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Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Turkish: دَوْلَتِ عَلِيّهٔ عُثمَانِیّه
Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmâniyye
Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu
Flag (1844–1923) Coat of arms (1882 design)
دولت ابد مدت
Devlet-i Ebed-müddet[1]
"The Eternal State"
(during 1808–1922)
The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent, in 1683
Capital Söğüt
Constantinople[dn 1]
Languages Ottoman Turkish (official)
many others
Religion Islam
Government Absolute monarchy
Constitutional monarchy
 -  1299–1326 Osman I (first)
 -  1918–1922 Mehmed VI (last)
 -  1362–1389 Murad I (first)[3]
 -  1922–1924 Abdülmecid II (last)
Grand Vizier
 -  1320–1331 Alaeddin Pasha (first)
 -  1920–1922 Ahmed Tevfik Pasha (last)
Legislature General Assembly
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house Chamber of Deputies
 -  Founded 1299
 -  Interregnum 1402–1414
 -  Transformation from sultanate to empire 1453
 -  1st Constitutional 1876–1878
 -  2nd Constitutional 1908–1920
 -  Sultanate abolished[dn 2] 1 November 1922
 -  Republic of Turkey established[dn 3] 29 October 1923
 -  Caliphate abolished 3 March 1924
 -  1683 [4] 5,200,000 km² (2,007,731 sq mi)
 -  1914 [5] 1,800,000 km² (694,984 sq mi)
 -  1856 est. 35,350,000 
 -  1906 est. 20,884,000 
 -  1912 est.[6] 24,000,000 
Currency Akçe, Para, Sultani, Kuruş, Lira
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Anatolian beyliks
Sultanate of Rûm
Byzantine Empire
Kingdom of Bosnia
Bulgarian Empire
Serbian Empire
Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Croatia
Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt
Hospitallers of Tripolitania
Empire of Trebizond
Despotate of the Morea
Turkish Provisional Government
First Hellenic Republic
Khedivate of Egypt
Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Principality of Serbia
Provisional Government of Albania
Kingdom of Romania
Principality of Bulgaria
British Cyprus
Mandatory Iraq
Emirate of Diriyah
French Algeria
French Tunisia
Sheikhdom of Kuwait
Today part of
Warning: Value not specified for "continent"

The Ottoman Empire (/ˈɒtəmən/; Ottoman Turkish: دَوْلَتِ عَلِيّهٔ عُثمَانِیّه, Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmâniyye, Modern Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu or Osmanlı Devleti), also historically referred to as the Turkish Empire or Turkey, was a Sunni Islamic state founded in 1299 by Oghuz Turks under Osman I in northwestern Anatolia.[7] With conquests in the Balkans by Murad I between 1362 and 1389, the Ottoman sultanate was transformed into a transcontinental empire and claimant to caliphate. The Ottomans overthrew the Byzantine Empire in 1453 with Mehmed II's conquest of Constantinople.[8][9][10]

During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.[11] At the beginning of the 17th century the empire contained 32 provinces and numerous vassal states. Some of these were later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries.[dn 4]

With Constantinople as its capital and control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman Empire was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. Following a long period of military setbacks against European powers and gradual decline, the empire collapsed and was dissolved in the aftermath of World War I, leading to the emergence of the new state of Turkey in the Ottoman Anatolian heartland, as well as the creation of modern Balkan and Middle Eastern states.[12]


The word "Ottoman" is a historical anglicisation of the name of Osman I, the founder of the Empire and of the ruling House of Osman (also known as the Ottoman dynasty). Osman's name in turn was derived from the Persian form of the name ʿUṯmān عثمان of ultimately Arabic origin. In Ottoman Turkish, the empire was referred to as Devlet-i ʿAliyye-yi ʿOsmâniyye (دَوْلَتِ عَلِيّهٔ عُثمَانِیّه),[13] or alternatively Osmanlı Devleti (عثمانلى دولتى).[dn 5] In Modern Turkish, it is known as Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ("Ottoman Empire") or Osmanlı Devleti ("The Ottoman State").

In the West, the two names "Ottoman Empire" and "Turkey" were often used interchangeably, with "Turkey" being increasingly favored both in formal and informal situations.[14] This dichotomy was officially ended in 1920–23 when the newly established Ankara-based Turkish government chose Turkey as the sole official name.


Rise (1299–1453)[edit]

Further information: Ottoman dynasty and Kayı tribe

Ertuğrul, father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, arrived in Anatolia from Merv (Turkmenistan) with 400 horsemen to aid the Seljuks of Rum against the Byzantines.[15] After the demise of the Turkish Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 14th century, Anatolia was divided into a patchwork of independent, mostly Turkish states, the so-called Ghazi emirates. One of the emirates was led by Osman I (1258–1326), from whom the name Ottoman is derived.[16] Osman I extended the frontiers of Turkish settlement toward the edge of the Byzantine Empire. It is not well understood how the Osmanli came to dominate their neighbours, as the history of medieval Anatolia is still little known.[17]

Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. Painting from 1523.

In the century after the death of Osman I, Ottoman rule began to extend over the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. Osman's son, Orhan, captured the city of Bursa in 1324 and made it the new capital of the Ottoman state. The fall of Bursa meant the loss of Byzantine control over northwestern Anatolia. The important city of Thessaloniki was captured from the Venetians in 1387. The Ottoman victory at Kosovo in 1389 effectively marked the end of Serbian power in the region, paving the way for Ottoman expansion into Europe.[18] The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, widely regarded as the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages, failed to stop the advance of the victorious Ottoman Turks.[19]

With the extension of Turkish dominion into the Balkans, the strategic conquest of Constantinople became a crucial objective. The empire controlled nearly all former Byzantine lands surrounding the city, but the Byzantines were temporarily relieved when the Turkish-Mongolian leader Timur invaded Anatolia from the east. In the Battle of Ankara in 1402, Timur defeated the Ottoman forces and took Sultan Bayezid I as a prisoner, throwing the empire into disorder. The ensuing civil war lasted from 1402 to 1413 as Bayezid's sons fought over succession. It ended when Mehmet I emerged as the sultan and restored Ottoman power, bringing an end to the Interregnum, also known as the Fetret Devri.[20]

Part of the Ottoman territories in the Balkans (such as Thessaloniki, Macedonia and Kosovo) were temporarily lost after 1402 but were later recovered by Murad II between the 1430s and 1450s. On 10 November 1444, Murad II defeated the Hungarian, Polish, and Wallachian armies under Władysław III of Poland (also King of Hungary) and János Hunyadi at the Battle of Varna, the final battle of the Crusade of Varna, although Albanians under Skanderbeg continued to resist. Four years later, János Hunyadi prepared another army (of Hungarian and Wallachian forces) to attack the Turks but was again defeated by Murad II at the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448.[21]

Expansion and apogee (1453–1566)[edit]

The son of Murad II, Mehmed II, reorganized the state and the military, and conquered Constantinople on 29 May 1453. Mehmed allowed the Orthodox Church to maintain its autonomy and land in exchange for accepting Ottoman authority.[22] Because of bad relations between the states of western Europe and the later Byzantine Empire, the majority of the Orthodox population accepted Ottoman rule as preferable to Venetian rule.[22] Albanian resistance was a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion on the Italian peninsula.[23]

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of expansion. The Empire prospered under the rule of a line of committed and effective Sultans. It also flourished economically due to its control of the major overland trade routes between Europe and Asia.[25][dn 6]

Sultan Selim I (1512–1520) dramatically expanded the Empire's eastern and southern frontiers by defeating Shah Ismail of Safavid Persia, in the Battle of Chaldiran.[26] Selim I established Ottoman rule in Egypt, and created a naval presence on the Red Sea. After this Ottoman expansion, a competition started between the Portuguese Empire and the Ottoman Empire to become the dominant power in the region.[27]

Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) captured Belgrade in 1521, conquered the southern and central parts of the Kingdom of Hungary as part of the Ottoman–Hungarian Wars,[28][29][not in citation given] and, after his historical victory in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, he established Turkish rule in the territory of present-day Hungary (except the western part) and other Central European territories. He then laid siege to Vienna in 1529, but failed to take the city.[30] In 1532, he made another attack on Vienna, but was repulsed in the Siege of Güns.[31][32][33] Transylvania, Wallachia and, intermittently, Moldavia, became tributary principalities of the Ottoman Empire. In the east, the Ottoman Turks took Baghdad from the Persians in 1535, gaining control of Mesopotamia and naval access to the Persian Gulf.

Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha defeats the Holy League of Charles V under the command of Andrea Doria at the Battle of Preveza in 1538.

France and the Ottoman Empire, united by mutual opposition to Habsburg rule, became strong allies. The French conquests of Nice (1543) and Corsica (1553) occurred as a joint venture between the forces of the French king Francis I and Suleiman, and were commanded by the Ottoman admirals Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha and Turgut Reis.[34] A month prior to the siege of Nice, France supported the Ottomans with an artillery unit during the Ottoman conquest of Esztergom in 1543. After further advances by the Turks in 1543, the Habsburg ruler Ferdinand officially recognized Ottoman ascendancy in Hungary in 1547.

In 1559, after the first Ajuran-Portuguese war the Ottoman Empire would later absorb the weakened Adal Sultanate into its domain. This expansion furthered Ottoman rule in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. This also increased its influence in the Indian Ocean to compete with the Portuguese with its close ally the Ajuran Empire.[35]

By the end of Suleiman's reign, the Empire's population totaled about 15,000,000 people extending over three continents. [36] In addition, the Empire became a dominant naval force, controlling much of the Mediterranean Sea.[37] By this time, the Ottoman Empire was a major part of the European political sphere. The success of its political and military establishment has been compared to the Roman Empire, by the likes of Italian scholar Francesco Sansovino and the French political philosopher Jean Bodin.[38]

Stagnation and reform (1566–1827)[edit]

The stagnation and decline, Stephen Lee argues, was relentless after 1566, interrupted by a few short revivals or reform and recovery. The decline gathered speed so that the Empire in 1699 was, "a mere shadow of that which intimidated East and West alike in 1566."[39] Although there are dissenting scholars, most historians point to "degenerate Sultans, incompetent Grand Viziers, debilitated and ill-equipped armies, corrupt officials, avaricious speculators, grasping enemies, and treacherous friends."[40] The main cause was a failure of leadership, as Lee argues the first 10 sultans from 1292 to 1566, with one exception, had done quite well. The next 13 sultans from 1566 to 1703, with two exceptions, were lackadaisical or incompetent rulers, says Lee.[41] In a highly centralized system, the failure at the center proved fatal. A direct result was the strengthening of provincial elites who increasingly ignored Constantinople. Secondly the military strength of European enemies grew stronger and stronger, while the Ottoman armies and arms scarcely improved.[42][43] Finally the Ottoman economic system grew distorted and impoverished, as war caused inflation, world trade moved in other directions, and the deterioration of law and order made economic progress difficult.[44]

Revolts, reversals, and revivals (1566–1683)[edit]

Ottoman miniature about the Szigetvár campaign showing Ottoman troops and Tatars as avantgarde.

The effective military and bureaucratic structures of the previous century came under strain during a protracted period of misrule by weak Sultans. The Ottomans gradually fell behind the Europeans in military technology as the innovation that fed the Empire's forceful expansion became stifled by growing religious and intellectual conservatism.[45] But in spite of these difficulties, the Empire remained a major expansionist power until the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe.

The discovery of new maritime trade routes by Western European states allowed them to avoid the Ottoman trade monopoly. The Portuguese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 initiated a series of Ottoman-Portuguese naval wars in the Indian Ocean throughout the 16th century. The Ajuran Empire allied with the Ottomans defied the Portuguese economic monopoly in the Indian Ocean by employing a new coinage which followed the Ottoman pattern, thus proclaiming an attitude of economic independence in regard to the Portuguese.[46]

Under Ivan IV (1533–1584), the Tsardom of Russia expanded into the Volga and Caspian region at the expense of the Tatar khanates. In 1571, the Crimean khan Devlet I Giray, supported by the Ottomans, burned Moscow.[47] The next year, the invasion was repeated but repelled at the Battle of Molodi. The Crimean Khanate continued to invade Eastern Europe in a series of slave raids,[48] and remained a significant power in Eastern Europe until the end of the 17th century.[49]

In southern Europe, a Catholic coalition led by Philip II of Spain won a victory over the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). It was a startling, if mostly symbolic,[50] blow to the image of Ottoman invincibility, an image which the victory of the Knights of Malta against the Ottoman invaders in the 1565 Siege of Malta had recently set in motion eroding.[51] The battle was far more damaging to the Ottoman navy in sapping experienced manpower than the loss of ships, which were rapidly replaced.[52] The Ottoman navy recovered quickly, persuading Venice to sign a peace treaty in 1573, allowing the Ottomans to expand and consolidate their position in North Africa.[53]

By contrast, the Habsburg frontier had settled somewhat, a stalemate caused by a stiffening of the Habsburg defences.[54] The Long War against Habsburg Austria (1593–1606) created the need for greater numbers of infantry equipped with firearms, resulting in a relaxation of recruitment policy. This contributed to problems of indiscipline and outright rebelliousness within the corps, which were never fully solved.[55] Irregular sharpshooters (Sekban) were also recruited, and on demobilization turned to brigandage in the Jelali revolts (1595–1610), which engendered widespread anarchy in Anatolia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.[56] With the Empire's population reaching 30,000,000 people by 1600, the shortage of land placed further pressure on the government .[57] In spite of these problems, the Ottoman state remained strong, and its army did not collapse or suffer crushing defeats. The only exception were campaigns against the Safavid dynasty of Persia where many of the Ottoman eastern provinces were lost, some permanently. However, its campaigns became increasingly inconclusive, even against weaker states with much smaller forces such as Poland or Austria.

Map from 1654.

During his brief majority reign, Murad IV (1612–1640) reasserted central authority and recaptured Iraq (1639) from the Safavids.[58] The Sultanate of women (1648–1656) was a period in which the mothers of young sultans exercised power on behalf of their sons. The most prominent women of this period were Kösem Sultan and her daughter-in-law Turhan Hatice, whose political rivalry culminated in Kösem's murder in 1651.[59] During the Köprülü Era (1656–1703), effective control of the Empire was exercised by a sequence of Grand Viziers from the Köprülü family. The Köprülü Vizierate saw renewed military success with authority restored in Transylvania, the conquest of Crete completed in 1669 and expansion into Polish southern Ukraine, with the strongholds of Khotyn and Kamianets-Podilskyi and the territory of Podolia ceding to Ottoman control in 1676.[60]

This period of renewed assertiveness came to a calamitous end in May 1683 when Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha led a huge army to attempt a second Ottoman siege of Vienna in the Great Turkish War of 1683–1687. The final assault being fatally delayed, the Ottoman forces were swept away by allied Habsburg, German and Polish forces spearheaded by the Polish king Jan III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna. The alliance of the Holy League pressed home the advantage of the defeat at Vienna, culminating in the Treaty of Karlowitz (26 January 1699), which ended the Great Turkish War.[61] The Ottomans surrendered control of significant territories, many permanently.[62] Mustafa II (1695–1703) led the counterattack of 1695–96 against the Habsburgs in Hungary, but was undone at the disastrous defeat at Zenta (11 September 1697).[63]

Russian threat grows[edit]

During this period Russian warm seas expansion presented a large and growing threat.[64] Accordingly, King Charles XII of Sweden was welcomed as an ally in the Ottoman Empire following his defeat by the Russians at the Battle of Poltava in 1709 (part of the Great Northern War of 1700–1721.)[64] Charles XII persuaded the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III to declare war on Russia, which resulted in the Ottoman victory at the Pruth River Campaign of 1710–1711.[65]

Austrian troops led by Prince Eugene of Savoy captures Belgrade in 1717

After the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–1718 the Treaty of Passarowitz confirmed the loss of the Banat, Serbia and "Little Walachia" (Oltenia) to Austria. The Treaty also revealed that the Ottoman Empire was on the defensive and unlikely to present any further aggression in Europe.[66] The Austro-Russian–Turkish War, which was ended by the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739, resulted in the recovery of Serbia and Oltenia, but the Empire lost the port of Azov to the Russians. After this treaty the Ottoman Empire was able to enjoy a generation of peace, as Austria and Russia were forced to deal with the rise of Prussia.[67]

Ottoman troops attempt to halt advancing Russians during the Siege of Ochakov in 1788.

