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.
The Ottoman Empire, founded by Osman
The Ottoman Turks seize Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453 to establish the Ottoman Empire.
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
The decisive victory that established the Ottoman domination of the Balkans was the Siege of
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
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. The
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
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
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
The Ottoman Empire, c. 1700
Mahmud’s successor, Abdülmecid
In the early twentieth century the Young
However, while the Allies occupied Constantinople, Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938), later named
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
In times of war the Ottoman Empire employed a supplemental irregular cavalry, the
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
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
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.
The success of Mehmed Ali of Egypt in building a Western army with Muslims encouraged
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
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
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
From the early days of the Ottoman Empire, the doctrine of warfare called for the conquest of
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
The Ottoman forces, well suited for siege
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.
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. 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
The Mughal Empire
China: The Qing Empire