Islam in the 1600s: Changes in Wealth and Power
All three of the major Islamic kingdoms lost power and influence in the spice trade with the onset of European commerce and naval adventurism.
We have already seen that the Ottoman Empire began to exploit its control of the lucrative spice trade routes, sometimes refusing to trade with Europe and generally increasing the prices of the goods which were allowed to arrive in Europe. Not surprisingly, European ships sailing around Africa hurt Ottoman trade and limited its prosperity.
The Ottoman Turks were one of several groups of Turkic speaking people who arrived in modern Turkey between 900 – 1100 A.D. The Ottoman came to dominate an area that included most of modern Turkey, parts of Syria and areas north of the present-day Turkish border. In the mid-1400s the Ottoman Turks invaded Constantinople and sacked it in 1453. From there, the Ottomans moved into Bulgaria and Europe north of Greece finally being defeated in Austria in the 1490s. The Turks would remain in parts of this region until close to the end of the 20th century. Their control of the Bosporus Strait and use of provincial governors called beys enabled them to control a large empire for a vey long period of time.
Map of the Ottoman Empire in 1600.
As the Ottoman empire grew in the 1400s and 1500s, it was blessed with a series of great leaders who were either great generals or great administrators. In the case of one, Suleiman the Magnificent, he was both.
Selim (1512 – 1520) A great general, he explanded Ottoman influence into Iraq and Syria, Egypt and the Middle East. He began a process which would eventually gain Ottoman influence over much of the Middle East and North Africa.
Suleiman I Also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, he continued the massive expansion began by Selim and was only stopped by Austria near Vienna in 1529.
Rule Under the Ottomans
Given the massive territory of the Empire, the Ottomans wisely left much of the control of the conquered lands to local administrators. Suleiman was a large man whose court was both opulent and regal. The following description is from Ghislan de Busbeq, Austrian Ambassador to the Empire:
The Sultan was seated on a rather low sofa, no more than a foot from the ground and spread with many costly covers and cushions, embroidered with exquisite work. Near him were his bows and arrows. His expression as I have said is anything but smiling, and has a sterness, which though sad, is full of majesty. On our arrival, we were introduced into his presence by his chamberlains, who held our arms – a practice which has always been observed since a Croation sought an interview and murdered the Sultan Amarath, in revenge for the murder of his master, Marcus, the despot of Serbia.
Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent
The Turk and European conflict ended in the 1600s, when a united army of Austrians, Hungarians and other Slovak nations pushed the Ottomans out of Hungary. For the next 150 years, Rusia and Austria would continue to push the Turks out of more and more of the territory taken by Selim and Suleiman.
The Ottoman rulers adopted much from the Persian and Byzantine kingdoms they conquered. The leadership structure they utilized was based on their own early tribal organization and the use of Beys or local administrators also had its origins in the Ottoman tribal governance. But court ritual was an admixture of the courts the Empire absorbed over the years.
In time, the court at Istanbul, as the Ottomans came to call Constantinople, grew large (with a staff of 20,000 by the 1500s) and the sultan’s harem of over 1000 wives came to represent the typical in the Middle East, though many rulers in this region followed the Koran’s admonitions against having more than four. In general, though there were some sultans who persecuted religious opposition, most Ottoman emperors allowed the Jewish...
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