Ottoman Empire

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Devlet-i Aliye-i Osmaniye
دولتِ عَليه عُثمانيه
Ottoman Flag Ottoman Coat of Arms
Ottoman Flag Ottoman Coat of Arms
Imperial motto
(Ottoman Turkish)
Devlet-i Ebed-müddet
("the Eternal State")
Map of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire at the height of its power
Official language Ottoman Turkish
Capital Bursa (1335 - 1365),
Edirne (1365-1453),
İstanbul (Constantinople) (1453-1922)
Imperial anthem Ottoman imperial anthem
Sovereigns Padishah of the Osmanli Dynasty
Population ca 40 million
Area 6.3m km² (1902);
maximum extent 19.9km²(1595 estimate)
Establishment 1299
Dissolution October 29, 1923
Currency Akçe, Kuruş, Lira
Part of the History of Turkey series

The Ottoman State (Ottoman Turkish: دولتِ عَليه عُثمانيه, Devlet-i Aliye-i Osmaniye; Modern Turkish: Osmanlı Devleti), commonly called the Ottoman Empire (Modern Turkish: Osmanlı Imparatorlugu) was an imperial power, centered around the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, that existed from 1299 to 1922. At the height of its power in the 16th century, it included Anatolia, the Middle East, parts of North Africa, much of south-eastern Europe to the Caucasus in the north. It comprised an area of about 5.5 million km², though much of this was under indirect control of the central government. The Empire was situated in the middle of East and West, and interacted throughout its six-century history with both the East and the West.

It was established by a tribe of Oghuz Turks in western Anatolia, and was ruled by the Osmanlı dynasty, the descendants of those Turks. The Empire was founded by Osman I (in Arabic ʿUthmān, عُثمَان , hence the name Ottoman Empire). In 1453, after the Ottomans captured Constantinople (modern İstanbul), the last remnant of the Byzantine Empire, it became the Ottomans' third capital. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was among the world's most powerful political entities, and the countries of Europe felt threatened by its steady advance through the Balkans and the southern part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

At its highest point, the Empire contained many of the important places of classical antiquity, including Homer's Olympus and Dardenus, Zeus' Europa, Io's Bosporus, temple of Diana in Ephesus, sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, the Garden of Eden, Noah's Mount Ararat, Abraham's oasis and wells, Nile, Mount of the Sermon, the Hill of Golgotha.

The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was a consequence of World War I, when Allied forces including the Arabs and Armenians eventually defeated Ottoman forces in the Middle East. At the end of the war the Ottoman government collapsed completely; and the empire was divided among the victorious powers. The following couple of years ended with declarations of new states. One of the new states was the Republic of Turkey. The members of the Ottoman dynasty were banned from the lands of Anatolia, where they once built one of the great empires of the world. In 1999, Turkey's parliament granted Turkish citizenship to the members of the Ottoman family, after 76 years.


Time line

For more details on this topic, see Timeline of the Ottoman Empire.


The Ottoman State originated as a Beylik within the Seljuk Empire in the 13th century. In 1299, Osman I declared independence of the Ottoman Principality.

Rise (1299-1453)

Main article: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

With the rise of the empire, the characteristics and nature of the state were defined, and the Ottomans definitively carved out their own preserve in history under the rule of Mehmed II.

Even though Ottoman state existed before Osman I, he is regarded as the founder of the Empire, having given it its name and being the first bey to declare his independence. He extended the frontiers of the empire towards the Greek Empire, while other Turkish beyliks suffered from infighting. Under Osman I, the Ottoman capital was moved to Bursa. Osman was an excellent lawgiver and judge, under whom Greeks, Turks, Muslims, and Christians enjoyed equal protection both man and property. He published the first coin under his name, demonstrating the trust he built. For the coming centuries his time was recalled with the words "May he be as good as Osman".

Mehmed II, better known as the Conqueror, was only 22 when he became Sultan, and was reputed to have been an erudite warrior. His military prowess was demonstrated with his conquest of Constantinople.

For more details on this topic, see Fall of Constantinople.

the Conqueror also enjoyed the full support of the empire. He used this to reorganize the state structure and military.

