The history of the Turks covers more than 4,000 years and two continents. They first emerged in Central Asia around 2000 BC, later spreading throughout Asia and Europe with the establishment of many independent states and empires.
The Seljuk’s Perion in Asia Minor
The Turkish migrations after the 6th century were part of a general movement of peoples out of central Asia during the first millennium A.D. that was influenced by a number of interrelated factors-climatic changes, the strain of growing populations on a fragile pastoral economy, and pressure from stronger neighbours also on the move. Among those caught up in this spirit of restlessness on the steppes were the Oguz Turks, who had embraced Islam in the tenth century and established themselves around Bukhara in Transoxania under their khan, Seljuk. Split by dissension among the tribes, one branch of the Oguz had gone to India, while another, led by descendants of Seljuk, struck out to the west and entered service with the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, who were the spiritual leaders of Islam as well as temporal rulers of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Persia.
Known as “Gazis” (warriors of the Islamic faith), the Turkish horsemen were organised in tribal bands to defend the frontiers of the caliphate, often against their own kinsmen. In 1055, however, a Seljuk khan, Tugrul Bey (reigned 1055-63), occupied Baghdad at the head of an army composed of “Gazis” and “Mamluks” (slave-soldiers, usually Circassians and Kurds). Tugrul forced the caliph to recognise him as sultan (temporal leader) in Persia and Mesopotamia. His regime eliminated Arabs from government and relied entirely on a corps of Persian ministers to administer what came to be known as the Great Seljuk Sultanate.
As they engaged in state building, the Seljuks also emerged as the champions of Sunni Islam against the Shiite. Tugrul's successor Mehmed ibn Daud (reigned 1063-72), better known as Alp Arslan (the Lion Hero), prepared for a campaign against the Shiite Fatimid caliphate in Egypt. However, he was forced to divert his attention to Anatolia by the “gazis” on whose endurance and mobility the Seljuks depended. The Seljuk elite could not persuade these tribesmen to live within the framework of a bureaucratic Persian state, content with collecting taxes and patrolling trade routes. Each year the “gazis” cut deeper into Byzantine territory, raiding the infidels and taking booty according to their tradition. Some hired on as mercenaries in the private wars of Byzantine nobles and occasionally settled on land they had taken. The Seljuks followed the “gazis” into Anatolia in order to keep control over them. In 1071 Alp Arslan routed the Byzantine army at Manzikert near Lake Van, opening all of Anatolia to conquest by the Turks.
Within ten years of the Battle of Manzikert, the Seljuks had won control of Anatolia. Although successful in the west, the Seljuk sultanate in Baghdad reeled under attacks from the Mongols in the east and was unable, indeed unwilling, to exert its authority directly in the newly conquered territories in Anatolia. The “gazis” carved out a number of states there, under the nominal suzerainty of Baghdad, which were continually reinforced by further Turkish immigration. The strongest of them to emerge was the Seljuk sultanate of Rum (Rome, i.e., Byzantine Empire), which had its capital at Iconium (Konya). During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Rum attained a position of dominance over the other Turkish states.
The sultanate of Rum was a tribal confederation. Sovereignty resided in the ruling family from whom the sultan, or paramount khan, was chosen and not in the person of the sultan himself. Tribal loyalty was likewise directed to the family rather than to an individual member of it, and succession to the sultanate was routinely challenged by one or more relatives. The sultan was essentially a military leader who left government in the hands of able Persian viziers (vice-regents). Beneath the sultan in the hierarchy of the Seljuk warrior elite were “amirs” (governors), who held military command in satellite provinces. Under the “amirs” were the “begs” (autonomous regional commanders) whose “gazi” troops were engaged by the Byzantine marcher lords or, more frequently, who looked for private wars to fight among themselves for plunder.
The social and economic structure of the Anatolian countryside was unchanged by the Seljuks, who had simply replaced Byzantine officials with new elite that was Turkish and Muslim. Conversion to Islam and the imposition of the language, mores, and customs of the Turks progressed steadily in the countryside, facilitated by intermarriage. The cleavage widened, however, between the unruly “gazi” warriors and the state-building bureaucracy in Konya.
The Turks conquered most of Anatolia and established the Anatolian Seljuk State as a part of the Great Seljuk Empire (1075 - 1318), the first Turkish Empire in Anatolia.
