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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - The Ottoman Empire from its origins until 1683



The era from 1300 until the later seventeenth century saw the remarkable expansion of the Ottoman state from a tiny, scarcely visible, chiefdom to an empire with vast territories. These dominions stretched from the Arabian peninsula and the cataracts of the Nile in the south, to Basra near the Persian Gulf and the Iranian plateau in the east, along the North African coast nearly to Gibraltar in the west, and to the Ukranian steppe and the walls of Vienna in the north. The period begins with an Ottoman dot on the map and ends with a world empire and its dominions along the Black, Aegean, Mediterranean, Caspian, and Red Seas.

Origins of the Ottoman state

Great events demand explanations: how are we to understand the rise of great empires such as those of Rome, the Inca, the Ming, Alexander, the British, or the Ottomans? How can these world shaking events be explained?

In brief, the Ottomans arose in the context of: Turkish nomadic invasions that shattered central Byzantine state domination in Asia Minor; a Mongol invasion of the Middle East that brought chaos and increased population pressure on the frontiers; Ottoman policies of pragmatism and flexibility that attracted a host of supporters regardless of religion and social rank; and luck, that placed the Ottomans in the geographic spot that controlled nomadic access to the Balkans, thus rallying additional supporters.