The Ottoman Empire (sometimes referred to in diplomatic circles as the "Sublime Porte" or simply as "the Porte") was a Turkish state that comprised Turkey, part of the Middle East, North Africa and south-eastern Europe in the 14th to 20th centuries, established by the Seljuq Turkish tribe of Söğüt in western Anatolia. The Ottoman Empire was among the world's most powerful polities in the 16th and 17th centuries when the countries of Europe felt threatened by its steady advances through the Balkans.

Table of contents
1 History
2 See Also
3 External Links


The Ottoman Empire was founded by Osman I (in Arabic Uthmān, hence the name Ottoman Empire). As sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, the state grew into a mighty empire. The Empire reached its apex under Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century when it stretched from the Persian Gulf in the east to Hungary in the northwest; and from Egypt in the south to the Caucasus in the north. After its defeat at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, however, the empire began a slow decline, culminating in the defeat of the empire by the Allies in World War I.


In the late 13th century the Seljuq empire had collapsed and Anatolia was divided into hundreds of small states. One of these states was Söğüt, a small tribe settled in river valley of Sakarya. The founder and bey (chief) of the tribe was Ertoğrül, the father of Osman I. When Ertoğrül died in 1299 (or 1281 (?)) Osman became the leader of the tribe.

Early Expansion

In 1299 the Byzantine city Bilecik fell to Osman I. It was but the first of many cities and villages to fall into the hands of the turks during the 1300s and 1310s. Osman also conquered some of the nearby turkish emirates and tribes. During the late 1310s Osman I laid siege to several important Byzantine forts. Yenişehir was captured and with it as a base the turks could lay siege to Bursa and Nicaea, the largest Byzantine cities in Anatolia. Bursa fell in 1324, just before Osman's death.

The son of Osman, Orhan I, conquered Nicaea in 1331 and Nicomedia in 1337 and established the capitol in Bursa. During Orhan's reign the empire was organized as a state with new currency, government and a modernized army. He married Theodora, the daughter of Byzantine prince John VI Cantacuzenus. In 1346 Orhan openly supported John VI in the overthrowing of the emperor John V Palaeologus. When John VI became co-emperor (1347-1354) he allowed Orhan to raid the peninsula of Gallipoli which gained the Ottomans their first stronghold in Europe.

Conquests of Murad I

Orhan died in 1360 and left a growing empire to his son and successor, Murad I. Murad advanced the reformation of the state and founded such entities as the divan (the government and advisors), the beylerbey (great chief), the kaziasker (military judge) and the defterdar (financial minister). He also appointed a grand visir like the arabic rulers of Middle East. He also founded the Janissary corps.

In the early 1360s the ottoman armies marched into Thrace through Gallipoli and captured Adrianople (Edirne) and Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and forcing the Byzantines to pay tribute. In 1366 the count Amadeus VI of Savoy (cousin to John V Cantacuzenus, the Byzantine emperor) initiated a minor crusade to aid the Byzantines. The count drove away the Turks from all of Europe except Gallipoli. The very next year Murad attacked anew and regained most of Thrace, including Adrianople.

During the early 1370s Murad launched his forces deeper into Europe. At the river Maritsa they encoutered a 70,000 man strong Serbian-Bulgarian army under the Serbian king Vukasin. The ottoman army was smaller, but due to superior tactics the enemy was defeated and king Vukasin killed. Now that the Serbian coalition was weakened by such a blow Murad was quick to advance further into Bulgaria and capture the cities of Dráma, Kavála and Seres (Serrái).

In 1383 Murad declared himself sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Shortly thereafter he began a new campaign in Europe. Sofia, the Bulgarian capitol, fell in 1385 and the city of Niš the year after. The Ottoman Conquest halted in 1387 when the Serbs won the battle of Plocnik but two years later Murad marched anew into the west. The Ottomans won a great victory over the Serbs in the Battle of Kosovo but the sultan himself was killed by the assassin Miloš Kobilic. (Though some have it that the Ottomans were defeated at Nicopolis.)

