A. Expansion and Frontiers
1. Osman established the Ottoman Empire in northwestern Anatolia in
1300. He and his successors consolidated control over Anatolia, fought
Christian enemies in Greece and in the Balkans, captured Serbia and the
Byzantine capital of Constantinople, and established a general border
2. Egypt and Syria were added to the empire in 1516–1517, and the
major port cities of Algeria and Tunis voluntarily joined the Ottoman
Empire in the early sixteenth century. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent
(r. 1520–1566) conquered Belgrade (1521) and Rhodes (1522) and laid
siege to Vienna (1529), but withdrew with the onset of winter.
3. The Ottoman Empire fought with Venice for two centuries as it
attempted to exert its control over the Mediterranean. The Ottomans
forced the Venetians to pay tribute but continued to allow them to
4. Muslim merchants in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean requested Ottoman
naval support against the Portuguese. The Ottomans responded vigorously
to Portuguese threats against nearby ports such as Aden, but saw no
reason to commit much effort to the defense of non-Ottoman Muslim
merchants in the Indian Ocean.
B. Central Institutions
1. The original Ottoman military forces of mounted warriors armed
with bows were supplemented in the late fourteenth century when the
Ottomans formed captured Balkan Christian men into a force called the
"new troops" (Janissaries), who fought on foot and were armed with guns.
In the early fifteenth century the Ottomans began to recruit men for the
Janissaries and for positions in the bureaucracy through the system
called devshirme—a levy on male Christian children.
2. The Ottoman Empire was a cosmopolitan society in which the Osmanli-speaking,
tax-exempt military class (askeri) served the sultan as soldiers
and bureaucrats. The common people—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—were
referred to as the raya (flock of sheep).
3. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Ottoman land forces
were powerful enough to defeat the Safavids, but the Ottomans were
defeated at sea by combined Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto in
1571. The Turkish cavalrymen were paid in land grants, while the
Janissaries were paid from the central treasury.
4. In the view of the Ottomans, the sultan supplied justice and
defense for the common people (the raya), while the raya
supported the sultan and his military through their taxes. In practice,
the common people had little direct contact with the Ottoman government,
being ruled by local notables and by their religious leaders (Muslim,
Christian, or Jewish).
C. Crisis of the Military State, 1585–1650
1. The increasing importance and expense of firearms meant that the
size and cost of the Janissaries increased over time while the
importance of the landholding Turkish cavalry (who disdained firearms)
decreased. At the same time, New World silver brought inflation and
undermined the purchasing power of the fixed tax income of the
cavalrymen and the fixed stipends of students and professors at the
2. Financial deterioration and the use of short-term mercenary
soldiers brought a wave of rebellions and banditry to Anatolia. The
Janissaries began to marry, went into business, and enrolled their sons
in the Janissary corps, which grew in number but declined in military
D. Economic Change and Growing Weakness, 1650–1750
1. The period of crisis led to significant changes in Ottoman
institutions. The sultan now lived a secluded life in his palace, the
affairs of government were in the hands of chief administrators, the
devshirme had been discontinued, and the Janissaries had become a
politically powerful hereditary elite who spent more time on crafts and
trade than on military training.
2. In the rural areas, the system of land grants in return for
military service had been replaced by a system of tax farming. Rural
administration came to depend on powerful provincial governors and
wealthy tax farmers.
3. In the context of disorder and decline formerly peripheral places
like Izmir flourished as Ottoman control over trade declined and
European merchants came to purchase Iranian silk and local agricultural
products. This growing trade brought the agricultural economies of
western Anatolia, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean coast into the
European commercial network.
4. By the middle of the eighteenth century it was clear that the
Ottoman Empire was in economic and military decline. Europeans dominated
Ottoman import and export trade by sea, but they did not control
strategic ports or establish colonial settlements on Ottoman territory.
5. During the "Tulip Period" (1718–1730), the Ottoman ruling class
enjoyed European luxury goods and replicated the Dutch tulip mania of
the sixteenth century. In 1730, the Patrona Halil rebellion indicated
the weakness of the central state; provincial elites took advantage of
this weakness to increase their power and their wealth.