The Ottoman Empire was one of the most influential and longest-lasting dynasties in global history. With Islam as the dominant religious ideology, it ran large territories in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Northern areas of Africa for more than six centuries. The leader of the empire, the Sultan, was given the highest power, privileges, and political authority over people. Considering the influence that the empire had on the global political arena, European rulers generally perceived it as a threat, while historians point out that the Ottoman Empire was instrumental in preserving significant regional stability and security. In addition, the empire played an important role in arts achievement, science, culture, religion, and trade.
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The Ottoman Empire was established by Osman I, the leader of the Anatolia Turkish tribes, around 1299. The Ottoman Turks created a formal government and expanded their territories under the rule of Osman I, Orhan, Murad I, and Bayezid I. In 1453, Mehmed II the Conqueror was responsible for leading his army to seize the ancient city of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire’s capital, which put an end to its millennium-long reign. The city was renamed to Istanbul and made the new center of the Ottoman Empire. Its peak was between 1520 and 1566, which marked the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. During the period, the empire had great power, stability, and wealth. Under Suleiman’s rule, the empire had a uniform legal system and encouraged the development of different forms of literature and arts. Besides, with Islam being a central ideology and faith, the empire’s ruler was also considered a religious leader. Throughout Suleiman’s time on the throne, the Ottoman Empire expanded and captured Eastern European areas. By growing continuously, at its peak, the empire included Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, some parts of Arabia, and a large part of the coastal strip in North Africa.
The Ottoman leaders, who were highly dedicated to military expansion, also considered it essential to carefully use currency and emphasize manufacturing and industry as integral parts of the wealth-power-wealth equation. Trade has been the fundamental component of the Ottoman Empire’s economy; as it expanded, the rulers had control of crucial trade routes. The capturing of Constantinople was a critical event that served as the key to the economic development of the empire through trade. Along with victory, the Ottoman rulers received great control over the Silk Road, which connected Asia with European countries. In addition, it is reported that the Ottoman Empire imposed takes on a trade through the Silk Road.
While Europeans could trade through Constantinople and other regions in the Empire, they had to pay high taxes (Cosgel, 2004). The tax tariff system relied on the religious affiliation of parties involved in the trade. For example, under Selim I, Muslims had to pay 2% while foreigners were imposed a 5% tax (Cosgel, 2004). Such an approach to trade was fundamental for boosting the financial security of the empire, which allowed it to extend its leverage and invest in other parts of the economy. Notably, the Ottoman Empire invested significantly in land and sea transport as a way of boosting the quality of its infrastructure. Depending on the efficacy of the empire’s administration, the quality of infrastructure changed.
It is notable that in the sense of growth, the Ottoman Empire welcomed the cultural development of the country. The achievements in art, science, and medicine were prominent aspects of the empire’s development and expansion. Throughout the empire, Istanbul and other large cities were recognized as artistic hubs, especially during Suleiman’s reign. Some of the most popular art forms included calligraphy, painting, poetry, textiles, ceramics, music, and carpet weaving. While developments occurred in every art field, those in calligraphy, textiles, manuscript painting, and ceramics were particularly notable (Yalman, 2002). The renowned artists were the calligrapher Ahmad Karahisari and painters Kara Memi and Shah Quli (Yalman, 2002). In terms of architecture, the most notable achievements of the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire included public buildings designed by Sinan, chief of the Corps of Royal Architects. Sinan is mainly remembered for the two major commissions, such as the Istanbul Mosque complexes of Süleymaniye and the later Selimiye in Edirne (Yalman, 2002). Besides the construction of mosques and other sites, such as schools, markets, shops, baths, hospices, and others, Suleiman also commissioned repairs and additions to major historical monuments.
Islam played a central part in the development of the Ottoman Empire, with authority being grounded on religious principles. The first warrior-sultans expanded their kingdom in the name of Islam while Sultans claimed the caliph title or the successor of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Alongside the sultans, religious scholars, who are called ulama, played a vital role in running the country (History.com Editors, 2020). This does not entail that the entire population was completely Muslim. In some parts of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the Balkan Peninsula, Christians were the majority of the population, and even in areas where Muslims represented the majority, there were also non-Muslim inhabitants. It is notable that the rulers of the empire never tried to force Islam onto the population. Islam was the dominant religion that was reflected in the political structure. This meant that the high-standing officials had to be Muslim to participate in governmental affairs, with their authority being central to the regulation of the economy.
Beginning in the 1600s, the Ottoman Empire started losing its economic and military dominance in Europe (History.com Editors, 2020). During this period, Europe as a region started strengthening rapidly due to the Renaissance and the start of the Industrial Revolution, which gave it tremendous relevance (History.com Editors, 2020). In addition, the empire also experienced other factors such as unstable leadership and the challenges of competing economically with India and America, which led to its subsequent weakening. Notably, in 1683, the Ottoman Turks were defeated at the Battle of Vienna, with the defeat contributing to the declining status of the empire. Over the next century, the empire started to lose critical territories, further weakening. After a revolt, Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, while in 1878, the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria was declared (History.com Editors, 2020). The final fall of the Empire was linked to its entering First World War siding with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Officially it ended in 1922 together with the elimination of the title of Ottoman Sultan. Therefore, the Ottoman Empire lost its territories and transformed into the independent Republic of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who facilitated the reformation, secularization, and westernization of the country.
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Cosgel, M. M. (2004). Efficiency and continuity in public finance: The Ottoman system of taxation. Review of Social Economy, 33(3), 329-341.
History.com Editors. (2020). Ottoman Empire. Web.
Yalman, S. (2002). The age of Süleyman “the Magnificent. Web.