Beyazid the Lightning Bolt

Beyazid I succeeded to the sultanship upon the assassination of his father Murad. In a rage over the attack, he ordered all Serbian captives killed; Beyazid became known as Yildirim, the lightning bolt, for his temperament.

He conquered most of Bulgaria and northern Greece in 1389-1395 and laid siege on Constantinople in 1391-1398. On September 25, 1396 at Nicopolis, his forces met the Venetian-Hungarian army led by king Sigismund of Hungary. The Ottomans won and signed a peace treaty with Hungary. Beyazid then turned his attention to the east, conquering the Turkish emirate of Karaman in 1397.

Around 1400 Timur Lenk entered the Middle East. Timur Lenk pillaged a few villages in eastern Anatolia and the conflict with the Ottoman Empire was a fact. In August, 1400 Timur and his horde burned the town of Sivas to the ground and advanced into the mainland. The war culminated at the Battle of Ankara in July, 1402. Timur won, captured Beyazid, and was free to raid and pillage Anatolia. Beyazid died in captivity in 1403.

Interregnum and Restoration

After the defeat at Ankara followed a time of total chaos in the Empire. Mongols roamed free in Anatolia and the political power of the sultan was broken. Beyazid was captured and his remaining sons, Suleiman Çelebi, İsa Çelebi, Mehmed Çelebi, and Mûsa fought each other in what became known as the Ottoman Interregnum.

When Mehmed Çelebi stood as victor in 1413 he crowned himself in Edirne (Adrianople) as Mehmed I. His was the duty to restore the Ottoman Empire to its former glory. The Empire had suffered hard from the Interregnum; the Mongols where still at large in the east, even though Timur Lenk had died in 1405; many of the Christian kingdoms of the Balkans had broken free of Ottoman control; and the land, especially Anatolia, had suffered hard from the war.

During his reign, Mehmed moved the capitol from Bursa to Adrianople (Edirne), reinforced control over Bulgaria and Serbia, drove the Mongols from Anatolia and assaulted Albania, Cilicia, the Turkish emirate of Candar and Byzantine controlled areas in southern Greece.

The Wars of Murad II

When Mehmed died in 1421, one of his sons, Murad, became sultan. Murad spent his early years on the throne disposing off rivals and rebellions, most notably the revolts of the Serbs. In 1423 he paid a short visit to Constantinople, laid siege on it for a couple of months and forced the Byzantines to pay additional tribute.

In 1423 the first regular war against Venice began. During Murad's siege of Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor's control over the Greek city-states was weakened. On the request of the inhabitants, Venetian troops took control of the city of Salonika (Thessaloniki). But the Ottoman army that laid siege to the city knew nothing of the transfer of power, and so several Venecian soldiers were killed. Murad II had been on peaceful terms with Venice for some time, so the Venetians deemed the act irresponsible and declared full war.

Murad acted swift, raised the siege of Constantinople and sent his armies to Salonika. The Venetians had gained reinforcements by sea but when the Ottomans stormed the city the outcome was given and the Venetians fled to their ships. But when the Turks entered and plundered the city the Venetian fleet suddenly started bombarding the city from the sea-side. The Ottomans fled and the fleet was able to hold off the Ottomans until new Venetian reinforcements could arrive to recapture the city. The outcome of the Battle of Salonika was a setback for Murad and when Serbia and Hungary allied themselves with Venice, the young sultan was involved in one of the Ottoman Empire's worst conflicts ever, with all odds against it. Pope Martin V encouraged other Christian states to join the war against the Ottomans, though only Austria ever sent any troops to the Balkans.