Growth (1453-1683)

Main article: Growth of the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire, 1481-1683
Ottoman Empire, 1481-1683

The growth of Ottoman power can be grouped into two main, characteristic periods. The first period is one of stable conquest and growth; from the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, to the death of Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1566. After the first period, comes the second; in which government structure begins to show weakness from internal degeneration and corruption, from 1566 to the failed Battle of Vienna, in 1683.

Throughout the 1500's, the Empire continued to grow in size and extent, expanding into North Africa in the southwest, and battling with the Shi'ia Islamic Safavid Empire of re-emergent Persia, to the east. At the Battle of Chaldiran in eastern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey, west of Tabriz), in 1514, Ottoman forces under Sultan Selim I won a decisive victory against the Safavids, ensuring Ottoman security on their eastern front. Thereafter, attention reverted to the west, and Suleiman I, upon ascending the throne in 1518, led a series of campaigns into the Balkans. Under Suleiman, a brilliant strategist, the Ottomans advanced steadily northward, taking Belgrade, the capital of Serbia in 1521, defeating Hungary in 1526, and besieging Vienna in 1529.

In addition to gaining considerable territory during its expansionistic period, the Empire extended its influence at sea. Selim I conquered the Safavid Empire, only to lose it soon after; the Safavids later defeated and conquered the eastern Ottomans, and captured Baghdad. The Empire established a navy in the Red Sea that succeeded, at least for a while, in countering Portuguese influence on the spice trade. During this period, the Empire vied with the emerging European colonial powers, in the Indian Ocean. Fleets, with soldiers and arms, were sent to support Muslim rulers in Kenya and Aceh (on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra), and to defend the Ottoman spice and slave trades. In Aceh, the Ottomans built a fortress, and supplied it with huge cannon. The Dutch Protestants were at first helped by the Ottomans in their struggle against Catholic Spain. The Ottoman navy also had much influence in the Mediterranean Sea, and trade there flourished, because of the stability afforded to the shipping lanes. Accordingly, the period would become known as the "Pax Ottomanica".

In the 17th century the Ottomans occupied after the battle of Cecora 1620 and the battle of Chocim 1673 against Poland Moldova and Podolia. In 1672 they conquered with the help of the Tatars for 27 years the biggest Polish stronghold in Ukraine Kamianets-Podilskyi.

The Siege of Vienna was not part of an Ottoman extension into Germany. The Turks wanted to react to interventions of Spanish Hapsburg interference into Hungary. But this turned some of the Ottoman allies against it. The Pope abandoned his secular interests, to agitate for a general Crusade against the Ottoman Empire. With the coming decades, the Ottoman Empire was not just an occupying force; it became an instrument in European politics. The Battle of Vienna brought a long period of stagnation, as it was a turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Central European kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire.

Stagnation (1683-1827)

Main article: Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire
Sultan Murad IV
Sultan Murad IV

Eventually, after the defeat of Kara Mustafa by Jan III Sobieski of Poland at the Battle of Vienna, in 1683, it was clear that the Ottoman Empire was no longer a superpower in Europe. In 1699, for the first time in its history, the Ottomans acknowledged that the Austrian empire could sign a treaty with the Ottomans on equal terms, and actually lost a large territory which had been in Ottoman possession for two centuries. There was a long succession of sultans after that, who were not as good as the generation of Mehmed II, Selim I and Suleyman I.

For more details on this topic, see Russian Expansionism and Ottoman Empire.

During the stagnation, the Ottomans were weakened both internally and externally by costly wars, especially against Persia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The Russo-Turkish Wars were a series of ten wars, fought between the Russian Empire and the Turkish-ruled Ottoman Empire during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. It was one of the longest conflicts in European history, spanning 241 years; far longer than the Hundred Years' War between England and France. Before that, the Ottoman Empire suffered a naval loss at the Battle of Lepanto, in 1571. Although the Ottoman fleet quickly recovered from this singular defeat, the event was significant, in that it showed Europe that the mighty Ottoman Empire was not as invincible as had been previously thought.

For more details on this topic, see Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire.

