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About this book

This highly-praised and authoritative account surveys the history of the Ottoman Empire from its obscure origins in the fourteenth century, through its rise to world-power status in the sixteenth century, to the troubled times of the seventeenth century. Going beyond a simple narrative of Ottoman achievements and key events, Colin Imber uses original sources and research, as well as the rapidly growing body of modern scholarship on the subject, to show how the Sultans governed their realms and the limits on their authority.

A helpful chronological introduction provides the context, while separate chapters deal with the inner politics of the dynasty, the court and central government, the provinces, the law courts and legal system, and the army and fleet. Revised, updated and expanded, this new edition now also features a separate chapter on the Arab provinces and incorporates the most recent developments in the field throughout.

Table of Contents

1. Chronology

Abstract
In 1650, the Ottoman Empire occupied lands in Europe, Asia and Africa. In Europe, Ottoman territory encompassed most of the Balkan peninsula south of the rivers Danube and Sava, and the lands of central Hungary to the north. The principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia, Moldavia and the Crimea which lay between Hungary and the Black Sea were tributaries of the Ottoman sultan. In Asia, the Empire extended eastwards from the Bosphorus to the border with Iran, and southwards to the headwaters of the Gulf. In Africa, the lands of the Empire comprised part of the western littoral of the Red Sea, Egypt, Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers. In the Mediterranean, Cyprus and most of the islands in the Aegean were Ottoman possessions. By 1669, so too was Crete.
Colin Imber

2. The Dynasty

Abstract
The Ottoman Empire was a dynastic state, whose continuing existence depended on the ability of the sultan to produce male heirs and whose political stability depended, to a degree, on stability within the imperial household. Dynastic reproduction, family structure and succession were therefore matters of political importance.
Colin Imber

3. Recruitment

Abstract
By the sixteenth century, the sultan governed his domains largely through the ‘Slaves of the Porte’. These were the men whom he had recruited to serve as ministers, provincial governors or troops, and whom he paid through the treasury or by the allocation of fiefs. It was a system of government that had taken two centuries to evolve.
Colin Imber

4. The Palace

Abstract
Since the sultan was the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, the centre of government was wherever he happened to be. This meant par excellence the palace, but when he left his residence, the government followed. Before the accession of Selim II (1566–74), such absences were frequent, since sultans often led military expeditions in person, and so were absent from the capital during the campaigning season. When this happened, some of the sultan’s ministers would accompany the campaign, as would the treasury to pay wages and make purchases, and clerks with financial and other registers to record, for example deaths in battle and new appointments to replace the fallen. The sultan might also hold court and receive ambassadors when on campaign.
Colin Imber

5. The Provinces: Anatolia and the Balkan Peninsula

Abstract
Provinces, in the sense of territorial units with governors which the sultan had appointed, probably did not exist in the Ottoman Empire before the last two decades of the fourteenth century. It is, however, probable that Osman (d. c.1324) and Orhan (c.1324–62) divided their territory into appanages for their sons, relatives and followers. The only reference to Osman’s division of territory appears in the Ottoman chronicles of the late fifteenth century, which remark that: ‘He gave the banner (sanjak) of Karahisar, known as Inönü, to his son, Orhan; and he gave its army command (subashilik) to his brother’s son, Alp Gündüz.’1 This tale of how Osman shared out land and military command may not be true in detail, but perhaps reflects a reality. The practice of granting appanages and army commands to the ruler’s sons acquires a sharper focus in Byzantine chronicles. John Kantakouzenos names Orhan’s brother, Pazarlu, as a commander at the battle of Pelekanon in 1328. It was Orhan’s eldest son, Süleyman, who led the Turks across the Dardanelles in 1352 to occupy the Byzantine fortress of Tzympe, and it was with Süleyman that Orhan instructed the Emperor to negotiate in his attempt to regain the fortress. It seems, therefore, that until his death in 1357 Süleyman was governor and army commander in the newly acquired Ottoman territory in Thrace. The Greek chronicler Gregoras also notes that, in 1357, Orhan had given lands along the Gulf of Izmit to his son Halil. The later name for the district of Bursa, Hüdavendgar – meaning ‘ruler’ – suggests that this was the territory belonging to Orhan himself and his successors.
Colin Imber

6. The Arab Provinces

Abstract
By the late sixteenth century, the sultans’ dominions incorporated most of the Arabic-speaking world. The faiths and institutions which the Ottomans found there – a Muslim population coexisting with substantial Christian and Jewish minorities, ecclesiastical institutions, courts administering Islamic law, trusts (waqf) supporting mosques, colleges and other public foundations – were already familiar to them. Turkish replaced Arabic as the language of government, but not of the courts, and Arabic-speaking notables played an important role in maintaining the continuity of provincial government. What mainly distinguished the administration of the Arab provinces from the pattern in Anatolia and the Balkans was that – with the exception of Mosul and Syria – the timar-regime was not in force. Governors often assigned specific revenues as timars to local office holders, but timars did not support an army. Instead, each region paid military salaries and other expenses directly from the provincial treasury, forwarding any surplus revenues to Istanbul.
Colin Imber

7. The Law

Abstract
he Ottoman Empire was an Islamic polity, but one with a large non-Muslim population.1 The Muslims themselves were heterogeneous. The Kurdish tribesmen in the east, the Turcoman of Anatolia, or the Bedouin of Syria, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula had little in common with the Muslim townsfolk; the shi’i and kizilbash in central Anatolia, Iraq and Lebanon professed a form of Islam at odds with the sunni orthodoxy of the sultans.
Colin Imber

8. Taxation

Abstract
The economy of the Ottoman Empire was overwhelmingly agricultural, and the bulk of its revenues came from taxes on agricultural land, crops and livestock. Most of this revenue went to support timar-holders, who drew their income from the taxes which they collected directly from the villages within the boundaries of their fiefs. The land-and-tax registers with their accompanying law-books specified the taxes to which they were entitled, the rates at which they could collect them and the season when they fell due.
Colin Imber

9. The Army

Abstract
The earliest account of Ottoman warfare survives in the Byzantine chronicle of Pachymeres, who provides us with our only glimpses of Turkish warriors at the time of Osman (d. c.1324). Most of Osman’s men were mounted and experts in surprise attacks, Pachymeres describing their assault on a Byzantine force under a certain Mouzalon ‘unexpectedly, while they were asleep’, and the rout of another Byzantine commander, Siouros, near a fortress called Katoika: ‘They were attacked at night, by about five hundred of the enemy in full force, who had completely escaped detection and seized the roads to the fortress. More attacked from the other side.’ The Turks cut down those who resisted, while ‘women and children, an innumerable crowd, who tried to escape to the fortress were sitting targets for the enemy forces, who had occupied it first’.
Colin Imber

10. The Fleet

Abstract
In the century after the occupation of Gallipoli in 1354, the only sea passages that were vital to the integrity of the Ottoman Empire were at the Straits dividing its Asian and European territories. This situation changed with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The new Ottoman capital depended on the supply of foodstuffs and other goods by sea, and this required a fleet to protect the sea-lanes.1 It was soon after 1453, too, that the sultan began to use the fleet as an instrument of conquest, with Mitylene in 1462, and Negroponte in 1470, falling to amphibious assaults. In the last years of the fifteenth century, with actions against Venice off the coasts of the Peloponnesos, the Ottoman fleet for the first time operated outside the Aegean. In the following century, the Empire emerged as a naval power.
Colin Imber
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