Empire, Ottoman

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Empire, Ottoman

The Ottoman Empire (1299–1923) was a Turkish-Muslim state that existed for more than six hundred years. It was one of the largest and longest-lived empires in history, and it represented one of the greatest civilizations of the modern period. Its territories, at its height, included Anatolia (part of present-day Turkey), the Middle East, parts of East and North Africa, and southeastern Europe, comprising a total area of more than 22 million square kilometers (about 8.5 million square miles).

The Ottoman state was established by a tribe of Oghuz Turks as one of many small Turkish principalities that emerged in Anatolia during the Mongolian breakdown of the Anatolian Seljuk State. The state was ruled by the Ottoman dynasty of the Kayi tribe. The dynasty was founded by Osman I (ca. 1258–1324; in English, Ottoman) in Sögȶüt, in the Marmara region of modern Turkey.


Situated on the borders of the tottering Byzantine Empire, Osman I quickly became a warrior of Islam, attracting the attention of wandering ghazis, or warriors for the faith, in Anatolia. In 1299 the Byzantine city Bilecik fell to Turks. This conquest was followed by the fall of many other Byzantine cities, villages, and forts during the early 1300s. Some of the nearby Turkish beyliks (principalities) and tribes were also taken over before Osman's death around 1324.

Osman's son Orhan (r. 1326–1362) conquered Bursa in 1326. Bursa became the first Ottoman capital, and facilitated the establishment of military, financial, and administrative institutions. Ottoman coins, for example, were used for the first time in Bursa. Between 1331 and 1338, the other large Byzantine cities of Iznik, Izmit, and Üsküdar fell to Turkish forces. Orhan's marriage to the daughter of the Byzantine emperor gave him a free hand in the region, and in 1354 Orhan's son Süleyman landed at Gallipoli across the Dardanelles, a strait in northwest Turkey that connects that Sea of Mamara with the Agean Sea. Süleyman died in 1360, and Orhan's son Murad I (ca. 1326–1389) became sultan. During Murad's reign, peaceful acquisition of lands in Anatolia continued, as did war against Europe.

In the early 1360s the Byzantium city of Edirne in Thrace fell to Turkish forces. Edirne was made the new Ottoman capital, and served as a base for further expansion into the Balkans. Filibe (present-day Plovdiv, Bulgaria) was captured in 1363. A combined Serbian-Bulgarian army of seventy thousand soldiers was subsequently defeated, and by 1387 large parts of the Balkan Peninsula had come under Turkish rule.

The Ottoman rulers forced the leaders of Byzantine and Serbia to pay an annual tribute. The Ottoman system of integration of local rulers and chieftains into their administrative apparatus as vassals facilitated the rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Murad I further expanded his territories and influence in Anatolia through marriages and the purchase of lands

In an attempt to stop the Turkish advance, several European armies formed a union of crusaders. However, Ottoman forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the European crusaders in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, during which Murad I was killed by a Serbian assassin. He was succeeded by his son Bayezid I (ca. 1347–1403).

The new sultan's first move was to check the power of the Turkish Beyliks, who were challenging the Ottomans. Bayezid then turned to Europe to smash Balkan rebels. Bulgaria was put under direct Ottoman administration, and Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) was besieged for the first time. The crusaders organized by Hungary were defeated at the Battle of Nigbolu, on the Danube's shore, in 1396.

Bayezid then proceeded to Anatolia and expanded the Ottoman Empire far to the east, where it eventually came into contact with another rising Turkish dynasty, that of Timur (1336–1405), known in the West as Tamerlane. Bayezid lifted the siege of Constantinople in 1400 to meet Timur's challenge, but was defeated at the Battle of Ankara (1402) after some of his vassals deserted him. The sultan himself was captured and died in captivity in 1403. These developments led to an interregnum as Bayezid's four sons—Süleyman, İsa, Mehmed, and Musa—competed for the throne by declaring separate sultanates in Rumelia, Balikesir, Amasya, and Bursa, respectively. Mehmed I (or Muhammad I, ca. 1389–1421) emerged victorious in 1413, and the Ottoman state experienced a period of restoration.

