The Ottoman Empire: Large and Lengthy

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

      The Ottomans were nomadic people from central Asia who took over the remnant of the Byzantine Empire, centered on Constantinople. The slow invasion began about 1300, with Constantinople falling in 1453. The empire derives its name from Osman (sometimes Othman), the founder and first sultan. It derived its strength from special groups of highly trained soldiers called Janizaries (Janissaries). This fighting corps was non-Turk, in fact, were the slave children of conquered Christians, raised in Islam and devoted to the sultan.

Within a hundred years of 1453, the edges of the new empire included Turkey, southeastern Europe, Egypt and north Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The empire peaked under Sultan Suleiman I (1520 - 1566). In 1571, naval forces from Spain and Venice dealt the empire a severe naval defeat at the Battle of Lepanto (off Greece, against heavy odds), severely slowing Ottoman expansion into Europe, and ending it entirely in 1683 through victory of Austrian and Polish troops at Vienna. From there, the empire entered a very slow (250 year) decline, evaporating as part of the end of World War 1.

Sultans passed their title and authority to a preferred son. Since the Ottomans were Muslim, they spread their religion of Islam throughout the empire. New laws were subject to approval by the chief religious judge, the grand mufti. There were only two classes of people, the ruling class, and the rayah, or "protected flock". Women lived in seclusion, often as part of harems.

This was one of the largest empires in the world, and illustrates, along with the other empires which fill history, that the ability to conquer territory widely is not limited to any particular ethnic group. For the mixed group we call the Turks, this was the second go-around, as a group of nomads out of Turkistan began what would become the Seljuk Empire from the mid-1000's to the mid-1200's. (They would be harrassed by the Crusaders, and eventually conquered by the Mongols.)

With the obvious exception of Africans, every other geographic group, at one time or another, has taken its imperial bow on the world's stage.

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