The Ottoman Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Ottoman Empire, founded by Osman I (r. 1290-1326), dominated much of southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa between the fourteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Political Considerations

The Ottoman Empire, founded by Osman Osman IOsman I (Ottoman founder)[Osman 01]I (r. 1290-1326), dominated much of southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa between the fourteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ottoman military superiority in the Balkans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries stemmed from the use of new modern armaments integrating infantry and cavalry with innovative tactics. The Ottomans borrowed methods from their adversaries and even used Christian and Jewish soldiers and officers in their campaigns. In addition to a magnificent army, they had a navy that was among the best in the Mediterranean area. However, one aspect of the early Ottoman success has been greatly exaggerated–that of the Ottomans’ superiority in numbers. The Ottomans’ rapid conquest of the Christian, Greek-speaking, Eastern Roman Byzantine Byzantine Empire;Ottoman conquestEmpire, as well as the other Balkan states in the years from 1290 to 1453, came not from larger forces but from essentially waiting for their Christian rivals to destroy each other in battle and then moving in and taking over the remaining territory. The Ottoman sultans made alliances with Christian states, and Turkish soldiers served as Mercenaries;TurkmenMercenaries;Christianmercenaries in Christian armies, just as Christians fought in the Turkish armies.Ottoman EmpireIslam;Ottoman EmpireOttoman EmpireIslam;Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Turks seize Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453 to establish the Ottoman Empire.

(Library of Congress)

National mythology has also greatly exaggerated the historical significance of key Ottoman victories before 1453, such as the defeat of the Serbs at Kosovo on June 15, 1389. In many ways the Ottomans inherited the Balkans;OttomansBalkans by default, because the Byzantine army collapsed as a result of internal civil wars and external invasions by the Western European Christian Crusaders and other neighboring Christian states.

The decisive victory that established the Ottoman domination of the Balkans was the Siege of Constantinople, Siege of (1453)[Constantinople, Siege of 1453]Constantinople in 1453. The Turks had prepared for this battle for fifty years. According to legend, the city was to fall to a sultan bearing the name of the prophet Muḥammad. Sultan Mehmed Mehmed IMehmed I (Ottoman sultan)[Mehmed 01]I (r. 1402-1421) initially appeared to be that man, but an internal contest for the throne and a war against TamerlaneTamerlane (Turkic leader)Tamerlane in the east made his attack on the Byzantine capital impossible. However, when his grandson Mehmed Mehmed IIMehmed II (Ottoman sultan)[Mehmed 02]II (1432-1481) ascended the throne in 1451, both sultan and people were ready.

Ottoman Expansion Under Süleyman the Magnificent

By 1453 Constantinople had become a shadow of its former self. The city’s population, which had once exceeded one million people, had declined to only several tens of thousands. Constantinople was no longer a unified city but rather a series of villages behind walls. Mehmed II prepared his attack carefully, building fortresses on both sides of the Bosporus–Anadolu Hisari on the Asian side and Rumeli Hisari on the European side–the ruins of which still stand. He strengthened the Janissariesjanissary corps, raising their pay and improving the officer ranks. He constructed causeways over the Galati hill north of the old city, so that he could have his ships dragged up and over to the Golden Horn, the harbor of Constantinople, circumnavigating the chain and flotilla that protected the entrance to the city’s vulnerable side. Mehmed’s fleet of 125 Navies;Ottomanships and an additional number of smaller support craft was five times larger than that of the Greeks. With this fleet, Mehmed prevented the Byzantines from bringing supplies by sea as they had done in the past. The first Turkish troops to reach the walls of Constantinople in April, 1453, were a few knights, who were successfully met by the Byzantine soldiers in a brief skirmish. Ottoman reinforcements then drove the Greeks back behind the walls. Massive Turkish forces gathered over the next days, including cavalry, infantry, engineers, and naval forces. Most important were the cannons Mehmed had placed at the heretofore impenetrable walls; they began a constant bombardment that continued for seven weeks until they finally breached the wall.

