The Ottoman Empire: The Times, Rulers and Politics
written by: Andrea Campbell
• edited by: Tricia Goss
• updated: 1/30/2015
There is no longer an Ottoman Empire. No one today speaks their language and there are no classics or poetry indicative of the age. For six hundred years, the Ottoman Empire expanded and declined. Who were these people and what became of them?
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The movement started in the dusty foothills in Anatolia beginning in the 14th century. The empire stretched to sweep up the relics of Byzantium—a large Greek stronghold in itself—and it included the entire Balkan Peninsula from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. It swept up and held Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the self-proclaimed principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia north of the Danube. Anatolia was wrapped into the fold and, in the 15th century, the Crimean Tartars along with the capture of Constantinople in 1453. With the Black Sea now in control, the Ottoman Empire breathed in Syria, Arabia and Egypt—and with a sigh took in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.
All the main thoroughfares throughout, linking Europe to the Middle East, this tremendous territory engulfed everything from the Danube to the Nile.
The stories contained within offer up a partial history because a militaristic and cultural empire across three continents contains many rulers, wars and changes. Here are the foundations of this power structure from beginning up to the Constantinople conquest.
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Osman Gazi—also known as Osman Bey—emerged as the leader of the Ottoman Empire. He also held sway over the Turkic peoples, a formerly nomadic people of China. They spoke Altaic languages—a composite of Turkic, Mongolian and Manchu-Tungus—which is extraordinary in that it contains more than 50 languages but the phonetics and syntax structure of it are genetically-related, (meaning of the same language family,) and used by millions. The fact that the conquerors knew the language of the people they dominated made a great deal of headway, a significant factor. These tribes were in what is now known as Turkey and the Volga region, and were united under Islam primarily.
The beginning of the Ottoman Empire, named after Osman Bey (Bey meaning chieftain), was created after he assumed territory from the Seljuk Empire in the fourteenth century. The Seljuk’s from Anatolia were already badly beaten up and in chaos from skirmishes with Genghis Khan’s sons who commanded fearless and powerful horse mounted archers.
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The Importance of Islam
Islam fit these peoples because it has no priesthood. The all-seeing God could travel with the nomads and five times a day the believer would clear his mind, wash his hands and call on God in prayer. For someone who doesn’t know where he will be from one moment to the next, it provides a powerful touchstone and its rules are firm. There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet. The five daily prayers must be said. Alms must be given. The main principle for its strength however, is that the believer must tirelessly combat unbelief, but do so peaceably unless provoked. For them the Koran is not scripture but the law dropped from God.
The Ottoman Empire was perfect for this religion because it was forged on the frontier. The high-level followers of Osman declared themselves sultans and had sway over the Muslim peasants, who must be done as they are told. These people were flock, reaya, whom the horsemen were born to manage.
The word of Islam was spread by caravan through the cities of the Middle East and by the sword. The Muslim conquerors called themselves ghazi, warriors of faith carrying the Abode of Peace.
It was challenged by Christian crusades, Norman—Viking—warriors, and threatened by a Moorish Spain who embraced Christianity. It faced a controversy with the Shi’ite who believed that the descendants of Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, are the senior line; and that was challenged by the Sunnis who says the grace descends through Fatima, his daughter.
The extraordinary movement of the pilgrimage, the Haj, ordered every believer to cross the desert annually to attend to the cities of Mecca (Makkah), Medina (Madinah) and Jerusalem—that the Ottomans were destined to control.
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The son of Osman Bey, Orhan, reigned from 1326 at the death of his father to 1360 until his own death. Orhan changed the location of the capital after taking the city of Bursa in 1324. Between 1300 and 1375, the rank of Ottoman leader morphed from bey to emir, and from emir to sultan—a sovereign ruler. The sacred enterprise forced upon the frontier took many forms of acquisition from marrying neighbors, purchase of land, or often outright war. By 1380, their holdings had reached Ankara.
Their renowned military pulled in Anatolian recruits from various conquests who were eager for plunder and glory. As a result, the empire became more militaristic in nature as they mastered gunpowder using cannon and muskets. This caused the Byzantine’s holding over northwestern Anatolia to diminish and the Venetians lost territory—a significant city—Thessaloniki in 1387.
A Kosovo victory in 1389 created a way for expansion into Europe and the end of Serbian power. According to Turkish historians, The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 did not stop the advance of the Ottoman Turks.
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Empire in Taking Constantinople
In 1453, Mehmet (Mehmed) the conqueror took over Constantinople. Mehmet supposedly took Constantine’s head on a tour of Islamic potentates and everyone rushed to offer their congratulations.
In 1,000 years, the city had suffered 29 assaults. It had repulsed 21 of them. It remained the finest city in the world and everyone coveted it. Asia had come to Europe. Mehmet’s troops labored to repair the ravages of centuries of neglect and movement returned to the fossilized city.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Suleiman the Magnificent held one of the most powerful states in the world—stretching from 32 provinces with numerous vassal states—the center of communication between the East and West the empire that had lasted over 600 centuries. The Ottoman Empire endured many more changes until it became a Turkish Republic in 1922.