, Nizamiye for short), was organized in permanent territorial commands, each consisting of an army corps (ordu) under a field marshal (müşir). The field marshals, directly responsible to the ser asker, had wide jurisdiction in all military matters. This limited the provincial governors' ability to intervene in military affairs, and was intended to centralize further the military organization and strengthen the authority of the ser asker. Five territorial army corps were established, with headquarters in Istanbul, Üsküdar, Monastir, Sivas, and Damascus. In 1848 a sixth corps was established with headquarters in Baghdad. In 1849 the Nizamiye had some 120,000 men and the redif, 50,000. With local and semiregular organizations, the empire's land forces numbered some 250,000 men.

The reign of Abdülaziz (18611876) witnessed considerable increases in military appropriations and improvements in the army's equipment and training. Modern weapons were purchased abroad, mainly from Germany, and with them came German military instructors. Since the majority of the officers were poorly educated, in 1855 the army initiated its own network of schools to prepare youths to become soldiers and officers. In 1867 over 8,000 students were enrolled in these schools.

In 1869 the army was reorganized into seven territorial corps, with headquarters in Istanbul, Shumla, Monastir, Erzurum, Damascus, Baghdad, and Sanʿa in Yemen. Each corps was required to have some 26,500 men. During the Russian war of 18771878 the Ottoman army had some 500,000 men, of whom some 220,000 took the field. During this period the Ottoman Empire reemerged as an important military power in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Its army performed well during the Crimean War (18531856) and in the early stages of the Russian war of 18771878. In the latter conflict, however, the Ottomans were out-classed by the superior Russian army.

Under Abdülhamit II (18761909) the army benefited from ever increasing allocations, improved recruitment and training, and modern weaponry (mostly from Germany). It received assistance from a German military mission led by Kolmar von der Goltz (18831896). At the same time, however, Abdülhamit weakened the authority of the ser asker and placed military affairs under the supervision of permanent commissions staffed by his confidants. He personally approved the appointment and promotion of officers, and established networks of informers throughout the army.

By the 1890s the officer corps had become rife with discontent and sedition. The great expansion of the military had brought growing numbers of young officers from classes whose loyalty to the regime was not unconditional. Furthermore, the officers were better educated, and many espoused liberal ideals. In addition, officers and men were poorly paid, with salaries usually months in arrears. Finally, throughout most of Abdülhamit's reign the army was employed, with little success, in suppressing national and ethnic uprisings as well as lawlessness, especially in Macedonia and eastern Anatolia. Many officers, frustrated by the growing numbers of casualties, believed that the government was either unwilling or unable to provide the necessary means to restore order and protect the empire's territorial integrity. This led many officers, especially in the junior and intermediate ranks, to join the Young Turk movement, which called for the overthrow of Abdülhamit. The Young Turk Revolution (July 1908), which restored constitutional government and led, a year later, to Abdülhamid's deposition, began as a mutiny in the Third Army Corps, based in Macedonia.

In the following years, the Young Turk regime provided the army with increased allocations, modern weapons, and another German military mission, led by Gen. Otto Liman von Sanders (November 1913). At the beginning of World War I, the Ottoman army had some 640,000 men. During the war the Ottomans mobilized an estimated total of some 4 million men. Although the army was plagued by problems of logistics and command, it generally fought well and was successful, especially in Gallipoli (19151916) and in Iraq (19151916), and in defending Anatolia from foreign invasion following the war. In the end, however, the army could not save the empire from final collapse. Nevertheless, as the institution that had benefited more than any other from reform and modernization, it played a crucial role in the rise of the Turkish republic.

see also abdÜlhamit ii; crimean war; mahmud ii; mansure army; russianottoman wars; tanzimat; young turks.


Levy, Avigdor. "The Officer Corps of Sultan Mahmud II's New Ottoman Army, 18261839." International Journal of Middle East Studies 2 (1971): 2139.

Ralston, David B. Importing the European Army: The Introduction of European Military Techniques and Institutions into the Extra-European World, 16001914. Chicago, 1990.

