Ottoman Empire: from rise to decline (14th-19th centuries)

Ottoman Empire: from rise to decline (14th-19th centuries)

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TheOttoman Empire was built by a dynasty of Turks from Central Asia that lasted until the aftermath of the First World War. Erected on the ruins of the Seljuk state of Anatolia and then on those of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire (or Osmanli) presents itself as the heir to the Arab caliphate and the Byzantine power. It covered at its peak three continents, stretching in Europe to the Austro-Hungarian borders and in Asia to Persia, stretching on the western and eastern coasts of the Red Sea and on the Mediterranean coasts of the 'North Africa.

Origin of the Ottomans and first conquests

The Seljuks, from a clan of Oghouz Turks, left the lower reaches of the Syr-Darya at the end of the 10th century. Under the leadership of Alp Arslan (1063-1073), they defeated the Byzantine army at Mantzikert in 1071. The Turkish nomads then spread to Asia Minor. Süleyman Ibn Kutulmich (1077-1006) created the Sultanate of Rum there and established its capital in Nicaea (1081). But Kiliç Arslan Ier (1092-1107), defeated by the Crusaders at Doryliée (1097), had to fall back on Iconium (Konya). The Sultanate of Rum knows only a long agony after the Mongol invasion of 1243.

According to legend, around 1230, Ertoğrul, the leader of one of the Oghuz Turkish clans, received from Sultan Kaykobad I the border region of Söğüt (on the Sakarya river, in present-day Turkey), with the mission of protecting the Seljuks against the 'Byzantine Empire. Around 1280, Osman inherited the charge from his father Ertoğrul. In July 1302, he defeated the Byzantines and found himself by this victory at the head of an emirate covering the north-west of Anatolia. For having created this small emirate, Osman is recognized as the first member of the Osmanlis (or Ottomans) dynasty.

When Osman died around 1326, his son Ohrhan Gazi took over the command of the army and extended the territory of the Ottomans beyond the valley of Sakarya: taken from Brousse (now Bursa, 1326), which became the first Ottoman capital. , Nicea (Iznik, 1331) and Nicomedia (Izmit, 1337). In 1354, called by John VI Cantacuzene (usurper of the Byzantine throne), Ottoman troops gained a foothold on the European side of the Dardanelles strait, settling in Gallipolli (now Gelibolu).

The Ottomans masters of Asia Minor

With the reign of Murat I, who continued the policy of conquering Ohrhan, the Ottomans became masters of almost all of Asia Minor. A year after the capture of Adrianople (Edirne, 1With Murat I (1359-1389) began the conquest of the Balkans: masters of Adrianople and Thrace, the Ottomans routed the crusade of Louis I of Hungary on the Maritsa ( 1363), symbolically affirmed their will to remain in Europe by the transfer of their capital to Adrianople (1365), then undertook the conquest of Serbia.

The victory of Kossovo (June 1389) made pass the Serbs, after the Bulgarians, under Ottoman domination. Bayezid I (1389-1402), while considerably extending the Ottoman state in Anatolia (especially at the expense of the Karamanid emirs. 1391-92), completed the conquest of Serbia and Thessaly, undertook the siege of Constantinople, defeated in Nicopolis the army of the Western Crusaders who came to the aid of the Byzantines (1396). Constantinople was to be saved momentarily by the unforeseen irruption of Tamerlane on the rear of the Ottomans. Bayezid beaten and taken prisoner in Ankara (July 28, 1402), his empire nevertheless survived - because Tamerlan, after having reached Bush, returned to Asia - but he was sacked by the invader and delivered for more than ten years to civil wars which opposed the sons of Bayezid

The Ottoman recovery began under Mehmet I (1413-1421), who consolidated his positions in Anatolia, where the Karamanids were again threatening. His successor, Mourad II (1421-1451), felt strong enough to resume the conquest. Pushed back under the walls of Constantinople (1422), however, he reduced the Byzantine emperor to tribute (1424). He then captured Thessaloniki, where much of the population was massacred (1430). In Europe frightened by the Turkish peril, combatants from all over the world rallied to the crusade inspired by Pope Eugene IV, but the Christian army suffered a bloody defeat at Varna (November 10, 1444). Murad II was thus able to complete the subjugation of the Balkans, and his son, Mehmed II (1451-1481), resolved to put an end to the Byzantine Empire already reduced to Constantinople and its suburbs.