The Treaty of Passarowitz produced a short, peaceful era between 1718-1730. The change in Ottoman policies toward Europe already had given its signals. The Empire began to improve the cities along the Balkans, that would become their defense against the expansionist movements of the Europeans. More public policies were sought, such as drops in the taxation rates; public relations improvements, such as the institution of consulates, and the first civilian industrial investments all fall into this period. It was called the "Tulip Era" as this motif was extensively used. However, the scientific advantage the Ottomans had over the European countries constantly being diminished. While the Ottomans were stagnating in a stale-mate with their European and Asian neighboring countries, the European development went into over-drive. The Ottoman Empire failed to keep up technologically with its European rivals, especially Russia.

For more details on this topic, see Ottoman Military Reform Efforts.

The late eighteenth century saw the Ottoman Empire fall behind the West, militarily as well. Wars and territories were lost, to Austria and Russia. Areas of the empire such as Egypt, became independent in all but name only. During this time, begining with Selim III, there were efforts to modernize the system. Many of the reforms the sultans tried to impose to revitalise the Empire, were reverted by conservative forces within the Empire, either by the religious cadre, or by the now-corrupt Janissaries, even after the Janissaries were disbanded in 1826.

Decline (1828-1908)

Main article: Fall of the Ottoman Empire
Consultative Menagerie, January 1885
Consultative Menagerie, January 1885

The declining period of the Empire was shaped by reorganization, and transformations in every aspect of the Empire. However, these century-long efforts did not help to prevent the dissolution of the system. The caricature on the left is from the period and shows the sentiments of the Ottomans. It is a parody of clerks in the legal bureau of the Ottoman foreign office by Yussuf Bey (the duck). The parrot, monkey and pig (British, Italians, Germans) that nags him are the chief custodians and interpreters (European powers). The Russians are in the background as bears.

The Tanzimat was a period of reform, that lasted from 1839 to 1876. During this time, a fairly modern conscripted army was formed. The banking system was also reformed, and the guilds were replaced with modern factories. Economically, the Empire had trouble re-paying the loans to European banks. Militarily, it had trouble defending itself from foreign occupation (e.g. Egypt was occupied by the French in 1798; Cyprus was occupied by the British in 1876, etc.).

For more details on this topic, see Tanzimat.

A significant change of this period was this: the Empire stopped going into conflicts alone, and started entering into alliances with European countries. There was a series of alliances with countries such as France, Holland, Britain and Russia. A prime example of this was the Crimean War, in which the English, French, Ottomans and others united against Tsarist Russia.

Of all the ideas that Ottomans acquired from west; the ethnic nationalism, or named at that time as religion of the modern world was the most influential ideology. Ethnic nationalism was not just foreign to the Ottomans, but also a destructional concept to their Millet understanding. Ottoman system did not include provisions to handle the fights within the religious blocks. Ottomans were not just dealing ethnic nationalism within their boundaries, but cross boundaries. Shaykh Ubaydullah uprisings using religious bigotry during the 1880 had many effects on other groups during the 19th century. It was also claimed that these uprising determined the path that Ottomans had to take during the 20th century. The rhetoric regarding the cause of 19th century uprisings are sharply divided. Western historians blame the Ottoman Empire for the developments. Ottomans claim that source of the inter-ethnic conflicts should be seek within their dynamics and the sources that were supporting the conflicts with hidden goals. The decline period had many achievements, such as organization of the economy, military, communication, etc, but if the Ottoman state was strong and influential on a scope that will have any effect on the etnic uprisings is another question.

For more details on this topic, see Rise of Nationalism under the Ottoman Empire.
Opening of Parliament
Opening of Parliament

National uprisings forced the Ottomans to do something. In the course of six centuries, everything had changed except the form of government. With the help of Tanzimat there was a group of Ottomans who were educated in western universities and believed that constitutional monarchy could create an ease to the social unrest in the Empire. İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti had strong connections to these elite groups. Mesrutiyet Era explains the political and social dynamics of the first constitution written by İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti and its social and economical consequences. Through a military coup, İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti had forced Sultan Abdülaziz to leave his position to Murad V. However, Murad V was mentally ill. Sultan Abdülaziz had to be called back under the promise that he would ease the way to a constitutional monarch. Sultan Abdülaziz changed the centuries old state structure at 23 November 1876. He declared the name of the new constitution as Kanun-i Esasi. The social consequences of the first constitution were very interesting. Often, when a nation copies the finished experience of other civilized societies, without going through the intermediate stages first, the rules that were set in the constitution that defined the relationships among the people had no function.