Shaw, Stanford J., and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. 2: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 18081975. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 19761977.

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Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire


The Ottoman Empire (c. 12901922) provides a vivid example of durable and successful state building in world history. A late medieval creation, the Ottoman state achieved world empire status in 1453 because of its conquest of Constantinople. During the surrounding several centuries, it was among the most powerful states in the world. Although geography and luck played roles, the success of the empire mainly derived from pragmatic and flexible Ottoman policy-making and considerable openness to innovation, including military technology. At its peak, the empire covered parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Its extent is suggested by this partial list of successor states: Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Montenegro, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Syria, and Turkey.

Expansion slowly faded into memory and territorial contraction began thanks partly to developments elsewhere in the world, notably the rise of capitalism and industrialism in Europe and then elsewhere, and to the New World wealth that poured into Europe. As wealth flowed elsewhere, the Ottoman Empire was unable to compete and lost its preeminent position; by about 1800 it had become a second-class economic, military, and political power. Within the empire innovation faded, partly because entrenched bureaucrats, statesmen, and military personnel acted to protect their childrens positions and closed entry to newcomers.

During the nineteenth century a successful series of programs measurably strengthened the state and its military. The bureaucracy grew both in size and in the scope of its activities, now not merely collecting taxes and providing security but also taking responsibility for the health, education, and welfare of its subjects. Yet, the empire fell defeated in World War I (19141918) and was partitioned by the Great Powers, notably Great Britain and France.

In its domestic polity, the Ottoman state underwent continuous change. The Ottoman ruler, the sultan, began as one among equals, but between about 1453 and 1600, sultans ruled as true autocrats. Thereafter until about 1826, sultans reigned, but others in the imperial family and other inhabitants of the palaceoften in collaboration with provincial elitesmaintained real control of the state. Then, bureaucrats and sultans vied for domination of the state apparatus. In sum, the sultan presided over the imperial system for all of Ottoman history, but actually personally ruled for only portions of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Also, political power almost always rested in the imperial center and, depending on the particular period, extended into the provinces either through direct military and political instruments or indirectly through fiscal means.

A combination of religious and secular laws regulated the lives of Ottoman subjects. Under Ottoman state authority Muslim, Christian, or Jewish judges presided over the legal affairs of their respective communities. Often, however, subjects of all religions used the Muslim courts because rulings from such courts might have greater weight than those from Christian or Jewish sources. In addition to this religious law, the state routinely passed its own, secular, ordinances, often with lip-service adherence to Islamic principles. In the nineteenth century, when a flood of ordinances and regulations marked the presence of an expanding bureaucratic state, even the lip service frequently fell away in favor of scientific management.

This was an agrarian empire that, again, changed considerably over time. Most Ottoman subjects were and remained cultivators, raising a wide variety of different crops for subsistence and for sale. The particular mix of crops changed over time. Cereals remained dominant throughout the Ottoman period, but important new crops emerged at different times, for example, tobacco in the seventeenth century. In theory, the vast majority of land was owned by the sultan, but in practice, generally, land users enjoyed security of tenure. Sharecropping was widespread and the major vehicle by which goods came to market; most holdings were small. Commercialization of agriculture considerably developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ottoman manufacturing, for its part, remained largely small-scale and handcrafted, with some late mechanization. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries foreign markets for Ottoman manufactures fell away, but producers continued to enjoy a vast domestic market for their wares; in the nineteenth century export markets emerged for Ottoman rug makers and silk spinners, who usually were women working outside their homes. In transportation and communication there were important technological breakthroughs during the second half of the nineteenth century, including steamships, railroads, and the telegraph.