Mehmed and his entourage of janissary soldiers, advisers, and imams, or religious leaders, took up their positions before the city. Mehmed offered the city either mercy if it surrendered without a fight, or pillage if it chose to fight. TheGreece;siege of ConstantinopleGreeks chose to fight to the last.

After the fall of Constantinople the Ottomans continued to expand throughout the Muslim world in the Near East and North Africa. At the height of the empire under the sultan Süleyman Süleyman the MagnificentSüleyman the Magnificent (Ottoman sultan)[Suleyman the Magnificent]I the Magnificent (1494 or 1495-1566) the European boundaries reached beyond the Danube River to the gates of Vienna. Süleyman’s failure to take the Habsburg capital owed as much to the limitations of Ottoman military tactics, especially the definition of its campaigns by annual sorties lasting only from the spring to the fall, as it did to the defense of the Viennese. Süleyman also fought and lost to the naval forces of King Philip Philip IIPhilip II (king of Spain)[Philip 02 king of Spain]);vs. Süleyman[Suleyman]II of Spain (1527-1598) in the Mediterranean at the celebrated Battle of Lepanto, Second Battle of (1571)Lepanto (1571).

After Süleyman the Ottoman Empire went into a decline. Succeeding sultans rarely left their palaces and placed state matters in the hands of their ministers, most of whom were Christian slaves taken in the child tax from Balkan families. The Ottomans fought against Austria, Poland, the Papacy, and other European states for control of the Danubian plain for two hundred years. However, they found a European ally in France. In the late seventeenth century the grand viziers of the Albanian Köprülü Köprülü family (Ottoman rulers)[Koprulu]family arrested the decline of the Ottoman Empire and spearheaded a revival of its former power. However, in 1664 at Szentgotthárd, on the Austrian-Hungarian border, the Ottomans suffered their first loss of land to the Christian Christianity;vs. Ottomans[Ottomans]powers. After the Thirty Years’ War Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648);decline of Ottomans(1618-1648) the improved European armies surpassed the Turkish army in organization, tactics, training, armament, and even leadership. The Turks, whose advanced techniques and equipment had previously been their strong points, now found themselves falling behind their adversaries in these areas.

The Ottomans’ failure to take Vienna in a second attempt (1683) began the loss of their territory to the European powers. In the eighteenth century the empire lost wars and land to both Austria and Russia. Inside the empire local warlords carved out virtually independent fiefdoms throughout the imperial provinces. The sultan’s personal authority in reality did not extend beyond Constantinople. The grand janissary corps, which had gained the right to marry, were less an effective fighting force than a collection of sinecures. In 1792 Sultan Selim Selim IIISelim III (Ottoman sultan)[Selim 03]III (1761-1808) turned to France, the empire’s old ally, for assistance in modernizing Ottoman armed forces, creating a modern corps in addition to the janissaries. However, the French Revolution (1789-1799) and the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) interrupted the partnership. The empire suffered from internal revolutions, such as those by the Serbs and the Greeks, and from uprisings by warlords and rogue pashas such as Ali Ali PaşaAli PaşaPaşa (1741-1822), known as the Lion of Janina, in modern Albania, as well as wars with Russia and Persia. In a janissary Janissary revolt of 1806revolt in 1806 Selim was dethroned and killed. His successor, Sultan Mahmud Mahmud IIMahmud II (Ottoman sultan)[Mahmud 02]II (1785-1839), believed that the defeat of Napoleon INapoleon I (Bonaparte)[Napoleon 01];and Ottomans[Ottomans]Napoleon would guarantee Ottoman territory at the Congress of Vienna Vienna, Congress of (1814-1815)(1814-1815), but when the Greek uprising of Greece;uprising of 18211821 split the European alliance, Mahmud found himself at war against the combined forces of Russia, France, and England. In 1826, in order to modernize his forces, he did away with the janissaries.