For more details on this topic, see I Constitutional Era in the Ottoman Empire.

By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was signalling the chaotic years ahead: reforms were not enough to make up the difference, and not enough to stop the now-inevitable dissolution of the Empire.

Dissolution (1908-1922)

Main article: Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire

The dissolution period begins with the onset of II. Constitutional government.

Public Demonstration
Public Demonstration

Socially, the advent of nationalism and the yearning for democracy was making the population restless. This eventually led to a series of military coups and counter coups, resulting in a constitutional monarchy, in which the sultan had little to no power and the Committee for Union and Progress party, known as the Young Turks, ruled the empire.

For more details on this topic, see II Constitutional Era in the Ottoman Empire.

Three new Balkan states were shaped during the end of the 19th century. All three as well as Montenegro sought additional territories within the large Turkish-ruled regions known as Albania, Macedonia, and Thrace. The background to the wars lies in the incomplete emergence of nation-states on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century. Initially under the encouragement of Russia, a series of agreements were concluded: between Serbia and Bulgaria in March 1912 and between Greece and Bulgaria in May 1912. Montenegro subsequently concluded agreements between Serbia and Bulgaria respectively in October 1912. The Serbian- Bulgarian agreement specifically called for the partition of Macedonia, that resulted with the First Balkan War. The second Balkan War followed the first.

For more details on this topic, see Balkan Wars.
Map of Sèvres
Map of Sèvres
Secret Agreements
Secret Agreements

In a final effort to keep power in their hands by regaining at least some of the lost territories, the triumvirate led by Enver Pasha joined the Central Powers in World War I. The Ottoman Empire had some successes in the beginning years of the war. The Allies, including the newly formed ANZACs were defeated in Gallipoli, Iraq and the Balkans, and some territories were regained. In the Caucasus Ottomans lost ground in a series of battles and Russians moved to a line from Trabzon, Erzurum, to Van. The Russian revolution gave the Ottomans a chance to regain these areas. The Ottomans were eventually defeated at the end of the war by the Allies, Arabs, and Republic of Armenia, which Armenian Republic was being declared during the war, in contrast to Arap nations. Ottoman territories were annexed. The initial agreement was Mundros treaty. After the Serves treaty, August 10, 1920, the life of the Ottoman Empire practically ended. After a century, what it seems came out of Serves was the achievement of British policy in the Near East. Great Britain had obtained most of her desires, in the partition of the Ottoman Empire.

For more details on this topic, see Fronts of the Ottoman Empire (World War I).

However, for other powers of Entente, we have to look at the results of Turkish War of Independence. Turks were raise against the Serves, to expel the Greeks, Republic of Armenia, Italians, French and to threaten the British in the region of Straits. Finally Turks assert their right to an independent national existance.

For more details on this topic, see Turkish War of Independence.

Turkish independence resulted with the 'coup de grâce' to the Ottoman state, almost mercifully, in 1922, with the overthrow of Sultan Mehmet VI Vahdettin by the new republican assembly of Turkey. Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923 from the remnants of the empire, like many other states.

National Histories


There are some Ottoman State characters which did not change throughout the centuries.

The state machinery
The state machinery

The Ottoman state revolutionized the system with the aid and experience of Christians, and Jews, while other states were holding on to their religion and national identity. That was an eclectic path for the rapidly expanding state, which needed local sources to manage the system, such as the adaptation of advisors (vizier) to the sultans being selected from loyal Christians, Greeks, Italians, and so many others. Even from the western perspective the developments over the Byzantine structure were highly apparent in the diplomatic correspondence of the rising state, which was performed in Greek language.

In diplomatic circles, the empire was often referred to as the Sublime Porte or the Porte, from the French translation of the Ottoman: بابِ علی Bâb-i-âlî ("great gate"), the grand Palace Gate of the Imperial Topkapı Palace, where the sultan greeted foreign ambassadors. It has also been interpreted as referring to the Empire's (and especially the capital Istanbul's) position as "gateway" between Europe and Asia. In its day, the Ottoman Empire was also commonly referred to as the Turkish Empire or Turkey by Westerners, though it should not be confused with the modern nation-state of Turkey.