The Osman (Ottoman) Period in Asia Minor
Late in the 13th century the Turkish tribal chieftain Osman founded an empire in Asia Minor (western Anatolia) that was to endure for almost six centuries. As this empire grew by conquering lands of the Byzantine Empire and beyond, it came to include at the height of its power all of Asia Minor; the countries of the Balkan Peninsula; the islands of the eastern Mediterranean; parts of Hungary and Russia; Iraq, Syria, the Caucasus, Palestine, and Egypt; part of Arabia; and all of North Africa through Algeria.
Documentation of the early history of the Ottomans is scarce. According to semi legendary accounts, Estugrul, khan of the Kayi tribe of the Oguz Turks, fled from Persia in the mid-thirteenth century to escape the Mongol hordes and took service with the sultan of Rum at the head of a “gazi” force numbering 400 tents. He was granted territory, if he could seize and hold it, in Bithynia, facing the Byzantine strongholds at Bursa, Nicomedia (Izmit), and Nicaea (Iznik). Leadership subsequently passed to Estugrul's son, Osman I (reigned ca. 1299-1326), the eponymous founder of the Osmanli dynasty better known to us as the Ottomans.
Ertuğruloğlu Osman Gazi (1258 – 1326) nicknamed Kara (dark in Turkish), was the leader of the Ottoman Turks and the founder and namesake of the dynasty that established and ruled the nascent Ottoman Empire (then known as the Ottoman Beylik or Emirate). The state, while only a small principality (beylik) during Osman's lifetime would prevail as a world empire under Osman's dynasty for the next six centuries after his death. It existed until the abolition of the sultanate in 1922, or alternatively the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, or the abolition of the caliphate in 1924.
Osman I's small amirate (emirate) attracted “gazis” who required permanent plunder from new conquests to maintain their way of life and at the same time giving the Ottoman state a military stature that was out of proportion to its size. Osman I, who acquired the title sultan, organized a politically centralized administration in Sögüt that subordinated the activities of the “gazis” to its needs and facilitated rapid territorial expansion. Bursa fell in the final year of his reign. His successor, Orhan (reigned 1326-59), crossed the Dardanelles in force and established a permanent European base at Gallipoli in 1354. Murad I (reigned 1359-89) annexed most of Thrace (called Rumelia, or Roman land, by the Turks), encircling Constantinople, and moved the seat of Ottoman government to Adrianople (present-day Edirne). In 1389 the Ottoman “gazis” defeated the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo, where Murad lost his life. The steady stream of Ottoman victories in the Balkans continued under Bayezid I (reigned 1389-1403). Bulgaria was subdued in 1393, and in 1396 a French-led crusade that had crossed the Danube from Hungary was annihilated at Nicopolis.
In Anatolia, however, where Ottoman policy had been directed toward consolidating the sultan's hold over the “gazi” amirates (emirates) through conquest, usurpation, and purchase, the Ottomans were confronted by the Mongols under Tamerlane (Timur), to whom many of the Turkish gazis had defected. Timur crushed Ottoman forces near Ankara in 1402 and captured Bayezid I, who, according to tradition, was displayed in an iron cage. He died in captivity the next year leaving four heirs who for a decade competed for control of what remained of Ottoman Anatolia after Timur had restored the Seljuk amirs.
But the Ottoman state quickly collected itself under Mehmed I and his son Murad II re-incorporated most of these beyliks into Ottoman territory in a space of around 25 years.
When Mehmed Çelebi stood as victor in 1413 he crowned himself in Edirne (Adrianople) as Mehmed I. His was the duty to restore the Ottoman Empire to its former glory. The Empire had suffered hard from the interregnum (civil war); the Mongols were still at large in the east, even though Timur had died in 1405; many of the Christian kingdoms of the Balkans had broken free of Ottoman control; and the land, especially Anatolia, had suffered hard from the war.
Mehmed I moved the capital from Bursa to Adrianople and spent the rest of his reign reorganizing Ottoman state structures disrupted by the interregnum. When Mehmed died in 1421, one of his sons, Murad, became sultan, becoming the sultan Murad II.