Educational and technological reforms were made, including the establishment of higher education institutions such as the Istanbul Technical University.[68] In 1734 an artillery school was established to impart Western-style artillery methods, but the Islamic clergy successfully objected under the grounds of theodicy.[69] In 1754 the artillery school was reopened on a semi-secret basis.[69] In 1726, Ibrahim Muteferrika convinced the Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Pasha, the Grand Mufti, and the clergy on the efficiency of the printing press, and Muteferrika was later granted by Sultan Ahmed III permission to publish non-religious books (despite opposition from some calligraphers and religious leaders).[70] Muteferrika's press published its first book in 1729 and, by 1743, issued 17 works in 23 volumes, each having between 500 and 1,000 copies.[70][71]

In 1768 Russian-backed Ukrainian Haidamaks, pursuing Polish confederates, entered Balta, an Ottoman-controlled town on the border of Bessarabia, and massacred its citizens and burned the town to the ground. This action provoked the Ottoman Empire into the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774. The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774 ended the war and provided freedom to worship for the Christian citizens of the Ottoman-controlled provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia.[72] By the late 18th century, a number of defeats in several wars with Russia led some people in the Ottoman Empire to conclude that the reforms of Peter the Great had given the Russians an edge, and the Ottomans would have to keep up with Western technology in order to avoid further defeats.[69]

Selim III receiving dignitaries during an audience at the Gate of Felicity, Topkapı Palace.

Selim III (1789–1807) made the first major attempts to modernize the army, but reforms were hampered by the religious leadership and the Janissary corps. Jealous of their privileges and firmly opposed to change, the Janissary created a revolt. Selim's efforts cost him his throne and his life, but were resolved in spectacular and bloody fashion by his successor, the dynamic Mahmud II, who eliminated the Janissary corps in 1826.

The Serbian revolution (1804–1815) marked the beginning of an era of national awakening in the Balkans during the Eastern Question. Suzerainty of Serbia as a hereditary monarchy under its own dynasty was acknowledged de jure in 1830.[73][74] In 1821, the Greeks declared war on the Sultan. A rebellion that originated in Moldavia as a diversion was followed by the main revolution in the Peloponnese, which, along with the northern part of the Gulf of Corinth, became the first parts of the Ottoman Empire to achieve independence (in 1829). By the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire was called the "sick man" by Europeans. The suzerain states – the Principality of Serbia, Wallachia, Moldavia and Montenegro – moved towards de jure independence during the 1860s and 1870s.

Decline and modernization (1828–1908)[edit]

Opening ceremony of the First Ottoman Parliament at the Dolmabahçe Palace in 1876. The First Constitutional Era lasted for only two years until 1878. The Ottoman Constitution and Parliament were restored 30 years later with the Young Turk Revolution in 1908.

During the Tanzimat period (1839–1876), the government's series of constitutional reforms led to a fairly modern conscripted army, banking system reforms, the decriminalization of homosexuality, the replacement of religious law with secular law[75] and guilds with modern factories. The Ottoman Ministry of Post was established in Istanbul on 23 October 1840.[76][77]

Samuel Morse received a patent for the telegraph in 1847, which was issued by Sultan Abdülmecid who personally tested the new invention.[78] Following this successful test, installation works of the first Turkish telegraph line (Istanbul-Edirne-Şumnu)[79] began on 9 August 1847.[80] The reformist period peaked with the Constitution, called the Kanûn-u Esâsî. The empire's First Constitutional era was short-lived. The parliament survived for only two years before the sultan suspended it.

The Christian population of the empire, owing to their higher educational levels, started to pull ahead of the Muslim majority, leading to much resentment on the part of the latter.[81] In 1861, there were 571 primary and 94 secondary schools for Ottoman Christians with 140,000 pupils in total, a figure that vastly exceeded the number of Muslim children in school at the same time, who were further hindered by the amount of time spent learning Arabic and Islamic theology.[81] In turn, the higher educational levels of the Christians allowed them to play a large role in the economy.[81] In 1911, of the 654 wholesale companies in Istanbul, 528 were owned by ethnic Greeks.[81]

Turkish troops storming Fort Shefketil during the Crimean War of 1853–1856.

The Crimean War (1853–1856) was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. The financial burden of the war led the Ottoman state to issue foreign loans amounting to 5 million pounds sterling on 4 August 1854.[82][83] The war caused an exodus of the Crimean Tatars, about 200,000 of whom moved to the Ottoman Empire in continuing waves of emigration.[84] Toward the end of the Caucasian Wars, 90% of the Circassians were ethnically cleansed[85] and exiled from their homelands in the Caucasus and fled to the Ottoman Empire,[86] resulting in the settlement of 500,000 to 700,000 Circassians in Turkey.[87][page needed][88][89] Some Circassian organisations give much higher numbers, totaling 1–1.5 million deported and/or killed.[90]

Belgrade in c. 1865. In 1867, the Ottoman government was forced by Britain and France to retreat its military from northern Serbia, which secured the country's de facto independence (formalized in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 and the Congress of Berlin in 1878.)

The Ottoman bashi-bazouks brutally suppressed the Bulgarian uprising of 1876, massacring up to 100,000 people in the process.[91] The Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) ended with a decisive victory for Russia. As a result, Ottoman holdings in Europe declined sharply; Bulgaria was established as an independent principality inside the Ottoman Empire, Romania achieved full independence. Serbia and Montenegro finally gained complete independence, but with smaller territories. In 1878, Austria-Hungary unilaterally occupied the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Novi Pazar. Although the Ottoman government contested this move, its troops were defeated within three weeks.

In return for British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's advocacy for restoring the Ottoman territories on the Balkan Peninsula during the Congress of Berlin, Britain assumed the administration of Cyprus in 1878,[92] and later sent troops to Egypt in 1882, with the pretext of helping the Ottoman government to put down the Urabi Revolt, effectively gaining control in both territories.

From 1894 to 1896, between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenians living throughout the empire were killed in what became known as the Hamidian massacres.[93]

As the Ottoman Empire gradually shrank in size, many Balkan Muslims migrated to the empire's remaining territory in Balkans or to the heartland in Anatolia.[94] By 1923, only Anatolia and eastern Thrace remained as the Muslim land.[95]

Defeat and dissolution (1908–1922)[edit]

Declaration of the Young Turk Revolution by the leaders of the Ottoman millets in 1908. The chaos involved in the revolution paved the way for the loss of Bulgaria (5 October 1908) and Bosnia (6 October 1908) immediately afterwards.

The Second Constitutional Era began after the Young Turk Revolution (3 July 1908) with the sultan's announcement of the restoration of the 1876 constitution and the reconvening of the Ottoman parliament. Although it began a series of massive political and military reform over the next six years, it marked the beginning of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. This era is dominated by the politics of the Committee of Union and Progress, and the movement that would become known as the Young Turks.

Profiting from the civil strife, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, but it pulled its troops out of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, another contested region between the Austrians and Ottomans, to avoid a war. During the Italo-Turkish War (1911–12) in which the Ottoman Empire lost Libya, the Balkan League declared war against the Ottoman Empire. The Empire lost the Balkan Wars (1912–13). It lost its Balkan territories except East Thrace and the historic Ottoman capital city of Edirne during the war. Fearing religious persecution, around 400,000 Muslims fled to present-day Turkey. Due to a cholera epidemic, many did not survive the journey.[96] According to the estimates of Justin McCarthy, during the period from 1821 to 1922 alone, the ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Muslims in the Balkans led to the death of several million individuals and the expulsion of a similar number.[97][98][99] By 1914, the Ottoman Empire had been driven out of nearly all of Europe and North Africa. It still controlled 28 million people, of whom 15.5 million were in modern-day Turkey, 4.5 million in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan, and 2.5 million in Iraq. Another 5.5 million people were under nominal Ottoman rule in the Arabian peninsula.[100]

In November 1914, the Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers, in which it took part in the Middle Eastern theatre. There were several important Ottoman victories in the early years of the war, such as the Battle of Gallipoli and the Siege of Kut, but there were setbacks as well, such as the disastrous Caucasus Campaign against the Russians. The United States never declared war against the Ottoman Empire.[101]

Mehmed VI, the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, leaving the country after the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate, 17 November 1922.