Ottoman intercommunal relations are hotly argued, and many popular stereotypes persist around the terrible Turks who slaughtered Ottoman Christians. For nearly all of Ottoman history, this stereotype is not true. For most of its duration, the Ottoman Empire can be characterized fairly as a tolerant political system. At times, the Ottoman state led the way in extending tolerance to minorities. For example, at the end of the fifteenth century Ottoman sultans welcomed the large Iberian Jewish population that the new Spanish monarchs were expelling from their own kingdom. More generally, the key to Ottoman success and a major reason for its longevity lay in the tolerant governmental treatment of those who did not share its professed religion. This tolerance was based both in practical politics and in the dictates of Islam. Until the 1870s the majority of Ottoman subjects were Christians and the states official religion was Islam, which required that the Muslim state protect the religious rights of its Christian and Jewish subjects. The Ottoman Empire, for nearly all of its history, was a multinational, multireligious entity that did not seek to impose Islam on its subjects. This fact often has been forgotten in the confusion surrounding the end of the empire and the emergence of the Ottoman successor states, but it remains true nonetheless. Overall, the Ottoman system recognized difference and protected those differences so long as subjects rendered obedience and paid taxes. Until the eighteenth-century era of the Enlightenment, minorities in the Ottoman world likely were treated better than in Europe. Atrocities did occur, but they were exceptions in the rule of a generally admirable record of intercommunal relations over the 600-year life span of the Ottoman Empire.


Imber, Colin. 2002. The Ottoman Empire, 13001650: The Structure of Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Inalcik, Halil, with Donald Quataert. 1994. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 13001914. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Lowry, Heath. 2003. The Nature of the Early Ottoman State. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Quataert, Donald. 2005. The Ottoman Empire, 17001922. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Donald Quataert

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Ottoman Military: Ottoman Navy


Military vessels and fleets of the Ottoman Turks.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, sea power played a central role in the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and Ottoman fleets operated on the high seas in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and east into the Indian Ocean. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Ottoman navy was generally neglected and its effectiveness declined, but it was revived at times during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The decline of the navy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was largely due to the new geostrategic realities, whereby the main challenges to the empire no longer came from the naval powers of Spain, Portugal, and Venice, but from the land powers of Austria, Poland, Russia, and Persia (now Iran).

The origins of the modern Ottoman navy can be traced to the Russian-Ottoman Wars of 17681774. A Russian fleet based in the Baltic circled the European continent and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at Cheshme (July 1770). This led to a massive effort to rejuvenate the navy. During the reigns of Abdülhamit I (17741789) and Selim III (17891807), scores of modern warships were constructed under the supervision of European ship-wrights. The Naval Engineering School (Tersane Mühendishanesi) was founded (1776), and the navy's command structure was modernized and placed under the supervision of the newly established Ministry of the Navy (1805). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the navy was once again a formidable, though largely untested, force. In 1806, it listed 27 ships of the line and 27 frigates, as well as smaller vessels, armed with 2,156 guns and manned by some 40,000 sailors and marines.

After the fall of Selim III (1807), the navy was again neglected, and its strength declined. During the Greek War of Independence (18211830), it suffered many losses at the hands of the Greeks. The heaviest single blow, however, came on 20 October 1827, when a combined British-French-Russian fleet destroyed the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet inside the harbor of Navarino (now in Greece). The Ottomans alone lost thirty-seven vessels and thousands of sailors. It took the navy more than a decade to recover from the disaster at Navarino. By 1838, it had fifteen ships of the line and an equal number of frigates, as well as smaller vessels.

As of 1838, there was growing cooperation between the Ottoman and British navies: Ottoman and British squadrons conducted joint maneuvers; the navy was reorganized on British lines; Ottoman officers were sent to Britain for training; and British naval officers and engineers arrived in Constantinople (now Istanbul), the Ottoman capital, to serve as advisers from time to time.

In July 1839, the Ottoman grand admiral, Ahmet Fevzi Pasha, suddenly sailed the entire fleet to Alexandria and surrendered it to Egypt's ruler, Muhammad Ali, who was trying to become independent from the empire. This extraordinary act was the result of a power struggle within the Ottoman government following the death of Mahmud II. The fleet was returned in the following year as part of a general settlement of Ottoman-Egyptian relations, giving Egypt its autonomy.