In 1422, Murad II laid siege to Constantinople for several months and lifted it only after forcing the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos to pay additional tribute.
In 1422 the first regular war against Venice began with the Siege of Thessalonica (1422–30). Byzantine involvement in the war ended with the transfer of the city to the Venetian Republic in 1423, which ended Murad's siege of Constantinople.
Murad died in the winter 1450–1451 in Edirne leaving the throne to his son Mehmed II (reigned 1451-81), best known as Mehmed the Conqueror. Many doubted the young Mehmed II when he became sultan but by conquering and annexing the emirate of Karamanid and by renewing the peace treaties with Venice and Hungary Mehmed II proved his skills both on the military and the political front and was soon accepted by the noble class of the Ottoman court.
When in 1451 the Byzantines asked Mehmed to double the tribute for holding an Ottoman pretender for the throne, he used the request as a pretext for annulling all treaties with the Byzantine Empire. Nevertheless, when he proposed in 1452 to siege Constantinople most of his advisers were against it and criticized the Sultan for being too rash and overconfident in his abilities.
Aside from scattered outposts in Greece, all that remained of the Byzantine Empire was its capital, Constantinople. Cut off by land since 1365, the city, despite long periods of truce with the Turks, was supplied and reinforced by Venetian intermediaries, who made it possible for Constantinople to carry on its commerce by sea.
On April 15, 1452, Mehmed ordered preparations to be made for the siege of Constantinople. He brought warships overland on greased runners into the Golden Horn to bypass the chain barrage and fortresses that had blocked the entrance to Constantinople's harbour. The formerly impregnable land walls were breached after two months of constant pounding by Mehmed's heavy artillery. In the predawn hours of 29 May 1453, Mehmed ordered an all-out assault on the battered ramparts and brought the siege to a successful conclusion. The capture of Constantinople put an end the Byzantine Empire.
News of the fall of Constantinople was heard with horror in Europe, but as an isolated military action it did not have a critical effect on European security. To the Ottoman Empire, however, the capture of the imperial capital was of supreme symbolic importance. Mehmed II, a man of culture and learning as well as a superb warrior, regarded himself as the successor of the Byzantine Emperors without a break in continuity. Mehmed had himself titled Kaiser-i-Rum, or Roman Caesar, and modelled the state after the old Byzantine Empire, thinking of himself as the successor to the Roman throne.
He moved the capital from Adrianople and made Constantinople the capital of the Ottoman Empire as it had been of the Byzantine Empire, and he set about rebuilding the city.
In 1462 he built the Topkapi Palace that became the residence of the Ottoman sultans and a seat of government of the newly installed Ottoman regime for more than 400 years.
The basilica of Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque, and Constantinople, which the Turks called Istanbul (from the colloquial Greek eis tin polin, to the city), replaced Baghdad as the centre of Sunni Islam. But Constantinople also remained the ecclesiastical centre of the Greek Church, of which Mehmed II proclaimed himself the protector and for which he appointed a new patriarch after the custom of the Byzantine emperors.
The Ottoman State then entered an era of rapid development that would last until the end of the 16th century. The borders of the empire extended from the Crimea in the north to Yemen and Sudan in the south, and from Iran and the Caspian Sea in the East to Vienna in the Northwest and Spain in the Southwest.
Ottoman State & Government
The administrative institutions characteristic of the late Ottoman Empire had already taken shape in the 14th century during the reigns of the first sultans. At the apex of the hierarchical Ottoman system was the person of the sultan, who acted in a number of capacities, political, military, judicial, social, and religious, under a variety of titles. Officially the sultan was called «padishah» (Persian for high king or emperor). Among the Turks he was, as his nomadic warrior forebears, the khan, a master of the tribal ruling class. For his Christian subjects he was the emperor; later, among the Arabs under Ottoman rule, he was the imam (religious leader), the protector of Islam. He was theoretically responsible only to God and God's law, the Islamic “seriat” (Arabic Sharia), of which he was the chief executor. All offices were filled by his authority, and all legislation was issued by him in the form of a firman (decree). He was supreme military commander, and he had basic title to all land. During a period of Ottoman expansion in Arabia, Selim I (reigned 1512-20) also adopted the title caliph, indicating that he was the universal Muslim ruler. Although theocratic and absolute in theory and in principle, the sultan's powers were in practice limited. The attitudes of important members of the dynasty, the bureaucratic and military establishments, and religious leaders had to be considered. Ultimately, the extent of authority exercised by a particular sultan depended on his personality rather than on a constitutional formula.