The Ottomans were administrators and not producers, except for the Turkish peasants producing foodstuff. The Ottoman Empire was not the program of economic exploitation, like the colonial empires of the modern Europe states. The government under Ottoman understanding was shaped around defending the land, building the security and harmony within the land. Against the common belief among the Christians, the source of violence during the last years of Ottoman Empire was the nation building process, not the Ottoman way of administration.


Main article: Osmanli

The Sultan, was the sole regent and government of the empire, at least officially.

The dynasty is most often called the Osmanli or the House of Osman. The first rulers called themselves bey thereby acknowledging the sovereignty of the Seljuk sultanate and its successor the Ilkhanate sultanate. Murad I was the first Ottoman to claim the title of "sultan" (king). With the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the state was on its way to becoming a mighty empire, with Mehmed II as its emperor, or padishah, in Europe sometimes the Grand Turk. From 1517 onwards, the Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph of Islam, and the Ottoman Empire was from 1517 until 1922 (or 1924) synonymous with the Caliphate, the Islamic State. The sultan enjoyed many titles such as Sovereign of the House of Osman, Sultan of Sultans, Khan of Khans, and from 1517 onwards, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe, i.e. Caliph, which theoretically also gave him overlordship over other Muslim rulers around the world. For example, among the Mughal Emperors of India, only Aurangzeb had the Khutba read in his own name.


Main article: State organization of the Ottoman Empire
The entrance to Divan
The entrance to Divan

Although the Ottoman state had many reorganizations, several main structures remained the same. There was a person who was totally responsible, always in command of the state. That was called the Sultan of the Empire. The decisions were always taken by a court of people at the divan, with the last word on Sultan. At the initial stages, court was composed from the elders of the tribe. Then it was modified to include professionals from military and local elites, such as high-ranking religious and political advisors. They were named as the viziers. This structure was later modified to include Grand Vizier to lift of some of the responsibilities from the Sultan. The Sublime Porte was the open court of the Sultan, named after the gate to the headquarters to the Grand Vizier, where the sultan held the greeting ceremony for foreign ambassadors. At times, the Grand Vizier became as or more important than the Sultan. From 1908 onwards the state was constitutional monarch without executive powers, with parliament consisting of chosen representatives from the provinces.


Main article: Subdivisions of the Ottoman Empire

Even though there is no election, there was a very interesting democratic structure within the Ottoman State. From an outside view, Ottoman state organization was based on a hierarchy with the Sultan, but there were many historical incidences that local governors acted by their own, sometimes just opposite of the Sultan. There are eleven incidences that Sultans were dethroned as they were perceived threats to the state. Sultans were chosen from the sons of the previous Sultan, but one has to understand the educational system and how it eliminates the unfit, or builds a common trust among the ruling elite for the son before they were throned. There were only two failed attempts to overthrow the ruling family, which suggests an extreme political stability.

At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire had 29 provinces plus three tributary principalities and Transylvania, a kingdom which swore allegiance to the Porte.

Failures of the state

Main article: Failures of the Ottoman Empire

The fall of the Ottoman state is attributed to the failure of its economic structure. Many of the Ottoman Empire's failures are commonly attributed to an inability to establish economic and political hegemony over other nations, despite the fact that it was an empire. The term "the sick man of Europe" originated from these frustrations.

Without economic participation the inns, hospitals, libraries, or indeed on this term any public benefit depended on public investments, named as vakif. The economy of the Ottoman state was no match to its counterparts.

With the change of trade roads, the Ottoman Empire lost its main income source. Inability to industrialize the state and a too great a dependence on farmers as a source of revenue through taxation were also factors.

Inefficiencies originated from the size of the empire were also significant. Trying to keep the empire intact through internal and external wars was a costly process which compromised the Ottoman Empire's capacity to introduce reform.

With improvements in communication the population that was distributed along the trade routes became concentrated on the centers. This population was highly affected by the economic competition of that time. The populations that moved into cities were faced with hardships which tested their patience, persistence, and adaptability. The Ottomans had to keep the system running under these social pressures.