Mehmed's son, Murad II (ca. 1403–1451), who succeeded him in 1421, continued the internal strengthening of the empire by taking control of further regions in the Balkans and in Anatolia, some of which had declared their independence during the period of chaos that followed the death of Bayezid. Murad also seized Selanik (Salonica or Thessaloníki, Greece) from the Venetians in 1430 and ended the Venetian blockage to the Adriatic Sea. Finally, after a victory against the combined European army at the Battle of Varna in eastern Bulgaria in 1444, Murad abdicated his throne to his twelve-year-old son, Mehmed II (ca. 1432–1481), who came to be known as "The Conqueror."

Murad took back the throne when crusaders began once again threatening the empire. The Ottomans defeated the attackers in the second Battle of Kosovo in 1448. Murad's reign saw the beginning of the Devșirme system of state bureaucracy. During the Devșirme period, Christian youths recruited from the Balkans were trained and organized as a new army corps called the Janissaries. After Murad's death in 1451, Mehmed II again succeeded him.


Shortly after his second ascent to the throne, Mehmed II besieged Constantinople. After fifty-three days, the Byzantine capital fell to the Ottomans in May 29, 1453, a victory that made the sultan the most prestigious ruler in the Muslim world. Even from as far away as India, letters of congratulations were sent praising him as the defender of Islam. This conquest marked an important turning point in world history.

Now, as an heir to previous civilizations, Mehmed II began to transform the Ottoman state into a worldwide empire. He kept Constantinople intact, maintained the current order, and moved the Ottoman capital there. He also renamed the city Istanbul. Mehmed invited talented artists, scholars, and craftsman from around the world, including Europe, to settle in Istanbul, thus making the city a great center of culture and civilization. Accordingly, members of different Christian and Jewish denominations were invited to set up their religious centers as millets (literally "nation," defined by religious affiliations) under the auspices of the sultan. This became a fundamental element in the Ottoman system of administration in which each millet took charge of the religious and educational needs, as well as the personal laws, of its members. Mehmed II also codified for the first time the criminal and civil laws of the Empire into a legal system known as Kanunname.

After the conquest of Constantinople, the expansion continued by annexing Serbia and Morea (in Greece), the city of Trabzon, the Genoese colonies on the Black Sea coast, several islands in the Aegean Sea, and Albania. Bosnia-Moldavia (a region in present-day Romania and Moldova) was forced to pay tribute, and the Khanete of the Crimea (in Ukraine) was made an Ottoman vassal state. Finally, in 1473 at the Battle of Otlukbeli, Mehmed II defeated Uzun Hasan (1453–1478) of the Akkoyunlu state, thus gaining control of all of Anatolia.

In 1480 Ottoman armies launched a campaign against Italy and captured the citadel of Otranto. Mehmed II died around the town of Gebze just outside Istanbul in 1481 on his way to another campaign against the Mamluks of Egypt. He left behind a vast empire.

Mehmed was succeeded by his son Bayezid II (1447–1512), who added Herzegovina and Moldavia (now fully) to the empire. Bayezid did not, however, push his campaign further to the west, partly because his rebellious brother Cem was being held in captivity in Rome. After fighting a year-long war for the succession, Cem had fled to Rhodes and finally ended up imprisoned in the Vatican. He died in 1495, probably as a result of poisoning. Meanwhile, in the east, the Ottomans fought against the Mamluks from 1485 to 1491. The fighting ended with no substantial Ottoman gain. Bayezid's last years saw various rebellions in eastern Anatolia instigated by Shah Ismail (r. 1501–1524) of the Safavids, who ruled parts of present-day Iran. In 1512 the sultan was obliged to hand over the throne to his son Selim I ("the Grim," ca. 1470–1520), who had taken control of the state with the support of the Janissaries.


Selim I greatly expanded the Ottoman Empire, virtually doubling the size of its lands. He initiated operations against Turkmen rebels who were in alliance with the Safavids, inflicting a crushing defeat on Shah Ismail at the Battle of Çaldiran in 1514. Then, Selim's forces defeated the Mamluks in 1516 at Marj Dabik and in 1517 at Ridaniye. Syria, Egypt, and the Hejaz (in present-day Saudi Arabia) were also annexed. These conquests gave the Ottomans control over the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and the shores of North Africa; they thus controlled traditional trade routes, making the Ottoman state the wealthiest in the world.