The Ottoman Empire, c. 1700

Mahmud’s successor, Abdülmecid Abdülmecid IAbdülmecid I (Ottoman sultan)[Abdulmecid 01]I (1823-1861), allied himself to the powers by promising reforms in the treatment of his non-Muslim subjects. In the 1830’s and 1840’s the powers protected Abdülmecid from a vassal revolt. In the 1850’s England and France joined Abdülmecid in the victorious Crimean War Crimean War (1853-1856);Ottoman Empire(1853-1856) against Russia. However, in 1877 Russia again went to war against the Turks to aid a Balkan uprising. Although the Russians defeated the Turks and liberated the Christian states of the region, England, Turkey’s ally, prevented the Russian troops from taking Istanbul.

In the early twentieth century the Young Young TurksTurk Revolution brought constitutional government and more westernization to the empire. However, Turkey lost wars to Italy (1911) and to a coalition of Balkan states (1912-1913), only managing to regain a modest amount of European territory around Edirne in the Second Balkan Balkan War, Second (1913)War (May-June, 1913). After feeling betrayed by England and France, the Young Turk leaders turned toward friendship with Germany. After the outbreak of World War I in World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];TurkeyTurkey;World War I[World War 01]1914, Turkey joined with the Central Powers in November of that year. Turkish troops faced the Russians in the Caucasus and the English in the Near East. The English had by then occupied Egypt and supported a revolt of the Arabs in Saudia Arabia and Palestine. With the collapse of Russia in 1917, the Turks received territory in the Caucasus, but the following year the Central Powers lost the war and the Allies divided up the territory of the empire among themselves.

However, while the Allies occupied Constantinople, Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938), later named AtatürkAtatürk[Ataturk]Atatürk, or Father of Turks, raised the standard of revolt in Ankara, where he set up a rival government. Kemal led the army to victory over the Greeks (1920-1922) and renegotiated the Treaty of Sèvres Treaty of 1920[Sevres]Sèvres (1920) to his advantage in the Treaty of Lausanne Treaty of 1923Lausanne (1923), creating the Republic of Turkey;republic ofTurkey and bringing the Ottoman Empire to its official end.

Military Achievement

The Ottoman Empire in its early years successfully defeated the Christian powers of Europe and the Muslim states of the Near East. This success stemmed from the Ottomans’ innovative use of tactics and strategy integrating cavalry and infantry. The Ottoman Cavalry;Ottomancavalry, or Sipahis (Ottoman cavalry)sipahi (rendered in English as “spahi”), was drawn from the noble free-born Muslim class, whereas the infantry, the janissaries, were slaves of the sultan forcibly recruited from the children of conquered European peoples, converted to Islam, and trained as fierce fighters. There were also irregular cavalry and infantry troops. The Ottomans also did not hesitate, when it served their purposes, to use Christian or Jewish commanders, as well as Christian allies and mercenaries.

The Muslims were among the first to effectively use cannon and gunpowder. Their success against European armies continued into the seventeenth century, when the decline of the empire began.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

In Armor;OttomanUniforms;Ottomanthe early centuries the Ottomans effectively used siege weapons and artillery, such as mortars, catapults, and large cannons, that fired both iron and stone shot. Mehmed Mehmed IIMehmed II (Ottoman sultan)[Mehmed 02]II, also called Mehmed the Conqueror, wished to have the most modern weapons and ordered a Hungarian gunsmith to build him large cannons, one of which was used at Constantinople, that could fire 1,200-pound cannonballs. JanissariesJanissaries used scimitars, knives, stabbing swords, battle-axes, and harquebuses. The Turks were also skilled marksmen using muskets. Ottoman archers continuously rained arrows on the defenders of cities they attacked. The Ottomans were renowned for their sappers as well, who attacked the enemy’s fortifications with axes. The spahi cavalry, true medieval warriors, carried bows, swords, lances, shields, and maces. The Ottoman Navies;OttomanOttoman Empire;navynavy consisted of corsairs and oared galleons.

