Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After a period of decline within the Ottoman Empire, two grand viziers of the Köprülü family initiated imperial revival. The revival would not last, however, as failed battles and conquests by the empire took their toll, uniting Christendom against the Turks and marking the beginning of the decline of a major world empire.

Summary of Event

The reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) marked the culmination of the Ottoman Empire as a great power. During the four succeeding reigns (to 1617), the momentum was sustained, but thereafter the empire began to decline, a decline that was only temporarily reversed during the reign of Murad IV Murad IV (1623-1640). Under Murad’s ineffectual successors, there was further deterioration in the once-imposing imperial structure. [kw]Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery (1656-1676) Government and politics;1656-1676: Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery[1890] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1656-1676: Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery[1890] Middle East;1656-1676: Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery[1890] Ottoman Empire;1656-1676: Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery[1890] Ottoman Empire

Mehmed IV Avci Mehmed IV Avci was just six years old at the time of his accession, meaning that real power lay with the Queen Mother, Hatice Turhan Sultan Hatice Turhan Sultan (also known as Khadija Turhan Hadice), who wielded unlimited control. The young sultan was encouraged to indulge his passion for hunting. Soon, the empire began to fall apart. In particular, its protracted war with Venice over Crete, Crete, conquest of the empire’s last significant colonial possession, was going badly. In June of 1656, the Venetians defeated the Ottoman fleet at the Dardanelles and occupied the nearby islands of Lemnos and Tenedos. Desperate remedies were needed. On September 15, 1656, at a meeting of the divan (council of state), the current grand vizier was dismissed and an octogenarian of comparative obscurity, Köprülü Mehmed Paşa Köprülü Mehmed Paşa , replaced him. Members of the Köprülü family were to retain the vizierate in almost unbroken succession until 1710. The first two Köprülü grand viziers (the second was Mehmed Paşa’s son, Fazıl Ahmed Paşa Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Paşa ) undertook vigorous reforms and military initiatives that temporarily restored the empire to much of its former prestige

A product of the Ottoman slave-bureaucracy, Mehmed Paşa was born in Rojnik, near Berat, Albania. Trained in the sultan’s palace, he graduated to a succession of governorships in Anatolia and Rumelia. By the standards of the times, his was not an exceptional career, but he had vast knowledge into how the empire worked and was a shrewd judge of individuals. He also knew the precariousness of high office in Constantinople and made his acceptance of the vizierate conditional: First, the sultan was to issue no commands on the basis of any written communications that did not originate with him; second, no high official was to act independently of him; third, he would brook no interference in the making of appointments; and fourth, the sultan was to ignore any calumnies made about him. With his conditions agreed to, he set about a thorough overhaul of the administration, placing his protégés in key positions and ruthlessly weeding out the corrupt or incompetent. Many heads rolled

Mehmed Paşa, essentially conservative, thought up reforms aimed at ensuring a return to the glories of Süleyman’s time. First, however, internal order had to be restored. Parts of Anatolia and Syria had seen rampant disorder for half a century, as brigand bands collaborated with corrupt local governors. By February of 1659, the rebel pashas (leaders) had been rounded up and executed, with the head of the foremost pasha displayed in Constantinople as a warning. Also, the war with Venice demanded immediate attention. The war fleet that had been lost at the Dardanelles was rebuilt, and it recaptured Tenebos in August and Lesbos in November of 1657, enabling a strong fight for Crete

In the Balkans, though, the Ottoman position remained weak. From the time of the close of the Fifteen Years’ War between the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire in 1606 (Treaty of Zsitvatorok Zsitvatorok, Treaty of (1606) ), the vassal princes of Transylvania Transylvania —Gabriel Bethlen, Bethlen, Gabriel György I Rákóczi Rákóczi, György I , and György II Rákóczi Rákóczi, György II —had functioned as virtually independent rulers, setting a bad example to the voievods (princes) of Walachia and Moldavia. In 1657, without the sultan’s permission, Rákóczi led an army into Poland, hoping to acquire the Polish throne. The Poles offered a spirited resistance, Rákóczi’s forces withdrew, and the Crimean Tatars, loyal vassals of the sultan, fell upon the retreating army and forced its surrender. In October, 1657, Mehmed Paşa took the field, ordering the Transylvanian diet at Gyulafehérvár (now Alba Iulia, Romania), the capital, to depose Rákóczi and choose a new prince. Rákóczi defied this order, the principality was laid waste, and Gyulafehérvár burned to the ground. The newly appointed prince agreed to pay an annual tribute of 40,000 gold pieces as well as reparations, and Mehmed Paşa returned to Constantinople.

Civil war in Transylvania led to the death of Rákóczi, at Nagyvárad (now Oradea, Romania) in 1660. Mehmed Paşa sent into Transylvania a new army, which captured the great fortress of Várad (August). Transylvania was now restored to vassal status. A compliant prince, Michael Apafi Apafi, Michael , would rule Transylvania for the next three decades.

