Before the rise of Islam, the Arabian peninsula was dominated by nomadic Bedouin cultures that dominated the region. The polytheistic bedouin clans placed heavy emphasis on kin-related groups, with each clan clustered under tribes. Warfare between tribes was common among the Bedouin, and warfare was given a high honor. The difficult living conditions in the Arabian peninsula created a heavy emphasis on family cooperation, further strengthening the clan system.
Although the majority of Arabia was nomadic, there were several important cities that came into being as centers of trade and religion, such as Yathrib [Medina], Mecca, Karbala and Damascus. The most important of these cities was Mecca, which was an important center of trade in the area, as well as the location of the Ka'ba, one of the most revered shrines in polytheistic Arabia.
Culturally, Pre-Islamic Arabia was similar to what would come later, with some notable differences. Pre-Islam, most Bedouin tribes were polytheistic and animist, with some notable exceptions (three of the ruling tribes of Yathrib were Jewish). A few tribes worshiped one supreme being, called Allah, but this was not common. Like later cultures in the region, the Bedouin tribes placed heavy importance on poetry as well as oral tradition.
Muhammad and the Beginnings of IslamEdit
Muhammad was born to the prominent Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. His father died befor he was born and his mother died when he was six. He was raised by his grandfather until he died when Muhammad was eight and later by his uncle. Muhammad was raised as, and became, a merchant.
While a young man, Muhammad worked as a trader for a wealthy widow, Khadijah, whom he would marry a few years later. His work as a merchant arguably influenced his philosophy as he encountered different cultures and religions, most notably Christianity and Judaism.
Around 610 AD, Muhammad received the first of his revelations from the angel Gabriel; these revelations were written (in Arabic) into the Qu'ran, where they would form the basis for the religion of Islam. The early followers of this new faith were small, including mostly his wife, some clansmen, some servants and slaves. Muhammad began to preach his new faith to his clan and the people of Mecca.
As Islam spread, the dominant clan in Mecca, the Umayyad, saw the new faith as a threat to their political power and to their religious power held by controlling the polytheistic shrines at Ka'ba. As the religion spread, Muhammad grew to be further threatened by the Umayyads. Muhammad was perceived as a danger similar to the conditions in Yathrib, where two religions (Judaism and the Bedouin religion) fought for power.
Because of the the danger for Muhammad and his followers in Mecca, they left Mecca in favor of Yathrib. This event is known as the hijra. Muhammad was jubilantly welcomed in Yathrib, and the city was renamed "Medina", due to his ability to end the religious quarrels in the city. Islam spread rapidly in Medina, and became a center of the new faith. Muhammad's power grew in the city of Medina.
Under Muhammad's leadership, Medina strengthened in power and soon rivaled Mecca. Muslim raids on Meccan treaders further endangered the Umayyads. The Quraysh fought with the Muslims in the mid-620s. In 628, Muhammad signed a peace treaty with the Umayyads. In 629, Muhammad and 10,000 converts returned to Mecca. Claiming to have proven the power of Allah, the shrine at Ka'ba was smashed. The Umayyads and others in Mecca converted to Islam in time.
The Rise and Fall of the Umayyad EmpireEdit
Muslim armies conquered most of Arabia by 633, further spreading Islam. Muslim armies soon conquered north Africa, Mesopotamia and Persia, significantly shaping the history of the world through the spread of Islam there.
Following the death of Muhammad in 632, tribal leaders convened on who should succed him. After much debate between the choices of Ali (Muhammad's son-in-law) and Abu Bakr (Muhammad's close friend, an early convert, and political strong), Abu Bakr was chosen to lead and became the first caliph, this decision would later spawn controversy.Ali would go on to become the fourth caliph later
During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (632-634 AD), the warlike Bedouin clans united to spread Islam. The weakness of the rich Byzantine and Persian empires encouraged them to expand. These new lands were placed under Arab control through this jihad (Western fallacy is that jihad is used to spread Islam. Jihad is a struggle and comes in many forms).
Social History of the Ottoman EmpireEdit
The Ottoman Empire, the main focus of this book, is an interesting social experiment that lasted a little more than six-hundred years. The Ottomans dominated the money-rich areas of the Middle East, Asia, and were at one point, considered a major European power. From the 1300’s up until the end of World War I, the Ottoman state was an impressive bureaucracy. It was the frequent updates and changes of the social structure which allowed the Ottoman State to live for so long.