The Turks established local janissaries and other regional corps in different parts of the empire, each with its own distinct uniforms, pennants, and standards. The traditional Ottoman uniforms consisted of short, loose pantaloons, a short shirt with a large sash, a high turban, stockings that reached above the hem of the pantaloons, and Turkish-style slippers. Janissaries also wore long, flowing robes and felt hats. The Akhis (Ottoman officers)akhis, or officers, wore pantaloons, sashes, capes, red boots, long fur-trimmed robes, and tall, elaborately carved, large-plumed helmets whose height depended on the wearer’s rank. Janissary food bearers wore black uniforms, sandals, pantaloons, short jackets with long sleeves, half-vestlike shirts, and conical hats. The sultans rode on caparisoned, or decoratively adorned, horses and carried bejeweled weapons.

The janissaries’ standard was the scarlet crescent and double-edged sword symbol of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty. The akhis carried staffs with tails representing the sleeve of the sheik of the Bektashi dervishes, the janissaries’ religious order. The number of tails on the akhi’s staff depended on his rank. The janissaries’ staff bore a spoon symbolizing their higher standard of living. The insignia of the janissary corps was the soup pot and the spoon. Officers bore titles from the kitchen such as the First Maker of Soup, First Cook, and First Water-Bearer. The soup pot was the sacred object around which the janissaries gathered to eat or discuss events and policies. In rebellions they traditionally overturned these soup pots.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Turkish armament lagged behind the times. In 1796 the French ambassador General Jean-Baptiste Aubert-Dubayet, Jean-BaptisteAubert-Dubayet, Jean-Baptiste[Aubert Dubayet, Jean Baptiste]Aubert-Dubayet brought to Turkey several pieces of modern armament and artillery as models for the Turks to copy and French engineers and artillery officers to teach the Turks modern methods. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Ottoman Empire continued to modernize its forces and weaponry. Before World War I the Germans improved upon Turkish arms. German General Otto Liman von Sanders, Otto Liman vonSanders, Otto Liman vonSanders (1855-1929) came to Turkey to oversee the training of troops. During the war the Turks had excellent gunnery. However, two battleships ordered from England, which were to be the best of the fleet, had not been delivered before the Turks joined the Central Powers and were confiscated by the British. In the late nineteenth century the Turks adopted typical European khaki winter and summer army and blue navy uniforms. For officers, the Fez (hat)Headgear;Turkishfez–a brimless, flat-crowned hat–replaced the turban.

Military Organization

Within the Ottoman Empire the government and the military were closely linked. The empire was divided into two parts: European and Asian, each governed by Aghas (Ottoman governors)aghas, area governors who administered the empire in the name of the sultan. Under the aghas stood the provincial governors, or sanjak beys. The sanjak, which has come to mean “province,” was literally the standard of the governor, or bey. In 1453 there were twenty sanjaks in Asia and twenty-eight in Europe. The sanjak Sanjak beys (Ottoman governors) beys commanded troops, operated the policing powers in their provinces, and collected taxes. Within the sanjaks there were two types of agricultural estates: large zaimets and smaller timars. Ottoman theory held that all land belonged to God and was managed by the sultan; the managers of these estates were free-born Muslim noblemen. The spahis, knights who served as the cavalry of the Ottoman armies, were the most numerous Ottoman warriors. The early sultans gave most of the land they conquered to these warriors, although a minor portion was reserved for government and diplomatic officials. The peasants, called rayah, literally “cattle,” were the Serfs;Ottoman Empire serfs who worked the land. The other governing functions were handled by the various Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious authorities who ruled their own communities.

The Ottomans used both regular and irregular troops as police forces. The two most important regular land forces were the janissary infantry corps and the spahi knights. The Ottoman navy was a supplementary force that often carried janissary troops, as well as naval officers and sailors.

The Janissariesjanissaries were Christian and Jewish Childrenboys, as young as seven years old, periodically gathered in the Balkans through a child tax, called devshirme. Girls were also gathered to serve in various harems. Sultan Orhan (Ottoman sultan) Orhan (c. 1288-c. 1360) started the corps as a bodyguard, and Murad I (c. 1326-1389) developed it as a militia to guard the European territories. The boys were selected for the janissary corps based on their strength and intelligence. They were educated as Muslim Bektashi Bektashi dervishes Dervishes dervishes, the religious order favored by Ohran, and housed in barracks at Bursa. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II moved the main janissary barracks to the sultan’s palace in the capital. During battle, conquered fortresses served as their barracks, and local produce served as their food.

