30. The Ottoman Empire (1453 – 1922)

Summary The power of the Turkish Ottoman Empire at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa rose when it conquered the old capital of the Byzantine Empire Constantinople in 1453 and made it its capital. The Ottoman sultans became the indisputable caliphs – the political-religious successors of Islamic prophet Muhammad – in 1517 when the Abbasid Caliphate in Egypt was abolished. They unsuccessfully besieged Vienna in 1529 and 1683, conquered vast parts of southeast Europe, and their power declined in the 19th century.

Keywords History of Southwest Asia; History of the Mediterranean Basin; Islam

Conquest of Constantinople, Zonaro

The Turks under Ottoman sultan Mehmet II (r. 1451-1481) conquer Constantinople in 1453. Cannons helped to breach the massive city walls. (© Painted by Fausto Zonaro in 1903 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Ottoman dynasty was founded by Osman I (r. about 1299-1323) and ruled over the Ottoman Empire until 1922. The Ottoman Turks originally came from Central Asia and started their empire from northwestern Anatolia, in the vicinity of the Byzantine Empire (395-1453) which was significantly weakened since the 13th century. In the 14th century the Ottomans conquered parts of the Balkans in southeast Europe, in particular Serbia and Bulgaria. It became truly powerful when 21-year-old sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451-1481) conquered the old Roman capital Constantinople in 1453. As the power of the Muslim Ottomans increased, trade routes from Europe to the east were blocked, which indirectly led to the European discovery of America in 1492. The famous Eastern Orthodox cathedral Hagia Sophia, constructed in the 6th century, was turned into a mosque from 1453 to 1931, after which it became a museum. The Turkish sultans resided in the newly built Topkapı Palace in Constantinople from 1478 to 1853. Constantinople was a common name of that metropolis for about a millennium, in honor of former Roman emperor Constantine the Great who had made it capital of the Roman Empire in 330. Konstantiniyye was the Arabic name of that city and was commonly used as the official name throughout the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul, on the other hand, was the Turkish name of that city, and it became the official city name in the early 20th century after the end of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683. It contained Anatolia, vast parts of southeast Europe in the triangle Greece-Hungary-Ukraine, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, the Holy Cities of Islam Mecca and Medina, and parts of Iraq and north Africa. Its capital was Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), which at that time was the biggest city of Europe User:Chamboz / CC-BY-SA-4.0)

In the Ottoman-Mamluk War (1516-1517) the Ottoman Empire conquered Syria, Palestine and Egypt from the Mamluks, as well as the Holy Cities of Islam Mecca and Medina on the Arabian peninsula. Also the Abbasid Caliphate, which had existed since the year 750, was abolished and replaced by the Ottoman Caliphate (1517-1924). While the Ottoman Empire was a Muslim state, also non-Muslim populations lived within its borders. Under sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566), as a result of the Battle of Mohács in 1526, parts of Hungary were conquered. The Siege of Vienna, one of the major cities of the Christian Holy Roman Empire, failed in 1529. Under the rule of sultan Mehmed IV (1648-1687) the Ottoman Empire reached its largest extent in Europe. However, also under his rule another attempted conquest of Vienna failed in 1683. Apart from the clashes with the Habsburg Monarchy in the west, the Ottoman Empire also fought numerous wars with the Russians in the north and the Iranians in the east, with varying success.

In the 19th century the Ottoman Empire lost its grasp on southeast Europe: The independence of Greece was formalized in 1832 and of Serbia in 1835. Also north Africa was gradually lost, as France incorporated Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881, and as the British Empire got control over Egypt in 1882. After World War I (1914-1918) was lost, during which the Ottoman Empire fought together with the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in 1923, and the caliphate was abolished in 1924.

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