In 1915, as the Russian Caucasus Army continued to advance into eastern Anatolia,[102] the Ottoman government started the deportation of its ethnic Armenian population, resulting in the death of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in what became known as the Armenian Genocide.[103] Large-scale massacres were also committed against the Empire's Greek and Assyrian minorities as part of the same campaign of ethnic cleansing.[104]

The Arab Revolt which began in 1916 turned the tide against the Ottomans at the Middle Eastern front, where they initially seemed to have the upper hand during the first two years of the war. The Armistice of Mudros, signed on 30 October 1918, ended the hostilities in the Middle Eastern theatre, and was followed with occupation of Constantinople and subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. Under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire was solidified. The last quarter of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century saw some 7–9 million Turkish-Muslim refugees from the lost territories of the Caucasus, Crimea, Balkans, and the Mediterranean islands migrate to Anatolia and Eastern Thrace.[105]

The occupation of Constantinople and İzmir led to the establishment of a Turkish national movement, which won the Turkish War of Independence (1919–22) under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later given the surname "Atatürk"). The sultanate was abolished on 1 November 1922, and the last sultan, Mehmed VI (reigned 1918–22), left the country on 17 November 1922. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey declared the Republic of Turkey on 29 October 1923. The caliphate was abolished on 3 March 1924.[106]

Territorial evolution[edit]


Ambassadors at the Topkapı Palace

Before the reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries, the state organisation of the Ottoman Empire was a simple system that had two main dimensions, which were the military administration and the civil administration. The Sultan was the highest position in the system. The civil system was based on local administrative units based on the region's characteristics. The Ottomans practiced a system in which the state (as in the Byzantine Empire) had control over the clergy. Certain pre-Islamic Turkish traditions that had survived the adoption of administrative and legal practices from Islamic Iran remained important in Ottoman administrative circles.[107] According to Ottoman understanding, the state's primary responsibility was to defend and extend the land of the Muslims and to ensure security and harmony within its borders within the overarching context of orthodox Islamic practice and dynastic sovereignty.[108]

The Ottoman Empire or, as a dynastic institution, the House of Osman was unprecedented and unequaled in the Islamic world for its size and duration.[109] In Europe, only the House of Habsburg had a similarly unbroken line of sovereigns (kings/emperors) from the same family who ruled for so long, and during the same period, between the late 13th and early 20th centuries. The Ottoman dynasty was Turkish in origin. On eleven occasions, the sultan was deposed (replaced by another sultan of the Ottoman dynasty, who were either the former sultan's brother, son or nephew) because he was perceived by his enemies as a threat to the state. There were only two attempts in Ottoman history to unseat the ruling Ottoman dynasty, both failures, which suggests a political system that for an extended period was able to manage its revolutions without unnecessary instability.[108] As such, the last Ottoman sultan Mehmed VI (r. 1918–1922) was a direct patrilineal (male-line) descendant of the first Ottoman sultan Osman I (r. 1299–1326), which was unparallelled in both Europe (e.g. the male line of the House of Habsburg became extinct in 1740) and in the Islamic world. The primary purpose of the Imperial Harem was to ensure the birth of male heirs to the Ottoman throne and secure the continuation of the direct patrilineal (male-line) descendance of the Ottoman sultans.

Bâb-ı Âlî, the Sublime Porte

The highest position in Islam, caliphate, was claimed by the sultans starting since Murad I,[3] which was established as Ottoman Caliphate. The Ottoman sultan, pâdişâh or "lord of kings", served as the Empire's sole regent and was considered to be the embodiment of its government, though he did not always exercise complete control. The Imperial Harem was one of the most important powers of the Ottoman court. It was ruled by the Valide Sultan. On occasion, the Valide Sultan would become involved in state politics. For a time, the women of the Harem effectively controlled the state in what was termed the "Sultanate of Women". New sultans were always chosen from the sons of the previous sultan. The strong educational system of the palace school was geared towards eliminating the unfit potential heirs, and establishing support among the ruling elite for a successor. The palace schools, which would also educate the future administrators of the state, were not a single track. First, the Madrasa (Ottoman Turkish: Medrese) was designated for the Muslims, and educated scholars and state officials according to Islamic tradition. The financial burden of the Medrese was supported by vakifs, allowing children of poor families to move to higher social levels and income.[110] The second track was a free boarding school for the Christians, the Enderûn,[111] which recruited 3,000 students annually from Christian boys between eight and twenty years old from one in forty families among the communities settled in Rumelia and/or the Balkans, a process known as Devshirme (Devşirme).[112]

Though the sultan was the supreme monarch, the sultan's political and executive authority was delegated. The politics of the state had a number of advisors and ministers gathered around a council known as Divan (after the 17th century it was renamed the "Porte"). The Divan, in the years when the Ottoman state was still a Beylik, was composed of the elders of the tribe. Its composition was later modified to include military officers and local elites (such as religious and political advisors). Later still, beginning in 1320, a Grand Vizier was appointed to assume certain of the sultan's responsibilities. The Grand Vizier had considerable independence from the sultan with almost unlimited powers of appointment, dismissal and supervision. Beginning with the late 16th century, sultans withdrew from politics and the Grand Vizier became the de facto head of state.[113]

A historical map showing eyalets (administrative regions) of Ottoman Empire in Europe and Asia in 1890.

Throughout Ottoman history, there were many instances in which local governors acted independently, and even in opposition to the ruler. After the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, the Ottoman state became a constitutional monarchy. The sultan no longer had executive powers. A parliament was formed, with representatives chosen from the provinces. The representatives formed the Imperial Government of the Ottoman Empire.

This eclectic administration was apparent even in the diplomatic correspondence of the Empire, which was initially undertaken in the Greek language to the west.[114]

The Tughra were calligraphic monograms, or signatures, of the Ottoman Sultans, of which there were 35. Carved on the Sultan's seal, they bore the names of the Sultan and his father. The statement and prayer, "ever victorious," was also present in most. The earliest belonged to Orhan Gazi. The ornately stylized Tughra spawned a branch of Ottoman-Turkish calligraphy.


Main article: Ottoman law

The Ottoman legal system accepted the religious law over its subjects. At the same time the Qanun (or Kanun), a secular legal system, co-existed with religious law or Sharia.[115] The Ottoman Empire was always organized around a system of local jurisprudence. Legal administration in the Ottoman Empire was part of a larger scheme of balancing central and local authority.[116] Ottoman power revolved crucially around the administration of the rights to land, which gave a space for the local authority develop the needs of the local millet.[116] The jurisdictional complexity of the Ottoman Empire was aimed to permit the integration of culturally and religiously different groups.[116] The Ottoman system had three court systems: one for Muslims, one for non-Muslims, involving appointed Jews and Christians ruling over their respective religious communities, and the "trade court". The entire system was regulated from above by means of the administrative Qanun, i.e. laws, a system based upon the Turkic Yassa and Töre, which were developed in the pre-Islamic era.[citation needed]

An Ottoman trial, 1877

These court categories were not, however, wholly exclusive: for instance, the Islamic courts—which were the Empire's primary courts—could also be used to settle a trade conflict or disputes between litigants of differing religions, and Jews and Christians often went to them to obtain a more forceful ruling on an issue. The Ottoman state tended not to interfere with non-Muslim religious law systems, despite legally having a voice to do so through local governors. The Islamic Sharia law system had been developed from a combination of the Qur'an; the Hadīth, or words of the prophet Muhammad; ijmā', or consensus of the members of the Muslim community; qiyas, a system of analogical reasoning from earlier precedents; and local customs. Both systems were taught at the Empire's law schools, which were in Istanbul and Bursa.

An unhappy wife complains to the Qadi about her husband's impotence, Ottoman miniature

The Ottoman Islamic legal system was set up differently from traditional European courts. Presiding over Islamic courts would be a Qadi, or judge. Since the closing of the ijtihad, or Gate of Interpretation, Qadis throughout the Ottoman Empire focused less on legal precedent, and more with local customs and traditions in the areas that they administered.[117] However, the Ottoman court system lacked an appellate structure, leading to jurisdictional case strategies where plaintiffs could take their disputes from one court system to another until they achieved a ruling that was in their favor.