What of its geography? The Middle East (also known as the “Near East” by Europeans) is the area of Southwest Asia. The Balkan states (areas near Greece) were once considered to be part of the Ottoman Empire but have since been stripped of their “Middle East” association. The Ottoman Empire touches five major bodies of water, the Caspian, Black, Mediterranean, and Red Seas, as well as the Persian Gulf.
Most Middle Eastern empires, (the Ottomans were no exception) had the chief parts of their population within a few miles from river valleys. The major rivers in the Middle East are the Nile (in Egypt) and the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers (in present day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq). Most river transport in those times was “one-way”. Rivers’ currents were generally too strong to sail against. The Nile River was the one exception, which partially explains why the Egyptians were particularly powerful in ancient times.
The desert areas of the Middle Eastern peninsula were generally untouched by the Ottomans. Until the advent and importance of oil, these regions were fairly unimportant economically. Though, drought is a typical state for much of the Middle East, it is important to mention that there are areas (such as Yemen) that get significantly more rainfall than typical cities in the Northeastern United States. Areas by the coast of the Black Sea can get as much as four times the amount of rain as Binghamton, NY does in a year.
What of the Middle East’s early history? It begins with the formation of city-states in 3500 B.C.E. in lower Iraq. The communities settled along the river-valleys between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. These civilizations prospered and gained written alphabets and religious rituals as a by-product of their incredible resourcefulness. In 1400 B.C.E. political rivals began to emerge and regional empires began to form in place of the city-states. Many great dynasties conquered the Middle East region, including the Egyptians, the Acheminid Empire, and Alexander the Great’s Greeks.
The Middle East has been a very important region in terms of agricultural and mathematical development. It was here in the Middle East that wheat and the concept of the number zero was invented. Turkey (which contained the capital of the Ottoman Empire) was the most populous and prosperous of the Holy Roman Empire’s states. Anatolia (also known as Turkey and Asia Minor, depending on the source of the information) was also the influence for Hellenic ideas. There are still “Greek Ruins” in present day Turkey.
The Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire’s successor, controls the lion’s share of the Middle East. It follows then that the Middle Eastern people are mostly Greek Orthodox Christian and Greek speaking. There are still a few pagan religions or more correctly animist religions that play a role in society. The animists are famous for their practice of tying ribbons on to trees in an effort to receive favors from the spirits.
Another religion that refused to be completely crushed was the religion of Zoroastrianism. Founded by Zarathushtra, the religion was Monotheistic, a true departure from the time when it was made. Its date of origin is suspect but is likely 600 B.C.E. These are Persian (read Iranian) areas where Persian is spoken and the government is known as the Sasanian Empire. The religion had a profound effect on Judaism and Christianity and is still alive today, followed by (according to www.religioustolerance.org) some 140,000 people. This religious sect put up a monumental fight with the Byzantine Empire. Some historians say that the Iranian Zoroastrians were a constant thorn in the side of the Byzantine Empire and may have been one of the chief causes of the Byzantine collapse.
Where did Islam come from? Muslims believe that Mohammed received revelations from God (or more specifically the Angel Gabriel) from 610 to 632 C.E. His revelations are contained in the Islamic scripture; a tome called the Koran (also spelt Quran). Islam is considered a Semitic religion, like Judaism and Christianity. It is a monotheistic belief and Islam, in its purest, original form is considered an extension of Judaism, with Mohammed as the last prophet. Literally translated, the word "Islam" means "submission." Every muslim must adhere to the "five pillars of Islam": Shahadah (profession of faith), Salah (ritual prayer), Zakah (alms tax), Sawm (fasting during Ramadan), and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). (source: )
Two important Koranic tenets (that some may find interesting) are religious tolerance and the idea of women’s rights. The Koran states that other “people of the book” believe in an incomplete faith but should be respected. It means that Jews and Christians should be as respected in Islamic society as a fellow coreligionist. The Islamic faith allowed women better rights than Judaism or Christianity. It allowed women the right to own property or money and it guaranteed them a percentage of her husband’s property upon his death.