During the Tanzimat (reform) era (18391876) in the empire, considerable resources were directed toward the further development and modernization of the navy, and sailing vessels were replaced with steamships. On the eve of the Crimean War (18531856), the Ottoman navy had 10 ships of the line and 14 frigates, as well as smaller vessels, with a total of 2,080 guns and a staff of more than 20,000 men. On 30 November 1853, Russia's Black Sea squadron, using new shell-firing guns, destroyed an Ottoman wooden fleet at Sinop. This had important political consequences, since it enraged British public opinion against Russia, leading to the Crimean War. It also marked an important milestone in naval history, resulting everywhere in the construction of iron-clad warships. The Ottoman navy also replaced most of its main wooden warships with iron-clads. By 1877, it had thirteen iron-clad frigates in addition to three wooden frigates, four corvettes, and various smaller craft.

During the reign of Abdülhamit II (18761909), priority was given to the development of the army, while the navy, because of financial constraints, was neglected, leading to its decline. In 1912, the navy listed four battleships, two cruisers, eight destroyers, three corvettes, and smaller craft. During the Balkan Wars (1912/13), it was outclassed by the Greek navy, which dominated the Aegean Sea.

Following the Balkan Wars, the Ottoman government, led by the Young Turks, placed great emphasis on modernizing and strengthening the navy. A British naval mission led by the Admiral Arthur H. Limpus helped reorganize the navy and its various departments. The navy was to be greatly strengthened by two modern battleships ordered from Britain whose delivery was expected in August 1914. On 3 August, however, the British government announced that with the impending European crisis (that very soon became World War I), the ships would not be delivered. On 11 August, the Ottoman government permitted two powerful German cruisers, Goeben and Breslau, to enter the Dardanelles; they subsequently announced their purchase by the Ottoman navy as replacement for the British-built warships. The cruisers were given Turkish names, but they remained under the command of their German crews. On 29 October, Ottoman warships, including the two former German cruisers, suddenly attacked Russian ports in the Black Sea, marking the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war.

see also balkan wars (19121913); crimean war; greek war of independence; russianottoman wars; tanzimat.


Marmont, Duc De Raguse, Marshal. The Present State of the Ottoman Empire, translated by Frederic Smith. London, 1839.

Oscanyan, C. The Sultan and His People. New York: Derby and Jackson, 1857.

Shaw, Stanford J., and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 19761977.

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Ottoman Empire: Debt


borrowing in the ottoman empire by the government and within the private sector.

Throughout most of its history, from 1300 to 1922, the government of the Ottoman Empire relied on short-term loans from individual lenders as well as currency debasement and short-term notes to resolve fiscal shortfalls. On occasion, the Ottoman government just confiscated the monies needed, either from the lenders or from state officials. In the private sector, individuals, who only sometimes were professional moneylenders, lent their surplus to others. Both public and private borrowers commonly paid interest for the privilege. Both public and private borrowing persisted until the end of the empirealthough confiscation became rare after about 1825. Very important changes occurred in the forms of borrowing, within and outside the government, beginning about 1850, when foreign capital became available and assumed an unprecedented role.

In many ways, the international borrowing experiences of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century anticipated those of today's third-world nations. The Ottoman economy was competing in a world dominated by the industrialized nations of the West, which possessed superior military technologies and political and economic power. Ottoman survival strategy required large, modern military forces and state structures. As both were exceedingly expensive, government expenditures mounted accordingly. Unlike the economies of many of the countries with which it was competingnotably Britain and Francethe Ottoman economy remained essentially agrarian and incapable of generating the funds needed for increasingly complex and costly military and civilian structures. Thus, the government borrowed to modernize and survive.

Acutely aware of the dangers, Ottoman statesmen resisted international borrowing until the crisis provoked by Ottoman participation in the Crimean War, 18541856. International loans then quickly succeeded one another, on decreasingly favorable terms. These loans were private, the creditors being European bankers and financiers who were usually given diplomatic assistance by their own governments. By the early 1870s, Ottoman state borrowing too easily substituted for financial planning; between 1869 and 1875, the government borrowed more than its tax collectors took in. The Ottoman state suspended payments on its accumulated debt in 1875, after crop failures cut revenues between 1873 and 1875 and the global depression of 1873 dried up capital imports.