In the late 19th century, the Ottoman legal system saw substantial reform. This process of legal modernization began with the Edict of Gülhane of 1839.[118] These reforms included the "fair and public trial[s] of all accused regardless of religion," the creation of a system of "separate competences, religious and civil," and the validation of testimony on non-Muslims.[119] Specific land codes (1858), civil codes (1869–1876), and a code of civil procedure also were enacted.[119]

These reforms were based heavily on French models, as indicated by the adoption of a three-tiered court system. Referred to as Nizamiye, this system was extended to the local magistrate level with the final promulgation of the Mecelle, a civil code that regulated marriage, divorce, alimony, will, and other matters of personal status.[119] In an attempt to clarify the division of judicial competences, an administrative council laid down that religious matters were to be handled by religious courts, and statute matters were to be handled by the Nizamiye courts.[119]


Two Sipahis, the elite cavalry knights of the Ottoman Army.

The first military unit of the Ottoman State was an army that was organized by Osman I from the tribesmen inhabiting the hills of western Anatolia in the late 13th century. The military system became an intricate organization with the advance of the Empire. The Ottoman military was a complex system of recruiting and fief-holding. The main corps of the Ottoman Army included Janissary, Sipahi, Akıncı and Mehterân. The Ottoman army was once among the most advanced fighting forces in the world, being one of the first to use muskets and cannons. The Ottoman Turks began using falconets, which were short but wide cannons, during the Siege of Constantinople. The Ottoman cavalry depended on high speed and mobility rather than heavy armour, using bows and short swords on fast Turkoman and Arabian horses (progenitors of the Thoroughbred racing horse),[120][121] and often applied tactics similar to those of the Mongol Empire, such as pretending to retreat while surrounding the enemy forces inside a crescent-shaped formation and then making the real attack. The decline in the army's performance became clear from the mid-17th century and after the Great Turkish War. The 18th century saw some limited success against Venice, but in the north the European-style Russian armies forced the Ottomans to concede land.

Two Solaks, the janissary archer bodyguard of the Sultan.

The modernization of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century started with the military. In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II abolished the Janissary corps and established the modern Ottoman army. He named them as the Nizam-ı Cedid (New Order). The Ottoman army was also the first institution to hire foreign experts and send its officers for training in western European countries. Consequently, the Young Turks movement began when these relatively young and newly trained men returned with their education.

The Ottoman Navy vastly contributed to the expansion of the Empire's territories on the European continent. It initiated the conquest of North Africa, with the addition of Algeria and Egypt to the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Starting with the loss of Greece in 1821 and Algeria in 1830, Ottoman naval power and control over the Empire's distant overseas territories began to decline. Sultan Abdülaziz (reigned 1861–1876) attempted to reestablish a strong Ottoman navy, building the largest fleet after those of Britain and France. The shipyard at Barrow, England, built its first submarine in 1886 for the Ottoman Empire.[122]

A German postcard depicting the Ottoman Navy at the Golden Horn in the early stages of World War I. At top left is a portrait of Sultan Mehmed V.

However, the collapsing Ottoman economy could not sustain the fleet's strength for too long. Sultan Abdülhamid II distrusted the admirals who sided with the reformist Midhat Pasha, and claimed that the large and expensive fleet was of no use against the Russians during the Russo-Turkish War. He locked most of the fleet inside the Golden Horn, where the ships decayed for the next 30 years. Following the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, the Committee of Union and Progress sought to develop a strong Ottoman naval force. The Ottoman Navy Foundation was established in 1910 to buy new ships through public donations.

Ottoman pilots in early 1912

The establishment of Ottoman military aviation dates back to between June 1909 and July 1911.[123][124] The Ottoman Empire started preparing its first pilots and planes, and with the founding of the Aviation School (Tayyare Mektebi) in Yeşilköy on 3 July 1912, the Empire began to tutor its own flight officers. The founding of the Aviation School quickened advancement in the military aviation program, increased the number of enlisted persons within it, and gave the new pilots an active role in the Ottoman Army and Navy. In May 1913 the world's first specialized Reconnaissance Training Program was started by the Aviation School and the first separate reconnaissance division was established.[citation needed] In June 1914 a new military academy, the Naval Aviation School (Bahriye Tayyare Mektebi) was founded. With the outbreak of World War I, the modernization process stopped abruptly. The Ottoman aviation squadrons fought on many fronts during World War I, from Galicia in the west to the Caucasus in the east and Yemen in the south.

Administrative divisions[edit]

Eyalets in 1795

The Ottoman Empire was first subdivided into provinces, in the sense of fixed territorial units with governors appointed by the sultan, in the late 14th century.[125]

The Eyalet (also Pashalik or Beylerbeylik) was the territory of office of a Beylerbeyi, and was further subdivided in Sanjaks.[126]

The Vilayets were introduced with the promulgation of the "Vilayet Law" (Turkish: Teskil-i Vilayet Nizamnamesi)[127] in 1864, as part of the tanzimat reforms.[128] Unlike the previous eyalet system, the 1864 law established a hierarchy of administrative units: the vilayet, liva/sanjak, kaza and village council, to which the 1871 Vilayet Law added the nabiye.[129]


Ottoman government deliberately pursued a policy for the development of Bursa, Edirne, and Istanbul, successive Ottoman capitals, into major commercial and industrial centres, considering that merchants and artisans were indispensable in creating a new metropolis.[130] To this end, Mehmed and his successor Bayezid, also encouraged and welcomed migration of the Jews from different parts of Europe, who were settled in Istanbul and other port cities like Salonica. In many places in Europe, Jews were suffering persecution at the hands of their Christian counterparts. The tolerance displayed by the Turks was welcomed by the immigrants.

A bronze coin period of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, 1481.

The Ottoman economic mind was closely related to the basic concepts of state and society in the Middle East in which the ultimate goal of a state was consolidation and extension of the ruler's power, and the way to reach it was to get rich resources of revenues by making the productive classes prosperous.[131] The ultimate aim was to increase the state revenues without damaging the prosperity of subjects to prevent the emergence of social disorder and to keep the traditional organization of the society intact.

The organization of the treasury and chancery were developed under the Ottoman Empire more than any other Islamic government and, until the 17th century, they were the leading organization among all their contemporaries.[113] This organization developed a scribal bureaucracy (known as "men of the pen") as a distinct group, partly highly trained ulama, which developed into a professional body.[113] The effectiveness of this professional financial body stands behind the success of many great Ottoman statesmen.[132]

The Ottoman Bank was founded in 1856 in Istanbul; in August 1896, the bank was captured by members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Ottoman Loan certificate 1933

The economic structure of the Empire was defined by its geopolitical structure. The Ottoman Empire stood between the West and the East, thus blocking the land route eastward and forcing Spanish and Portuguese navigators to set sail in search of a new route to the Orient. The Empire controlled the spice route that Marco Polo once used. When Vasco da Gama bypassed Ottoman controlled routes and established direct trade links with India in 1498, and Christopher Columbus first journeyed to the Bahamas in 1492, the Ottoman Empire was at its zenith.

Modern Ottoman studies think that the change in relations between the Ottoman Turks and central Europe was caused by the opening of the new sea routes. It is possible to see the decline in the significance of the land routes to the East as Western Europe opened the ocean routes that bypassed the Middle East and Mediterranean as parallel to the decline of the Ottoman Empire itself. The Anglo-Ottoman Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Balta Liman that opened the Ottoman markets directly to English and French competitors, would be seen as one of the staging posts along this development.

By developing commercial centres and routes, encouraging people to extend the area of cultivated land in the country and international trade through its dominions, the state performed basic economic functions in the Empire. But in all this the financial and political interests of the state were dominant. Within the social and political system they were living in Ottoman administrators could not have comprehended or seen the desirability of the dynamics and principles of the capitalist and mercantile economies developing in Western Europe.[133]


A population estimate for the empire of 11,692,480 for the 1520–1535 period was obtained by counting the households in Ottoman tithe registers, and multiplying this number by 5.[134] For unclear reasons, the population in the 18th century was lower than that in the 16th century.[135] An estimate of 7,230,660 for the first census held in 1831 is considered a serious undercount, as this census was meant only to register possible conscripts.[134]

View of Galata ( Karaköy) and the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn, ca. 1880–1893.