Selim also claimed the title of the "universal Muslim caliphate," which gave a great privilege as the holders of the Prophet's office and the defenders of the sacred places of Islam to the Ottomans among the Muslims of the world. These conquests opened the way to direct contact between the Ottomans and the Muslim sultanates and trading communities of the Indian Ocean. Selim I died in 1520, on his way to a military campaign in the west. He was succeeded by his son Süleyman I (ca. 1494–1566), known in the West as "the Magnificent."

Under Süleyman, Ottoman naval supremacy was assured in Mediterranean waters, and the coast up to Morocco in North Africa was annexed. In Europe, Belgrade and most of Hungary were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire after the Battle of Mohacs (1521). The Ottomans seized Vienna in 1529, but never fully conquered the city. In 1540 Hungary became an Ottoman province. The Ottoman fleet also bombarded Nice, France, in 1543.

In order to keep their east-to-west trade route open, Süleyman launched a new campaign in 1544 against the Safavids. Ottoman forces captured Azerbaijan and Tabriz (in modern Iran) in 1552, and Baghdad and Basra (in Iraq) in 1553. Süleyman died in 1566 while besieging the castle of Zigetvar in Hungary, and his son, Selim II (ca. 1524–1574), succeeded him.

In his time, Süleyman was undoubtedly the most powerful ruler in the world. During his reign, the Ottoman Empire expanded greatly, both to the east and west, and threatened to overrun the heart of Europe. Süleyman was also a major player in European politics, and he pursued an aggressive policy of destabilizing Europe. He aimed to ensure that no state became powerful enough to unify Europe. To this end, Süleyman financially supported Protestant countries when European Christianity split Europe between Catholics and Protestants. It was primarily because of this Ottoman policy that the Habsburgs were forced to offer concessions to the Protestants, and it can be argued that Protestantism would never have succeeded but for Ottoman support.

Since European expansion was detrimental to the interests of Muslims in Asia, Süleyman pursued a policy of helping Muslim countries in Asia. He thus sent naval expeditions to the Indian Ocean as far as Indonesia, claiming that this was his duty as the caliph of Islam. These expeditions brought him great popularity among world Muslims. But in the end, the Ottomans were not successful in keeping the Portuguese away from the Indian Ocean region.

Süleyman also embarked on vast cultural and architectural projects. During his reign Istanbul became the most culturally innovative city in the world, thanks mainly to the great works of the famous Turkish architect Sinan (1491–1588).

Ottoman expansion continued under Selim II. The conquest of Cyprus in 1570 led to the formation of an alliance between the Spanish, Venetian, and papal states of Europe, which defeated the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of İnebahti (Lepanto), near Greece, in October of 1571, though this defeat inflicted no serious harm to the Ottomans.

During the reign of Murad III (1456–1595), the son of Selim II, the Ottomans engaged in wars with the Habsburgs in the west and with the Safavids in the east. Much of Hungary was lost to Austria, but the Safavids were held back. The Ottomans also began to lose their hold in the Mediterranean, and this development severed links with the empire's far-flung Egyptian and North African territories.

Murad II died in 1595 and was succeeded by his son, Mehmed III (1566–1603). Some initial gains were made on the western front when Egri and Kanije castles (in Hungary) were seized and the Austrian army was defeated at Haçova in 1596. The Romanian regions of Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia also became imperial Ottoman lands again. Mehmed III died in 1603 during the latter military campaigns, and his son Ahmed I (1590–1617) ascended to the throne.

Seizing this opportunity, the Safavids attacked the Ottomans, but a succession of wars ended with no gain for either side. Meanwhile, the Jelali revolts (a series of rebellions in Anatolia against the Ottoman government in reaction to various bad social and economic conditions), which were crushed by Grand Vizier (the chief minister and absolute representative of the sultan) Kuyucu Murad Pașa (d.1611) in Anatolia, signaled the advent of a period of Ottoman stagnation. Various explanations have been suggested for this decline, ranging from an internal weakening of the bureaucracy and the role of the Janissaries to the increased military efficiency of European states. Even then, however, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Empire remained the most powerful single state in the world in terms of both military and economic capability.


