World History Blog

A new article on the Ottoman empire

March 5, 2015 Posted by Peter Britton A new article on the Ottoman empire

I’ve just put up a new article on the Timemap of World History. It is on the Ottoman Empire

Or at least, the beginnings of a new article. At the moment, the article is more or less a potted history of the rise and fall of the empire. In due course I will expand it to include sections on government, warfare, society and economy, culture and more.

This is all part of my ongoing effort to fill some of the more embarrasing gaps we still have in our coverage of world history.

One of the things I want to convey in this article is that the Ottoman empire really was one of the great empires of history. European’s who don’t know much history before the 19th century (e.g. most British kids, at least when it comes to anywhere beyond Britain’s shores) tend to think of it as the “Sick Man of Europe”. This is because much of the European diplomacy of the 19th and early 20th century was taken up with what was called the “Eastern Question” - i.e., what to do about the declining Ottoman empire and how to avoid turning its weakness into a feeding frenzy for the Big Powers of the day, and thus setting them at each others’ throats (which, in fact, is more or less what happened in the run-up to Word War One).

The Ottoman empire was indeed in decline at that time - but all empires in history have experienced decline. For two hundred years or more, from the mid-15th century to the late 17th century, the Ottoman empire was a power to be reckoned with. It was governed more rationally than most European nations; it had a far more tolerant attitude to different religions than could be found anywhere else in Europe; and its army was as formidable a military machine as could be found anywhere in the world at that time. 

It was also enormous and enduring. For four centuries it dominated a large slice of Europe, most of the Middle East and much of North Africa. In fact, one of the things which Europeans thought of as a weakness in the Ottoman state - the considerable amount of autonomy it gave to subject peoples - may well have been one of the main reasons why the Ottomans were able to hold such a large empire together for so long.

Anyhow, I invite you to read the article, even as it stands now. It’s pretty raw - it hasn’t been properly formatted, and it hasn’t got any images in (something I’m trying to rectify with our articles). But if you don’t know the history of this important state, well, this is the place to read about it. As always I will welcome comments.

By Peter Britton
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