The war in the Balkans began as the Ottoman army moved to recapture Wallachia, which the Ottomans had lost to Mircea cel Batran during the Interregnum and that now was an Hungarian vassal state. As the Ottoman army entered Wallachia, the Serbs started attacking Bulgaria and, at the same time, urged by the Pope, the Anatolian emirate of Karaman attacked the Empire from the back. Murad had to split his army. The main force went to defend Sofia and the reserves had to be called to Anatolia. The remaining troops in Wallachia were crushed by the Hungarian army that was now moving south into Bulgaria where the Serbian and Ottoman armies battled each other. The Serbs were defeated and the Ottomans turned to face the Hungarians who fled back into Wallachia when they realized they were unable to attack the Ottomans from the back. Murad fortified his borders against Serbia and Hungaria but did not try to retake Wallachia, instead he sent his armies to Anatolia where they defeated Karaman in 1428.

In 1430 a large Ottoman fleet attacked Salonika by surprise. The Venetians signed a peace treaty in 1432. The treaty gave the Ottomans the city of Salonika and the surrounding land. The war between Serbia and Hungaria and the Ottoman Empire had come to a standstill in 1441 when the Holy Roman Empire, Poland, Albania, and the emirates Candar and Karaman (in violation of the peace treaty) intervened against the Ottomans. Niš and Sofia fell to the Christians in 1443 and the year after the Empire suffered a major defeat in the Battle of Jalowaz. July 12, 1444 Murad signed a treaty that officially gave Wallachia and the Bulgarian province of Varna to Hungary, western Bulgaria (including Sofia) to Serbia and forced Murad to abdicate in favor of his twelve-year-old son Mehmed. Later the same year the Christians violated the peace treaty and attacked anew. In November 11, 1444, Murad defeated the Polish-Hungarian army of Janos Hunyadi at the Battle of Varna.

Murad was reinstated with the help of the Janissaries in 1446. Another peace treaty was signed in 1448 giving the Empire Wallachia and Bulgaria and a part of Albania. After the Balkan front was secured, Murad turned east and defeated Timur Lenk's son, Shah Rokh, and the emirates of Candar and Karamn in Anatolia. He died in the winter 1450-1451 in Edirne. Some have it that he was wounded in a battle against Skanderbeg's Albanian guerilla.

Mehmed the Conqueror

Many doubted the young Mehmed II when he became sultan (again) following his father's death. But by conquering and annexing the emirate of Karaman (May-June, 1451) and by renewing the peace treaties with Venice (September 10) and Hungary (November 20) he proved his skills both on the military and the political front and was soon accepted by the noble class of the Ottoman court. Although, when he in 1452 proposed to attack Constantinople most of the divan, and especially the Grand Vizier, Kandarli Halil, was against it and critized the sultan for being too rash and overconfident in his abilities.

On April 15, 1452, Mehmed ordered the construction of a castle on the shore of the Bosphorus. It was completed on August 31 and was named the Rumeli Hiskari (the European Castle). In September, Mehmed began mobilizing his troops, setting up a large camp surrounding the city. On March 3, 1453, he presented the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI with an ultimatum, but the emperor declined to surrender the city. The Siege of Constantinople began on April 6 and lasted for almost three months. On May 29 the city was finally captured. Mehmed had the city rebuilt as his new capital, turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque and constructing the Topkapi Palace in 1462.

When Constantinople was captured and the Byzantine Empire extinguished, Mehmed turned south to Morea (Pelleponessos) where a last Greek kingdom still remained in Christian hands, and west to the Balkans. In 1456 Mehmed laid siege to Belgrade. On August 13 the Janissaries advanced into the city but were ambushed and fled. Mehmed never succeded in taking Belgrade. Mehmed entered Athens in 1460, until then ruled by emperor Constantine's two brothers, Thomas and Demetrios. The following year Mehmed launched a campaign into Anatolia defeating Sinope and Armenia under Uzun Hasan before capturing the Empire of Trebizond August 15, 1461.

(to be continued)


The Ottoman Empire failed to keep up technologically with its European rivals, especially Russia. It suffered a huge naval loss at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. After its defeat at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman Empire began a long decline, culminating in the defeat of the empire by the Allies in World War I. After the great defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna, Prince Eugene of Savoy lead Austrian forces to further victories. By 1699, the whole of Hungary had been conquered from the Ottomans by the Austrians.