Ahmed I was succeeded by his son Mustafa I (ca. 1592–1639) in 1617. Mustafa only ruled for a short time because of ill health and was eventually dethroned. Osman II (1604–1622) became the new sultan. When the Polish Cossacks invaded Ottoman lands, Osman, concluding that he could not meet this challenge with the undisciplined Janissaries, attempted to form a new Ottoman army. But the Janissaries rioted and killed him in 1622. After Mustafa I held the throne for a short second reign, Murad IV (ca. 1612–1640) became the sultan in 1623.

These developments led to new crises. Baghdad was lost to the Safavids and Erzurum governor Abaza Mehmed Pașa (d. 1634) rebelled in Anatolia. Murad IV reacted with ferocity, and the rebellions were suppressed. The Safavids were also pushed out again, and Revan (Erivan) and Baghdad were reconquered. Murad also implemented a system of reforms, outlawing coffee and tobacco, among other things, on moral grounds. His death in 1640 marked the end of a period of reconstruction. His brother İbrahim (1615–1648) proved to be less effective.

In 1645 large portions of the island of Crete, including the city of Hania, were taken by the Venetians, who also started attacking the mainland coast. İbrahim was soon dethroned, and his son Mehmed IV (1642–1693) became sultan. New rebellions broke out in Istanbul and Anatolia. However, stability was reestablished thanks to Körülü Mehmed Pașa (ca. 1570s–1661), who became grand vizier in 1556.

The Venetians were finally driven out of Crete in 1669. But the long period of war with the Venetians between 1645 and 1669 forced the Ottomans to acknowledge the vulnerability of their state and the need for reforms. During this period, the Ottoman state was served by the great Körülü family, who helped halt the decline by rooting out divisive factions at the center and by closely supervising local governments.

After the death of Körülü Fazil Ahmed Pașa in 1676, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pașa (1634–1683), became the grand vizier. Merzifonlu besieged Vienna in 1683 for a second time. After several years, the siege proved disastrous for the Ottomans; the opposite result would have had incalculably negative consequences for Europe. The European coalition finally defeated the Ottoman army, and the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed in 1699, marking the beginning of the permanent Ottoman withdrawal from Europe. The provinces of Hungary and Transylvania were handed over to Austria. During this period, recurrent internal disturbances arose in Anatolia. In the meantime, Mehmed IV had been dethroned in 1687, leaving his place to Süleyman II (ca. 1642–1691), who was in turn succeeded by Ahmed II (ca. 1643–1695) in 1691.

Although it took a coalition of European nations to bring down the Ottoman Empire, this was a period of major growth in European military technology, and the conventional Ottoman military forces could no longer stand up to the new European armies. The Ottomans also began to lose control of strategic trade routes, upon which their wealth had largely depended. Traders from the east to the west had by now changed their route, bypassing Ottoman lands by using sea-lanes around Africa. The northern trade route had to be abandoned after Russia took control of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556).

In addition, well-established European commerce began to threaten local manufacturers as mercantilist policies of selling the greatest possible quantity of goods abroad, while restricting imports, eventually left no opportunity for Ottoman exports. Ottoman lands became a vast open market for European products.

The war with Russia was the last opportunity for the Ottomans to regain lands lost at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Treaty of Pruth (1711) was signed after a Russian defeat brought the Castle of Azak in the Black Sea region back to the Ottomans. This development kept Russia from expanding towards the Mediterranean.

After a war with Venice (1714–1718), the Ottomans recaptured several regions, including Morea, which had been ceded to the Venetians in the Treaty of Karlowitz. This advance marked the beginning of a period known as the Tulip Era, so named because of the growth in the number of gardens and lavish residences that were built in the empire to imitate European court life. The Tulip Era ended in 1730 after the Patrona Halil Riot in Istanbul, which occurred on the pretext of losses on the Iranian front. Sultan Ahmed III (1673–1736) was dethroned and his grand vizier, Nevșehirli İbrahim Pașa (1662–1730), was killed. Nevertheless, some attempts at modernization resulted in a short period of economic prosperity for the Ottoman state. The printing press, for example, was brought to the region in 1727.


