Why were the Ottomans so successful in the 14th and 15th centuries? At the beginning of the 13th century, the Ottomans were one of the numerous nomad Turkish tribes present in Anatolia since the battle of Mantzikert at the end of the eleventh century. They probably formed one of the Oghuz tribes, the tribal family which gave birth to the Seljuk dynasty. Besides, these tribes were vassal to the Seljuk empire and they received an itqa in exchange for military service. More precisely, these tribes were under the control of the Rum sultanate, a minor part of Seljuk dynasty, which ruled Anatolia and which continued to prosper in spite of the collapse of the Seljuk empire in the rest of the Islamic world. However, around the middle of the thirteenth century the Mongol invasions directed by Genghis Khan destroyed the Sultanate of Rum. Thus it was the beginning of a period of »anarchy » in Anatolia and most of the Turkish tribes became independent.
Osman was the chief of one of these small emirate created after the collapse of the Seljuk of Rum and give his name to the dynasty ( The Ottomans were the partisans of Osman). Three centuries later the Ottomans
As the Ottomans considered themselves as good Muslims and even Gazhis ( warriors of god) they could not fight against their Muslim brothers that is why »the natural extension of the young state was towards the west »3 and,thus,the Christian territories. Their first major victories were against the Byzantine territories. However the first Ottoman leaders benefited cleverly of the Byzantine weakening (indeed since its were devastated by the crusaders during the beginning of the thirteen century, the empire knew a period of decline and was divided between several factions).
The Ottoman power not only used force to enlarge and secure their territory and from Orhan (Osman’s son) they adopted a wedding policy. Indeed the Byzantine Emperor John IV Kantazouzenos gave her daughter Theodora to Orhan in exchange of military troops to recover his throne. 4 This alliance allowed the Ottomans to conquest important city as Gallipoli. They continued this policy with other Ottoman Sultans and within other alliances. For instance, Murad I married the the sister of the Bulgarian Tsar and Bayezid I the daughter of an Anatolian lord and later the daughter of the countess of Salona. It permitted to the Ottoman to gain territory and to create a link of vassalage with their potential adversaries. 6 Generally, the Ottoman people constituted a large minority amongst the territories they ruled as well as the Muslim in general. 7 Indeed, during the 14th and the 15th centuries the Ottomans conquered many Christians territories as Balkans people for instance. To gain the sympathy of their new subjects they adopted a quite tolerant policy in matter of religion.
The Non- Muslim received the statute of dhimmi8 ( protected peoples) and the Ottoman administrative policy in the Balkans favoured the Christian church notably in order to have the support of the Balkan people. 9 Nevertheless, in the same time, the Ottomans began the fervent defender of Sunni Islam by integrating the legislation of the Ulemas and by encouraging the Sufism. 10 The Devshirme system was an other way to create a link with the Ottomans rulers and their new subject. The Devshirme was the forced recruitment of some Christian young males in order they serve the Sultan.
These young person was send in some »formation centres » where they received an hight and complete education( intellectual and military ) they also were converted to Islam. After a selection they were recruited either in Ottoman army ( were they served as Janissaries or or they served the State as hight functionary. 11 This system allowed to incorporate non-Turkish elements within both state and army. Thus, Ottomans avoided to have a a too important number of other Turkish tribes which were likely to constitute a threat of rebellion.
The Devshirme was not necessarily unpopular amongst the Christian population because they allowed their children to have an excellent position within the Ottoman State. 12 A structured and efficient army. First of all, during the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, the Ottomans had created a powerful army. When they began their first conquests, the Ottoman were probably animated by a desire of spread their faith and they are generally described as ‘ Gazhis’ in the sources.