Russian Expansionism

Fringe territories were lost to Russia in the north, but more importantly the Empire began to fall behind technologically compared to the west. The outside world was still mostly unaware of the extent of the Empire's decline until the 1820s, when it became clear that the Ottoman armies had no way to put down the Russian backed revolt in southern Greece. The great powers of Europe decided to intervene to give Greece its independence.

Thus Greece became the first independent country created out of a section of the Ottoman Empire. Russian aspirations for a section of the empire and bases on Russia's southern flank provoked British fears over naval domination of the Mediterranean and control of the land route to India.

When in 1853 Russia destroyed the entire Ottoman fleet at Sinop, Britain and France concluded that armed intervention on the side of the Ottomans was the only way to halt a massive Russian expansion, on the grounds that that the Ottoman armies could do nothing to stop a Russian march on Constantinople.

Crimean War

The Crimean War illustrated how modern technology and superior weaponry were the most important part of a modern army, and a part that the Ottoman Empire was sorely lacking. While fighting alongside the British, French, and even the Piedmontese, the Ottomans could see how far they had fallen behind. While the industrial revolution had swept through western Europe, the Ottoman Empire was still relying mainly on medieval technologies. The vast empire had no railroads, and few telegraph lines. It took days before the major naval defeat at Sinope was learned of in the capital. The poor communications made it very difficult for Constantinople to control its provinces. Thus the provinces in the Balkans, Africa, and Asia became almost autonomous. Serbia was now an independent nation in all but name, paying only token tribute to the Sultan. Most of the other provinces also paid only fractions of the tribute required by law. Even the areas under the Sultan's direct control had an outdated and corrupt tax system, drastically depleting revenues. The disorganization and corruption permeating the nation also discouraged trade, hurting both itself and its relations with other nations. Compared to any other European power the Ottoman empire also had virtually no industry, and its raw materials were not being harvested. It is not surprising then that at the mid point of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was at the mercy of the Russians until outside forces intervened.

Things began to change after the Crimean war. The western powers had invested a great deal of resources in the Crimean war and they did not wish to come to the aid of the faltering Empire again. Thus the nation was invaded by British, French, and Austrian businessmen and administrators who came to reform and rebuild the economy. This period known as the Tanzimat saw great changes. During the period after the Crimean war a national bank was created, the tax system was revised and strengthened, the law was altered to emulate the Napoleonic Code, a public education system based on that of the French was created, the Orient Express railroad was constructed, as well other railroads were built that travelled along the coast of Anatolia and into the Balkans. Another change was that Serbia was permanently granted its independent status. This pleased both Austria, who feared a Serbian revolt on its borders, and Russia who long supported the Slavic nation's independence. Other changes began to occur as Europeans for the first time saw the trading opportunity of Turkey. The amount of money entering the nation through trade was soon dramatically increased. As well the government received a great deal of extra money from a uniform tax system with little corruption. The Sultan also managed to get a tighter grip on the provincial beys and increased the tribute they had to pay. Regrettably Abd-ul-Aziz, the Sultan at the time, used much of this money on furnishing and creating great palaces to rival the great ones in England and France, which he had visited. The Empire was undergoing a revolution, throughout Anatolia a new Ottoman nationalism was appearing, and for the first time the Empire had a middle class. It seemed as though it might be possible for the Empire to turn its decline around.