During the reigns of Mahmud I (ca. 1696–1754) and Mustafa III (1717–1773), the Ottomans continued to experience a gradual decline in the face of growing European superiority. The Ottoman response was limited military reforms, such as establishing military colleges with the help of Claude-Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval (1675–1747), a French convert to Islam.

The Ottomans abstained from the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) in Europe and did not participate in the scheme of alliances and counter-alliances that ensued. Russia, on the other hand, continued the policy of seeking access to the Mediterranean and formed an alliance with Austria against the Ottomans. However, the Habsburgs, the most important Ottoman rival in Europe, entered into conflict with France, which kept them away from the Ottomans. Consequently, much of the remaining eighteenth century saw wars between the Russians and the Ottomans.

Wars that occurred between 1768 and 1774 and from 1787 and 1792 proved devastating for the Ottomans. The imperial Ottoman navy was wiped out at Çeșme in 1770 by the Russians, who sailed through the Baltic Sea. Crimea was first separated from the Ottoman Empire in 1774 by the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca; the region was then annexed by the Russians in 1783. The Ottomans also had to renounce their claims to Moldavia and Walachia. Thus, Russia once again had a free hand in the Black Sea.

One important Russian gain that later had serious consequences for the Ottoman Empire was the right of protection over the orthodox Christian subjects in Ottoman territory. Sultan Mustafa III died in 1773 during the wars, and was succeeded by his brother Abdülhamid I (1725–1789), whose reign ended at his death in 1789. Selim III (1761–1808), assuming the throne in the middle of the war with Russia, quickly seized the opportunity to introduce military reforms known as Nizam-i Cedid. But Selim's efforts to organize a new army in line with European military techniques were met with opposition from the Janissaries.

A new development in Europe, namely, Napoléon Bonaparte's (1769–1821) invasion of Egypt in 1798 after the French Revolution, altered the entire situation. Napoléon's advance was a major blow not only for the Ottomans but for the larger Muslim world. The invasion of Egypt was taken as an indication that after subjugating other Muslim territories in Asia, Europeans would turn their attention to Ottoman regions. As it turned out, Napoléon, under pressure from the Ottomans, Russians, and British, had to flee to France.

Although the immediate crisis was over, the Ottomans had entered a new century that was to be dominated by European wars and expansion, and by the notions of "the European balance of power" and "the Eastern question." The balance-of-power system, introduced by the 1815 Congress of Vienna, was based on the assumption that peace required setting equal powers against each other, thus limiting one country's ambitions to threaten others.

The Eastern question, however, basically, centered around one issue: If and when the Ottoman Empire disappeared, what should happen to its territories (especially the European ones)¿ Each power approached the matter with the aim of ensuring maximum advantage. But the general understanding was that until an acceptable solution was found, the status quo should be supported. Not surprisingly, the Ottoman Empire became a focus for European politics, and the European powers generally formulated their positions based on developments within the Ottoman Empire.

One man, Mehmed Ali (Muhammad 'Ali) Pașa (1769–1849), who was among the Ottoman soldiers sent to fight the French, was destined to become the most important figure in the political life of Egypt. The Ottoman government also had to deal with Ayans (local notables), who were revolting in the Balkans during the same period. This revolt facilitated the Serbian uprising of 1803, leading to a war between the Russians and Ottomans.

Selim III was imprisoned by reactionary Janissaries in 1807, and Mustafa IV (1779–1808) was put on the throne. An attempt to restore Selim to power resulted in his death, and finally his cousin Mahmud II (1785–1839), who himself had a narrow escape from death at the hands of revolting fractions, assumed the power in 1808.

Mahmud's initial step was to rid the empire of the Ayans who had forced him to sign an agreement called Sened-i İttifak (Charter of Alliance), which delegated some of Sultan's exercise of power to them and secured their position vis-à-vis the state. He did this by various means and finally took full control all over the country. But the overall Ottoman situation was deteriorating. While the war with Russia continued, Britain invaded Egypt and sent a naval force to seize the Dardanelles in 1807. Treaties were signed with the British in 1809, and with the Russians in 1812. Mahmud II then initiated a series of reforms; the most important was the abolition (Vaka-i Hayriyye) of the Janissary corps in 1826. Mahmud's other reforms were mainly social, economic, educational, and administrative in nature.