The dynamics of trade were curious - even as early as the 1470s Greeks and Jews were the premier traders, not the Ottomans. Consequently, the Ottomans were forced to protect the Greek elite in order to maintain a functioning economy. They were, moreover, constantly obliged to deal with social unrest among the empire's Greek community. When the Greek elite turned against the Ottomans, the Empire lost control. The Greek elite blamed the economic problems on the Ottomans and offered an escape route to Greeks by persuing a nation of their own. In reality, even after the Greek revolution, the same elite was controlling the economy with the trade routes having already been altered.

By many accounts, the circumstances surrounding the fall of the Ottoman Empire closely paralleled the fall of Byzantium, particularly in terms of the ongoing tensions among the empires' populations and its inability to relate with them. In the case of the Ottomans, the introduction of a parliamentary system during the Tanzimat was too late to reverse the damage.


Stamp 1901
Stamp 1901

The economical structure of the Empire was defined by the geopolitical structure. The Ottoman Empire stood in between West and East, thus blocking the route eastward when Spanish and Portuguese navigators set out in search of a new route to the Orient. The Empire was holding the same path that Marco Polo once used. When Columbus discovered America, the Ottoman Empire was in its highest position as an economical power that extended over three continents. The current Ottoman studies imply that the change in politics between Ottomans and Central Europe did depend on the opening of the new sea routes. It is also possible to see the decay of the Ottoman Empire by tracing the loss of significance of the land routes. Decay is a very relative term, in reality while central Europe is moving forward, Ottoman were holding on to their traditions. The pragmatic thinking of Ottomans that once helped to reform the systems left behind by Roman Empire was once again giving out the same signs which Ottomans found centuries ago.

For more background on this topic, see The Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire.


Main article: Law of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman empire was legally based around the philosophy of local jurisprudence. Local legal systems that did not conflict with the state as a whole were largely left alone. The Ottoman system had three court systems, one for the Muslims run by kadi (judges), one for non-Muslims (appointed Jews and Christians ruled over their religious areas), and another for trade (originated after the capitulations). The court used depended on the sides of the conflict. On top of everything was the Kanun Law (administrative in nature). These court categories were not exclusive; Muslim courts could be used for a trade conflict or inter-religious cases. The primary law system was the Islamic courts.

As for systems of law, there were Sharia Law and the Kanun Law. The Ottoman State did not interfere with religious law systems for other recognized faiths, even if had a voice through local governors. Sharia Law evolved out of the Koran and from the word of Mohammed. Kanun Law was the secular law of the Sultan. Both were taught at law schools, which existed in Bursa and Istanbul. The court was run by sultan-appointed kadi.

Often Jews and Christians went to Islamic courts to get a more forceful ruling on an issue. Women almost always went to Islamic courts, as they tended to side more often with and gave fairer payments to women. In truth, the political judicial system was run for the betterment of the rulers. The Kanun overruled the Sharia Law, which show a level of respect for the Sultan over religion.


Main article: Military of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman military was a complex system of recruiting and fief-holding. In the Ottoman army, light cavalry long formed the core and they were given fiefs called timars. Cavalry used bows and short swords and made use of nomad tactics similar to those of the Mongol Empire. The Ottoman army was once among the most advanced fighting forces in the world, being one of the first to employ muskets. The famous Janissary corps provided élite troops and bodyguards for the sultan. After the 17th century, however, the Ottomans could no longer produce a modern fighting force because of a lack of reforms, mainly because of the corrupted Janissaries. The abolition of the Janissary corps in 1826 was not enough, and in the war against Russia, the Ottoman Empire severely lacked modern weapons and technologies.

The modernisation of the Ottoman empire in the 19th century started with the military. This was the first institution to hire foreign experts and which sent their officer core for training in western European countries. Technology and new weapons were transferred to the Empire,such as German and British guns, Air force and a modern navy. The empire was successful in modernising its army. However, it was still no match against the major western powers.

“The beginnings of legal reform in the Middle East were initiated in the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the nineteenth century through the promulgation of commercial and penal codes such as the Ottoman Commercial code (1850) and the Ottoman Penal code (1858).” (Haddad, Y.Y., Byron H. and Ellison F., Eds.)


