World History 1 265 - 17.1.1 Ottoman Growth

With an empire that bordered both the western and eastern worlds, the Ottoman Turks began to play an important role in Asian and European affairs in the thirteenth century. They were not the first Turkic-speaking people to do so, however. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, a group of Turkic speakers from central Asia arrived first through the Iranian plateau before continuing westward into the area that is now modern Turkey. This group, called the Seljuks after their ruler, converted to Islam in the tenth century. Accomplished archers and riders, they were originally employed by the armies of the Islamic Karakhanid and Ghaznavid dynasties of central Asia before carving out an empire of their own in Persia, Mesopotamia, and eastern Asia Minor. Seizing control of Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Empire and home to the Sunni caliph, in 1055, the Seljuks came to regard themselves as defenders of the Islamic faith and established the Seljuk Empire. Defeating the forces of the Byzantine Empire in 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert in eastern Anatolia (another name for Asia Minor), the Seljuks soon dominated that region as well (Figure 17.4).

Two maps are shown with land highlighted beige while water is highlighted blue. White lines crisscross the waters. (a) The map shows the Mediterranean Sea in the south and southwest, the Adriatic Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Ionian Sea labelled in the west, the Aegean Sea labelled in the middle, and the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea labelled in the northeast. A large area in the middle of the map is highlighted green as well as an oval section in the middle of the map at the east. A small area at the north of the Black Sea is also green. This green indicates “Byzantine Empire.” Cities labelled within this area are: Thessalonica, Constantinople, Manzikert, and Antioch. Cities labelled outside the green area include: Ravenna, Rome, and Carthage. (b) The map shows the Mediterranean Sea in the south and southwest with the Adriatic Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Ionian Sea labelled in the west, the Aegean Sea labelled in the middle, and the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea labelled in the northeast. A large area in the middle of the map is highlighted green and labelled “Byzantine Empire” with the cities of Thessalonica and Constantinople labelled within. A small area at the north of the Black Sea and at the southeast of the Black Sea is also highlighted green. An upside down “V” shaped section in the eastern middle of the map at the east is highlighted pink and labelled “Seljuk Empire.” The cities of Manzikert, and Antioch are labelled within this pink area. Cities labelled outside the highlighted areas include: Ravenna, Rome, and Carthage.
Figure 17.4 Before the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantine Empire laid claim to most of Asia Minor (a). Over the course of the eleventh century, the empire’s holdings in Asia Minor steadily shrank as the Byzantines were replaced by the Seljuk Turks (b). (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

In 1077, the Seljuks established a state in Anatolia they called the Sultanate of Rum (“Rome”) because the territory had been taken from the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire. The sultanate steadily absorbed other Turkish tribes in Anatolia and brought them under its control, forming a confederation of tribes more than a unified state. The sultanate’s ruler was primarily a military leader, and the provinces were governed by military commanders. Within the provinces, different regions were controlled by different groups of warriors who often fought with one another and sometimes sold their military services to Byzantine rulers.

Seljuk rulers built mosques and madrasas—schools where scholars taught subjects such as science, theology, and Islamic law—especially in Iconium (now Konya), one of the cities that served as the capital of the Sultanate of Rum. They also established caravansaries, inns where merchants traveling along the Silk Roads could safely rest and conduct business. Trade attracted merchants and artisans, and religious scholars took up residence in the Turkish cities. As the Byzantine Empire lost control of Anatolia, Orthodox Christian clergy and monks fled, loosening the peasants’ ties to Christianity and making it easier for many to convert to Islam. Gradually, Anatolia became more Islamic in appearance and nature, and the Byzantine emperors’ grip on the region grew ever weaker.

The Seljuk Empire, centered as it was in Baghdad in Mesopotamia, faced many struggles both from within and from outside forces. The arrival into the region of the western crusaders at the very end of the eleventh century and the establishment of the Crusader States caused major political and social shifts in the region, even though those states would eventually be defeated. The Seljuks were defeated by the Khwarezm-Shah, a central Asian dynasty, whose founder had been enslaved by the Seljuks.

As the Seljuk dynasty lost control of the region, the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum—a splinter state of the original group—was left as the sole center of Seljuk power in Anatolia. Even there, however, political and military change continued. Following the Mongols’ invasion of eastern Anatolia and their decisive victory over the Seljuks at the Battle of Köse Dağ in 1243, the Sultanate of Rum splintered into numerous small, independent states called beyliks. In the fourteenth century, one of these beyliks began to rise to prominence as Seljuk fortunes declined in the wake of the Mongol invasions. This beylik was led by a man named Osman, and his followers came to be known as the “Osmanli” or “Ottomans.”

The Ottomans were Turkic-speaking pastoralists who occupied lands in northwestern Anatolia. Like the Seljuks, they regarded themselves as ghazis, warriors who fought to expand and protect the borders and influence of Islam, and this recognition came to form an important part of Ottoman Turkish identity. The Ottomans had originally stepped into the power vacuum left in northwestern Anatolia by the attack on Constantinople in 1204, when European crusaders raided, ransacked, and demolished parts of the city. Civilians were brutally assaulted and killed. Priceless religious relics were looted and destroyed, erasing ties to the history of the Byzantine Empire. After this “sack” of Constantinople, Venice and its allies divided the empire, and political upheaval took place in the years that followed. Although the Byzantines attempted to rebuild their capital and state, they were no match for the Ottomans. The empire lasted another two hundred years, but it controlled relatively little territory in Anatolia. The Ottomans laid siege to the Byzantine cities of Anatolia, conquered them, and made one, Bursa, the capital of a growing Ottoman state with imperial ambitions. They built mosques and madrasas in the city, turning it into an important religious center.