A minority, approximately 15 percent, of the most intelligent children were selected for government and diplomatic service, while the remainder were trained for the janissaries. The boys were educated in the palace school, where they studied subjects such as Turkish history, Muslim literature, and romantic and martial music. They practiced gymnastics and sports on both foot and horseback to increase their strength and agility. The students became expert in archery, swordsmanship, javelin throwing, and riding.

Early janissaries could not own property, marry, or perform other service, but they were armed and well paid and had a strong esprit de corps. They were the most respected infantry in Europe: fearless, well trained, dedicated troops with intelligent and cool-headed commanders. At the dedication of the corps, the sheik of the Bektashi, an officer of the corps, promised, “Its visage shall be bright and shining, its arm strong, its sword keen, its arrow sharp-pointed. It shall be victorious in every battle and will never return except in triumph.” The janissaries were known for their military discipline, which rivaled that of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Republic of Turkey, 1923

In contrast to the “inside aghas,” who were leaders of the government and palace service, the chief janissary officers held the title of “outside aghas.” In the time of Mehmed II they numbered a force of ten thousand. They were unique in Europe, where most armies consisted almost completely of cavalry. The janissaries were commanded only by aghas, who had been appointed by the sultan, and the provincial beys and pashas had no authority over them.

When the Ottoman Empire went into decline, the janissary corps began to deteriorate. Muslims were recruited into the janissaries, affecting the traditional camaraderie. Janissaries also worked as artisans to supplement their income. During Süleyman’s reign, they received the right to marry, and their sons began entering the corps, first through loopholes in the law and later through quotas. Nepotism grew rampant. Murad IV (1612-1640), recognizing the de facto practice, abolished the devshirme. Janissaries often paid others to serve in the field in their place, while still collecting their pay and enjoying their privileges.

The corps, if they disagreed with the imperial policies, would often mutiny in the field or in Constantinople. The janissaries began to influence politics as early as the fifteenth century, when they backed the sultan Mehmed I against his brothers, but in the seventeenth century the corps became stronger than the sultan. Sultans and ministers curried favor with the janissaries as well as the spahis through promotion and pay raises.

The vizier Köprülü Amca-zāde Köprülü family (Ottoman rulers)[Koprulu]Hüseyin (died 1702) tried to reverse the downward trend by revising the muster roles of the janissaries, improving military equipment for both the janissaries and the navy, building new barracks, and refurbishing the imperial defenses, but the measures proved to be only temporary. The Ottoman forces also included renowned artillery and engineering units and highly skilled artisans who were supported through a guild system. These artisans supplied the Ottoman armies and maintained their morale and standard of living.

The Turkish Sipahis (Ottoman cavalry)sipahi cavalry were considered to be without peer. They were ready at any moment on the command of the sanjak beys to leave their fields and join in battle. Failure do so would mean loss of their position. Although the ranks were not hereditary, the son of a deceased spahi might be given a small amount of land for his needs. He would then have to prove himself in battle to earn a tamir or zaimet. There were also mounted soldiers at a lesser rank than spahi, and the spahis of the Porte in Constantinople, “the men of the sultan,” who formed a separate corps. In the seventeenth century the number of feudal spahis dwindled, and, like the janissaries, the spahi also began to hire substitutes, some of whom were unscrupulous adventurers. Spahis were no longer suited for all-year duty against the modern European artillery. At the Battle of Mezö-Keresztes, Battle of (1596)[Mezo Keresztes]Mezö-Keresztes (1596) against Hungary they left the field en masse. The sultan dismissed thirty thousand spahis, turning a large group of nobles into landless malcontents and further increasing the problems of the empire.