Censuses of Ottoman territories only began in the early 19th century. Figures from 1831 onwards are available as official census results, but the censuses did not cover the whole population. For example, the 1831 census only counted men and did not cover the whole empire.[57][134] For earlier periods estimates of size and distribution of the population are based on observed demographic patterns.[136]

However, it began to rise to reach 25–32 million by 1800, with around 10 million in the European provinces (primarily the Balkans), 11 million in the Asiatic provinces and around 3 million in the African provinces. Population densities were higher in the European provinces, double those in Anatolia, which in turn were triple the population densities of Iraq and Syria and five times the population density of Arabia.[137]

Towards the end of the empire's existence life expectancy was 49 years, compared to the mid-twenties in Serbia at the beginning of the 19th century.[138] Epidemic diseases and famine caused major disruption and demographic changes. In 1785 around one sixth of the Egyptian population died from plague and Aleppo saw its population reduced by twenty percent in the 18th century. Six famines hit Egypt alone between 1687 and 1731 and the last famine to hit Anatolia was four decades later.[139]

The rise of port cities saw the clustering of populations caused by the development of steamships and railroads. Urbanization increased from 1700 to 1922, with towns and cities growing. Improvements in health and sanitation made them more attractive to live and work in. Port cities like Salonica, in Greece, saw its population rise from 55,000 in 1800 to 160,000 in 1912 and Izmir which had a population of 150,000 in 1800 grew to 300,000 by 1914.[140][141] Some regions conversely had population falls – Belgrade saw its population drop from 25,000 to 8,000 mainly due to political strife.[140]

Economic and political migrations made an impact across the empire. For example the Russian and Austria-Habsburg annexation of the Crimean and Balkan regions respectively saw large influxes of Muslim refugees – 200,000 Crimean Tartars fleeing to Dobruja.[142] Between 1783 and 1913, approximately 5–7 million refugees flooded into the Ottoman Empire, at least 3.8 million of whom were from Russia. Some migrations left indelible marks such as political tension between parts of the empire (e.g. Turkey and Bulgaria) whereas centrifugal effects were noticed in other territories, simpler demographics emerging from diverse populations. Economies were also impacted with the loss of artisans, merchants, manufacturers and agriculturists.[143] Since the 19th century, a large proportion of Muslim peoples from the Balkans emigrated to present-day Turkey. These people are called Muhacir.[144] By the time the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1922, half of the urban population of Turkey was descended from Muslim refugees from Russia.[81]


Ottoman Turkish was the official language of the Empire. It was an Oghuz Turkic language highly influenced by Persian and Arabic. The Ottomans had several influential languages: Turkish, spoken by the majority of the people in Anatolia and by the majority of Muslims of the Balkans except in Albania and Bosnia; Persian, only spoken by the educated;[145] Arabic, spoken mainly in Arabia, North Africa, Iraq, Kuwait, the Levant and parts of the Horn of Africa; and Somali throughout the Horn of Africa. In the last two centuries, usage of these became limited, though, and specific: Persian served mainly as a literary language for the educated,[145] while Arabic was used for religious rites.

Turkish, in its Ottoman variation, was a language of military and administration since the nascent days of the Ottomans. The Ottoman constitution of 1876 did officially cement the official imperial status of Turkish.[146]

Because of a low literacy rate among the public (about 2–3% until the early 19th century and just about 15% at the end of 19th century),[citation needed] ordinary people had to hire scribes as "special request-writers" (arzuhâlcis) to be able to communicate with the government.[147] The ethnic groups continued to speak within their families and neighborhoods (mahalles) with their own languages (e.g., Jews, Greeks, Armenians, etc.). In villages where two or more populations lived together, the inhabitants would often speak each other's language. In cosmopolitan cities, people often spoke their family languages; many of those who were not ethnic Turks spoke Turkish as a second language.


Abdülmecid II was the last caliph of Islam and a member of the Ottoman dynasty.

In the Ottoman imperial system, even though there existed an hegemonic power of Muslim control over the non-Muslim populations, non-Muslim communities had been granted state recognition and protection in the Islamic tradition.[148]

Until the second half of the 15th century the empire had a Christian majority, under the rule of a Muslim minority.[116] In the late 19th century, the non-Muslim population of the empire began to fall considerably, not only due to secession, but also because of migratory movements.[148] The proportion of Muslims amounted to 60% in the 1820s, gradually increasing to 69% in the 1870s and then to 76% in the 1890s.[148] By 1914, only 19.1% of the empire's population was non-Muslim, mostly made up of Christian Greeks, Assyrians, Armenians, and Jews.[148]


Calligraphic writing on a fritware tile, depicting the names of God, Muhammad and the first caliphs. c. 1727, Islamic Middle East Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum. [149]

Turkic peoples practiced a variety of shamanism before adopting Islam. Abbasid influence in Central Asia was ensured through a process that was greatly facilitated by the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana. Many of the various Turkic tribes—including the Oghuz Turks, who were the ancestors of both the Seljuks and the Ottomans—gradually converted to Islam, and brought the religion with them to Anatolia beginning in the 11th century.

Muslim sects regarded as heretical, such as the Druze, Ismailis, Alevis, and Alawites, ranked below Jews and Christians.[150] In 1514, Sultan Selim I, nicknamed "the Grim" because of his cruelty, ordered the massacre of 40,000 Anatolian Alevis (Qizilbash), whom he considered heretics,[151] reportedly proclaiming that "the killing of one Alevi had as much otherworldly reward as killing 70 Christians."[152][page needed] Selim was also responsible for an unprecedented and rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle East, especially through his conquest of the entire Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, which included much of the region. With these conquests, Selim further solidified the Ottoman claim for being an Islamic caliphate, although Ottoman sultans had been claiming the title of caliph since the 14th century starting with Murad I (reigned 1362 to 1389).[3] The caliphate would remain held by Ottoman sultans for the rest of the office's duration, which ended with its abolition on 3 March 1924 by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the exile of the last caliph, Abdülmecid II, to France.

Christianity and Judaism[edit]

In the Ottoman Empire, in accordance with the Muslim dhimmi system, Christians were guaranteed limited freedoms (such as the right to worship), but were treated as second-class citizens. They were forbidden to carry weapons or ride on horseback, their houses could not overlook those of Muslims, and their religious practices would have to defer to those of Muslims, in addition to various other legal limitations.[153] Many Christians and a few Jews voluntarily converted to secure full status in the society.[154]

In the system commonly known as devşirme, a certain number of Christian boys, mainly from the Balkans and Anatolia, were periodically conscripted before they reached adolescence and were brought up as Muslims.[155]

Under the millet system, non-Muslim people were considered subjects of the Empire, but were not subject to the Muslim faith or Muslim law. The Orthodox millet, for instance, was still officially legally subject to Justinian's Code, which had been in effect in the Byzantine Empire for 900 years. Also, as the largest group of non-Muslim subjects (or zimmi) of the Islamic Ottoman state, the Orthodox millet was granted a number of special privileges in the fields of politics and commerce, and had to pay higher taxes than Muslim subjects.[156][157]

Similar millets were established for the Ottoman Jewish community, who were under the authority of the Haham Başı or Ottoman Chief rabbi; the Armenian Orthodox community, who were under the authority of a head bishop; and a number of other religious communities as well. The millet system of Islamic law has been called an early example of pre-modern religious pluralism.[158]


Yeni Cami and Eminönü bazaar, Constantinople, circa 1895

The Ottomans absorbed some of the traditions, art and institutions of cultures in the regions they conquered, and added new dimensions to them. Numerous traditions and cultural traits of previous empires (in fields such as architecture, cuisine, music, leisure and government) were adopted by the Ottoman Turks, who elaborated them into new forms, which resulted in a new and distinctively Ottoman cultural identity. Intercultural marriages also played their part in creating the characteristic Ottoman elite culture. When compared to the Turkish folk culture, the influence of these new cultures in creating the culture of the Ottoman elite was clear.

Slavery was a part of Ottoman society.[159] Female slaves were still sold in the Empire as late as 1908.[160] During the 19th century the Empire came under pressure from Western European countries to outlaw the practice. Policies developed by various Sultans throughout the 19th century attempted to curtail the slave trade but, since slavery did have centuries of religious backing and sanction, they never directly abolished the institution outright.[citation needed]

Plague remained a major event in Ottoman society until the second quarter of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750, 37 larger and smaller plague epidemics were recorded in Istanbul, and 31 between 1751 and 1801.[161]


Main article: Ottoman literature
Evliya Celebi, 17th century adventurer and travel writer

The two primary streams of Ottoman written literature are poetry and prose. Poetry was by far the dominant stream. Until the 19th century, Ottoman prose did not contain any examples of fiction: there were no counterparts to, for instance, the European romance, short story, or novel. Analogue genres did exist, though, in both Turkish folk literature and in Divan poetry.

