In our paper we would like to discuss the reasons for military success of the Ottoman Empire in its prime. The war was the aim of its existence; the empire was aimed on spreading Islam through Jihad. It is said that the two main functions of Ottoman administration were “the making of war and the collecting of taxes to support the making of war”¯ (Pitman). Since it emerged in the beginning of the XIV century under the leadership of Osman I, it continued to grow constantly and since the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II “The Conqueror”¯ in 1453 it turned to one of the major world powers, replacing the Byzantine Empire. At the peak of its power, Ottoman Empire included Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, parts of Arabia, much of the coast of Northern Africa.
Regarding all this, the military leaders played a paramount role in Empire’s politics and economy was build upon drawing taxes and plundering the newly-conquered lands. The Turkic cavalry, which was the moving force of early Ottoman conquest, turned to aristocracy. Later, in XV century they lost their influence and were replaced by Janissaries (Guisepi). As one of the key reasons of Ottoman Empire success we can name that the position in the ruling hierarchy was based on personal worth of the person, in which high birth and richness had no effect. Janissaries can be viewed as such an example. They were the elite infantry troops of Ottoman army, which wielded firearms. Most of them were recruited from the peoples of Balkans (Armenians, Yugoslavians, Magyar), where Christian faith was dominant. Technically, they became the slaves of the sultan, but most of them were treated fairly and could gradually rise to positions of power. Moreover, in time they turned to be the major political power, almost single-handedly deciding, who of the successors would occupy the throne.
The major reasons of such longevity of Ottoman Empire (it lasted about 600 years) were not many, but important. The political and military power in Ottoman Empire was centralized and belonged to the sultan. Moreover, implementing the religious institutions as a part of the government allowed the sultan to be regarded as a religious leader also (later Selim I even received the title “caliph”¯ ”“ the supreme ruler of all Muslim). The language of the court was much of a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian, which also served the unification of peoples around the central government. The government posts were earned due to personal achievements and talent. Though the official religion of the Ottoman Empire was Islam, those who upheld other religious beliefs were not persecuted. Moreover, they were organized into “millets”¯, small societies which were ruled by the patriarch (who was given a considerable authority by the sultan) and judged by traditional law. Jewish and Persian traders were protected by the law and given special privileges. In addition, the Ottoman administration did not exhaust the local governments with taxes (those were strictly controlled and usually much lesser than that of previous Christian or Muslim rulers of the land). The sultans understood that their country is not populated solely by Islamic peoples and rewarded loyalty from other religious and racial groups. Even the army up to XVI century consisted solely of Christian converts. Osman policy, science, military and culture could have been characterized as very pragmatic, taking the best from other countries and using it to their own merit. Not the last role in military success was played by the army and navy which were strong and technically advanced and well-equipped (Schwartz).
In conclusion, we must restate the reasons for social and military success of the late Ottoman Empire. They are: strong central government, all the political, martial and religious power was concentrated in the hands of sultan, promotion due to personal merit, effective tax policy, united by Islamic ideology and institutions, cherished loyalty from different religious and racial groups within the country, strong military, high pragmatism in all spheres of culture.
Guisepi, Robert. The Ottomans: From Frontier Warriors To Empire Builders. International World History Project. 1992. Web. 3 June 2011.
Pitman, Paul M. Turkey: A Country Study. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. 1987. Web. 2 June 2011.
Schwartz, Stuart B. Ottoman Empire, Islamic Heartlands, And Qing China. International World History Project. 1992. Web. 3 June 2011.