In times of war the Ottoman Empire employed a supplemental irregular cavalry, the Akinjis (Ottoman cavalry)akinjis. Other irregular troops were the azab Azab corps (Ottoman irregulars) corps, a reserve infantry founded by Orhan. The sixteenth century governor of Bosnia used another irregular force to police his sanjak. These irregular troops did not receive regular pay but were rewarded with spoils of war. However, jealous of the pay and privileges of the regular forces, they sometimes rebelled.

In the seventeenth century the Ottoman Empire also fell behind in inventory and supply. While the great powers of Europe established modern professional armies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the sultans stubbornly held on to their antiquated traditional techniques. They lacked modern financing procedures and an industrial system based on flexibility, free enterprise, and competition that was required for modern warfare. Pillaging and living off the land no longer sufficed. The haphazard Turkish system of taxes and economic restrictions held the empire’s military behind while its European enemies forged ahead. Furthermore, the janissaries and artisan guilds joined together to protect their traditional privileges and maintain the military’s traditional procedures.

In the eighteenth century all aspects of the army–training, discipline, armament, fortifications, field maneuvers–fell to a substandard state. Incompetence and ignorance ruled even in the most elementary matters. Open defiance and mutiny were rampant among the troops. Theft of supplies by both officers and soldiers was common. Janissaries often did not go on campaign but hired people in their stead. Janissaries would fight with their officers or demand privileges reserved for officers. The corps became a parasitic burden, a shadow of the unbeatable force it had been in its early days.

After a loss to the Russians in 1792, Sultan Selim Selim IIISelim III (Ottoman sultan)[Selim 03]III was anxious to reform his army. Although Selim’s many reforms were not limited to military matters, an overhaul of the army played a key part in his plans. Selim looked to France, where the French Revolution of France;and Ottomans[Ottomans]1789 had brought about a new order. He sent special ambassadors to the courts of Europe and studied their detailed reports. He was particularly interested in guns and artillery, about which he himself had written a treatise. He was especially impressed with the revolutionary French army and requested help from Paris to improve the Turkish military. The French experts improved Turkish gun foundries, arsenals, and equipment. In both the army and navy they taught the Turks gunnery, fortifications, navigation, and related subjects. The Turkish Engineers;Turkishengineering school was brought up to modern standards.

However, the sultan’s advisers were divided. Some insisted on maintaining the old Turkish ways at any cost, whereas others advocated the Western techniques only to restore the past Turkish glory; still others called for a complete overhaul of the Turkish military and society in the Western manner. Selim established the Topiji (Ottoman force)Topiji–a small force of prisoners, European deserters, and poor Muslims–and had them trained in the Western fashion as a prototype army. Impressed by the Topiji’s superiority, Selim tried to introduce their methods and arms into the Turkish forces. The spahis accepted the new methods, but the janissaries continued to resist modernization. Selim thus enlarged the Topiji force, which by then included some of the French officers who had remained in Turkey. In 1805 he introduced a draft but was assassinated the following year in a janissary Janissary revolt of 1806revolt. Mahmud II then ascended the throne.

The British defeat of the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Navarino Bay in 1827 effectively destroyed the Ottoman navy and paved the way for Greek independence.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

The success of Mehmed Ali of Egypt in building a Western army with Muslims encouraged Mahmud IIMahmud II (Ottoman sultan)[Mahmud 02]Mahmud to do away with the janissaries and rely solely upon the new army. Mahmud replaced the European officers training the troops with Muslims and ordered 150 troops from each janissary battalion to join the new corps. On June 15, 1826, as expected, the janissaries Janissary revolt of 1826revolted, overturning their soup pots and invading the palace. Mahmud was ready. He had increased his loyal artillery troops, placing them in strategic points in the streets. They drove the rebels back to their barracks, where they barricaded themselves and were destroyed by artillery in less then an hour. More than six thousand died in the shelling. Mahmud executed the surviving leaders, disbanded the corps, and outlawed the Bektashi dervish religious order. The remaining janissaries were exiled to Asia.

