Ottoman Empire

former empire in Southeast Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, officially the Sublime State of Ottomania (in Ottoman Turkish: دولت عالیه عثمانیه), was a multinational state that lasted from 1299 to 1923. It was centered in Turkey and controlled the eastern and southern lands around the Mediterranean Sea. The empire was founded by Osman I around 1299, and was most powerful from around 1400 to 1600, when it controlled trade and politics in southeastern Europe, southwest Asia, and northern Africa. Suleiman the Magnificent was one of the most powerful rulers.

The Sublime Ottoman State

Ottoman Empire
Osmanlı İmparatorluğu
دولت عالیه عثمانیه
Devlet-i Âliye-yi Osmâniyye
Ottoman flag
Coat of arms of Ottoman Empire
Coat of arms
'Motto: 'دولت ابد مدت
Devlet-i Ebed-müddet
("The Eternal State")
Anthem: (various)
Ottoman Empire at its peak in 1683.
Ottoman Empire at its peak in 1683.
CapitalSöğüt (1299–1326)
Bursa (1326–1365)
Edirne (1365–1453)
Constantinople (1453–1922)
• 1281–1326 (first)
Osman I
• 1918–22 (last)
Mehmed VI
Grand Viziers 
• 1320–31 (first)
Alaeddin Pasha
• 1920–22 (last)
Ahmed Tevfik Pasha
• Founded
July 24 1923
16805,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 sq mi)
• 1856
• 1906
• 1914
• 1919
CurrencyAkçe, Kuruş, Lira
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm
Today part of Turkey

The empire was a collection of conquered countries. The Sultan sent governors to rule these countries or provinces, with titles such as Pasha or Bey. The most famous in the early 19th century was Muhammad Ali Pasha. Besides provinces, the empire also had tributary states.

In later years, the Ottoman Empire began to weaken. In the later part of the 19th century, it became known as "the sick man of Europe". The empire was defeated in World War I and broke apart.


The Ottoman Empire was founded by Osman I in 1299. His son, Orhan, captured its first capital, Bursa, from the Byzantine Empire. In the late 1300s, the Ottomans began consolidating power, especially in the Balkans, where Serbia was defeated in 1389 at the Battle of Kosovo Polje by Sultan Murad I. He died at the battle, and Bayezid I took control. At the 1396 Battle of Nicopolis, a large crusade of the Western European powers was defeated. Despite the victory, Bayezid was deposed by Tamerlane at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. His absence led to a civil war, referred to as the Ottoman Interregnum. Mehmed Çelebi won and became Mehmed I. His son, Murad II had to battle pretenders to the throne backed by the Byzantine Empire. He retaliated with an attack on Constantinople, and Venice helped the Byzantines. Murad defeated them at Thessaloniki. He also defeated the Karamanid beylik (principality), Hungary, Poland, and Wallachia at Varna in 1444. John Hunyadi, a Hungarian general, tried his hand at defeating the Turks but lost in 1448.


Mehmed the Conqueror conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453. He also subjugated Albania and expanded tolerance for the Orthodox Church. Mehmed continued his expansion, followed by his son Bayezid II. Selim I conquered Egypt and the Levant, which were ruled by the Mamluks, in early 1517. He also obliterated the Safavid Persians at Chaldiran in 1514. The Ottomans were at odds with Portugal over their expansion as well. Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim's son, captured Belgrade and most of Hungary after the Battle of Mohács in 1526. His Siege of Vienna was repulsed by the deeply-divided Holy Roman Empire in 1529. Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia became tributary to the Ottoman Empire soon afterwards.

In the east, the Ottomans captured Baghdad from the Safavids and partitioned the Caucasus with them. Meanwhile, Suleiman allied Francis I of France over mutual hatred of the Habsburgs. This led to Ottoman activity in the Mediterranean, where Rhodes, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli would eventually be captured. Barbarossa Hayreddin led the Ottoman advance. In 1566, Suleiman died, and many historians consider that the start of the Ottoman stagnation.

The Ottomans lost the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 by Philip II of Spain and his Holy League. The Ottomans quickly recovered by capturing Cyprus from the Republic of Venice. However, the defeat shattered the myth of Ottoman invincibility. The Ottomans suffered many defeats in the next 30 years: the Long War with the Austrian Empire ended in stalemate, and the Safavids invaded the eastern Ottoman provinces. Murad IV recaptured Iraq and the Caucasus from Persia. The "Sultanate of Women" became an nickname for the Ottoman Empire after consorts Kösem Sultan and Turhan Sultan became important in the empire and sometimes made even economic decisions in the Sultan's place. The Grand Vizier also took a greater role under the leadership of the Köprülüs. Crete was captured from Venice and southern Ukraine was captured from Poland.

However, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha carelessly opened up the empire to attack when he attacked Vienna. The Austrians, Poles, Russians, and Venetians all attacked the Ottomans back in the Great Turkish War. Austria and Poland attacked the overstretched Turks in Hungary and Transylvania while Russia hammered Crimea. Venice settled to attack Greece. The warring sides signed the Treaty of Karlowitz, ceding Hungary and Transylvania to Austria, Podolia (southern Ukraine) to Poland, Morea (southern Greece) to Venice, and Azov (a Black Sea port) to Russia.

