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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2018

“An Outline of Ottoman Maritime History”

from Contributions-Dummy



Had the Ottomans not contested the Venetians and the Spaniards in the Mediterranean and the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, they would have gone unnoticed in the annals of maritime history, and the question of whether or not the Ottoman Empire constituted a maritime power would not have appeared on the agenda in the first place. Because they played big and bid for supremacy twice, once in the Mediterranean and the second time in the Indian Ocean, the Ottomans earned themselves a big question mark as far as their maritime legacy is concerned. In our opinion, a state does not have to fight major naval wars and win them, as the Ottomans quite often did, to become a maritime power. The Ottoman Empire was also a maritime power because it stretched along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean; because communications between its various constituent parts required regular sea borne traffic; and because the imperative to prevent foreign intrusion into the eastern Mediterranean was of vital importance to the survival of the territorial integrity of the empire. We say “also” because it was first and foremost a land-based empire. This had nothing to do with religious or cultural factors. It was just a dictate of circumstances to which its two predecessors, the Byzantine and Roman empires, had also been subject. All three empires controlled a good part of the Mediterranean by dominating considerable stretches of its coast. The Roman and Byzantine empires patrolled their coasts and major routes and instituted law and order just as the Ottomans would subsequently do. Their naval strategy was on the whole defensive. In this respect, the “long sixteenth century” is an exception in early modern times insofar as naval warfare came to constitute a means and mechanism of further conquest. In view of these considerations, we believe the Ottoman Empire can rightfully claim its own maritime history.

A maritime history in general rests on the histories and interactions of two components, namely the navy and the merchant marine. At any one time one typically stands above the other. There are also intermediate cases where there exists a balance between the two with a strong level of interaction. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, naval history dominates maritime history.