The Ottoman Empire


The Ottoman Empire was founded in 1299. By the fifteenth century it had expanded into a major empire, and even conquered Constantinople. The Ottomans had a strong military, with an elite fighting force based on young male, Christian slaves captured in wars and converted to Islam. The Ottomans developed a new type of gun, making it one of the first gunpowder empires.

When the Ottoman Empire reached its greatest size in the late seventeenth century, it stretched from the Balkans in southeastern Europe across Anatolia, Central Asia, Arabia, and North Africa. When it finally fell in 1922, it was one of the long-lasting empires in world history.

Transformations and new directions

The Empire stopped expanding in the eighteenth century and turned its attention to unifying the territories that it already ruled. Until then, the Ottoman Empire had been controlled by a powerful warrior-sultans who led military campaigns. Now Ottoman power began shifting to a civilian structure. At the top of this bureaucracy, powerful officials called viziers held the authority, but provincial officials gained more political control.

Local leaders and imperial officials worked with the sultan to manage the empire. Provincial leaders sent taxes to the capital. They also recruited soldiers for imperial wars.

An empire of nations

Spread across three continents, the Ottoman Empire was multi-ethnic and multi-religious. The Ottoman state based its authority on Islam. Sultans claimed the title of caliph, or successor to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Religious scholars helped run the courts.

For the most part, non-Muslims had lower social status than Muslims, but they had some autonomy under the Ottoman millet system. This system allowed religious communities to control their own religious and civil affairs.

Ottoman hierarchies

The millet system set clear boundaries between different social groups, such as laws that specified the kinds of clothing that people in different communities could wear. This system helped Ottoman maintain political control. Ottoman society itself was very diverse. Bureaucrats, religious scholars, and military officials had the greatest social power. In return for military service, warriors were given land.

The rest of society— including merchants, farmers, herdsman, manufacturers, and seafarers— made up the lowest class. They were the main producers of goods and revenues (through taxes). Throughout the Ottoman Empire, women were dependent on the men in their families for money and social position.

The Ottomans and the world

The Ottoman state often collaborated with other European powers. The Ottomans hired European military advisors.

Silk Road had enriched the Ottomans for centuries, but new sea routes bypassed Ottoman overland trade routes. European power grew as the Ottoman power lessened.

Source: The Ottoman Empire
© 2022 Khan Academy

Back to top