How did Islam spread? Mohammed convinced people in Medina, his hometown after being forced out of Mecca, to follow him in war and religion. His army was indeed powerful enough to conquer Mecca. From the 600’s to the 700’s C.E., there was much political turmoil as Mohammed and the succeeding caliphs, gathered forces in their sphere of influence. By 750 C.E. Muslim warriors have succeeded in taking over everything from Asia to France. After a brief peak of power, they are forced into Spain. Most Middle Eastern areas stay Arabic speaking and Islamic. Turkey remains Greek Orthodox and Greek speaking, the Europeans revert back to earlier religions and customs.
In 1071, the Turks (in Asia Minor) change from animists to Muslims. Barbarians convert the local populace through limited force and persuasion. The Barbarian/Turk mix then tries to conquer the Byzantine Empire and in 1453 they attempt and succeed in the conquest of Constantinople. Turkish speaking Muslims are now the chief people in Asia Minor. There are still limited pockets of Greeks speaking Christians and Kurds in Turkey left in Asia Minor at the end of the conquest.
What of the origins of the Ottoman Empire? In fact, there was little study of the origins of the Ottoman Empire until the twentieth century. Herbert A. Gibbons, a historian, was the first person to utilize research and thought to make a guess on the origins; his work was published in 1916. He claimed that the Ottoman Empire was really an offshoot of the Byzantine Empire with an Islamic veneer.
The next group of historians to offer a different view was William Langer and Robert Blake in 1932. They argued that it was not Byzantine at all but a more indigenous empire of the Middle East. Pre-Ottoman Islamic states banded together to form the backbone of the empire. Their work put Ottoman study on a more academic level.
In 1934, Fuat Koprulu disagreed in a Turkish historical journal. He claimed that the Ottoman state was purely Turkish. Turkish tribes moved from Asia to the Middle East and took over the areas. This was important as an argument for Turkish nationalism for the young nation. Also in 1934, Paul Wittek offered an explanation as to the start of the Empire. He claimed that the empire was a ghazi state. Ghazi means a holy, Islamic war. Ottoman persons in Anatolia fought for the faith and ended up in making an empire. This theory was particularly embraced by the West.
Colin Heywood--- a student of Paul Wittek--- penned in the 1980's that the intellectual climate while Wittek was growing up in Vienna influenced his writings. The Viennese appreciated the projection of the Ottoman State as warmongering. He suggested that Paul Wittek may have been in someway projecting a fallacy, despite his source from the 1400s, only a century after the founding of the Empire.
Heath Lowry looked into Wittek's sources and found more reasons to question Wittek's version of events in 2003. Lowry proves that Ahmedi, the major source of information for Wittek's hypothesis, was a retainer of the court. His writing then is not that credible as it may have been influenced by important government officials. Ahmedi's text, Lowry conjectures, was a story and not meant to be taken literally. Lowry further proves that at the time ghaza did not mean holy war but instead, raiding and pillaging, therefore just typical warfare not religious or politically motivated warfare.
Piecing together the origins and the known history, the most likely origin is that a group of warrior-barbarians in Anatolia (present day Turkey) form a group to try and take over the civilization. They begin attacking the Byzantine Empire in an attempt to pillage the cities. Barbarians, at all points in time, attack civilization to attempt to pillage the civilization’s belongings. Due to the attacks and the breakdown of the Byzantine Empire, there is a large amount of political instability in the relatively settled regions of Turkey. The once Greek and Christian settlements are converted to Turkish Muslims due to Turkish nomadic invaders that settle in the country. The Byzantine Empire manages to hold on to Constantinople and the Seljuk state begins to rise to power in the provinces.
The leaders of the Turkish nomads begin to form “tent communities” which house thousands of people. The communities war with each other often, as political instability strikes hold of the region. Osman, the leader of the Ottoman family, rises to the greatest power and wealth. His reign, as well as his territorial bounds gets notice from Bulgarian, Italian, and Byzantine chroniclers.
Osman, it should be noted was Christian, meaning that the Ottoman Empire was by no means religiously founded. Christians frequently held positions of power in the beginning of Ottoman history. Nonetheless, it started to take on the role as an Islamic power soon after its rule began.