Perhaps fearing occupation by the European governments of its creditors, the Ottoman government eventually honored its obligations. Prolonged negotiations resulted in a reduction and consolidation of the total Ottoman debt and the formation, in 1881, of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration; this body took control of portions of the economy. The Ottoman Public Debt Administration supervised the collections of various tax revenues, turning the proceeds over to the European creditorsan international consortium representing bond-holders of Ottoman obligations. Residents of France, Great Britain, and Germany held most of the bonds. The ceded revenues came from the richest and most lucrative in the empiretaxes imposed on tobacco, salt, silk, timber, alcohol, and postage stamps.

Although nominally a branch of the Ottoman government, the Debt Administration actually was independent and answerable only to the bondholders. Many scholars consider its founding as the beginning of Ottoman semicolonial statuswhen the state lost control over parts of its economy. Still worse, perhaps, the state's legitimacy and relevancy also declined in the eyes of subjects who had to pay their taxes to a foreign group rather than their own state. The Debt Administration represented a true loss of Ottoman sovereignty, but, as the government may have hoped, the consortium reassured foreign investors, who provided still more loans to the state, which needed still more cash to finance modernization.

Foreign capital invested in the Ottoman private sector became significant only after 1890. A part of the more general diffusion of European capital into the global economy, these investments also derived from the comforting presence of the Debt Administration, which was involved in many of them. Industrial or agricultural investment was nearly completely absent. Railroads, port facilities, and municipal services absorbed most of these monies, more firmly linking the Ottoman and international economies by facilitating the outward flow of raw materials and the import of finished goods. French financiers were the most important single source of funds, while the British and Germans also were significant providers. Almost all these new loans were administered by the Debt Administration.

By 1914, Ottoman public and private debts to foreign financiers consumed, in roughly equal shares, more than 30 percent of total tax revenues. In one way or another, the Debt Administration administered virtually the entire amount. This pattern of indebtedness makes clear the ongoing subordination of the late Ottoman economy to the European until the demise of the empire after World War I.


Blaisdell, Donald. European Financial Control in the Ottoman Empire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1929.

Issawi, Charles. An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

donald quataert

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Ottoman Parliament


attempt at representative government in the empire between 1877 and 1920.

The Ottoman parliament met from 1877 to 1878 and between 1908 and 1920. The constitution of 1876 stipulated a bicameral parliament: a lower Chamber of Deputies elected popularly and a Chamber of Notables nominated by the sultan. The parliament of the First Constitutional period (18761878) had two terms that convened March to June, 1877, and December 1877 to 14 February 1878, when Sultan Abdülhamit II abolished parliament. The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 forced Abdülhamit to re-institute it. The three parliaments of the Young Turk period met December 1908 to January 1912, May to August 1912, and May 1914 to December 1918. The last Ottoman parliament that convened in January 1920 dissolved itself after the Allied occupation of Istanbul in March 1920.

For the 1877 to 1878 parliament, previously elected provincial administrative councils selected the deputies according to quotas based on population and proportionate allocations of Muslims and non-Muslims (seventy-one Muslims and forty-eight non-Muslims in the first session; sixty-four Muslims and forty-nine non-Muslims in the second). Due to inaccurate population figures in remoter Asian and African provinces and the political exigency of catering to separatist Christian elements and their European protectors, non-Muslim communities and European provinces received higher quotas.

Abdülhamit intended to legitimate his rule by giving his consent to parliament but stripped it of the authority to legislate independently and to limit the executive. Nevertheless, the deputies, who on the whole represented the provincial elites, were vocal in their criticism of the government. Abdülhamit closed parliament indefinitely on the pretext of the national emergency engendered by the ongoing war with Russia.

