Ottoman Empire Leaders: Mehmed II
, Suleiman Starting technologies: Agriculture The Wheel Unique unit: Janissary Unique building: Hammam
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The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish state situated upon the eastern Mediterranean that lasted for some 630 years, from 1299 - 1922 AD. At the height of its power, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Ottoman domains stretched across vast regions in Anatolia, the Balkans, the Near East and northern Africa. For several centuries it was one of the foremost military powers in the world (until it began to stagnate technologically and fell far behind its competitors).
The Ottoman state began as a vassal of the earlier Seljuk Turks, who had formed a large empire in the Near East in the eleventh century. When the Seljuk state of Rum in Anatolia collapsed, the Ottomans took advantage of the ensuing power vacuum and rose in power. According to tradition, Osman I became the bey, or chief, of the state of Sögüt in 1281. When Osman captured the Byzantine city of Bilecik in 1299, he declared his state`s independence from the Seljuks. This is the traditional date given as the foundation of the Ottoman Empire - which was named after its first leader, Osman.
The Ottomans expanded rapidly in Anatolia throughout the fourteenth century. A series of capable military leaders made many gains against the tottering Byzantine state. The important cities of Nicaea and Nicomedia fell in 1331 and 1337, and by the 1360s the Ottomans had crossed over into Europe and began capturing territory in Thrace. As a sign of this growing power, Murad I declared himself a sultan (or king) in 1383. Around the year 1400, Timur invaded Anatolia. This caused a great deal of disruption, but the Ottomans bounced back and continued to make territorial gains. Under the rule of Mehmed II, the Ottomans attacked and captured Constantinople, whose mighty walls finally fell to the cannon of the Ottomans. This destroyed the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottomans made Constantinople their capital. Mehmed II became known as "Mehmed the Conqueror." Suleiman I, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, continued to expand and consolidate the Empire the Ottomans were at the height of their power and influence during his reign
After the capture of Constantinople the Ottoman state virtually adopted the Byzantine civil service to run the empire, and its administration was generally sound (until the nineteenth century, when it began to fossilize and became outdated). The Ottoman Empire was very much a pre-modern dynastic state, made up of many different nationalities - in fact, Greeks largely ran its bureaucracy and were vital to its continued success. Militarily, the Ottomans were very strong largely because of their early adoption of gunpowder and their powerful cavalry forces. The military also employed elite slave soldiers known as "janissaries" who won victory after victory for the expanding Ottoman state. The military remained powerful until the late eighteenth century, when they fell fatally behind Western Europe in military technology.
The Ottomans were known for their religious tolerance. The Empire was an Islamic state, and Islamic law dominated its legal system, but non-Muslims were generally well treated and enjoyed the freedom to worship their own religion. The Ottoman Empire was long seen as a refuge for Jews across Europe. Economically, the Ottoman Empire was somewhat of a failure. Most of the region`s commerce was carried on by Greek or Italian merchants, which slowed the development of Turkish industry. Once the European voyages of exploration found new routes to India and China which did not involve passing through the Near East, the Ottoman Empire began a slow commercial decline.
By the start of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire still held enormous amounts of land, but the empire was stagnant and corrupt, and was widely viewed as the "sick man of Europe." The western powers, their commercial and military strength exploding under the influence of the Industrial Revolution, began to snap up vulnerable Ottoman territories. Britain and France forced humiliating commercial treaties on the Ottomans, and the Ottoman state was forced to take out massive loans to cover its debts - the start of a vicious cycle which only incurred more debt for the empire.
While some positive reforms were carried out in terms of modernizing the Ottoman state, custom and tradition prevented the reformers from moving fast enough. Furthermore, the rising tide of nationalism began to tear the empire apart, as Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, and Greeks all declared their independence and set up their own nations. By the outbreak of World War I, the Ottomans had lost virtually all of their holdings in Europe. Desperate to preserve what was left, the Ottomans threw in their lot with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria), only to be defeated by a British-led Arab revolt in the Near East. When the war ended the victors partitioned and dissolved the Ottoman Empire at the Paris Peace Conference. However, the Turkish Revolution prevented the planned division of Anatolia from taking place. With the creation of the nation of Turkey in 1922, and the deposition of the final sultan Mehmed VI, the Ottoman Empire came to a close.