Height of the Ottoman Empire and reign of Suleiman

On May 29, 1453, after seven weeks of siege, Sultan Mehmet II rose to fame with the capture of Constantinople. The former Christian capital of the Byzantine Empire became, in 1458, the Muslim capital of the Ottoman Empire under the name Istanbul (usage, however, kept the name Constantinople until 1923). In 1461, the last Byzantine reduced, Trebizond (now Trabzon), fell; then it was Bosnia (1463), Crimea (1475) and Albania (1476-1478) which came under Ottoman rule. The empire then takes control of the seas. In 1499, under Bayazid II (1481-1512), the Ottoman fleet won its first victory at Lepanto, triumphing over the Venetians.

With Selim I alias the Terrible, the Ottoman Empire asserts its domination over the Muslim world. Determined to unite the peoples of Islam, the Sultan attacks the Shiite Safavids of Iran and annexes Sunni Kurdistan and Upper Mesopotamia. In 1516 and 1517, he fought against the Mamluks, from whom he captured Syria and Egypt, as well as the Hedjaz. With the holy city of Mecca now under Ottoman control, Selim proclaimed himself caliph and servant of the holy cities of Islam.

The empire reached its peak under the reign of his son, Suleiman the Magnificent - known as the Lawgiver by the Turks. Belgrade was taken in 1521 and, five years later, after the Ottoman victory at the Battle of Mohács (August 29, 1526), ​​a protectorate was established in Hungary. In 1529, Ottoman troops even advanced beyond the borders of the Habsburg Empire of Charles V, threatening the city of Vienna by besieging it. Iraq joined the empire again in 1534, as Ottoman ships dominated the Mediterranean and the Barbary states of North Africa.

By the middle of the 16th century, Turkey had become the leading power in Europe and the Mediterranean. It included, in Asia, Anatolia, Armenia, part of Georgia and Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, Syria and Hejaz (with the holy city of Mecca, occupied in 1517); in Africa, Egypt and the "Barbary States" (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli); in Europe, the entire Balkan peninsula and Greece, the Danubian provinces, Transylvania, eastern Hungary and finally Crimea. The Ottoman fleet controlled most of the Mediterranean coasts and made any navigation dangerous.

The "period of catastrophes"

Soon after the death of Suleiman the Magnificent, the West won its first major victory against the Turks. Following the conquest of Cyprus, taken from the Venetians by Lala Moustafa Pasha (1570), Pope Pius V created a European league: under the command of Don Juan of Austria, the coalition fleets of Spain, the Pope, of Venice, the Knights of Malta triumphed over the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto (October 7, 1571). This victory was not exploited militarily, but it had a considerable moral impact and gave courage to Christian Europe. However, Turkish power was not yet established: Tunis, taken by don Juan of Austria in 1573, was reconquered by the Turks a year later. In Central Europe, the Turks remained masters of the Hungarian plain, and the Treaty of Szitvatorok (1606) confirmed the status quo. In Mesopotamia, the Safavid Abbas I the Great temporarily recovered Baghdad, but a victorious response from the Turks reestablished the border fixed since Soliman II. With the exception of Osman II (1618-162222), who measured the danger that the janissaries posed on the imperial power, but who paid with his life for his attempts at reforms, the Ottoman sultans of the 17th century were very mediocre figures. .

