The Ottoman Empire, to 1750 > Expansion and Frontiers

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I0. The Ottoman Empire, to 1750

A0. Expansion and Frontiers

10. Osman established the Ottoman Empire in northwestern Anatolia in 1300. He and his successors consolidated control over Anatolia, fought Christian enemies in Greece and in the Balkans, and captured Serbia and the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1453.

20. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566) conquered Belgrade (1521) and Rhodes (1522) and laid siege to Vienna (1529), but withdrew with the onset of winter.

30. The Ottoman Empire fought with Venice for two centuries as it attempted to exert its control over the Mediterranean. The Ottomans forced the Venetians to pay tribute but continued to allow them to trade.

40. Muslim merchants in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean requested Ottoman naval support against the Portuguese. The Ottomans initially responded vigorously to Portuguese threats against nearby ports such as Aden, but they saw no reason to commit much effort to the defense of non-Ottoman Muslim merchants elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, as goods still flowed from their to Ottoman markets unimpeded.

B0. Central Institutions

10. The original Ottoman military forces of mounted warriors armed with bows were supplemented in the late fourteenth century when the Ottomans formed captured Balkan Christian men into a force called the new troops (Janissaries), who fought on foot and were armed with guns. In the early fifteenth century, the Ottomans began to recruit men for the Janissaries and for positions in the bureaucracy through a levy on male Christian children.

20. Ottoman land forces were powerful enough to defeat the Safavids, but the Ottomans were defeated at sea by combined Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

30. The Ottoman Empire was a cosmopolitan society in which the Osmanli-speaking, tax-exempt military class (askeri) served the sultan as soldiers and bureaucrats and were exempt from paying taxes.

40. In the view of the Ottomans, the sultan supplied justice and defense for the common people (the raya), while the raya supported the sultan and his military through their taxes. In practice, the common people had little direct contact with the Ottoman government, being ruled by local notables and by their own religious.

C0. Crisis of the Military State, 1585–1650

10. The increasing importance and expense of firearms meant that the size and cost of the Janissaries increased over time, while the importance of the landholding Turkish cavalry decreased. At the same time, New World silver brought inflation and undermined the purchasing power of the fixed tax income of the cavalry.

20. Financial deterioration and the use of short-term mercenary soldiers brought a wave of rebellions and banditry to Anatolia. The Janissaries began to marry, went into business, and enrolled their sons in the Janissary corps, which grew in number but declined in military readiness.

D0. Economic Change and Growing Weakness

10. The period of crisis led to significant changes in Ottoman institutions. The sultan now lived a secluded life in his palace, the affairs of government were in the hands of chief administrators and the Janissaries had become a politically powerful hereditary elite who spent more time on crafts and trade than on military training.

20. In the rural areas, the system of land grants in return for military service had been replaced by a system of tax farming. Rural administration came to depend on powerful provincial governors and wealthy tax farmers.

30. In the context of disorder and decline, formerly peripheral places like Izmir flourished as Ottoman control over trade declined and European merchants came to purchase Iranian silk and local agricultural products. This growing trade brought the agricultural economies of western Anatolia, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean coast into the European commercial network.

40. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was clear that the Ottoman Empire was in economic and military decline. Europeans dominated Ottoman import and export trade by sea, but they did not control strategic ports or establish colonial settlements on Ottoman territory.

50. During the Tulip Period (1718–1730), the Ottoman ruling class enjoyed European luxury goods and replicated the Dutch tulip mania of the sixteenth century. In 1730, the Patrona Halil rebellion indicated the weakness of the central state; provincial elites took advantage of this weakness to increase their power and their wealth.

II0. The Safavid Empire, 1502–1722

A0. Safavid Society and Religion

10. Ismail declared himself shah of Iran in 1502 and ordered that his followers and subjects all adopt Shi’ite Islam, in the end creating a deep chasm between Iran and its Sunni neighbors.

20. Conversion to Shi’ite belief made permanent the cultural difference between Iran and its Arab neighbors that had already been developing. From the tenth century onward, Persian literature and Persian decorative styles had been diverging from Arabic culture—a process that had intensified when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad and thus put an end to that city’s role as an influential center of Islamic culture.

30. Under the Safavids, Iranian culture was further distinguished by the strength of Shi’ite beliefs, including the concept of the Hidden Imam and the deeply emotional annual commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn.

