Starting as a small warrior
band raiding the Byzantine frontier, the Ottoman
Turks built an empire from
Morocco to Iran, from
the deserts of Iraq and Arabia to
the gates of Vienna.
As the power of the Seljuk
Turkish Sultanate of Rum weakened
in the late 1200s, warrior chieftains
claimed the lands of northwestern
Anatolia bordering on the Byzantine
Ertuğrul Gazi (EHR-too-rool
gah-zee) ruled the lands around Söğüt,
a town between Bursa and Eskişehir.
Upon his death in 1281 his son Osman,
from whom the empire took its name,
expanded the territory to 16,000 square
Osman's son Orhan conquered İznik (Nicaea)
and took his armies across the Dardanelles and
into Thrace and Europe by 1362.
By 1452 the Ottomans controlled almost
all of the former Byzantine lands except
the great "Second Rome" of Constantinople.
In 1453 Mehmet the Conqueror took
the city and made it his capital, extinguishing
the 1100-year-old Byzantine
The reign of Süleyman
the Magnificent (1520-1566)
was the Ottoman golden age. The brilliance
of the sultan's court and the might
of his armies outshone those of England's Henry
VIII, France's François
I, and Holy Roman
Emperor Charles V.
Süleyman, it was all downhill
as a succession of more or less incompetent
sultans depended upon their Grand
Vezirs (prime ministers)
to run the empire.
The Ottoman sultanate lasted
for over 600 years, but
its last three centuries were marked
by stagnation and decline. By the
1800s the Ottomans had fallen far
behind the rest of Europe in science,
technology, industry, education,
commerce and military might.
Reformist sultans such as Selim
III (1789-1807) and Mahmut
II (1808-1839) succeeded
in pushing Ottoman bureaucracy, society
and culture ahead, but not in curing
all the empire's ills.
By the late
1800s, the Turkish Empire was the "Sick
Man of Europe," with
the Great Powers of Europe waiting
by its bedside to seize his rich
Impetuous military graduates—the Young
Turks—grabbed power from
the autocratic Sultan Abdülhamid
II in 1908 and declared
a constitutional government, but
they soon became an ineffective oligarchy.
When Enver Pasha,
the Young Turk strong man, allied
the empire with Germany in World
War I, its fate was sealed.
The Ottomans were defeated in World
After the war, the empire was abolished
in 1923 by Kemal
Atatürk and replaced
with the modern Turkish
Ottoman culture has
given us a splendid legacy of art, architecture and
domestic refinement, as a visit to Istanbul's Topkapi
Palace readily shows.
—by Tom Brosnahan