The Ottoman Empire inherited many Byzantine institutions that came to be overlaid with Islamic ideology and Turkish customs. It was an Islamic empire--as the Byzantine had been a Christian empire--that was literally the private holding of the Osmanli family from whom the concept of the Ottoman state could not be separated. The ruling house and the empire's civil and military ruling class were considered Ottomans. For generation after generation, heirs to the throne were the product of mixed parentage, born to wives or concubines of the sultan who came from many different ethnic groups, while the ruling class was recruited from subject peoples.
Three characteristics were necessary for acceptance into the ruling class: Islamic faith, loyalty to the sultan, and compliance with the standards of behaviour of the Ottoman court. The last qualification effectively separated the Ottomans from the Turks in language and in manners. The language of the court and government was Ottoman Turkish, a hybrid, highly formalised linguistic concoction laced with Persian and Arabic loan words. In time Greeks, Armenians, and Jews were also employed in state service, usually in diplomatic, technical, or commercial capacities.
The elite operated within a hierarchical structure that contained five separate categories of service. The highest was the inner-service, composed of the sultan, his family and harem, and his personal attendants. The outer-service included high-ranking government officials. A third category included military commanders and landholders and a fourth, the bureaucracy. Lastly, the ulama (Islamic scholars and theologians) consisted of judges in the seriat (Sharia) courts and religious teachers. Collectively, all members of the elite, civil as well as military, were known as askeri (soldiers), a term that reflected the pervasive influence of gazi mythology. But whatever their rank or background, servants of the state were considered the slaves of the sultan, in theory to be used and disposed of at his discretion.
The day-to-day conduct of government and the formulation of policy were in the hands of the divan, a relatively small council of ministers that met regularly under the direction of its chief minister, the grand vizier. The entranceway to the public buildings in which the divan met, and which in the 17th century became the residence of the grand vizier, was called the Babiali (High Gate, or Sublime Porte). In diplomatic correspondence, the term Porte (for Sublime Porte) was synonymous with the Ottoman government, a usage that acknowledged the power wielded by the grand vizier.
The Ottoman Empire had Turkish roots and rested on Islamic foundations, but from the start it was a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups and religious creeds. Ethnicity was determined solely by religious affiliation. Muslims were thereby lumped together regardless of language or ethnic background, and Turks as such were Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslims, one among many groups who were the sultan's subjects. Because of the indivisibility of Islamic law and religious practice, it was inconceivable that the Sharia could be applied to non-Muslims. Under the system that was introduced, non-Muslim groups, including Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, were recognised as millets (religious communities) and granted a degree of autonomy in their communal affairs and allowed to operate schools, religious establishments, and courts based on their own customary law.
Military & Janissaries
Janissaries (in Turkish Yeni means new and Çeri [(pron. Cheri) means soldier], standing Ottoman Turkish army, were organised either by the sultan Orhan Gazi or Murat I. Ottoman armies had previously been composed of Turcoman tribal levies, who were loyal to their clan leaders, but as the Ottoman Empire acquired the characteristics of a State, it became necessary to have paid troops loyal only to the sultan. Therefore, the system of impressing Christian kids taken during invasions of countries (known as devshirme) was instituted and having been converted to Islam and given the finest training, they became the elite forces of the army and the most disciplined and dedicated fighting machine the world had seen up until that time.
For the first 200 years of their existence, the Janissaries were responsible for the great expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Special laws regulated their daily life cutting them off from civil society such as being forbidden to marry. Devotion to such discipline made the Janissaries the scourge of Europe. These standards, however, changed with time; recruitment became lax (Moslems were admitted, too) and because of the privileges Janissaries started to enjoy their life, their numbers increased from about 20,000 in 1574 to some 135,000 in 1826. To supplement their salaries, the Janissaries began to pursue various trades and established strong links with civil society, thus undermining their loyalty to the ruler. In time they became king makers and the allies of conservative forces, opposing all reforms and refusing to allow the army to be modernised. When they revolted in 1826, Sultan Mahmut II abolished the corps, putting all opposition down by force. Thousands were killed in the Hippodrome and others banished, but most were simply absorbed into the general population.