B0. A Tale of Two Cities: Isfahan and Istanbul

10. Isfahan and Istanbul were very different in their outward appearance. Istanbul was a busy port city with a colony of European merchants, a walled palace, and a skyline punctuated by brick domes and soaring minarets. Isfahan was an inland city with few Europeans, unobtrusive minarets, brightly tiled domes, and an open palace with a huge plaza for polo games.

20. Both cities were built for walking (not for wheeled vehicles), had few open spaces, narrow and irregular streets, and artisan and merchant guilds.

30. Women were seldom seen in public in Istanbul or in Isfahan, being confined in women’s quarters in their homes; however, records indicate that Ottoman women were active in the real estate market and appeared in court cases. Public life was almost entirely the domain of men.

40. Despite an Armenian merchant community, Isfahan was not a cosmopolitan city, nor was the population of the Safavid Empire particularly diverse. Istanbul’s location gave it a cosmopolitan character comparable to that of other great seaports, in spite of the fact that the sultan’s wealth was built on his territorial possessions, not on the voyages of his merchants.

C0. Economic Crisis and Political Collapse

10. Iran’s manufactures included silk and its famous carpets but, overall, the manufacturing sector was small and not very productive. The agricultural sector (farming and herding) did not see any significant technological developments partly because the nomad chieftains who ruled the rural areas had no interest in building the agricultural economy.

20. Like the Ottomans, the Safavids were plagued by the expense of firearms and by the reluctance of nomad warriors to use firearms. Shah Abbas responded by establishing a slave corps of year-round professional soldiers armed with guns.

30. In the late sixteenth century, inflation caused by cheap silver and a decline in overland trade made it difficult for the Safavid state to pay its army and bureaucracy. An Afghan army took advantage of this weakness to capture Isfahan and end Safavid rule in 1722.

III0. The Mughal Empire, 1526-1739

A0. Political Foundations

10. The Mughal Empire was established and consolidated by the Turkic warrior Babur (1483–1530) and his grandson Akbar (r. 1556–1605). Akbar established a central administration and granted nonhereditary land revenues to his military officers and government officials.

20. Akbar and his successors gave efficient administration and peace to their prosperous northern heartland.

30. Foreign trade boomed, but the Mughals, like the Safavids, did not maintain a navy or merchant marine, preferring to allow Europeans to serve as carriers.

B0. Hindus and Muslims

10. The Mughals inherited traditions of religious tolerance from earlier Muslin rulers, both inside and outside India. For example, fifteen percent of Mughal officials holding land revenues were Hindus, most of them from northern Rajput warrior families.

20. Akbar was the most illustrious of the Mughal rulers: he took the throne at thirteen and commanded the government on his own at twenty. Akbar worked for reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims by marrying a Hindu Rajput princess and by introducing reforms that reduced taxation and legal discrimination against Hindus.

30. Akbar made himself the center of a short-lived eclectic new religion (Divine Faith) and sponsored a court culture in which Hindu and Muslim elements were mixed.

C0. Central Decay and Regional Challenges

10. The Mughal Empire declined after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. Factors contributing to the Mughal decline include the land grant system, the failure to completely integrate Aurangzeb’s newly conquered territory into the imperial administration, and the rise of regional powers. The real power of the Mughal rulers came to an end in 1739 after Nadir Shah raided Delhi; the empire survived in name until 1858.

20. As the Mughal government lost power, Mughal regional officials bearing the title of nawab established their own more or less independent states. These regional states were prosperous, but they could not effectively prevent the intrusion of Europeans such as the French, whose representative Joseph Dupleix captured the English trading center of Madras and became a power broker in southern India until he was recalled to France in 1754.

IV. The Russian Empire, 1500-1725

A0. The Drive Across Northern Asia

10. Following the dissolution of Mongol power in Russia, the city of Moscow became the foundation for a new state, Muscovy, which absorbed the territory of the former Kievan state and Novgorod in the west and conquered the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. The Muscovite ruler Ivan IV took the title of tsar in 1547.

20. The natural direction for Russian expansion was east; expansion in Siberia was led by armed adventurers who defeated the only political power in the region, the Khanate of Sibir, and took land from the small hunting and fishing groups of native people. Siberia was valued first for its furs and timber and as a penal colony.

30. In the 1650s, the expanding Russian Empire met the expanding Qing Empire in Mongolia, Central Asia, and along the Amur. A treaty between the two powers in 1689 recognized Russian claims west of Mongolia.