Loss of the Balkans

Then on Friday, May 9, 1873 disaster struck. The Vienna stock market crashed and took with it the economy of Europe. The money and loans from abroad stopped pouring into Constantinople and the government entered a financial crisis. Unable to deal with this the Sultan began to rapidly switch Grand Viziers. Unable to repay foreign loans the empire was forced to default on them, and ask for assistance from Europe. Soon the Sultan could avoid a fetva no longer and he was deposed. Eventually Abd-ul-Hamid II was girded with the sword of power. The monetary and governmental collapse combined with a new threat from Russia began the final stages of the Empire's collapse. Russia had been forced by the Crimean War to give up its ambitions of owning Constantinople and controlling the Bosphorus. Instead it decided to focus on gaining power in the Balkans. The population of much of the Balkans were Slavs, as were the Russians. They also mainly followed the Eastern Orthodox Church, as did the Russians. When new movements in Russia, such as that of the Slavophiles, started to enter the area, it became agitated and prone to revolution. When the government in Constantinople tried to initiate measures to prevent an economic collapse throughout the empire it touched off a revolt in Herzegovina. The revolt in Herzegovina, quickly spread to Bosnia and then Bulgaria. Soon Serbian armies also entered the war against the Turks. These revolts were the first test of the new Ottoman armies. Even though they were not up to western European standards the army fought effectively and brutally. Soon the Balkan rebellions were beginning to falter. In Europe, however, a new problem was developing. The papers of Russia were filled with reports of Turkish soldiers killing thousands of Slavs. Soon more than Russian propaganda was moving southwards and a new Russo-Turkish war had begun.

Despite fighting better than they ever had before the advanced Ottoman armies still were not equal to the Russian forces. This time there was no help from abroad, in truth many European nations supported the Russian war, as long as it did not get too close to Constantinople. Ten and a half months later when the war had ended the age of Ottoman domination over the Balkans was over. The Ottomans had fought well, the new navy of Ironclads had won the battle for the Black Sea, and Russian advances in the Caucasus had been kept minimal. In the Balkans, however, the Russian army, supported by rebels, had pushed the Ottoman army out of Bulgaria, Walachia, Romania, and much of East Rumelia and by the end of the war the artillery firing in Thrace could be heard in Constantinople.

In response to the Russian proximity to the straits the British, against the wishes of the Sultan, intervened in the war. A large task force representing British naval supremacy entered the straits of Marmara and anchored in view of both the royal palace and the Russian army. The British may have saved the Ottoman empire once again, but it ended the rosy relations between the two powers that had endured since the Crimean War. Looking at the prospect of a British entry into the war the Russians decided to settle the dispute. The treaty of San Stephano gave Romania and Montenegro their independence, Serbia and Russia each received extra territory, Austria was given control over Bosnia, and Bulgaria was given almost complete autonomy. The hope of the Sultan was that the other great powers would oppose such a one-sided resolution and a conference would be held to revise it. His desire became reality and in 1878 the Congress of Berlin was held where Germany promised to be an "honest broker" in the treaty's revision. In the new treaty Bulgarian territory was decreased and the war indemnities were cancelled. The conference also again hurt Anglo-Turkish relations by giving the British the island of Cyprus. While annoyed at Disraeli and the British, the Sultan had nothing but praise for Otto von Bismarck who forced many of the major concessions upon Russia. These close Germano-Turkish relations would persist until the empires' very end.

Internal Collapse

The autocratic Sultans of the Ottoman Empire had remained unchanged in centuries, while the rest of the world slowly became more democratic and liberal. The loss of nearly a quarter of the Empire's territory added to the already existing economic problems to make a situation ripe for revolution. The situation was especially dangerous in Constantinople, which contained thousands of refugees fleeing the Balkans. A number of small coups broke out, trying to overthrow the Sultan. None of them were well organized or even remotely successful, but they filled Abd-ul-Hamid II with a paranoia that lead to a self-imposed isolation in the palace of Yildiz. The entire Ottoman Empire was built around the Sultan, but this Sultan never left his palace and would only see a few trusted advisors. Unlike in the other states of Europe, such as Germany, where a weak ruler could be made up for by a powerful Prime Minister, there was no one who could make up for a weak Sultan. While in his self-imposed exile the Sultan's Empire continued to fall apart. Egypt had long been only loosely connected to the Ottoman Empire and in 1882 the British incorporated it into their empire to protect the Suez canal. In 1896 Crete revolted and received aid from the Greeks. This soon lead to a war between the Ottoman Empire and its former province. For the first time in centuries the Ottoman Empire won a war unaided. Greece was invaded from the North and the Ottoman armies marched south as far as Thermopylae before King George I of Greece agreed to an armistice. Greece lost some of Macedonia, and had to pay an indemnity to Turkey. Crete was, however, given almost complete autonomy to appease Britain and Russia who did not want to see its Christian inhabitants returned to the Turks.