Main article: Culture of the Ottoman Empire
Istanbul Park
Istanbul Park

Ottoman culture covers expressive activities and the symbolic structures that happened under the umbrella of Ottoman Empire. That is an inclusive statement for all the religious and ethnic cultures of the state. Also, there is a specific intersecting culture that originated from living multi-cultural that reached to its highest levels among the Ottoman elites. Ottoman elites were not monolytic and composed of many different ethnic and religious people.

With the turn of nineteen century,nationalistic states including Turkey began to write their own history. Most of the references to Ottoman culture were buried either in the archives or destroyed. What we know about that period mainly originates from opposing state archives and their official view points. These references can not be claimed fair or inclusive. It is also hard to reach defending views given the fact that Ottomans ceased to exist. Current studies show that empire culture was very rich and colorful.

Opposing to wide spread beliefs, coming from a nomadic culture, Ottoman Turks was in peace with different cultures that they have in contact. Originally Ottomans belong to central-Asian culture. Ottomans later integrated Persian and Byzantine cultures into their way of life, instead of being assimilated into these cultures. When considering the Turkish folkloric or Ottoman elite art, we can see that they have conserved the colors and symbols that were inherited from their origins. Ottoman elites used Persian in their art to expressed their own inner world. The Ottoman court life was a harmony of Turkish and the Persian Shahs, but had many Byzantine and European influences.

This Ottoman multicultural perspective reflects on their policies. One of the reasons that Ottoman Empire lasted this long was the high tolerance policies pursued originating from their nomadic inheritance. This statement should be taken as a comparison to assimilative and ignorant medieval times (east and west). Ottoman State persuaded multi-cultural and multi-religious politics. When we talk about Ottoman tolerance, we talk about the structures that accommodate different perspectives. A good example was Ottoman justice system. Another can be cited with the local governors to the regions. As the Ottomans moved further west, the Ottoman leaders themselves absorbed some of the culture of the conquered regions. With the intercultural marriages, the new cultural structures were gradually added to the Ottomans, creating the characteristic Ottoman elite culture. When compared to common Turkish arts (folkloric), the assimilation of the Ottoman elites to these new cultures is apparent.


Istanbul 1908 - Greeks during Epiphany
Istanbul 1908 - Greeks during Epiphany

Before the Turks adopted Islam, they practiced a polytheistic religion. After their first contact with Arabs and the battle of Talas, a number of Turkic tribes accepted Islam and propogated their new faith further into Turkistan. The process of conversion was over long before the birth of the Ottoman empire. As early as 1453, after having conquered Constantinople, they granted special privileges to the Christian people who had belonged to the old Byzantine Empire. Christians became subjects of the Ottoman Empire but not subject to Muslim faith or law.

The Ottoman State never officially enforced religious conformity, nor did it harshly pursue a policy of individual conversion. The fact that opposition to the Ottoman state had always been on a national scale supports this idea. Going back to 1391, Bayzid I with Thessalonica, Ottoman state actively adapted policies of lenient behaviors towards those with different faiths. Sultans took their primary concern to be service of the interests of the state, as the Ottoman Empire could not survive without toil, cooperation and taxes. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire was often as a refuge for the Jews of Europe, who were often persecuted or expelled from the countries of Christian Europe (see History of the Jews in Turkey). The Ottoman State's relation with the Orthodox Church was very peaceful, given the fact that current Orthodoxy extends directly back to Jesus and his Apostles through unbroken Apostolic Succession. Ottoman state kept the orthodox structure intact until the national uprisings. Currently under Patriarch Bartholomew I of İstanbul we can see encompassing national Orthodox jurisdictions such as Bulgarian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox. Some of these policies were slowly changed with the adaptation of parliamentary monarchy.

Constantinople was Turkified at least externally, changing its name to Istanbul. However, it is important to recognize that besides keeping the churches intact (but turning some into mosques such as the Hagia Sophia), the conversion of the churches have been done carefully. After five centuries, in 1935, the complete removal of the plaster could be carried out after the new Republic of Turkey, "in the interest of art", declared Hagia Sophia to be neither a mosque nor a church, but a museum. This very treatment of those old Christian mosaics - a treatment not of destruction but of conscious preservation - illustrates the similar fate of the Christian people of Balkans who likewise had a cultural revivification as nations and states.

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