The Ottoman Empire


Mehmed II enters Constantinople. Picture source: wikipedia

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries. It lasted until the 20th century.

The Ottoman Empire was a rich and powerful Muslim land. The empire was named after Osman, their most famous leader or Sultan. In 1453, the Ottomans conquered the Christian city of Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul. They gradually built up a strong empire around Turkey, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa and ruled over about 25 million people.

The Islamic world was far more advanced in learning than Europe at this time. For example, they were far ahead in terms of medicine, pharmacy, surgery, mathematics science, chemistry, and astronomy. European travel outside of Europe was very limited, but Muslim Arab explorers had a greater knowledge of geography and had travelled to many other parts of the world. They already knew the world was round, and invented ships that sail into the wind. The European voyages of exploration that took place in the late 15th century would not have been possible without the knowledge they learned from the Arabs.

This section of grade 10 classroom content was developed in 2003 for the topic on ‘large empires and civilisations that existed in the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries’. The Ottoman Empire in the Middle East mentioned below is no longer part of the curriculum but provides for great further reading.

Read these interesting sources of information about the Ottoman Empire: Source A: The earliest Ottomans were Muslim warriors dedicated to fighting to the death in wars against the infidel Christians and extending the frontiers of Islam. As their territory grew, religious zeal became less important. What had begun as a holy war against the Christians turned into a struggle for land, slaves and plunder. - From The Marshall Cavendish Learning System, The Rise of Islam, 1969 Source B: Demoralised by the Black Death, which killed a quarter of a million of the population of Europe, and divided by their own rivalries, the Christian kingdoms of Europe failed to unite against the Ottoman threat. - From Milton, Steinberg and Lewis, Religion at the Crossroads, 1980 Source C: In many respects, the Ottoman Empire was very tolerant. Whilst all Muslims in the empire were governed by the laws of Islam and tried by Muslim courts, foreigners were treated differently. They were allowed to keep their own cultures and religions as long as they paid slightly higher taxes than Muslims. - From Understanding History 1, John Child et al, Heinemann, 1991 Source D One reason for the Ottoman success was the strength of their army. Their steel weapons and armour were stronger but lighter than their enemies were. Some of the cannon used against Constantinople fired cannonballs half a ton in weight. The pride of the army were the janissaries. These were handpicked from the sultan's slaves. Some slaves were captured but most came from the .tax which took boys from Christian families in the empire. These boys were forced to convert to Islam. To make sure they were loyal only to Allah and the sultan, they were not allowed to marry or own property. Promotion was always on merit. They were the most disciplined and feared soldiers in the army. Their white plumed headgear made them stand out from the rest of the soldiers. - From Understanding History 1, John Child et al, Heinemann, 1991 Source E The running of the Ottoman Empire depended on slavery. The sultan's servants were slaves, his army were slaves, even his ministers and civil servants were usually slaves. Promotion was on merit . if slaves were successful, they could lead lives of great luxury. Girls were chosen from the slave markets for their beauty and intelligence and educated at palace schools. Once in the harem, they were never allowed to leave. Those who gave birth to the sultan's children, especially if they had boys, became important and powerful members of the court. Punishment was harsh. The sultan didn't just employ his officials; because they were slaves he owned them. They were sometimes killed if they displeased him.Executions were in public and gruesome. Even minor crimes had severe penalties, for example, cutting off a thief's hands. - From Understanding History 1, John Child et al, Heinemann, 1991

Last updated : 23-Mar-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 10-Nov-2011

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