B0. Russian Society and Politics to 1725

10. As the empire expanded, it incorporated a diverse set of peoples, cultures, and religions. This often produced internal tensions.

20. The Cossacks belonged to close-knit bands and made temporary alliances with whoever could pay for their military services.

30. Despite the fact that the Cossacks often performed important services for the Russian Empire, they managed to maintain a high degree of autonomy.

40. Threats and invasions by Sweden and Poland and internal disputes among the Russian aristocracy (boyars) in the seventeenth century led to the overthrow of the old line of Muscovite rulers and the enthronement of Mikhail Romanov in 1613. The Romanov rulers combined consolidation of their authority with territorial expansion to the east.

50. As the power of the Romanov rose, the freedom of Russian peasants fell.

60. In 1649, Russian peasants were legally transformed into serfs.

C0. Peter the Great

10. Peter the Great (r. 1689–1725) fought the Ottomans in an attempt to gain a warm-water port on the Black Sea and to liberate Constantinople (Istanbul) from Muslim rule, but he did not achieve either goal. Peter was more successful in the Great Northern War, in which he broke Swedish control over the Baltic and established direct contacts between Russia and Europe.

20. Following his victory in the Great Northern War, Peter built a new capital, St. Petersburg, which was to contribute the westernization of the Russian elites and demonstrate to Europeans the sophistication of Russia. The new capital was also intended to help break the power of the boyars by reducing their traditional roles in the government and in the army.

30. Peter wanted to use European technology and culture to strengthen Russia and to strengthen the autocratic power of his government; he was not interested in political liberalization. As an autocratic ruler, Peter brought the Russian Orthodox Church under his control; built industrial plants to serve the military; and increased the burdens of taxes and labor on the serfs, whom the Russian Empire depended upon for the production of basic foodstuffs.

V0. The Maritime Worlds of Islam, 1500–1750

A0. Muslims in Southeast Asia

10. It is not clear exactly when and how Islam spread in Southeast Asia. It appears that conversion and the formation of Muslim communities began in port cities and royal courts in the fourteenth century and was transmitted to the countryside by itinerant Sufis.

20. In the places where it had spread, Islam functioned as a political ideology that strengthened resistance to European incursions in places such as the Sulu archipelago, Mindanao, Brunei, and Acheh.

30. The rulers and the people of Southeast Asian kingdoms appear to have developed understandings of Islam that deviated from the standards of scholars from Mecca and Medina.

40. Royal courts and port cities began to adopt the more orthodox practices advocated by pilgrims returning from Arabia, while the rural people developed forms of Islam that incorporated some of their pre-Muslim religious and social practices.

B0. Muslims in Coastal Africa

10. The Muslim-ruled port cities of the Swahili Coast were not well connected with each other, nor did they have much contact with the people of their dry hinterlands. Cooperation was hindered by the thick bush country that separated the tracts of coastal land and by the fact that the cities competed with each other for trade.

20. The Portuguese established themselves at Malindi and elsewhere on the Swahili Coast. Between 1650 and 1729, however, the Arabs of Oman drove the Portuguese out of most of East Africa and created a maritime empire of their own.

30. In northwest Africa, Spanish and Portuguese seizure of coastal Morocco provoked a victorious militant response from the Sa’ adi family, who claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad. By the early seventeenth century, British ships faced raids by Moroccans as far north as Britain itself.

40. Muslim sea raiders from Algerian, Tunisian, and Libyan ports imitated European warfare against European ships in the Mediterranean.

C0. European Powers in Southern Seas

10. The better-organized Dutch drove the Portuguese out of Malacca in 1641, conquered local kingdoms on Sumatra and Java, and established a colonial capital at Batavia (now Jakarta).

20. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Dutch found it impossible to maintain monopoly control over the spice market. Instead, they turned to crop production, focusing on lumber and coffee.

VI0. Conclusion

A0. Despite their efforts in conquering more land, the land-based Mughal, Safavid, and Ottoman empires faced increasing difficulty in maintaining traditional military forces compared to smaller European countries.

B0. In contrast to the Asian tradition that imperial wealth came from control of broad expanses of agricultural land, European countries promoted joint-stock companies and enjoyed the prosperity gained from their ever-increasing control of Indian Ocean commerce.

C0. Eighteenth-century European observers marveled no less at the riches and industry of the Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid lands than at the fundamental weakness of their political and military systems.

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