The 1820s were burdensome for the Ottomans. Apart from the effects of ongoing reforms, the wars with the Greeks and later the Russians were devastating. A combined British, French, and Russian force destroyed the Ottoman navy at Navarino in 1827. Although the Ottomans suppressed the Greek uprising, in the end, Greece declared its independence with the European support and the Russians gained lands in eastern Anatolia.

In 1831 France occupied Algeria and Mehmed Ali Pașa of Egypt rose in revolt, advancing as far as Kütahya in Anatolia. Mehmed Ali's advance could only be stopped by Russian intervention. The Russians required concessions in return in the 1833 Hünkar İtskelesi Treaty. This treaty was followed by the Anglo-Ottoman Commercial Treaty of 1838 (Balta Limani), which opened the Ottoman lands for a vast expansion of foreign trade. This gave the British the right to buy directly from the people and also intended to undermine the Russian commercial advantages, as well as to slow Mehmed Ali's financial capacity by breaking Egypt's monopoly in trade (yed-i vahid).

The terms of this treaty were soon replicated by treaties with other European states; the treaties abolished the use of monopolies throughout the empire and cut the level of internal duties. As a result, European merchants obtained rights to direct business, on favorable terms, with local manufacturers of various agricultural products. The Ottoman Empire thus became an open market for European goods, and a type of "free-trade imperialism" developed. This and subsequent unequal trade concessions were fundamentally different from the earlier capitulations, which had been granted from a position of strength by Süleyman the Magnificent as part of his European strategy.


In 1839 Mehmed Ali's forces again defeated the Ottoman army at Nizip (Nezib). Mahmud II died during this time, and European powers settled the crisis by forcing Mehmed Ali to retreat to Egypt. The new sultan, Abdülmecid (1839–1861), declared a set of reform edicts called Tanzimat.

The Tanzimat was an attempt to transform the old Ottoman Empire into a state on the European model in almost every aspect of governance. New legal codes and administrative bodies were introduced, and the Ottoman's entire tax and conscription systems were changed. In an attempt to stop the break-up of the empire in the face of growing waves of nationalism after the French Revolution, a new concept of Ottoman citizenship was advanced as state ideology.

For a time, it looked as though the Ottoman Empire would enjoy a period of respite, but the Russians started another war, the Crimean War, in 1853. It was during this conflict that the Ottoman Empire came to be called the "sick man of Europe." Britain and France sided with the Ottomans primarily for their own purposes—namely, to check Russian ambitions. In fact, the Crimean War was a European conflict that was fought on Ottoman territory, rather than an exclusively Ottoman-motivated war. During the war, Sultan Abdülmecid was urged by his European allies to declare another set of edicts (Islahat Fermani of 1856), reiterating the Tanzimat and promising further religious freedom.

The Crimean War ended in 1856 with the Treaty of Paris, which guaranteed the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire and recognized it as a member of the concert of Europe. But this recognition depended in part on the application of promised Ottoman reforms, which in turn gave the European powers the right to interfere in the domestic matters of the Ottoman state.

All in all the reforms had been undertaken to guarantee the survival of the country and to keep the different Ottoman nationalities together. But for a number of reasons, including European intervention, the reforms did not turn out as planned. The Ottoman's growing financial burden was aggravated by equally catastrophic uprisings in the Balkans. Heavy loans, borrowed to finance the war effort and the reform projects, finally led to the bankruptcy of the state. In addition, anti-Ottoman sentiment was also on the rise in Europe due to the assertion of British Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809–1898) that Turks were killing innocent Christians in the Balkans.

In these circumstances, intellectuals (the Young Ottomans) and opposition bureaucrats forced a change, and Sultan Abdülaziz (1830–1876) was deposed in 1876. His successor, Murad V (1840–1904), suffered a mental collapse under the pressure and was removed from the throne only three months after his accession. The reign of his brother and successor, Abdülhamid II (1842–1918), began during a desperate period for the Ottoman state. Not only was the country already at war with Serbia and Montenegro, but the impending threat from Russia resulted in a new declaration of war.