Ottoman Divan poetry was a highly ritualized and symbolic art form. From the Persian poetry that largely inspired it, it inherited a wealth of symbols whose meanings and interrelationships—both of similitude (مراعات نظير mura'ât-i nazîr / تناسب tenâsüb) and opposition (تضاد tezâd) were more or less prescribed. Divan poetry was composed through the constant juxtaposition of many such images within a strict metrical framework, thus allowing numerous potential meanings to emerge. The vast majority of Divan poetry was lyric in nature: either gazels (which make up the greatest part of the repertoire of the tradition), or kasîdes. There were, however, other common genres, most particularly the mesnevî, a kind of verse romance and thus a variety of narrative poetry; the two most notable examples of this form are the Leyli and Majnun of Fuzûlî and the Hüsn ü Aşk of Şeyh Gâlib.

Ahmet Nedîm Efendi, one of the most celebrated Ottoman poets

Until the 19th century, Ottoman prose did not develop to the extent that contemporary Divan poetry did. A large part of the reason for this was that much prose was expected to adhere to the rules of sec (سجع, also transliterated as seci), or rhymed prose,[162] a type of writing descended from the Arabic saj' and which prescribed that between each adjective and noun in a string of words, such as a sentence, there must be a rhyme. Nevertheless, there was a tradition of prose in the literature of the time, though exclusively non-fictional in nature. One apparent exception was Muhayyelât ("Fancies") by Giritli Ali Aziz Efendi, a collection of stories of the fantastic written in 1796, though not published until 1867.

Due to historically close ties with France, French literature came to constitute the major Western influence on Ottoman literature throughout the latter half of the 19th century. As a result, many of the same movements prevalent in France during this period also had their Ottoman equivalents: in the developing Ottoman prose tradition, for instance, the influence of Romanticism can be seen during the Tanzimat period, and that of the Realist and Naturalist movements in subsequent periods; in the poetic tradition, on the other hand, it was the influence of the Symbolist and Parnassian movements that became paramount.

Many of the writers in the Tanzimat period wrote in several different genres simultaneously: for instance, the poet Namik Kemal also wrote the important 1876 novel İntibâh ("Awakening"), while the journalist İbrahim Şinasi is noted for writing, in 1860, the first modern Turkish play, the one-act comedy "Şair Evlenmesi" ("The Poet's Marriage"). An earlier play, a farce entitled "Vakâyi'-i 'Acibe ve Havâdis-i Garibe-yi Kefşger Ahmed" ("The Strange Events and Bizarre Occurrences of the Cobbler Ahmed"), dates from the beginning of the 19th century, but there remains some doubt about its authenticity. In a similar vein, the novelist Ahmed Midhat Efendi wrote important novels in each of the major movements: Romanticism (Hasan Mellâh yâhud Sırr İçinde Esrâr, 1873; "Hasan the Sailor, or The Mystery Within the Mystery"), Realism (Henüz On Yedi Yaşında, 1881; "Just Seventeen Years Old"), and Naturalism (Müşâhedât, 1891; "Observations"). This diversity was, in part, due to the Tanzimat writers' wish to disseminate as much of the new literature as possible, in the hopes that it would contribute to a revitalization of Ottoman social structures.[163]


Main article: Ottoman architecture
Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, completed in 1577 by Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect of the classical period of Ottoman architecture.

Ottoman architecture was influenced by Persian, Byzantine Greek and Islamic architectures. During the Rise period the early or first Ottoman architecture period, Ottoman art was in search of new ideas. The growth period of the Empire become the classical period of architecture, when Ottoman art was at its most confident. During the years of the Stagnation period, Ottoman architecture moved away from this style, however.

During the Tulip Era, it was under the influence of the highly ornamented styles of Western Europe; Baroque, Rococo, Empire and other styles intermingled. Concepts of Ottoman architecture mainly circle the mosque. The mosque was integral to society, city planning and communal life. Besides the mosque, it is also possible to find good examples of Ottoman architecture in soup kitchens, theological schools, hospitals, Turkish baths and tombs.

Examples of Ottoman architecture of the classical period, besides Istanbul and Edirne, can also be seen in Egypt, Eritrea, Tunisia, Algiers, the Balkans and Romania, where mosques, bridges, fountains and schools were built. The art of Ottoman decoration developed with a multitude of influences due to the wide ethnic range of the Ottoman Empire. The greatest of the court artists enriched the Ottoman Empire with many pluralistic artistic influences: such as mixing traditional Byzantine art with elements of Chinese art.[164]

Decorative arts[edit]

Painting by Abdulcelil Levni, early 18th century

The tradition of Ottoman miniatures, painted to illustrate manuscripts or used in dedicated albums, was heavily influenced by the Persian art form, though it also included elements of the Byzantine tradition of illumination and painting.[citation needed] A Greek academy of painters, the Nakkashane-i-Rum was established in the Topkapi Palace in the 15th century, while early in the following century a similar Persian academy, the Nakkashane-i-Irani, was added.

Ottoman illumination covers non-figurative painted or drawn decorative art in books or on sheets in muraqqa or albums, as opposed to the figurative images of the Ottoman miniature. It was a part of the Ottoman Book Arts together with the Ottoman miniature (taswir), calligraphy (hat), Islamic calligraphy, bookbinding (cilt) and paper marbling (ebru). In the Ottoman Empire, illuminated and illustrated manuscripts were commissioned by the Sultan or the administrators of the court. In Topkapi Palace, these manuscripts were created by the artists working in Nakkashane, the atelier of the miniature and illumination artists. Both religious and non-religious books could be illuminated. Also sheets for albums levha consisted of illuminated calligraphy (hat) of tughra, religious texts, verses from poems or proverbs, and purely decorative drawings.

The art of carpet weaving was particularly significant in the Ottoman Empire, carpets having an immense importance both as decorative furnishings, rich in religious and other symbolism, and as a practical consideration, as it was customary to remove one's shoes in living quarters.[165] The weaving of such carpets originated in the nomadic cultures of central Asia (carpets being an easily transportable form of furnishing), and was eventually spread to the settled societies of Anatolia. Turks used carpets, rugs and kilims not just on the floors of a room, but also as a hanging on walls and doorways, where they provided additional insulation. They were also commonly donated to mosques, which often amassed large collections of them.[166]

Performing arts[edit]

Miniature from "Surname-i Vehbi" showing the Mehteran, the music band of the Janissaries.

Ottoman classical music was an important part of the education of the Ottoman elite, a number of the Ottoman sultans were accomplished musicians and composers themselves, such as Selim III, whose compositions are often still performed today. Ottoman classical music arose largely from a confluence of Byzantine music, Armenian music, Arabic music, and Persian music. Compositionally, it is organised around rhythmic units called usul, which are somewhat similar to meter in Western music, and melodic units called makam, which bear some resemblance to Western musical modes.

The shadow play Karagöz and Hacivat was widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire

The instruments used are a mixture of Anatolian and Central Asian instruments (the saz, the bağlama, the kemence), other Middle Eastern instruments (the ud, the tanbur, the kanun, the ney), and—later in the tradition—Western instruments (the violin and the piano). Because of a geographic and cultural divide between the capital and other areas, two broadly distinct styles of music arose in the Ottoman Empire: Ottoman classical music, and folk music. In the provinces, several different kinds of folk music were created. The most dominant regions with their distinguished musical styles are: Balkan-Thracian Türküs, North-Eastern (Laz) Türküs, Aegean Türküs, Central Anatolian Türküs, Eastern Anatolian Türküs, and Caucasian Türküs. Some of the distinctive styles were: Janissary Music, Roma music, Belly dance, Turkish folk music.

The traditional shadow play called Karagöz and Hacivat was widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire and featured characters representing all of the major ethnic and social groups in that culture.[167][168] It was performed by a single puppet master, who voiced all of the characters, and accompanied by tambourine (def). Its origins are obscure, deriving perhaps from an older Egyptian tradition, or possibly from an Asian source.


