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01_Ch18: The Ottomans Build a Vast Empire

Timeline: ~1400 - 1520

FQ: How did the Ottoman Empire contribute to the formation of a Bipolar world?

Main Idea: The Ottoman Turks were able to nally conquer the vestiges of the Byzantine Empire (eg. Constantinople)
partially because of their own military prowess, but also because of the internal weaknesses that existed in Byzantine
society. The early period of Ottoman imperial rule was signicantly impacted by, and reective of, the profound changes
occurring in Europe. With the Ottomans dominating the East and the Europeans experiencing a social and scientic
reinvigoration in the West, the known world was quickly becoming 'Bipolar'.


I. Vocabulary
A. Devshirm: (also: Devshirme, Devsirme) The policy of exacting a tribute, in male children, from Christian
subjects. The boys were trained to become soldiers and administrators according to their success during their
education. Education also involved the religious conversion of the children.
B. Janissaries: The infantry of the Ottoman imperial army. Known for their loyalty and skill in combat.
C. The Gazi & Sphais: The two cavalry elements of the Ottoman imperial army. The former, Gazi, fought with
bows and little armor. They were often used as skirmishers, staying out of heavy combat because of their lack of
armor protection. The latter, Sphais, were more like medieval knights, wielding lances, swords, and other hand
D. Divan: (literal meaning is 'couch') The advisory council of the Sultan. It had no governing power beyond its
advisory role.
E. Grand Vizier: Second only to the Sultan in political power. This ofcial may have risen through the ranks via the
Devshirm. Not uncharacteristic of Asian political systems, this politically powerful individual was often a eunuch.
F. Sultan: Absolute ruler of the Ottoman Empire, with secular and non-secular authority,. Selection can be most
chaotic. It can involve ascendancy to the throne via primogeniture, merit, or intrigue.
G. Eunuch: A boy/ man deprived by nature or surgery of the testicles. In this context, such persons were given
important positions in government or the courts of rulers. Examples would be the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman
Empire and Cheng He of the Ming Dynasty.
H. Mullah: A Muslim trained in religious law and doctrine. Usually holds an ofcial post. Turkish molla & Persian/
Urdu mulla, from the Arabic mawl". First Known Use: 1613

II. The Ottoman Empire
A. Context
1. Time: 15th - 17th C.
2. Place: Asia Minor, former city of Constantinople
3. Circumstance: The military conquest of Constantinople and the Byzantine state (formerly an empire).
The ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire as a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean political and commercial
B. Byzantium
1. The Collapse
a. Collapse of Byzantine Empire: Byzantium could not escape the same elements that usher the
downfall of other great empires and political bodies.
b. Since political and religious power was vested in the government, political and/ or religious
controversy often resulted in public protests in the form of unrest. (Can you recall any of these
"explosive" religious or political issues?)
c. Grand projects which bankrupted the treasury. An example would be the military campaigns of
d. The constant pressure being applied by foreign invaders/ barbarians (Nomadic peoples like
Mongols and Turks, and the Arabs of the Caliphates). Among Byzantium's enemies you can add
the marauding Christian Crusaders that plundered Byzantine towns in search of booty.
2. Byzantine Source of Ottoman Cultural & Political Values
Some of these values were...
a. 'Baths'
b. 'Crescent Moon' => Political Symbol => Religious Symbol
c. Imperial Governance
d. Arts & Sciences: Example=> Architecture.
C. Politics & Society
$$$ The Ottoman Turks were a nomadic people who were faced with the daunting task of creating a government
capable of ruling over an empire. Tasks like this were similar in nature to the changes Mongol conquerors had to
adopt. The importance of the armed forces, which were to become a professional force (paid a salary), was not
lost in the restructuring.
1. Military Recruitment & Training Programs To Attract New Soldiers
a. Timar: Land grant used as an enticement for military service. Not a hereditary grant, but one
given for the benet of the person while providing military service.
b. Devshirm
c. Life-long Training and Discipline
2. Military Technology
a. Adopted foreign technology: Gunpowder, Cannon, Explosives (Metallurgy, Chemistry,
b. Early Adoption of hand-held rearms
c. Modication of military tactics & strategy to effectively employ technology.
3. Religion: The Ottoman empire assumes the dual responsibility of preserving the Islamic faith while
expanding the development of a society with diverse faiths.
a. 'Steward' of the Holy Land
b. Refuge for Susm
c. Religious Scholarship
4. Government Structure
a. Sultan
b. Grand Vizier
c. Divan
D. Achievements & Contributions
Not since the Mongol Empire (~200 years before) had the East and the West been connected. The Ottoman
Empire stretched as far east as the western borders of Persia and as far west as Eastern Europe. Once again, a
cultural bridge would allow cultural diffusion to occur over vast distances. The driving force will be commercial
interaction and political conict. Ruler, at the height of the empire's 'Golden Age' $was Suleiman I (the
1. Astronomy (Islamic and Maritime Importance)
2. Maritime Science
a. Navigational Instruments
b. Cartography
c. Ship Designs
3. Textiles
4. Artistic Expression: Calligraphy & the use of geometric designs in textiles and architecture.
E. The Bi-Polar World
The 'Old World' of the 15th century is developing a bi-polar nature. The world, like a magnet, has points of
concentrated force or power (poles). Throughout human history the centers of political, economic, or cultural
power shift from one place to another depending on circumstances. We are focusing on geopolitics rather than
magnetism. Europe and Asia Minor are developing robust societies where economic, cultural and eventually
political aims are competing.

III. Summary Activity: View lm and respond to select questions.

Materials/Sources:$Refer to the course calendar for additional materials, assignments and pertinent due dates.
! Map of Eurasia
! Certain denitions were extracted from Merriam-Websters online dictionary found at <>
! Millennium Video Series, The 15th Century: Century of the Sail, CNN Productions, Inc. 1999.
! World History: Patterns of Interaction
Ruled 1520-1566. In keeping with his namesake, the Hebrew King Solomon, Suleiman I was known as the
Interesting, given the nomadic origins of the Ottoman Turks. Clearly, a sign of adaptation to changing circumstances.
The origins of this art form can be traced to the practice of Islam.
The continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Study of the inuence of geography, economics, and demography on the politics, and foreign policy, of a state.