After the destruction of the janissaries, Mahmud reintroduced the old title serasker; originally held by a high commander of general rank, it was now given to the commander in chief who also served as minister of war and handled police duties in Constantinople. He paid special attention to the new army. Twelve thousand men were stationed at Constantinople and elsewhere in the provinces. Mahmud turned to England and Prussia for assistance training the new army. Officers were sent to England, and British officers came to Turkey. Prussia sent Lieutenant Helmuth von Moltke, Helmuth vonMoltke, Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), who later became an architect of Prussia’s renowned army, as a military adviser. Von Moltke helped to modernize the Ottoman Empire’s defenses and to train and organize the new troops. He was dissatisfied, however, with Mahmud and the Ottoman army, who resisted instruction from foreigners. Turkey and Prussia exchanged cadets and officers as well, establishing a German tradition that would continue through the life of the empire.

In the 1840’s the army was reorganized into active and reserve units, and the term of active service was reduced from twelve to five years. Soldiers who had actively served for five years would serve the balance of seven years in their home provinces as reserves. The military was further reorganized along Western lines, the number of troops was increased to 250,000, and military schools were established.

In 1808 the Young Young TurksTurk Revolution brought German trained officers forward. Enver Enver PaşaEnver PaşaPaşa (1881-1922), one of the leaders of the revolt, had trained in German methods as a young officer and now went to Berlin as military attaché. The war minister Sevket Paşa Sevket PaşaSevket Paşa(1858-1913) actually trained in Germany. Thus, the Germany;and Ottomans[Ottomans]German influence that had existed since the time of Mahmud actually increased during the nineteenth century.

After the Young Turk Revolution, the use of officers in government positions reduced the efficiency of the army and navy in the field. Furthermore, capable officers opposed to the government were sent to distant posts. The defeats of the Italian and Balkan Wars impressed upon the new leaders the need for massive reform. Enver Paşa, who by that time had become one of the ruling triumvirate along with Mehmed Talât Talât Paşa, MehmedTalât Paşa, Mehmed[Talat Pasa]Paşa (1872-1921) and Cemal Paşa, AhmedCemal Paşa, AhmedAhmed Cemal Paşa (1872-1922) took this in hand. Much of the problem was the mistrust that the older officers had of the young military supporters of the revolution, a situation that demanded a general purge of the senior officers. Sevket Paşa recognized the problem but refused to dismiss his friends in the officer corps. Therefore Enver Paşa took over the ministry and convinced the reluctant Sultan Mehmed V (1844-1918) to issue a decree retiring officers over fifty-five years of age. A new agreement with Berlin brought forty German officers to Turkey. They were led by Liman von Sanders, who was placed in charge of the first army in Constantinople.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

From the early days of the Ottoman Empire, the doctrine of warfare called for the conquest of Islam;Ottoman EmpireMuslim and Christian land in the name of God. In fact, all of the empire’s territory was seen to be God’s land, administered by the sultan through aghas, beys, and pashas, military leaders as well as government officials. When the Ottoman sultans became the rulers of the Muslims of the Near East, they revived the old title of caliph, for the religious leader of Islam.

The Ottoman strategy was simple. On yearly campaigns, which, after 1453, began from Constantinople in a formal ceremonial military parade and lasted until late fall, their well-trained and courageous armies fought and conquered as much land and as many cities as they could. Victims who acquiesced were shown mercy. Those who resisted suffered a brief period of brutal pillage. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Ottomans managed the lands under their control well. Even non-Muslim communities had a great deal of autonomy. In the later centuries, inefficient government and arbitrary actions of virtually independent warlords, landlords, and local beys and pashas inflicted hardship.

The Ottomans learned from their adversaries, studying Western military forces and strategies. After the seventeenth century the viziers, more often than the sultan, marched on campaigns and sometimes participated in battles. Although the army was the main force, a flotilla of hundreds of boats accompanied the troops on the rivers of the region under attack.

