At its height in in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents, and covered what we know today as Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and several other regions in Arabia and North Africa. It was one of the largest, and longest lasting empires in history, spanning from about 1299 all the way to 1922 CE. Today, few remnants of the once mighty empire remain, largely centralized in Turkey.
But, how did the Ottoman Empire rise to power in the first place? Well, originally, the Eastern region of the Mediterranean, where the Ottoman Empire flourished, was actually under the control of the Roman Empire. Specifically, the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the “Byzantine Empire”. After Western Rome fell in the 5th century, the Christian Byzantine Empire struggled to keep up in the face of rapidly spreading Islam.
This followed the Golden Age of Islam which lasted from around the 8th to the 13th century. Around the 14th century, a tribal leader named Osman Gazi (Ohs-MAHN GAH-ZI), or Osman the First, and came to control a relatively small principality just south of the Black Sea in the early 14th century. Although small, the region Osman controlled was also prime for the spread of Islam with Islamic fighters hoping to overcome the weakening Christian Byzantine.
Osman never saw the fruition of his efforts while he was alive, his military continued to expand under subsequent leaders, growing the empire, and eventually culminating in one of the most important military conquests in history: the Fall of Constantinople. In 1453, the Byzantine Empire was on its last legs, and barely holding territory outside of its capital, Constantinople.
Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire had spread throughout the Mediterranean region. By some accounts, roughly 100,000 to 150,000 Ottoman fighters descended on roughly 10,000 defenders of the Byzantine capital. There would have been more defenders, but the Black Plague had just swept through and decimated Constantinople’s forces. After less than a two-month siege, the capital was overrun, and the Byzantine Empire, and along with it the Roman Empire, finally collapsed forever. Constantinople was quickly converted into the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, and was colloquially renamed as Islambol, meaning “full of Islam”. And in fact, one of the biggest reasons for the Empire’s continue growth was the massive influence of religion. Besides being united by the concept of conquest in the name of Islam, also called “Jihad”.
The Ottoman Sultan was considered a “protector of Islam”, as was the Empire itself. With such a strong religious backing, as well as massively powerful slave-based army, few other forces were able to compete or defend themselves. The Ottomans were also great at forming unlikely alliances, both across religious, and ideological lines. One such alliance paired the Empire with France as they both opposed the Austrian House of Hapsburg, and the alliance proved beneficial to both as they supported each other in their conquests of Nice, Corsica, and Hungary. This has been called “the first non-ideological diplomatic alliance of its kind between a Christian and non-Christian empire”. By the 16th century, the empire had spread to more than 15 million people, and roughly 2 million square miles, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman’s longest reigning sultan.
The empire controlled the Mediterranean Sea, as well as Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucuses, and North Africa, thus serving as the perfect melding of eastern and western cultures and acting as an intermediary for both sides of the world. Through endless military determination, a single family line of rule for centuries, and a highly centralized system of government, the Ottoman Empire was able to grow from a few miles of principality, into one of the largest and most influential empires in history. But its superiority didn’t last forever, and not long after its peak, there began a slow and steady decline, eventually resulting in the turbulence for which we now know the Middle Eastern region. Stay tuned for another video chronicling the Fall of the Ottoman Empire. If you’re a fan of innovative storytelling, you should check out Seeker VR.
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