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An Upside-Down History of the World [Japanese]
[Chapter 3] The Origins of Monotheism

Part 1: A Human Hypothesis
39 The Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire and Islamic Modernization

While a concise introductory discussion on the storied Ottoman Empire is anything but easy, a good start would include the Islamic dynasty that was founded in Anatolia by a tribe of Turkish nomads. Anatolia, by the way, is the westernmost protrusion of Asia in modern-day Turkey. To the north is the Black Sea, the west, the Aegean, and to the south, the Mediterranean. To the east of the region is Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Of course, any analysis of the Ottoman Empire must also include the Islamic Empire, a civilization that would never be again, and that, by gradually expanding its territory from the end of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, ruled over Western Asia, the Balkan Peninsula, and large swathes of Northern Africa for over six hundred years.

Ertuğrul, leader of the first tribe to settle in Anatolia, served under the Sultanate of Rum (the Anatolian Seljuk State Saljūqiyān-i Rūm, 1077-1308) and fought against the Eastern Roman Empire. It was after his death that his son Osman became successor and broke off from the Sultanate of Rum to lay the groundwork of the Ottoman Empire as Osman I (lived c. 1258-1326, reigned 1299-1326).

Eventually the empire would be called Ottoman Turkey, but it would have none of the socially entrenched racial favoritism characteristic of the Umayyad Empire, which placed Arab peoples above everyone else. Rather than a Turks-first society, the empire gave its members equal treatment, regardless of race or ethnicity, as long as, of course, they were Muslim. That is why the empire wasn’t known by its present-day name of Turkey (State of Turkish People) but by the Ottoman Empire.

Until the fifteenth century, the empire grew through annexation, seizing Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, and Serbia. In 1453, the Ottoman army, led by Mehmet II (lived 1432-1481, reigned 1444-1446, 1451-1481), finally captured Constantinople, wiping out the Byzantine Empire.

Since Constantinople means “city of Constantine” (“city of the protector of Christianity”), the Ottoman Empire renamed the metropolis Istanbul, and relocated the various peoples within its empire, including the Turks, Greeks, Armenians, to the new capital.

By the sixteenth century, the population of Istanbul had swollen to five million, making it then the largest city in Europe.

As the Ottoman Empire continued to expand, Selim I (lived 1470-1520, reigned 1512-1520) managed to conquer Egypt and defeat the Malmuk empire at the onset of the sixteenth century, in 1517.

The Sultanate and Caliphate—the Largest, Most Powerful Islamic Empire

But the empire didn’t simply acquire the land of Egypt. It’s control of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam, was symbolic.

By claiming caliphal authority from the Abbasid dynasty, which was under the protection of the Mamluk empire, the leader of the Ottoman Empire (sultan) also became leader of the Sunni Islamists (caliph).

With the creation of this Sultanate-Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire became the largest, most powerful Islamic Empire to date. And its domination continued. The wise ruler Suleyman I (lived 1494-1566, reigned 1520-1566) went on to occupy Hungary and overwhelm the European powers of the Mediterranean, not to mention those in Tunisia and Algeria.

In the east, the empire broadened its rule to Baghdad. Before long, the Ottoman Empire had gained control of the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf, fueling a bustling international trade economy and a thriving empire.

The Ottoman Empire was at its peak.

But when Portugal and Spain each discovered their own international trade route, the Ottoman Empire suddenly had competition. With Portugal in control of the Cape Route from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope, and Spain dominating the West Indies Route from the Atlantic to the “New Continent” of America, Mediterranean-centered international trade would begin its steady decline in the seventeenth century.

The Ottoman Empire weakened, and Christians under the empire’s rule were itching for independence.

Meanwhile, Europe was a growing power. Its countries broke through the Dark Ages of the Middle Ages to arrive at the Renaissance. Scientific developments were taking hold, and it would only be a matter of time before such developments led to major milestones such as England’s Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century.

In contrast was the Ottoman Empire, which had fallen especially behind.

The Expansion of the Ottoman Empire
Encyclopedia Nipponica (Shogakukan)