The janissaries began to rebel under the reign of Murat III (1574-1595). Revolts are increasing in the empire. The power of the sultan is increasingly contested. From 1622, when Osman II (1618-1622) was assassinated by the janissaries after his deposition, the authority of the sultans was challenged both by them and by the viziers, who wielded de facto power. In August 1648, Ibrahim I (1640-1648) suffered the same fate. It was during the reign of his successor Mehmet IV (1648-1687) that what Ottoman historians call the "period of catastrophes" ended, when the grand vizirate Mehmet Koprulu (1656) came to an end.

In addition to domestic difficulties, there is a loss of economic influence. Since the Portuguese opened a new sea route to Asia bypassing Africa, the Ottoman Empire has lost the monopoly of lucrative trade with India. With the discovery of the Americas, Europe's trade is now developing on a global scale. In the midst of the Renaissance, Europe is gaining the ascendancy over the Turks in all fields, artistic, economic, military ...

The first setbacks of the Sublime Porte

After having taken Podolia from the Poles (1672), the Turks, under the leadership of Kara Moustafa Pasha, resumed the assault on Austria in 1682. For the last time, the armies of the Crescent came to lay siege to Vienna in 1683 , but the Polish-German relief army commanded by the Polish king John Sobieski crushed the Turks and delivered the city (September 12, 1683).

Allied with Poland and Venice, the Imperials continued their victorious campaign, reconquered Buda (September 1686), defeated the Turks at Mohâcs (August 1687), penetrated deeply into Bosnia and Serbia. Prince Eugene won at Zenta a decisive victory over Mustafa II (September 11, 1697), and the peace of Karlowitz signed on January 26, 1699 restored Hungary (except Banat) and Transylvania to Austria; to Poland, Podolia; in Venice, Morea and Dalmatia. Mahomet III (1703-1730), however, succeeded in recapturing the Morea, but to Turkey's many traditional adversaries a new enemy had just been added, which was not to be the least formidable, Russia.

Therefore, the Ottoman Empire must face the Russian threat. After several wars and the annihilation of the Turkish fleet, the sultans are forced to cede Crimea to Russia and grant it free circulation in the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean. The interference of the European powers then becomes constant with the declining empire, under the term of "question of the East".

Decline and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire

Russia, spiritual heir to Byzantium, would no longer stop seeking to clear a route to the Straits. Around the decadent empire, agitated by minority movements, the great powers were to clash in the name of competing interests. Catherine II, in 1783, annexed Crimea purely and simply, where the powerful fortress and naval base of Sevastopol was built. Russia and Austria began from this time to concert for the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire (treaty of 1781 between Catherine II and Joseph II). The war of 1787-1792 opposed Turkey to the Russians and the Austrians. Victorious against the latter, the Turks were inflicted by the Russians a new series of defeats which precipitated the end of the mediocre Sultan Abul-Hamid I (1774-1789).

In this almost desperate situation, and as the Ottoman troops fled from the Russians, ascended the throne a young sultan, Selim III (1789-1807). It was he who ushered in the age of reform in Turkey, a daring that he had to pay with his life. It was too late to rectify the military situation, and, at the peace of Iassy (Jan. 9, 1792), Russia obtained confirmation of possession of Crimea and the coast of the Black Sea, and it extended its border to Dniester. Admirer of French civilization and surrounded by French advisers, Selim III immediately undertook to reorganize his army in European style), but he was too timid and hesitated to dissolve the Janissaries, who became the most bitter opponents of the reforms. New external and internal dangers were to weaken the authority of the Sultan still further. Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt (1798) was further proof of the flippancy with which Europe now treated Turkey.

More serious still was the Greek War of Independence, because for the first time it provoked the concerted intervention of the great powers in Ottoman affairs. Signed in 1829, the Treaty of Adrianople enshrined Greek independence and Serbian autonomy, granting Russia free navigation to the mouth of the Danube and into the Black Sea. In 1832, the Egyptian army led by Ibrahim Pasha took Palestine and Syria, and besieged Constantinople. It takes help from the Russians to save the city. From now on, the European powers, which seek to satisfy their territorial ambitions to the detriment of the Ottoman Empire, will be more pressing in imperial affairs.

