The Ottoman Empire may well be considered one of the greatest empires in modern history because of strong political leadership and economic power. Bentley, Zeigler, Streets-Salter (2015) writes, “The term Ottoman derived from Osman Bey, founder of the dynasty that continued in unbroken succession from 1289 until the dissolution of the empire in 1923” (448). The Ottoman Empire rose to power during the Period of Great Expansion because of land expansion, religious ideologies, and trade that allowed them to become one of the most successful empires. Global interdependence developed from a necessity for goods and services via trade routes that helped the Turks remain dominant throughout the duration of the Ottoman Empire.
The Period of Great Expansion began with major land expansion projects under Orhan (1324-1362) that led to several conquests, including Anatolia, Bursa, Nicaea, Iran, and the conquests of Ankara, Gallipoli, and Adrianople (1994). Under the leadership of Murad I, expansion projects further empowered the Ottoman Empire with lands in Bulgaria and Thrace. In 1373, The Balkan Rulers finally recognized the Ottoman Empire after the military campaign at Chermanon, Byzantium, under Murad I. Between 1385 and 1389, the Turks added Sofia and Kosovo-Polje to their land expansions after battling the Balkan states. The Turks engaged in wars during expansions with Serbia, Crimea, Mecca, Vienna, India, and Istanbul. The vast campaigns to expand land led the Turks on many military campaigns to other parts of the world, including Russia, Egypt, Asia, Constantinople (Istanbul), Rome, and Eastern Europe. The Ottoman Empire remained dominant in military campaigns until its collapse in 1923 with the establishment of The Republic of Turkey. With each campaign, the Muslim religion also expanded as well.
Islam began after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD. His faithful followers migrated because of religious persecution, and this allowed the religion to gain converts throughout many territories. The Turks began to disband in smaller groups, which produced smaller bands of the Islamic faith, including those following Osman Bey. Itzkowitz writes, “Patterning the fabric of Ottoman existence in all its manifestations was the High Islamic tradition in government and society” (2008). The Muslim faith was a constant element in the Ottoman Empire in that the army consisted of men who believed in holy wars brought about by centuries of persecution by societies who believed in a polytheism belief system. In so doing, the soldiers and tradesmen were able to spread their religious beliefs that allowed the Muslim teachings to expand as well. Migration after the military campaigns allowed Islam to spread into other parts of the world as well. Unlike Christianity, conquests were not forced to convert to Islam, and in places like Constantinople were a monotheism society already existed, converts were given choices in either Islam or Christianity. The choice to convert was much different than Christianity in that conquests were not killed or converted by force. With the many military campaigns and tolerance for religious beliefs of Christians and Jews, it is easy to see why the Muslim religion gained a large following in many different parts of the world. Other than military campaigns and religion, another major contribution to global interdependence was trade.
Perhaps the greatest asset to the Ottoman Empire was the power it possessed over the trade routes. Up until the 15th century, the Muslim empires controlled the trade routes that aided in both land and religion expansion into new territories. However, their trade aided in providing the wealth needed for such campaigns as well as a dependency on goods and services. Islamogu-Inan (2004) writes, “The commercial sector of the Arab world from the late medieval period until the nineteenth century was composed of a number of well-known elements” (31). Trade houses allowed rich merchants to purchase in bulk materials to sell to the local merchants when their potential for profits was highest. Islamogu-Inan (2004) also notes, “The main partners also engaged in entrepot trade; in many instances, as in the case of the Cairo merchants, they profited from connecting Africa and the Arab far east” (31). The Turks expansion of land territories into each of these areas allowed them to dominate the trade agreements and markets, thereby amassing great wealth. In the fifteenth-century, European expansion to the west changed the control the Muslims had over trade, but places like Africa allowed the Muslims to trade with Europeans which created a global exchange of products for the first time in history. Istanbul acted as the main trade port in that goods like spices, wheat, silk, porcelain, cotton, lumber, and agriculture allowed the Turks to tax both import and exports in the global market. However, for the period of the Ottoman Empire, their strong leadership, strong belief system, and the stronghold of trade routes allowed them to dominate on a global scale because of the interdependency system established during the land expansion. The trade connections were dependent on the economic stability of each location because of the relationships established. Trade effectively partnered many foreign economies that depended on the Ottoman Empire’s political and economic policies.
The Ottoman Empire was successful for several different reasons. The political, religious, and economic strengths were priorities in each of their sultan’s rule that allowed them to remain dominant on a global scale. The military expansions were vast and not centered on any one location. Once the people were converted, they set up both religion and trade options that helped them maintain their stronghold over the locations. In so doing it produced a strong empire because of their conversion success rate. The trade routes also helped to stabilize the economic structure in many regions as well. The Ottoman Empire led dominantly with respect for cultures not their own which helped them gain followers beyond the Muslim faith. Because people could still worship their own god, it allowed different groups to work together for the first time historically which brought about a peaceful existence without fear of religious persecution. With the strong economic ties, wealth and security also helped to promote a strong empire for the Turks. In so doing, it allowed Islam to expand long after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. Today, Muslims can be found in almost all parts of the world because of their legacy of strong leadership, marketing and trade strategies, and most importantly some might argue, an immense following of the Muslim faith. The Turks established a global interdependency that still exists today because they understood the value of a strong governing body, religion, and a strong economy produced the best environment to flourish in society.
Graph 1: Genealogy of the Ottoman Empire (1289-1923 C.E.)
(İnalcık & Quataert 1994).
Bentle,y J., Zeigler, H., Streets-Salter, “Traditions & Encounters, A Brief Global History 3rd Ed“. McGraw-Hill. 2015.
İnalcık, Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds. An economic and social history of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Islamogu-Inan, Huri, ed. The Ottoman Empire and the world-economy. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Itzkowitz, Norman. Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition. University of Chicago Press, 2008.