A typical order of battle in the open field consisted of three armies. For example, at Kosovo Kosovo, Battle of (1389)Field in 1389, Sultan Murad I commanded the center with his janissary corps and spahi knights. By tradition the army of the region where the battle was fought occupied the right flank. Thus Bayezid Bayezid IBayezid I (Ottoman sultan)[Bayezid 01]I (c. 1360-1403), the sultan’s son and heir, led the army of Europe on his right. A younger son led the army of Asia on the left flank. At Kosovo an advance guard of two thousand archers began the attack. However, the standard Ottoman practice was to begin battle with an inferior line of irregulars. The janissaries would attack accompanied by drums and cymbals and exhorted by their non-janissary brothers of the Bektashi dervishes. If the enemy forces outnumbered the Turks, the strategy changed, and the Ottomans would wait in hiding for the battle to begin.

The Ottoman forces, well suited for siege Siege warfare;Ottomanswarfare, used both cannons and mines. They dug Trench warfare;Ottomanstrenches about 1,500 meters from the besieged city walls and set up their artillery behind the ridges. Archers then continually rained arrows on the city, while janissaries scaled the walls. The Turks were willing to continue a siege as long as it took for a city to surrender or fall. They often gave generous terms of surrender, allowing those who wished to leave the city to go freely.

Contemporary Sources

The best primary sources on the military history of the Ottoman Empire available in English and held in American libraries are memoirs and contemporary accounts of battles. Among the best of the former are the memoirs of Sir Edwin Pears (1835-1919), Forty Years in Constantinople: The Recollections of Sir Edwin Pears, 1873-1915 (1916), Evliya Çelebi’s (c. 1611-c. 1682) Travels in Palestine (1834), and Konstanty Michalowicz’s (born c. 1435) Memoirs of a Janissary (1975), an account of a fifteenth century Turkish warrior found in the microform collection of the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan is the repository of numerous eyewitness accounts of Turkish-Western battle, a number of which have been published. Suraiya Faroqhi’s Approaching Ottoman History: An Introduction to the Sources (1999) is a general survey of sources in Turkish and other languages.Ottoman EmpireIslam;Ottoman Empire

Books and Articles
  • Aksan, Virginia. “Ottoman War and Warfare, 1453-1812.” In European Warfare, 1453-1815, edited by Jeremy Black. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
  • _______. Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged. Harlow, England: Longman/Pearson, 2007.
  • Almond, Ian. “Muslims, Protestants, and Peasants: Ottoman Hungary, 1526-1683.” In Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • Faroqhi, Suraiya. “The Strengths and Weaknesses of Ottoman Warfare.” In The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004.
  • Gabriel, Richard A. The Siege of Constantinople. Carlisle, Pa.: U.S. Army War College, 1992.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi, 1992.
  • Guilmartin, John F., Jr. “Ideology and Conflict: The Wars of the Ottoman Empire, 1453-1606.” In Warfare and Empires: Contact and Conflict Between European and Non-European Military and Maritime Forces and Cultures, edited by Douglas M. Peers. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate/Variorum, 1997.
  • Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  • Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
  • Nicole, David. Armies of the Ottoman Turks, 1300-1400. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1985.
  • Reid, James J. Crisis of the Ottoman Empire: Prelude to Collapse, 1839-1878. Stuttgart, Germany: Steiner, 2000.
  • Turfan, M. Naim. Rise of the Young Turks: Politics, Military, and Ottoman Collapse. London: I. B. Taurus, 1999.
  • Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire, 1326-1699. New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Zorlu, Tuncay. Innovation and Empire in Turkey: Sultan Selim III and the Modernisation of the Ottoman Navy. New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008.
Films and Other Media
  • Lawrence of Arabia. Feature film. Columbia Pictures, 1962.
  • The Ottoman Empire: The War Machine. Documentary. History Channel, 2006.
  • The Ottoman Empire, 1280-1683. Documentary. Landmark Films, 1995.
  • Suleyman the Magnificent. Documentary. National Gallery and Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.

The Ottoman Armies

Colonial Warfare

The Mughal Empire

African Warfare

Iran

Japan: Modern

China: The Qing Empire

Imperial Warfare

Categories: History Content