While at the end of the Crimean War, the Treaty of Paris (March 30, 1856) preserved Ottoman territorial integrity against Russian appetites, but consecrated the intervention of Europeans, in 1860 rose from all sides revolts, each of which will contribute to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The Druze revolt in 1860 and the massacre perpetrated against Maronite Christians in Lebanon provoked French military intervention in the country, which came under French domination. In 1875 and 1876, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro also rose up. The bachi-bouzouks (mercenary horsemen of the Ottoman army) having responded with a massacre of Christians, Russia intervened in 1877.

In 1878, Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) had to accept the Treaty of San Stefano, the terms of which were reviewed at the Congress of Berlin. The European powers decide the fate of the empire: Serbia, Montenegro and Romania become independent. Thessaly and Epirus go to Greece, Bessarabia to Russia, while Austria occupies Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the same time, the cost of the reforms combined with the loss of the revenues of an amputated empire is driving the Ottoman state into bankruptcy. The country's economy is placed under Franco-English supervision. The sultan, under pressure from the liberals of the "Young Ottomans" movement, agreed in 1876 to endow the state with a constitution, establishing a regime of parliamentary monarchy and enshrining individual and religious freedoms in fundamental laws. In 1878, however, he re-established an absolutist government.

The decline continues. After the massacre of the Armenians, between 1894 and 1896, the Ottoman state was banished from the nations. In 1897, the Greeks took Crete, while in Macedonia the terrorism of the comitadjis was rife.

The sick man of Europe

The liberal and nationalist officers, who in 1895 constituted the movement of the Young Turks, organized in 1908 an uprising of the troops based in Macedonia which forced the despot to restore the Constitution and the Parliament. Bulgaria having proclaimed its independence in 1908 and Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1909, the army of Thessaloniki, dominated by the Young Turks, marches on Istanbul, deposes Abdülhamid II and brings to power Mehmet V. In fact, the power is until 1918 in the hands of the Young Turks, directed by Enver Pasha.

The Ottoman state is continually at war until its end: first against Italy, which took Tripolitania in 1912; in the Balkans then where he must face a coalition formed by Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece (see Balkan wars). In 1913, after the signing of the Treaties of London and Constantinople, only Anatolia, Western Thrace and Istanbul in Europe, as well as the Hejaz in the Arabian Peninsula, remained of the empire.

The dismantling is completed after the First World War. Enver Pasha has indeed engaged Turkey alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary. The English favored the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule in 1916. Defeated in 1915 in the Dardanelles, the Allies resumed the offensive and forced the Turks to sign the Mudros armistice in October 1918. The empire was reduced to Anatolia.

In March 1919, Sultan Mehmet V had no choice but to appoint a government close to the victors. Mustafa Kemal (future Atatürk) takes the lead of a nationalist movement. In October 1919, he organized elections and became head of government in April 1920. After the Greek offensive in Anatolia, Mehmet V agreed to sign the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920), which provided for the cession of the Arab provinces. Mustafa Kemal leads the nationalist counter-offensive against the Greeks, driven back from Anatolia in 1922.

In July 1923, by the Treaty of Lausanne, the Allies recognized the victory of Mustafa Kemal. The Republic of Turkey is proclaimed on October 20, 1923 is proclaimed, of which Mustafa Kemal will become the first ruler. The following year, the caliphate, the last vestige of the Ottoman Empire, was abolished.


- History of the Ottoman Empire, by Robert Mantran. Fayard, 2003.

- The Ottoman Empire and Europe, by Jean-François Solnon. Tempus, 2017.

- The Istanbul Divan: A Brief History of the Ottoman Empire, by Alessandro Barbero. Payot, 2014.

Video: Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire