Southwest Asia and the Indian Ocean,
I0. The Ottoman Empire, to 1750
A0. Expansion and Frontiers
10. Osman established the Ottoman Empire in northwestern Anatolia in 1300. He
and his successors consolidated control over Anatolia, fought Christian enemies
in Greece and in the Balkans, captured Serbia and the Byzantine capital of
Constantinople, and established a general border with Iran.
20. Egypt and Syria were added to the empire in 1516–1517, and the major port
cities of Algeria and Tunis voluntarily joined the Ottoman Empire in the early
sixteenth century. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566) conquered
Belgrade (1521) and Rhodes (1522) and laid siege to Vienna (1529), but
withdrew with the onset of winter.
30. The Ottoman Empire fought with Venice for two centuries as it attempted to
exert its control over the Mediterranean. The Ottomans forced the Venetians to
pay tribute but continued to allow them to trade.
40. Muslim merchants in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean requested Ottoman naval
support against the Portuguese. The Ottomans responded vigorously to
Portuguese threats against nearby ports such as Aden, but saw no reason to
commit much effort to the defense of non-Ottoman Muslim merchants in the
B0. Central Institutions
10. The original Ottoman military forces of mounted warriors armed with bows were
supplemented in the late fourteenth century when the Ottomans formed captured
Balkan Christian men into a force called the “new troops” (Janissaries), who
fought on foot and were armed with guns. In the early fifteenth century the
Ottomans began to recruit men for the Janissaries and for positions in the
bureaucracy through the system called devshirme—a levy on male Christian
20. The Ottoman Empire was a cosmopolitan society in which the Osmanli-
speaking, tax-exempt military class (askeri) served the sultan as soldiers and
bureaucrats. The common people—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—were
referred to as the raya (flock of sheep).
30. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Ottoman land forces were
powerful enough to defeat the Safavids, but the Ottomans were defeated at sea
by combined Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Turkish
cavalrymen were paid in land grants, while the Janissaries were paid from the
40. In the view of the Ottomans, the sultan supplied justice and defense for the
common people (the raya), while the raya supported the sultan and his military
through their taxes. In practice, the common people had little direct contact with
the Ottoman government, being ruled by local notables and by their religious
leaders (Muslim, Christian, or Jewish). C0. Crisis of the Military State, 1585–1650
10. The increasing importance and expense of firearms meant that the size and cost
of the Janissaries increased over time while the importance of the landholding
Turkish cavalry (who disdained firearms) decreased. At the same time, New
World silver brought inflation and undermined the purchasing power of the fixed
tax income of the cavalrymen and the fixed stipends of students and professors at
20. Financial deterioration and the use of short-term mercenary soldiers brought a
wave of rebellions and banditry to Anatolia. The Janissaries began to marry,
went into business, and enrolled their sons in the Janissary corps, which grew in
number but declined in military readiness.
D0. Economic Change and Growing Weakness, 1650–1750
10. The period of crisis led to significant changes in Ottoman institutions. The sultan
now lived a secluded life in his palace, the affairs of government were in the
hands of chief administrators, the devshirme had been discontinued, and the
Janissaries had become a politically powerful hereditary elite who spent more
time on crafts and trade than on military training.
20. In the rural areas, the system of land grants in return for military service had
been replaced by a system of tax farming. Rural administration came to depend
on powerful provincial governors and wealthy tax farmers.
30. In the context of disorder and decline formerly peripheral places like Izmir
flourished as Ottoman control over trade declined and European merchants came
to purchase Iranian silk and local agricultural products. This growing trade
brought the agricultural economies of western Anatolia, the Balkans, and the
Mediterranean coast into the European commercial network.
40. By the middle of the eighteenth century it was clear that the Ottoman Empire
was in economic and military decline. Europeans dominated Ottoman import and
export trade by sea, but they did not control strategic ports or establish colonial
settlements on Ottoman territory.
50. During the “Tulip Period” (1718–1730), the Ottoman ruling class enjoyed
European luxury goods and replicated the Dutch tulip mania of the sixteenth
century. In 1730, the Patrona Halil rebellion indicated the weakness of the
central state; provincial elites took advantage of this weakness to increase their
power and their wealth.
II0. The Safavid Empire, 1502–1722
A0. The Rise of the Safavids
10. Ismail declared himself shah of Iran in 1502 and ordered that his followers and
subjects all adopt Shi’ite Islam.
20. It took a century of brutal force and instruction by Shi’ite scholars from Lebanon
and Bahrain to make Iran a Shi’ite land, but when it was done, the result was to
create a deep chasm between Iran and its Sunni neighbors.
B0. Society and Religion
10. Conversion to Shi’ite belief made permanent the cultural difference between Iran
and its Arab neighbors that had already been developing. From the tenth century
onward, Persian literature and Persian decorative styles had been diverging from
Arabic culture—a process that had intensified when the Mongols destroyed
Baghdad and thus put an end to that city’s role as an influential center of Islamic
20. Although Islam continued to provide a universal tradition, local understandings
of Islam differed, as may be seen in variations in mosque architecture and in the
distinctive rituals of various Sufi orders. Under the Safavids, Iranian culture was further distinguished by the strength of Shi’ite beliefs including the concept of
the Hidden Imam and the deeply emotional annual commemoration of the
martyrdom of Imam Husayn.
C0. A Tale of Two Cities: Isfahan and Istanbul
10. Isfahan and Istanbul were very different in their outward appearance. Istanbul
was a busy port city with a colony of European merchants, a walled palace and a
skyline punctuated by gray domes and soaring minarets. Isfahan was an inland
city with few Europeans, unobtrusive minarets, brightly tiled domes, and an open
palace with a huge plaza for polo games.
20. Both cities were built for walking (not for wheeled vehicles), had few open
spaces, narrow and irregular streets, and artisan and merchant guilds.