During the very first time of the Ottoman empire ( under Osman) the Ottoman used quite basic way to fight for people from the steppes, indeed they were supposed to be expert in ambushes and surprise attacks. 13 However the Ottoman army has known important changes from the end of the 14th century. First they improve their skill in matter of siege, it was evident when they conquered Macedonia ( Serrai 1383 and Thessaloniki 1387). 13 The changes in army were especially significant under the reign of Murad I, indeed he was the first Sultan to organise army. 4 The janissaries was the elite troops of the Ottoman army because they received a very high education ( notably thanks to the Devshirme system), they were personally attached to the Sultan, until the end of the battle they remained fighting around him. 15 In addition to elite infantry formed by the janissaries there was the provincial cavalry or the timar-holding cavalrymen which were in majority recruited amongst the free Turkish population. They received a timar ( a no hereditary piece of land ) or money or assignment in exchange for military services. 6 The six divisions also constituted an efficient cavalry formation, as the janissaries they were recruited amongst the graduates from the Palace school17 and benefited of an excellent military and intellectual formation. The Azab formed an other part of the infantry (very less important than the janissaries) they were recruited amongst the peasant. The raider composed the last and the less important categorize of the Ottoman army, they were ruled by the marchers lords. 18 The sultan also owned a reserve of non-combatants : the Footmen and the Exemptees. 19
Thus, the sultan benefited of a complete and hierarchic army composed both by elite of infantry and cavalrymen ( janissaries and the Six Divisions) and a more numerous cavalry and infantry corps mainly composed by the timar-holder. The Ottoman army was also efficient by reason of its strict discipline indeed the soldier without helmet or armlet could be beheaded. 20 This army was also modern, for instance the janissaries wore an uniform. The Ottoman was also well equipped, they had a good logistic and good materials. An interesting example of their tactical skills can be see with the capture Constantinople.
During the fourteenth century the Ottoman had become expert in matter of siege. 21 When they decided to capture the city, under the reign of Bayezid I, they first decided to build a stronghold on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus because it was extremely difficult to besieged Constantinople which was in part surrounded by the sea. Thanks to their stronghold they could easily manage to organised the siege of the imperial city. Since the middle of the 14th century the Ottomans established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Genoa.
Thanks to Murad II at the beginning of the fifteenth century the relation with the Italian city became stronger notably with the capture of the Genoese city of Pera. Thanks to this capture they began to use the art of the cannon foundry. 22 Still through the capture of Constantinople we can see they managed this technique very well. Constantinople had extremely strong fortifications which were supposed to be inviolable. Nevertheless, the Ottomans owned powerful and revolutionary cannons, indeed the cannons were made in solid bronze. Moreover the Ottoman also managed efficiently the use the annon powder. By the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, the Ottomans succeeded to create and consolidate a large empire. Indeed, in spite they were Muslims they managed to create some links with the Christian population they ruled. This population was integrated to the empire and this did not represented a potential enemy. Above all, the Ottomans had a powerful and sophisticated army for their time. Their organisation and their modernity was a serious advantage. At the end of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman empire had all the element to know a Golden Age during the sixteenth century.
Bibliography Books Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002. Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988. Tekin,G. A et al ‘Othmanli’ in The enceclopedia of Islam, various eds, 2nd ed. Leiden 1954-2004 (via Brill online, document posted on webCT 80 p) Ternon, Yves Empire Ottoman, le declin, la chute, l’effacement,Paris,2002 Internet Milam http://milam. free. fr/ottoman. htm 1 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 p249 2 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 p253 Tekin,G. A et al ‘Othmanli’ in The enceclopedia of Islam, various eds, 2nd ed. Leiden 1954-2004 p6 (via Brill online) 4 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p92 5 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p93 6 Idem 7 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 p252 8 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 p265 9 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 pp 250 to 252 10 Lapidus, I.
M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 pp 250 to 268 11 http://milam. free. fr/ottoman. htm 12 http://milam. free. fr/ottoman. htm 13 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p 13 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p255 14 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 p258 15 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p257 16 Lapidus, I. M, ‘A History of Islamic societies’, New York, 1988 p259 7 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p257 18 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p262 19 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p266 20 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p268 21 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p255 22 Imber, Colin ‘The Ottoman Empire, c. 1350-1650 : The structure of power’, London 2002 p270