Following Osman’s death, his son Orhan I, who took the title of sultan, expanded Ottoman territory into Europe. In 1354, his troops established a base on the European peninsula of Gallipoli, on the northern side of the Dardanelles, one of the straits that separate Asia Minor from Europe. Control of Gallipoli gave the Ottomans control over oceanic traffic between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It also gave them the ability to interfere with ships bound for Constantinople, which sat on the European side of the straits of the Bosporus, should they so desire. The Ottomans steadily took control of the European portion of the Byzantine Empire, the area that is now northern Greece, southern Bulgaria, and Thrace, the western part of modern Turkey.

Orhan’s son Murad I established a new capital at Edirne, on the European side of the Dardanelles, in 1362. Turks from Anatolia were invited to settle in Ottoman-controlled territory in Europe and take over the lands of fleeing European landowners. The European peasants who came under Ottoman control did not necessarily resent their new masters; the majority were Orthodox Christians, and they were allowed to practice their faith without interference so long as they paid the special tax, the jizya, and recognized their status as Ottoman subjects. The Ottomans also realized that non-Muslim clergy could help in the governing of their empire, because people were accustomed to turning to their religious leaders for direction on a variety of issues. To win the assistance of Christian clergy, therefore, the Ottomans refrained from efforts to stamp out their religion. Many peasants likely regarded the religiously tolerant Ottomans as better overlords than the European Roman Catholic soldiers, who had attacked the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire on more than one occasion. They also welcomed the lighter tax burden imposed by the Ottomans.

Murad sought to take advantage of the death of the Serbian king in 1355 and incorporate his land into the Ottoman domains as well. At the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Ottomans defeated the Serbian army and made Serbia, the last major Orthodox Christian state, a vassal of the empire. Both Murad and the Serbian ruler Prince Lazar died in the battle, although Serbian myth claims that a Serbian soldier used trickery to secretly kill the Ottoman sultan in his tent (Figure 17.5).

A colorful image shows three figures on horses riding toward the left of the image on bumpy green and beige ground with small patches of grass. Sandy mountains are seen in the background and a bright yellow sky. Words in black script are written across the middle of the image at the top. The figure on the left wears a bright blue long shirtdress with gold stripes across his chest with an orange sleeveless robe with white and black trim. He wears gold boots and a yellow and white brimmed large hat on his head. He has a red beard and a grim expression. His horse is white with brownish scales, a red and gold saddle and gold reins. The two figures riding behind the first figure ride a brown and a red horse with gold saddles and reins. The figures both wear long red robes with gold stripes on the front and tall red rectangular hats with gold trim. Both have moustaches and the one in the front holds a gold colored bow with a quiver of arrows. They face each other as they ride next to each other.
Figure 17.5 In this image created by an Ottoman artist two centuries after Murad’s death, the sultan (left, followed by his guards) is described in the caption at the top as “the Kosovo martyr.” (credit: modification of work “Sultan Murad I šahīd” by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Link to Learning

The Battle of Kosovo in 1389 serves as a focus for Serbian national identity, and its anniversary is a national holiday. In this blog, you can learn more about how the Battle of Kosovo has affected Serbian views about political independence.

Murad’s son and successor Bayezid I (called “the Thunderbolt”) attempted unsuccessfully to eliminate all remaining Byzantine governance in the region by capturing Constantinople. In 1396, the Ottomans blockaded the city, but the pleas of the Byzantine emperor led Pope Boniface IX to call for a crusade to rescue the Greek Orthodox Christians from the Muslim Turks. Roman Catholic knights from throughout Europe responded. Ottoman troops, fighting alongside Bayezid’s Serbian vassals, crushed the crusader army at the Battle of Nicopolis on the Danube River (Figure 17.6). The blockade of Constantinople ultimately failed, however, for the Ottomans had no way to break through the city’s walls, and Bayezid soon found himself facing a more formidable foe, the Mongol conqueror Timur.

A colorful image is shown of a battle taking place in a city set in the hills. At the top left of the image many buildings are shown set close together in various colors of brown, blue, white, and red. Some have domes, some have tiled roofs, and some have pointed or notched tops. Red flags fly from poles on three of the buildings. Two oversized figures in white turbans are seen peeking out from behind some buildings. Cannons stick out some of the windows in the lower buildings. A dark blue mountain shows behind the buildings and four other white domed buildings are seen behind the mountains. To the right of the city are five slate and orange colored tents anchored to the ground with white ropes and gold ornaments at the top. Surrounding the tents are various figures in hats and colorful attire. A gold flag is seen flying on a pole with the group of figures behind the farthest tent. Left of the city buildings are two very large figures on horses dressed in richly decorated long robes and large hats. Two other figures in tall hats and robes stand in front of the horses, one with a tall stick on fire in his hand. In front of them are blue mountains and green trees, then a river. On the right side of the river two figures in green armor and helmets ride horses while six figures in colorful hats hide behind them behind the hillside. In front of the riders are two figures in red, black, and white outfits with hats holding weapons and a stick with fire. In the bottom right foreground of the image four stone towers are seen, one with a gold flag flying at the top. Between the towers three cannons are nestled, with a fourth at the top right. Various figures in colorful clothing and armor are seen standing and laying around the cannons and aiming them at the city.
Figure 17.6 This 1523 painted miniature by an Ottoman artist depicts the triumphant Ottoman army on the left, defeating the European knights who opposed them at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. A miniature painting such as this, which appeared in bound books and manuscripts, was a popular medium of artistic expression throughout Ottoman history. (credit: “Battle of Nicopolis, 1396” by Géza Fehér/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 1: to 1500 textbook by Openstax