Main article: Ottoman cuisine
Turkish women baking bread, 1790

Ottoman cuisine refers to the cuisine of the capital, Istanbul, and the regional capital cities, where the melting pot of cultures created a common cuisine that most of the population regardless of ethnicity shared. This diverse cuisine was honed in the Imperial Palace's kitchens by chefs brought from certain parts of the Empire to create and experiment with different ingredients. The creations of the Ottoman Palace's kitchens filtered to the population, for instance through Ramadan events, and through the cooking at the Yalıs of the Pashas, and from there on spread to the rest of the population.

Much of the cuisine of former Ottoman territories today is descended from a shared Ottoman cuisine, especially Turkish cuisine, and including Greek cuisine, Balkan cuisine, Armenian cuisine, and Middle Eastern cuisine.[169] Many common dishes in the region, descendants of the once-common Ottoman cuisine, include yogurt, döner kebab/gyro/shawarma, cacık/tzatziki, ayran, pita bread, feta cheese, baklava, lahmacun, moussaka, yuvarlak, köfte/keftés/kofta, börek/boureki, rakı/rakia/tsipouro/tsikoudia, meze, dolma, sarma, rice pilaf, Turkish coffee, sujuk, kashk, keşkek, manti, lavash, kanafeh, and more.

Science and technology[edit]

Over the course of Ottoman history, the Ottomans managed to build a large collection of libraries complete with translations of books from other cultures, as well as original manuscripts.[33] A great part of this desire for local and foreign manuscripts arose in the 15th Century. Sultan Mehmet II ordered Georgios Amiroutzes, a Greek scholar from Trabzon, to translate and make available to Ottoman educational institutions the geography book of Ptolemy. Another example is Ali Qushji -an astronomer, mathematician and physicist originally from Samarkand- who became a professor in two madrasas, and influenced Ottoman circles as a result of his writings and the activities of his students, even though he only spent two or three years before his death in Istanbul.[170]

Taqi al-Din built the Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in 1577, where he carried out astronomical observations until 1580. He calculated the eccentricity of the Sun's orbit and the annual motion of the apogee.[171] His observatory was destroyed in 1580[172] due to the rise of a clerical faction which opposed or at least was indifferent to science.[173]

In 1660 the Ottoman scholar Ibrahim Efendi al-Zigetvari Tezkireci translated Noël Duret's French astronomical work (written in 1637) into Arabic.[174]

Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu was the author of the first surgical atlas and the last major medical encyclopedia from the Islamic world. Though his work was largely based on Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi's Al-Tasrif, Sabuncuoğlu introduced many innovations of his own. Female surgeons were also illustrated for the first time.[175]

An example of a watch which measured time in minutes was created by an Ottoman watchmaker, Meshur Sheyh Dede, in 1702.[176]

In the 19th century, Ishak Efendi is credited with introducing the then current Western scientific ideas and developments to the Ottoman and wider Muslim world, as well as the invention of a suitable Turkish and Arabic scientific terminology, through his translations of Western works.


Ottoman wrestlers in the gardens of Topkapı Palace, 19th century, V&A Gallery, London, United Kingdom

The main sports Ottomans were engaged in were Turkish Wrestling, hunting, Turkish archery, horseback riding, Equestrian javelin throw, arm wrestling, and swimming. European model sports clubs were formed with the spreading popularity of football matches in 19th century Constantinople. The leading clubs, according to timeline, were Beşiktaş Gymnastics Club (1903), Galatasaray Sports Club (1905) and Fenerbahçe Sports Club (1907)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Ottoman Turkish rendition of the city's name was Kostantiniyye (قسطنطينيه), i.e. replacing the suffix -polis with the Arabic nisba. The city's official name was changed to Istanbul by the Republican Turkish government, on March 28, 1930.
  2. ^ Mehmed VI, the last Sultan, was expelled from Constantinople on 17 November 1922.
  3. ^ The Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920) afforded a small existence to the Ottoman Empire. On 1 November 1922, the Grand National Assembly (GNAT) abolished the sultanate and declared that all the deeds of the Ottoman regime in Istanbul were null and void as of 16 March 1920, the date of the occupation of Constantinople under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. The international recognition of the GNAT and the Government of Ankara was achieved through the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on 24 July 1923. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey promulgated the "Republic" on 29 October 1923, which ended the Ottoman Empire in history.
  4. ^ The empire also temporarily gained authority over distant overseas lands through declarations of allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan and Caliph, such as the declaration by the Sultan of Aceh in 1565, or through temporary acquisitions of islands such as Lanzarote in the Atlantic Ocean in 1585, Turkish Navy Official Website: "Atlantik'te Türk Denizciliği"
  5. ^ Starting from the 19th century, the name Osmanlı Devleti (Ottoman State) became popular among the Ottoman citizens and officials. Before the 1800s, the name Osmanlı Devleti was not officially used, but records show this name was used informally by Ottoman citizens.
  6. ^ A lock-hold on trade between western Europe and Asia is often cited as a primary motivation for Isabella I of Castile to fund Christopher Columbus's westward journey to find a sailing route to Asia and, more generally, for European seafaring nations to explore alternative trade routes (e.g. K. D. Madan, Life and travels of Vasco Da Gama (1998), 9; I. Stavans, Imagining Columbus: the literary voyage (2001), 5; W.B. Wheeler and S. Becker, Discovering the American Past. A Look at the Evidence: to 1877 (2006), 105). This traditional viewpoint has been attacked as unfounded in an influential article by A.H. Lybyer ("The Ottoman Turks and the Routes of Oriental Trade", English Historical Review, 120 (1915), 577–588), who sees the rise of Ottoman power and the beginnings of Portuguese and Spanish explorations as unrelated events. His view has not been universally accepted (cf. K.M. Setton, The Papacy and the Levant (1204–1571), Vol. 2: The Fifteenth Century (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 127) (1978), 335).


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Further reading[edit]

  • Barkey, Karen. Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective. (2008) 357pp, excerpt and text search
  • Davison, Roderic H. Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856–1876 (New York: Gordian Press, 1973)
  • Deringil, Selim. The well-protected domains: ideology and the legitimation of power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1909 (London: IB Tauris, 1998)
  • Findley, Carter V. Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte, 1789–1922 (Princeton University Press, 1980)
  • Faroqhi, Suraiya N. The Cambridge History of Turkey (Volume 3, 2006) excerpt and text search, essays by scholars
  • Faroqhi, Suraiya N. and Kate Fleet, eds. The Cambridge History of Turkey (Volume 2 2012) essays by scholars
  • Finkel, Caroline. Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1923. John Murray, 2005. ISBN 0-7195-5513-2. [1], excerpt and text search
  • Fleet, Kate, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey (Volume 1, 2009) excerpt and text search, essays by scholars
  • Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1650: The Structure of Power. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-333-61386-4.
  • Inalcik, Halil and Quataert, Donald, ed. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1914. 1995. 1026 pp.
  • Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1650: The Structure of Power (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) ISBN 0-333-61386-4.
  • Inalcik, Halil. The Ottoman Empire: 1300–1600 (Hachette UK, 2013)
  • Inalcik, Halil, and Quataert, Donald, ed. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1914. 1995. 1026 pp.
  • Itzkowitz, Norman. Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition, University of Chicago Press, 1980) ISBN 0-226-38806-9
  • Kasaba, Reşat, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey (vol 4 2008) excerpt and text search vol 4 comprehensive coverage by scholars of 20th century
  • Kinross, Patrick Balfour Baron, and John Patrick Douglas Balfour Kinross. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (Morrow, 1977)
  • McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923 1997, online edition
  • McMeekin, Sean. The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power (2010)
  • Nicolle, David. Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300–1774 (Osprey Publishing, 1983)
  • Palmer, Alan.. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1992) 306 p., maps. ISBN 0-87131-754-0
  • Pamuk, Sevket. A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire. 1999. 276 pp.
  • Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 (2005), standard scholarly survey excerpt and text search ISBN 0-521-54782-2.
  • Shaw, Stanford J., and Ezel Kural Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 1, 1977.
  • Sicker, Martin. The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna (Praeger Publishers, 2000) online
  • Sicker, Martin. The Islamic World in Decline: From the Treaty of Karlowitz to the Disintegration of the Ottoman Empire (Praeger, 2001) online
  • Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. (2003). 399 pp.
  • Stone, Norman "Turkey in the Russian Mirror" pages 86–100 from Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy edited by Mark & Ljubica Erickson, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 2004 ISBN 0-297-84913-1.
  • Uyar, Mesut; Erickson, Edward (2009). A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk. ISBN 978-0-275-98876-0. 
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

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