Cumulative Report


 by Charlie See and Justin denBroeder

The Ottoman Empire : Mixed Relations with the West

              The Ottoman Empire , lasting from AD 1299 to AD1922, was one of the longest lived empires the world has ever seen. Its history spans seven centuries, and its size exceeded that of any western European state. Ottoman history can be divided into five main periods: its Rise (1299-1453 CE), Growth (1453-1683), Stagnation (1683-1827), Decline (1828-1908), and Dissolution (1908-1922). Throughout its entire history, however, the Ottoman Empire was at the center of interactions between the East and West.

      The Turkish Chief Osman I is generally credited with founding the Ottoman Empire in 1299. Born in 1258, Osman inherited the ruler ship of the small village of Sogut in 1281. The ambitious young chief was not content with being subordinate to the ruling Seljuk Turks, however, and in 1299 he declared himself independent of the Seljuks. Historians consider this to be the birth of the Ottoman Empire. By the time of his death, the Ottomans had conquered the largest cities in Anatolia, most importantly Bursa, which Osman made the capitol of the fledgling Ottoman Empire prior to his death a year later. Over the next hundred years, the Ottoman Empire gradually under the direction of the Sultans Ohran and Murad, who began launching raids into the declining Byzantine Empire and chaotic Western Europe. Ottoman expansion was suddenly halted, however, after the invasion of the Mongol warlord Timur the Whirlwind, who, after defeating the Ottomans at the Battle of Ankara, promptly sacked Turkish Anatolia. It was a devastating blow to the Ottomans, and for 15 years the Ottoman Empire stood on the brink of destruction. By 1453, however, the Ottomans had regained control of their empire, and, under the ruler ship of the Sultan Mehmed II, dealt the death blow to the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople, beginning a new phase in the history of the Ottoman Empire, and with it, more complex interactions between the East and West.

      Prior to the capture of Constantinople, Ottoman interaction with the West was primarily economic, as the two cultures shared no common borders. Military conflict between the two groups was rare and primarily naval, if it occurred at all. However, after the fall of Constantinople, Europe was open for Ottoman expansion. This period of dramatic Ottoman expansion into Eastern Europe marked the beginning of the Growth period of Ottoman history.

      Almost immediately after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Ottomans conquered the Abbasid empire, deposing the Caliph. Ottoman rule over the nation of Islam was all but undisputed. The Ottoman Empire’s interaction with Europe during its Growth period was primarily competitive in nature. The two groups competed for dominance in trade and in territory, and this tense relationship created frequent wars between the Christians and Muslims, thought the era of the Crusades had long since passed. Under the leadership of Selim I (1465-1520), the Ottomans established a navy that would dominate the Mediterranean for the next fifty years, protecting Ottoman sea lanes and challenging the upstart Portuguese for control of the spice trade. Selim I expanded the size of the Ottoman Empire nearly threefold after conquering, in addition to the remnants of the Abbasids, Egypt and parts of the Persian Safavid Empire. Selim I’s son, known as Suleiman the Magnificent, continued his father’s work by further increasing Ottoman dominance of the Western Hemisphere. Upon succeeding Selim I, Suleiman embarked on a massive campaign of conquest throughout Southern/Central Europe. By 1526, he had completely conquered Hungary and penetrated deep into central Europe, while continuing the conquest of Persia back in the Middle East. Suleiman’s navies did not sit idle either. The Ottoman fleet launched a massive naval assault on Rhodes with over 400 ships and perhaps as many as 200,000 men, conquering the Christian stronghold in less than 6 months, and vied with the emerging European colonial powers in Africa, sending fleets with soldiers and arms to support Muslim rulers in Kenya and Sumatra to defend the slave trade. The Ottomans did suffer minor naval setbacks when they failed to take the island of Malta, but these were far overshadowed by their victories against the Barbary corsairs and Spanish under the leadership of the great admiral Barbarossa. By the time of Suleiman’s death, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Hungary to Baghdad, Cairo to Constantinople (renamed Istanbul). Suleiman had made the Ottomans the premier force in the West. For that he was known as “the Magnificent.”