The military victory did nothing to stop the rise of revolutionary sentiments. In 1902 a meeting in Paris brought together the leadership of the "Young Turks" - a group, mainly made of students, who were fervent Turkish nationalists wishing to do away with the archaic Empire. In Bulgaria and Macedonia terrorists started bombing Ottoman banks and government buildings demanding total independence. The two rebellions eventually joined in 1908 when an army regiment stationed in Macedonia rebelled and fled into the hills. It was joined by Macedonian rebels as well as large numbers of Young Turks. This group called itself the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). Soon other regiments in Bulgaria and Rumelia mutinied as did many of the Anatolian soldiers sent in to end the rebellion. Abd-ul-Hamid had no choice but to give into the revolutionaries' demands. A constitution was adopted and a parliament created, Abd-ul-Hamid was now the leader of an Ottoman constitutional monarchy. Soon after the first election, which CUP won easily, there was a counter coup by the more conservative military officers. The coup failed to destroy the new government, mainly due to the skill of an unknown Adjutant-Major named Mustafa Kemal. When the liberals discovered that the Sultan had aided the coup they decided that he must go. Thus a fetva was issued and Abd-ul-Hamid II's long reign was at an end.

Final Destruction and Rebirth

Italy declared war on the Empire on September 29, 1911, demanding the turnover of Tripoli and Cyrenaica. When the empire did not respond, Italian forces took those areas on that November 5 (this act was confirmed by an act of the Italian Parliament on February 25, 1912). Three years later on November 5, 1914 the United Kingdom annexed Cyprus, and together with France declared war on the empire.

The final end to the aged and crippled empire came in the First World War. Close relations with Germany and the continued enminity towards Russia pushed the empire into joining the Central Powers. The empire at first held its own honourably. Its armies did well in the Balkans preventing any Russian advance, and under the comand of the dynamic Mustafa Kemal the Ottoman forces won a great victory against ANZAC forces at Gallipoli. This was all quickly reversed however by the British supported revolt of the Arabs, who lead by T. E. Lawrence defeated the Ottoman forces in the Middle East. At the end of the war the Ottoman government collapsed completely and the empire was divided amongst the victorious powers. France and Britain got most of the Middle East while Italy and Greece were given much of Anatolia. At the same time an independent Armenian state was established in eastern Turkey, and an autonomous Kurdish area was also created.

The Turkish people refused to accept this arrangement, however, and under Mustafa Kemal the remnants of the Young Turk movement formed a government in Ankara and created an army. They defeated the Greeks and forced them out of Anatolia. The Italians had never managed to get a substantial presence in their holdings and in the weakened state could do little to try to recapture them after they were in Turkish hands. The British and French, exhausted by the war had no interest in intervening, especially to stop of movement of national self-determination of the type they had been supporting in other lands. The Turks also destroyed the states given to the Armenians and the Kurds and reabsorbed these areas into their domain. During this series of conflicts the Armenian Holocaust and Hellenic Holocaust took place, and by 1923, at least 2.5 million Christian Armenians and Pontic Greeks had been massacred, with the rest fleeing for their lives to Greece and the then-USSR, or had been converted to Islam by force. Thus the new state of Turkey was proclaimed on January 20, 1921 and Mustafa Kemal, who took on the name Kemal Atatürk, became its first president.

Reasons for Decline

Main article: Reasons for the Decline of the Ottoman Empire

The main reason that the Ottoman Empire declined was because of its weak leadership. The government was extremely unstable due to its hierarchy. However, widespread fratricide and the corruption of janissaries also brought down the empire. The lack of outside assistance to the empire hurt it badly.

See Also

External Links