Thirty years later, the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 reintroduced the constitution and parliament. Constitutional amendments enhanced parliament's legislative prerogatives vis-à-vis the sultan, provided for ministerial accountability to parliament, and eliminated religious quotas. In the two-tier elections, males above the age of twenty-five voted for secondary electors, who then elected the deputies. Candidates had to be literate males who knew Turkish and were above the age of thirty. The election of one deputy for every 50,000 males produced chambers of around 250 deputies. The Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) managed to dominate the elections due to its revolutionary élan and moral authority in 1908, through electoral manipulation in 1912, and by suppressing opposition and effectively instituting a single-party regime in 1914. Electoral victory did not guarantee CUP's domination of parliament, which was the breeding ground of opposition.

From the dissolution of the body in August 1912, which followed a government crisis and anti-CUP rebellions, to May 1914, parliament remained in suspension. New elections were delayed until the winter of 1913/14 due to the extraordinary circumstances of the Balkan Wars, the forcible CUP takeover in January 1913, and the assassination of Grand Vizier Mahmut Şevket Paşa in June 1913. As World War I began, emergency powers were ceded to the cabinet, and parliament's significance diminished even though it continued to meet with interruptions.

The two-tier election system favored the election of representatives of privileged social groups: Ulama, officials, landowners, and professionals. However, party politics produced a more diverse Chamber of Deputies in the Second Constitutional period compared with 1877/78. Parliament always served as a forum where both local and national issues were voiced. Newspapers reported its proceedings on a daily basis. Despite the executive's attempts to control parliament, the Chamber of Deputies served as a check on the sultan, the cabinet, and occasionally on the CUP's extralegal interventions.

see also balkan wars (19121913); committee for union and progress.


Ahmad, Feroz. The Young Turks: The Committee of Union and Progress in Turkish Politics, 19081914. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

Devereux, Robert. The First Ottoman Constitutional Period: A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1963.

hasan kayali

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Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was established by Osman, a Turkish tribal leader who overthrew the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia in the late thirteenth century. The Ottoman armies crossed into the Balkan Peninsula in the middle of the fourteenth century and won crucial victories in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. In 1453, the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II extended Ottoman authority throughout Asia Minor and conquered Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, thus destroying the last remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Mehmed's successors, Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1520 to 1566, brought the realm to the height of its power in southeastern Europe, the Levant, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. Suleiman reorganized the law and justice system of his realm and was a patron of the arts, literature, and Islamic scholarship, as well as a brilliant military leader. Under his leadership the Turks crushed a Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, and then captured the capital of Buda in 1541, overthrowing the Hungarian ruling dynasty. Ottoman sultans ruled as caliph, or head of the entire

Islamic community. In the meantime, the Ottomans drove into Arabia and Persia, overthrew Mamluk dynasties in Syria and Egypt, and fielded the most powerful navy in the Mediterranean.

The Ottoman government controlled its far-flung domains through a system of vassalage, in which local rulers paid an annual tribute in gold or in goods in exchange for their limited independence. Ottoman's governors oversaw the administration of these territories, paying princely sums in bribery for their lucrative posts and exacting heavy taxes from the populace. During the Renaissance in Europe, the Ottoman Empire posed a most serious foreign threat to Europe's Christian states and rulers. The disunited Christian states, however, were unable to rally an effective striking force to counter Turkish control of the Balkans. The calls for further crusades to the east went unheeded, while in the 1530s the French king Francis I struck up an alliance with the sultan against the Habsburg dynasty. Ottoman armies arrived twice at the gates of Vienna, and Turkish corsairs raided European ports and shipping, taking treasure and slaves back to the Barbary Coast ports in North Africa. Piracy in the Mediterranean finally inspired a united effort on the part of the Habsburgs and Venetians, who gathered a powerful naval force and defeated the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

A decline began in the late seventeenth century. The succession to the throne, which was not limited to the eldest son of the sultan, brought about constant palace intrigue and frequent assassinations. Grand viziers governed the state and a military caste known as the Janissaries, who had originated as a company of Christian slaves converted to Islam and trained as elite warriors, posed a constant threat to the sultan's authority, while the sultans themselves lived in luxury and indolence, completely cut off from their subjects and unable to exercise effective control over their domains. The last siege of Vienna was turned back in 1683, and in 1699 the Turks surrendered Hungary to the Habsburg dynasty. The empire grew weaker under a succession of corrupt and incapable rulers, and after long and expensive wars with Russia and the Habsburgs.