Apart from the Janissaries, in 1389 Ottoman Army introduced a system of conscription; when needed, every town and village should provide a fully equipped conscript at the recruiting office created by the order of the sultan. This new force of irregular infantrymen was called Azabs and they were used in many ways; to build roads and bridges for the army, to support the supplies to the front-line, and sometimes they were even used as cannon fodder to slow down enemy advance. Başibozuk (pron. Bashibozuk) was a branch of the Azabs and were especially recruited from homeless and criminals. They were fearful and undisciplined, specialised in close combat.
Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent
Ottoman expansion under Mehmed II's successor, Bayezid II (reigned 1481-1512), was chiefly maritime in its thrust. The sultan's new navy, reinforced by corsairs, displaced the naval power of Venice and Genoa in the eastern and central Mediterranean. Selim I, known as Selim the Grim, extended Ottoman sovereignty southward, conquering Syria and Palestine. In 1517 he drove the last of the Mamluk sultans from his throne in Cairo and made Egypt a satellite of the Ottoman Empire. Selim I was also recognised as guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It was from this time that the Ottoman sultans adopted the title of caliph.
Selim I's son, Suleiman I (reigned 1520-66), was called the kanuni (lawgiver) by his Muslim subjects because of a new codification of seriat undertaken during his reign. In Europe, however, he was known as Suleiman the Magnificent, recognition of his prowess by those who had most to fear from it. Victory upon victory over the Christian powers followed. Belgrade fell to Suleiman after a siege in 1521. The next year the Christians were compelled to abandon the Greek island of Rhodes. In 1526 Ottoman forces killed the king of Hungary and the flower of the Magyar nobility at the Battle of Mohacs and took Buda on the Danube. Vienna was besieged unsuccessfully during the campaign season of 1529. North Africa up to the Moroccan frontier was brought under Ottoman suzerainty in the 1520s and 1530s, and governors named by the sultan were installed in Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. In 1534 Kurdistan and Mesopotamia were taken from Persia. The latter conquest gave the Ottomans an outlet to the Persian Gulf, where they were soon engaged in a naval war with the Portuguese.
Suleiman I was a pragmatic statesman as well as an audacious general. Ottoman forces confronted those of the Habsburg king Emperor Charles V along the Danube and in the western Mediterranean. In 1536 Suleiman I's diplomats concluded a treaty with Francis I of France, the Habsburgs' European rival, which granted the French commercial concessions in the Ottoman Empire in return for an informal alliance against their common enemy. The so-called capitulations also allowed French consuls legal jurisdiction over French subjects in Ottoman domains and recognised the French king as protector of the Christian holy places in Palestine, concessions that would have long-term effects on Ottoman relations with other foreign powers.
The long reign of Suleiman I was the Ottoman golden age. When he died during a campaign in Hungary in 1566, the Ottoman Empire was a major world power. Most of the great cities of Islam, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, and Baghdad, were under the sultan's crescent flag. The Porte exercised direct control over Anatolia, the Balkan provinces south of the Danube River, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Egypt, Mecca, and the North African provinces were governed under special regulations, as were satellite domains in Arabia, in the Caucasus, and among the Crimean Tartars. In addition, the native rulers of Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, and Ragusa (present-day Dubrovnik) were vassals of the sultan.
Decline of Ottoman Empire
During the period of decline of the Ottoman Empire (1828–1908), the empire faced challenges in defending itself against foreign invasion and occupation. The empire ceased to enter conflicts on its own and began to forge alliances with European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Britain and Russia. The rise of nationalism affected territories within the Empire. The attempted Tanzimat reforms to modernise the empire were not enough to catch up to western development. The stagnation and reform of the Ottoman Empire (1683–1827) ended with the dismemberment of Ottoman Classical Army, by what is known as the Auspicious Incident but creating a new military took multiple Sultans with multiple reorganisations during this period. At the end of this period in 1908 Ottoman military became modernised and professionalised in the form of European Armies. The period was an important restructuring and modernization period which most of the parameters were improving but for the reasons explained in the fall of the Ottoman Empire the period followed by defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1922).