What is the early history of the Empire? In 1389, the battle of Kosovo destroyed the Serbian State. (It is interesting to note that in 1989 Milosevic, a historian, stands on the battlefield of Kosovo and creates a Serbian identity, saying that the Serbs were the victims of a brutal attack.) The 1396 battle of Nicopolis, between the Ottomans and elements from France, Austria and Hungary ended with the Ottomans on top. The battle of Varna at the end of the 14th/early 15th century ended the Bulgarian state. With the 1453 conquering of Constantinople over the Byzantines, the Ottoman Empire becomes a major force to be reckoned with. By 1500, the Ottomans had taken control of all of Turkey and much of the land from Europe to North Africa to Asia.
Who runs the Empire? The Sultan of the Empire is the most important with the Grand Vizier being second in command. At times, the Grand Vizier becomes as or more important than the Sultan. One coup d’etat happens in 1453 after the conquest of Constantinople. Due to the increased popularity the Sultan has after the conquest, he feels safe in ordering his Grand Vizier killed.
Sultans were chosen from the sons of the previous Sultan. In the beginning, all the sons were given governing experience and any of them could be chosen to lead. Later in Ottoman history, the eldest son would become the next ruler. There were only two failed attempts to overthrow the ruling family, which suggests an extremely large amount of political stability.
How do you make a living in society? Successful wars allowed pillage and new Timars (explained later) to be made. Also the transit trade (being the land bridge between Europe and the rest of Asia) and international trade made a large part of the economy of the Ottoman Empire. Domestic commerce, including the caravan system, was another common way for people to make a living in society. There were a few other ways to make a living including agriculture and fishing.
How do you pay for the soldiers? Pillage was a common answer in the Ottoman (and European) system. A small share (20%) of the plunder went to the Sultan. The Ottomans were particular in those cities that they would plunder. If the city surrendered, the Ottomans had to leave it alone. If they were met with resistance, then they received the affirmation to pillage the village.
The Ottomans started the Timar system which broke up conquered areas into taxable units. These units were made specifically so that each Timar would be able to sustain a man and his horse. These Timars were given to members of the Sipahi Calvary, those servicemen of Muslim heritage. The taxes from the Timar would go directly into the Timar-holders pocket in exchange for loyalty and willingness to go to war when called upon. This is not the same as the feudal system in Europe. Only the taxes from the land not the land itself was given to the Timar-holder. This system was popular from the 1400’s until the late 1500’s, when it starts to be replaced. (The system does continue with decreased popularity until the early seventeenth century.)
As the Timar System begins to fall away, the idea of Tax Farms become more important. The Tax Farm system broke up land in much the same way as the Timar system and then the right to tax would be auctioned off. In other words, the government thought that it could get a certain amount of tax for this land. People would bid for the right to collect the tax and whatever amount of tax they collected, they could keep. The amount of the tax was set by government but may have been cheated slightly by the tax collectors. The government then paid the soldiers from this income. It is interesting to note that money does not flow as cash in this society, so it is not cash that is being paid to the soldiers.
What of law? There was an interest in the status quo of the empire. The primary law system was the Islamic courts but appointed Jews and Christians were allowed to have their own courts which ruled over their religious areas. Non-conflicting systems were by and large left alone. There were two main systems of law, the Sharia Law and the Kanun Law. There was Sharia Law which was evolved out of the Koran and from the word of Mohammed. There was also Kanun Law which was the secular law of the Sultan. Both were taught at law schools, which existed in Bursa and Istanbul. The court was run by sultan-appointed kadi (read judges) and often included punishments including but not limited to fines, lashings, and capital punishment. Often Jews and Christians went to Islamic courts to get a more forceful ruling on an issue. Women almost always went to Islamic courts, as they tended to side more often with and gave fairer payments to women. In truth, the political judicial system was run for the betterment of the rulers. The Kanun overruled the Sharia Law, which show a level of respect for the Sultan over religion.
What of the non-Muslim members of society? There are still significant pockets of Christianity in the empire. While the empire was not founded on religion, it has become increasingly important to be Muslim in the society. Even though people are free to practice any religion, the amount of taxes needed to be paid by the Muslims are dramatically less than that of other religions. Therefore a lot of Christians "convert" themselves to Islam on paper, but continue practicing Christianity. After all it is very hard for the government to find out what religion people really practice. However, in the course of time the children of these families slowly leave their religion and become real Muslims. Employ of Christians as Christians becomes decreasingly acceptable. To tap into the usefulness of the Christian members of society, the Ottomans create the Devshirme system.