Russia and Sweden went to war, and the Ottomans got involved by retaking Azov and then making peace. Austria, Russia, Venice, and the Ottomans would go to war several times. By 1739, the Ottomans had actually retaken the Morea and Serbia. In the 1740s and the 1750s, the Ottomans began to modernize their military, but in the 1760s, the Ottomans went to war with Russia again. Russia took over Crimea in 1783 and claimed that Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire were under Russian protection. Selim III continued modernising the military, but the elite Janissary corps troops revolted. Napoleon attacked Egypt but was repulsed by the British.

Serbia revolted and gained nominal independence in 1815, but they were still vassals of the Ottoman Empire. Greece won their independence after a long war of independence from 1821 to 1829. The al-Saud family revolted in 1811 with the support of the Wahhabi sect. Then, Egypt under Muhammad Ali almost captured Constantinople, but the Russians repulsed them. The Egyptians settled with the Levant, and the Ottomans tried to retake it but were were soundly defeated. The Ottomans was dubbed the "sick man of Europe" because of the empire's incompetence in international affairs.

Decline and fallEdit

The Ottoman Tanzimat period brought reform: conscription was introduced, a central bank was formed, homosexuality was decriminalised, the law was secularised, and the guilds were replaced with factories. The Christian part of the empire became much more advanced than the Muslim part, and the divide created tension. In the 1850s, the British and the French helped the Ottomans in the Crimean War. The Ottoman debts led to a state of bankruptcy, and the European countries began providing loans and controlling the finances of the empire. Worse yet, the Ottomans began war with Russia over Bulgarian independence. Ar the 1878 Congress of Berlin, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro gained complete independence. Bulgaria remained a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The British took Cyprus and in 1882 Egypt.

In 1908, the Ottomans underwent a revolution by the Young Turks. Abdul Hamid II abdicated, and Mehmed V was instated. Bulgaria gained independence, and Austria invaded Bosnia that same year. In 1912, the Ottomans lost Libya to the Italians. The ensuing Balkan Wars saw the Ottomans lose all of their European territories except Eastern Thrace to a combined force of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria. The Second Balkan War allowed the Ottomans to attack Bulgaria in conjunction with Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece. Their victory meant little since the unrest continued, with a 1909 countercoup to the Young Turk coup and then three countercoups.

In 1914, although they were utterly disorganised, the Ottomans attacked Russia and declared war. Britain and France went to war with the Ottomans, and World War I had come to Turkey.

The Ottomans early in the war performed better than expected. They won the Battle of Gallipoli, partly because of the incompetence of the British commanders. The Ottomans also won the Battle of Kut though Iraq was lost later. In 1915, some of the worst mass killings in history began. Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and others were targeted, and many as 2.5 million people died. The Ottoman Empire fell soon after the Arabs revolted in 1916 with British help. The empire fell after the Sinai, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and eventually Anatolia itself fell. The Ottomans surrendered in 1918.

The Turkish War of Independence was fought against the Sultan, Greece, Armenia, France, Britain, and Italy. The Turkish national movement won under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the Republic of Turkey was founded. In 1923, the Ottoman Empire formally ceased to exist.

Sultan's familyEdit

Rukiye Sabiha Sultan’s wedding day in 1920, left to right: Fatma Ulviye Sultan, Ayşe Hatice Hayriye Dürrüşehvar Sultan, Emine Nazikeda Kadınefendi, Rukiye Sabiha Sultan, Mehmed Ertuğrul Efendi, Şehsuvar Hanımefendi.

The empire was a hereditary monarchy. The ruler's title was 'Sultan'. (It was used in front of the name, e.g. "Sultan Süleyman".) The title of 'Sultan' was also used for the wives and the daughters of the monarchs. (It was used at the end of the name, e.g. "Hürrem Sultan".) In the early years of the empire, shahzadahs, the sons of the Sultan, were sent to different parts of the empire (Sanjaks) to get experience of governing. Later they might be candidates for the Sultanate and Caliphate.

After Ahmed this system changed. In the new system the Sultan would keep his male relatives locked in a small apartment called a kafes where they would never be able to see the outside world, and would therefore be unable to take power from him. Often, a new Sultan would have his male relatives killed, a simpler solution since it removed competition for the Sultanate and prevented rebel movements. However, the women in his harem often sought greater status and influence, and the Sultan's mother might become a powerful political force in the Empire. Each mother in the harem would try to make her own son the next Sultan, since they knew he would probably be killed if he was not.

The Sultans gradually lost their ability to govern far-away territories well. Distant governors did whatever they wanted and made their own laws instead of obeying the Sultan. By its end, the Ottoman Empire grew so worn out and corrupt that it was ready to collapse.


Bursa was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. Edirne in Thrace became the capital city of the Ottoman Empire in 1365, until Istanbul was conquered by the Turks and became the empire's final capital.

Vassal statesEdit

Many places were vassal states to the empire, rather than being directly ruled. They included Transylvania, Moldavia, Wallachia, (all of them later joined to form Romania), Caucasus (Georgia, Dagestan, and Chechnya). Their rulers received a degree of independence and autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, but they had to pay more money (tax or tribute) to the sultan.


  1. The Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920) afforded a small existence to the Ottoman Empire. The ending of the Ottoman Sultanate in November 1, 1922, did not end the Ottoman State, but only the Ottoman dynasty. The official end of the Ottoman State was declared through the Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923). It recognized the new "Ankara government", and not the old Constantinople-based Ottoman government, as representing the rightful owner and successor state. The TBMM declared the successor state to be the "Republic of Turkey" (October 29, 1923), less than a month after its international recognition as a state.

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