Mehmed Paşa died in 1661, after a short but strenuous administration. At his request, he was succeeded as grand vizier by his twenty-six-year-old son, Fazıl Ahmed Paşa, who provided continuity with his father’s administration. Scholar and soldier, Ahmed Paşa was extremely able, having held several provincial governorships before returning to Constantinople to act as his father’s deputy during the latter’s final illness. While he continued his father’s reforms, improving the quality and discipline of the army and using the powers of the central government to protect the non-Muslim, tax-paying peasantry (reaya), his military actions raised the empire’s prestige to a level not seen for a century. Moreover, the harshness and abrasiveness of his father was replaced by a certain suavity that placated opposition. War with the Habsburg Dynasty during 1663-1664 started because of Austrian incursions across the Transylvanian frontier. Ahmed Paşa led his forces into Hungary, but he was defeated at Szentgotthárd Szentgotthárd, Battle of (1664) (Saint Gotthard) in August, 1664. Christendom was jubilant, but the Ottoman army extracted itself virtually intact, enabling Ahmed Paşa to negotiate highly favorable terms with the Austrians.

By the Treaty of Vasvár Vasvár, Treaty of (1664) (August 10, 1664), Austria withdrew its troops from Transylvania and acknowledged Apafi as prince. The Ottomans retained possession of Hungary and Transylvania, and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I Leopold I (Holy Roman Emperor) agreed to pay reparations. Ottoman forces were free to complete the conquest of Crete. The struggle with Venice had dragged on since 1645, and Candia Candia, Siege of (1647-1669) (now Iráklion, island of Crete) had sustained a twenty-eight-month siege. The garrison finally surrendered in September, 1669, and the conquest of the island was complete.

Ahmed Paşa then turned his attention to the “triangle” northwest of the Black Sea, where Ottoman interests clashed with those of Poland and Muscovy. The Black Sea littoral had been firmly restored to Ottoman control by the earlier pacification of Transylvania, which had forced into line Walachia and Moldavia. Beyond Moldavia, between the lower Prut River and the lower Dniester River, was the Ottoman province of Bessarabia, east of which lay the Tatar khanate of the Crimea, an Ottoman vassal since 1475. The entire region to the north became chronically unstable since the Dnieper Cossack chieftain Bohdan Khmelnytsky Khmelnytsky, Bohdan (1595-1657) had led the great revolt against Poland in 1648-1654, inadvertently luring Muscovy into the resulting power vacuum.

Ahmed Paşa saw the danger to Ottoman interests inherent in the situation, and determined to occupy Podolia Podolia , which was then Polish territory located between the upper Dniester and Bug Rivers northeast of Bessarabia. Sultan Mehmed IV Avci took to the battlefield. Ottoman forces overran much of Podolia between June and December, 1672, capturing the great fortress of Kamieniec Podolski on August 27, 1672. Polish resistance collapsed, and in the Treaty of Buczacz (October, 1672) Buczacz, Treaty of (1672) , Polish negotiators ceded all Podolia, together with an annual tribute of 22,000 gold ducats. With Crete, therefore, Podolia became the last Ottoman territorial acquisition.


The administration of the first two Köprülü grand viziers achieved a tangible renewal of the Ottoman Empire, but the empire could not be saved in the long run. The two fought corruption and cronyism (other than their own), they inflicted severe pain on evildoers at all levels of government, and they achieved substantial military success. In a word, they did what the Ottomans had always done best: fought and conquered. Unfortunately, that very success may have hastened its own decline.

Ahmed Paşa was succeeded as grand vizier by his brother-in-law, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Kara Mustafa Paşa, Merzifonlu , in 1676. Swayed by the very success of his predecessors, Kara Mustafa recklessly launched what has been called the last jihad (holy war), the failed Siege of Vienna Vienna, Siege of (1683) in 1683, which led to his execution in Belgrade on the sultan’s orders and to the unleashing of what has been called the last crusade. The armies of the Holy League (1684-1699) swept back the Ottoman forces to the Danube River, and at the disastrous Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) Karlowitz, Treaty of (1699) , which had been negotiated by another Köprülü, Grand Vizier Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa (1697-1702), the Ottomans were forced to relinquish Hungary and Transylvania to the Habsburgs, Podolia to the Poles, and the Morea to Venice. Karlowitz marked the end of an epoch. Henceforth, the Ottoman posture would be defensive rather than offensive

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dankoff, Robert. The Intimate Life of an Ottoman Statesman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. This text examines the Köprülü age, as witnessed by Evliya Çelebi (1611-c. 1684), the celebrated Ottoman man of letters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi Books, 1994. Goodwin provides an excellent account of the Ottoman war machine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greene, Molly. A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. Greene explores the Crete of the time of the Ottoman conquest and after.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empires. New York: Morrow Quill, 1977. Kinross provides an engaging, leisurely narrative.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Makkai, Laszlo, and Zoltan Szasz. History of Transylvania. Vol. 2. Toronto, Ont.: Hungarian Research Institute of Canada, 2002. A detailed account of the Ottoman presence in Transylvania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. A useful work that examines seventeenth century Ottoman military campaigning.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 1 in Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A standard scholarly history, with integrated treatment of the Candian war and Ottoman governmental developments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sugar, Peter F. Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977. An authoritative account of Ottoman involvement in the Balkans.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa; Bohdan Khmelnytsky; Kösem Sultan; Leopold I; Murad IV. Ottoman Empire

Categories: History