Why the Ottoman Empire Proved to Be the Most Successful and Enduring of the Early-Modern Islamic Empires

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  • Topic: Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Dynasty, Mehmed II
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  • Published : November 4, 2012
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Analyse why the Ottoman Empire proved to be the most successful and enduring of the early-modern Islamic empires.

From its emergence as an empire in the fourteenth century, the Ottoman Empire conquered and expanded its reign throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa until its fall in the nineteenth century. This essay will examine the driving factors of Ottoman success in its conquest, and the dynasty system and law of the Ottomans which, arguably, was a core ingredient in the enduring reign of the Ottoman Empire. While some of the ideas covered in this essay have been shared among various writers such as Imber, Murphey, and Yurdusev, their views are not universally held and are open to adversaries. Looking in detail at the diplomacy, law, dynasty system, and military aspect of the Ottomans, this work will suggest that these factors were the engine which drove the Ottoman Empire to be the most successful and enduring of the early-modern Islamic empires.

The Ottoman’s diplomacy played a significant role in its conquest and expansion. The Ottoman Empire conducted its external affairs based on the idea of Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) versus Dar al-Harb (the abode of the infidels) which in result placed the Ottomans in permanent state of war. Diplomacy, being a term related to the peace keeping between the nations, is somewhat inappropriate for the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless their view and approach towards the external affairs greatly influenced their magnificent expansion. Founded by ghazis, the warriors devoted to the expansion of Islam in infidel lands and strived for conquest, the Ottomans held stubbornly to the idea of Islam’s superiority over Christian Europe. As a result the Empire was organized upon the principles of ghazi, continuously declaring and leading a war against unbelievers. The Ottoman Empire strived for conquest and expansion from its very beginning. Filled with ghazi energy, the Ottomans had to continuously expand, capture new territories, and spread the Islam. However, this idea is challenged by different historical records, where the Ottoman Empire is claimed not to be an orthodox Islamic state. It is argued that the governmental and administrative affairs were not solely governed under strict observance of Islamic law but was also under the guidance of the customary law and rather respectful of the local customs. Regardless to which view is held correct, we cannot ignore the fact that the Ottoman Empire was established by the ghazis who strived for conquest. The Ottomans, being a dynastic state, would have been influenced by the ways of their forefathers, the ghazis, therefore themselves also committing to an idea of expansion and conquest.

The Ottoman Empire was a dynastic state, whose existence was closely related to the stability and continuity of the imperial household. Empire’s continuity of existence was dependent upon sultan’s ability to produce male heirs. Since females could not inherit the throne of the Ottoman Empire, the first duty of an Ottoman sultan was to produce male heirs who will succeed him and continue the dynasty. The essential rule of family law that supported the assurance of imperial continuity was the rule which allowed a man to own and have sexual relations with as many female slaves as he desired. His off-springs, regardless to from wives or slaves, were automatically freeborn, and had an automatic right to inherit which, in case of sultan, included the right to heir. During the first century of the Ottoman Empire, royal marriages were the norm in its dynastic system. However the purpose of marriage was usually political and lacked in reproduction of male heir. Throughout the history of Ottoman dynasty, it was the concubines, or slaves to be more exact, rather than wives whom assured the continuity of the imperial family, and so of the Empire. The law and the dynastic system of the Ottoman Empire played an important role in the continuity of the empire by assuring a...
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