Meanwhile, elections were held, and the first Ottoman constitution was adopted. The Ottomans repeatedly asked France and Britain to keep their promise to guarantee the territorial integrity of the empire, as stipulated by the Treaty of Paris, but the Ottoman pleas were in vain. Changing political conditions in Europe, after the Italian and German unification, had long signaled a shift in the European balance of power, leaving the Ottoman Empire to its fate.

The war with Russia ended with a catastrophic defeat for the Ottomans. The Treaty of Yesilkoy, signed in 1878, made it clear that Romania and Montenegro had became independent; in addition, Bosnia was left to Austria, and Bulgaria declared its autonomy. Apart from Macedonia and some other regions, the Ottoman hold over the Balkans had ended.

However, European powers, led by Britain, opposed this Russian plan, and another conference was held in Berlin. The result of the Berlin conference, though limiting Russian gains, was even more detrimental to the Ottomans. Britain had already established effective control of the Persian Gulf, and took the island of Cyprus with the wily nily agreement of the Ottoman government on the pretext of Russian proximity to the Mediterranean Sea.

Later, in 1882, Britain occupied Egypt "in the name of the Ottoman sultan." France had done the same in Tunis in 1881. The Ottoman war with Russia also marked the end of the traditional British policy of maintaining the territorial integrity of Ottoman dominions. It was thus that Britain acquired Cyprus and Egypt, both considered important for British colonial interests.

One other outcome of the Berlin conference was the beginning of a German Ottoman rapprochement. Abdülhamid II saw Germany as a reliable ally, in contrast to France and Britain, and he hoped that with its advanced technology and strong economy Germany could help in the betterment of the Ottoman economy. This rapprochement, however, resulted in the Ottoman's increasing financial and military dependence on Germany.

The formal bankruptcy of the Ottoman state in 1875 led to the establishment of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration in 1881, which placed unconditional control of a large portion of state revenues in European hands. The Ottomans for the first time in their history had to surrender their sovereign rights over revenues to a "state within the state."

On the other hand, with the loss of the Balkan provinces, the demographic map of the Ottoman Empire dramatically changed, and the population was now predominantly Muslim. This demographic change inevitably affected state ideology. Although Ottomanism was still officially on the agenda, in reality Abdülhamid II pursued a policy of solidarity among Muslims, with an increasing emphasis on his role as head of a universal caliphate. This policy was called pan-Islamism by the colonizing powers, and it was interpreted as a threat to the "civilized world."

After the war, Sultan Abdülhamid II abolished the parliament and took control of all the affairs of state. He skillfully followed a deliberate policy of manipulating the rivalries of the European states. The remaining years of his reign saw a period of consolidation and stability. The Tanzimat reforms were carried out steadily, especially in the areas of education, administration, and finance; some success was achieved, particularily in finance. Unfortunately for Abdülhamid, however, the very graduates of the schools he opened initiated an opposition movement called İttihat ve Terakki; the supporters of the movement became known in the West as the Young Turks. The revolution forced Abdülhamid to restore the constitution in 1908; he was deposed the following year.


The Young Turks, contrary to their expectations, found themselves in the middle of European power politics. Immediately after the revolution in 1908, Bulgaria declared its complete independence and Austria announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This development was followed by the Greek proclamation of their annexation of Crete. Within a short time, more territory was lost than had been lost under Abdülhamid II's entire reign.

Soon Italy declared war against the Ottomans and invaded Libya in September 1911. This war resulted in the rapid decline of the Young Turk venture. Political troubles at home soon combined with a new threat from the Balkan states. Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro formed an alliance and declared war against the Ottomans in early October 1912.

The Ottomans ended the hostilities with Italy on terms favorable to the Italians. Ottoman forces were thus free to deal with the Balkan threat without overstretching their limited resources. But the Balkan wars proved disastrous and virtually all the remaining Balkan territories were lost. Even Edirne, the former Ottoman capital, was ceded to Bulgaria. However, the division of new territories that the Balkan states gained from the Ottomans led to another Balkan war, and gave the Ottomans an opportunity to recapture Eastern Thrace and Edirne.


Osman I founds Ottoman dynasty in Anatolia. The Byzantine city Bilecik, falls to the Turks, marking the first of many conquests
Osman I's son, Orhan takes over the sultanate. He conquers Bursa, and Bursa becomes the first Ottoman capital
Large Byzantine cities of Iznik, Izmit, and Üsküdar fall to Turkish forces
Murad abdicates the throne to his twelve-year-old son, Mehmed II, who came to be known as "The Conqueror"
The Byzantine capital, Constantinople, falls to the Ottomans after a fifty-three day siege
All of Serbia and several other cities are annexed by the Ottoman Empire
Mehmed II gains control of all of Anatolia during the Battle of Otlukbeli
Bayezid II takes control of Herzegovina
Selim I greatly expands the Empire; Syria, Egypt, and the Hejaz are annexed. Ottomans now control all traditional trade routes
Hungary becomes an Ottoman province
Cyprus is conquered, leading to the formation of an alliance between Spanish, Venetian, and papal states of Europe
Europeans form an anti-Ottoman alliance
A peace treaty is signed between the Ottomans and Austria
The European coalition defeats the Ottoman army; Treaty of Karlowitz is signed
First Russo-Turkish War begins
Treaty of Perth is signed after a Russian defeat
Russo-Ottoman War begins
Russians defeat the Ottomans; Treaty of Kuchuk-Kairnarji is signed
Napoléon Bonaparte invades Egypt
Ottoman and British forces combine to drive the French from Egypt
Muhammad Ali becomes viceroy of Egypt
Muhammad Ali declares Egyptian independence from Ottoman Empire
Muhammad Ali defeats the Ottomans at the Battle of Nizip
Britain negotiates the Treaty of London, making Muhammad Ali the ruler of Egypt and returning Syria to the Ottomans
Crimean War begins
Treaty of Paris is signed
Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro declare war on Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire declares bankruptcy
Abdülhamid II is removed from power
Italy declares war against the Ottomans
Treaty of Lausanne is signed, formally ending all hostilities; modern Turkey is founded

Immediately after the first revolution in 1908, the Young Turks had desperately tried to obtain support from Britain and France, but in vain. The feeling of being let down by these powers consequently drew them to Germany. By then, Europe had split into two blocks: Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) on one side, and Britain, France, and Russia (the Triple Entente) on the other. The Young Turks' friendship with Germany resulted in alliance with the Central Powers during World War I. Ottoman forces fought on many fronts and made a considerable contribution to the war effort.

The Ottoman success in holding back British and French forces at the Dardanelles contributed to the Russian Revolution, which led Russia to withdrawal from the war in 1917. During the war, the entente powers devised four secret agreements concerning the future of the Ottoman Empire. These were disclosed by the Russians after their withdrawal. In addition, to enlist Arab support during the war, Britain made various promises to Arab leaders, including guaranteeing Ottoman independence and recognizing the authority of the Arab caliphate. The Jewish people were also given assurances for the establishment of a national homeland in Palestine by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, an arrangement that conflicted with promises made to Arab leaders.

World War I ended with the victory of the Triple Entente powers, and the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, with the Germans and on October 30, 1918, with the Ottomans.


The aftermath of World War I fundamentally changed the political, cultural, and social order of the world. The empires of Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottomans, and Russia disappeared; new countries were formed and new international organizations were established.

The victorious powers saved the worst treatment for the Ottomans. Their lands were divided, with a small region in central and northern Anatolia left for the Turks. France, Italy, and Greece were given control of much of Anatolia. However, Turkish resistance led by Mustafa Kemal Pașa (Atatürk, 1881–1938) forced out the invaders. After the Turkish War of Independence, a new Treaty of Lausanne was signed in July 1923, which formally ended all hostilities and led to the foundation of modern Turkey.

Because Russian and American reluctance did not permit direct European colonial rule over the Middle East, Arab lands were parceled out as mandates under the League of Nations. Lebanon and Syria came under French mandate, while Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan were given to the British. Egypt was left to British control, with Kuwait as a British protectorate. The North African countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia remained colonies of France, and Libya remained an Italian colony. The colonizing powers set up new boundaries, which generated territorial quarrels amongst the tribes and ethnic or religious groups. The Turks survived and managed to endure as the independent state of Turkey, even while so many other regions became victims of European colonization.

see also Abdülhamid II; Mandate System;World War I, Middle East.


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