See Also: Fall of Constantinople; Mehmed II; Muslims

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Ottoman Liberal Union Party


Political party opposed to the Committee for Union and Progress, also known as Osmanh Ahrar Firkasi.

The Liberal Union party was established in 1908 by Riza Nur, as the major opposition party after the 1908 revolution. Rooted in Prince Sabahettin's wing of the Young Turk movement, it espoused a platform that sympathized with the ethnic aspirations of Albanians and Armenians, and thus opposed the Committee for Union and Progress's (CUP) strongly centralist and Turkish leanings. The Liberal Union won only one seat, as against the CUP's 288 seats, in the November 1908 parliamentary elections. In 1909 the party was repressed under the martial law that followed the April counterrevolution.

The Liberal Union was revived in November 1911 as an umbrella opposition group called the Freedom and Accord party (Hürriyet ve Itilaf Firkasi). It won a Constantinople (now Istanbul) by-election in late 1911, but it lost the national elections in April 1912. It then allied with the Group of Liberating Officers who dislodged the CUP from power that summer. The coalition ruled only until January 1913, when the CUP forced Grand Vizier Mustafa Kamil Paşa to resign at gunpoint after losses in the Balkan War. The CUP government dissolved the Liberal Union in June 1913, executing and exiling its leadership after Grand Vizier Mahmut Şevket was assassinated. Damat Mehmet Ferit briefly revived the party in 1919 to replace the CUP, but the party split and its liberal wing joined the Kemalists.


Shaw, Stanford J., and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. 2: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 18081975. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

elizabeth thompson

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Ottoman empire

Ottoman empire (13th cent. CE–1924 (AH 7th cent.–1342)). Extensive Muslim empire, whose disintegration has contributed greatly to the complexities of Middle East politics, not least through the demise of the office of caliph (khalīfa). ʿUthman (also spelt Othman, hence the name) founded a principality in Asia Minor which, in 758, began to expand into Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria (where Muslim populations remain strong). By 1453 (AH 857) they were strong enough to take Constantinople. In 1517 (AH 923) Selim I (Yavuz, ‘the Grim’) conquered Egypt, claiming that the last ʿAbbāsid caliph, al-Mutawakkil III, had relinquished the caliphate to his family. The first signs of decline came in 1571 (AH 979) at the battle of Lepanto, when the Ottomans lost control of the W. Mediterranean. The 19th-cent. attempts at revival by the assimilation of W. ideas and technology in fact hastened the move to a secular state, established under Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk (‘father of the Turks’): the sultanate was abolished in 1922, the caliphate in 1924.

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Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire Former Turkish state that controlled much of se Europe, the Middle East and North Africa between the 14th and 20th centuries. It was founded by Osman I (r.1290–1326). He ruled a small principality in Anatolia, which he greatly enlarged at the expense of the Byzantine Empire. The contest with the Byzantines ended with the capture of Constantinople (now Istanbul), which became the Ottoman capital in 1453. Under Suleiman I (the Magnificent) (r.1520–66), the Ottoman Empire included the Arab lands of the Middle East and North Africa, se Europe, and the e Mediterranean. The decline of Ottoman power began before 1600, and thereafter, Ottoman territory was reduced in wars with its European neighbours, Austria and Russia. After World War I, when Ottoman territory was reduced to roughly the present Turkish borders, nationalists led by Atatürk deposed the last sultan and created the modern Turkish republic (1923).

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Ottoman Empire


This entry consists of the following articles:


civil service


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Ottoman Military


This entry consists of the following articles:

ottoman army

ottoman navy

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