The Devshirme system collected boys from the Christian villages to be slaves in the army or the government. (This is not as evil as it sounds; in fact, there are records of mothers pleading for their boys to be taken into the system as it gave them a chance for social mobility.) The boys were sent to live with Turkish Muslims. Upon their conversion to Islam, they were sent to the army to be janissaries (soldiers) or sent to the Palace School to learn about government. These Devshirme boys were often promoted to high positions of power, generals in the army and grand viziers in the government.
The Janissaries do sometimes revolt after the year 1300. They usually demand more money (and they usually get it). Many Devshirme boys remained in contact with their hometowns. The boys, once in positions of power, had bridges, churches, schools, and hospitals built. This Devshirme system, despite some of its flaws, was an excellent brainchild of the Ottoman Empire. It allowed them to tap into the non-Muslim talent pool which would have been against policy if they had remained Christian. It also gave them a very well trained force running the state.
The Devshirme boys’ sons get help from their fathers navigating through the ranks. Due to this upsurge of interest in government and military by the sons of the Devshirme, there is no need to continue the system. Consequently, the Devshirme starts to break down in the late 1500’s.
What of the Europeans? The Europeans saw the Ottoman Empire as a punishment from God. Ottomans were seen as the anti-Christ. The Lutherans saw the Ottomans as proof that the papacy was corrupt and that the Ottomans were punishment for this abomination to Christianity. The Roman Catholics saw the Ottomans as punishment for allowing the Lutheran revolution. The Ottomans seemed an unstoppable force until the Ottomans attack Hapsburg Vienna in 1529. The Ottomans are defeated and begin a slow transition of power with limited territorial expansion and some contraction. ShAbAm
What of the rest of the Middle East?Edit
There are two “Gun Powder” Islamic States that peak around the same time as the Ottomans. The Safevids were in the center of the Ottomans and the Mughals (who were an Islamic power in the East). The Safevids peaked in power between 1571 and 1722. The Mughal Empire (an extension of the Mongol empire) was powerful from 1483-1862 when it was taken over by the Europeans who took over all of India. The Southern tip of India started to fall to the Europeans as early as the 1500’s.
The Safevid Dynasty of Iran attempts to stop the influence of the Ottoman state through war. The Ottomans soundly defeat the Safevid Dynasty in the Battle of Chaldiran (1514) and push the Safevid people back into Iran. The Safevids convert to Shii Islam in an effort to maintain a national identity separate from the Ottomans.
The Mameluke Dynasty in Egypt who owned the land route to China was starting to crumble politically. To make sure the route was held in Muslim hands the Ottomans took over the area by soundly defeating the Mamelukes in 1516. The Ottoman territory expanded into Israel and Jordan and the Ottomans became the rulers of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Mughal Empire is consolidated from indigenous Uzbekistani tribes. They practice very tolerant positions on religion. Akbar (1556-1605 C.E.) pushed for the acceptance of religious Hindu customs and also accepted the practices of Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism. There is much cultural difference and difference in the history of the three Islamic Empires and they refuse to reconcile their differences. There is communication between the three Islamic dynasties but it is infrequent. The Ottomans are de facto Caliphs (head of Islam) due to the conquering of the Mamelukes who were possibly descendants of the Caliphs. It is a somewhat vaguely substantiated claim and is not spoken of until significantly later times in the Empire’s history.
What of the languages? The Ottoman Empire remained Turkish speaking with a language creatively called Ottoman Turkish. The Ottoman Turkish was written in Arabic script like any Islamic language of the times. Though Ottoman Turkish was the official language of the empire, Persian and Arabic were common languages.
The Safevid Empire was Turkish speaking but the court language was Persian. By keeping a different “official” language, the Safevids create a national identity. The Mughal Empire used Turkish and Persian in their courts. The conversion of the Safevids from Sunni to Shii also allowed the Safevids to claim themselves “Champions of the Shii”, which further established their independence.
What brought about the end of the Ottoman Empire? This is a complex issue as is the case with the decline of other empires. But we can list some factors as long-term economic problems, unwillingness to follow the western imperial powers in their colonization efforts and slow moving bureaucracy. The Europeans were able to buy bigger and better weapons and were eventually able to significantly shrink and inhibit the Ottoman State until its ultimate collapse in 1922.