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Thursday, May 20, 2021

On The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was the most feared power in Europe in the sixteenth century. They marched into Europe in the fourteenth century and conquered the Balkans. In 1453, they shocked the Catholic nations in Western Europe when they brought the Byzantine Empire, which had lasted for over a thousand years, to an end. Between 1521 and 1526, they took control of Hungary (except the Western part). Through a series of wars during the sixteenth century, they took possession of several strategically important areas in North Africa. Their navy became the terror of the Eastern Mediterranean. They besieged Vienna twice, in 1529 and 1683, but on both occasions they failed to take the city.

In the sixteenth century, the Ottomans had effectively blocked the West European nations from advancing into Eastern Europe and Central Asia through land routes. This forced the West Europeans to organize risky sea expeditions for finding new sea routes. By forcing them to run to the sea, the Ottomans played a role in enabling the West Europeans to build a powerful navy by the seventeenth century. It was common for West European intellectuals in the sixteenth century to argue that an Ottoman conquest of Europe was a certainty. In his best known work, the Turkish Letters, The Austrian diplomat, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, who was appointed as the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople in 1552, lamented:

“I tremble when I think of what the future must bring when I compare the Turkish system with our own; one army must prevail and the other be destroyed, for certainly both cannot remain unscathed. On their side are the resources of a mighty empire, strength unimpaired, experience and practice in fighting, a veteran soldiery, habituation to victory, endurance of toil, unity, order, discipline, frugality, and watchfulness. On our side is public poverty, private luxury, impaired strength, broken spirit, lack of endurance and training; the soldiers are insubordinate, the officers avaricious; there is contempt for discipline ; license, recklessness, drunkenness, and debauchery are rife; and worst of all, the enemy is accustomed to victory, and we to defeat. Can we doubt what the result will be?”

But by the late seventeenth century, the Ottoman Empire was in a decline. Their second attempt to seize Vienna, in 1683, precipitated a war which lasted for sixteen years and proved catastrophic for the Empire’s economy. In 1699, a coalition of Habsburg, German, and Polish forces managed to defeat the Ottoman army. With this victory, the West European fear of conquest by an Oriental power subsided. On 26 January 1699, the Ottomans accepted the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Karlowitz and surrendered several territories. When the First World War broke out, the Ottomans made the mistake of fighting alongside the losing Central Powers—they were defeated in 1918 and in 1922, the Empire was dissolved.

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