Osmanlı İmparatorluğunun Doğuşu
CKM 2019-20 / Aziz Yardımlı



Osmanlı İmparatorluğunun Doğuşu


  Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Rise of the Ottoman Empire (W)

The foundation and rise of the Ottoman Empire is a period of history that started with the emergence of the Ottoman principality in c. 1299, and ended with the conquest of Constantinople on May 29, 1453. This period witnessed the foundation of a political entity ruled by the Ottoman Dynasty in the northwestern Anatolian region of Bithynia, and its transformation from a small principality on the Byzantine frontier into an empire spanning the Balkans and Anatolia. For this reason, this period in the empire's history has been described as the Proto-Imperial Era. Throughout most of this period, the Ottomans were merely one of many competing states in the region, and relied upon the support of local warlords and vassals to maintain control over their realm.

By the middle of the fifteenth century the Ottoman sultans were able to accumulate enough personal power and authority to establish a centralized imperial state, a process which was brought to fruition by Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451-1481). The conquest of Constantinople in 1453 is seen as the symbolic moment when the emerging Ottoman state shifted from a mere principality into an empire, marking a major turning point in its history.

The cause of Ottoman success cannot be attributed to any single factor, and they varied throughout the period as the Ottomans continually adapted to changing circumstances.

The earlier part of this period, the fourteenth century, is particularly difficult for historians to study due to the scarcity of sources. Not a single written document survives from the reign of Osman I, and very little survives from the rest of the century. The Ottomans, furthermore, did not begin to record their own history until the fifteenth century, more than a hundred years after many of the events they describe. It is thus a great challenge for historians to differentiate between fact and myth in analyzing the stories contained in these later chronicles, so much so that one historian has even declared it impossible, describing the earliest period of Ottoman history as a “black hole.”

Anatolia before the Ottomans

At the beginning of the thirteenth century Anatolia was divided between two relatively powerful states: the Byzantine Empire in the west and the Anatolian Seljuks in the central plateau. Equilibrium between them was disrupted by the Mongol invasion and conquest of the Seljuks following the Battle of Köse Dağ in 1243, and the reconquest of Constantinople by the Byzantine Palaeologos dynasty in 1261, which shifted Byzantine attention away from the Anatolian frontier. Mongol pressure pushed nomadic Turkish tribes to migrate westward, into the now poorly-defended Byzantine territory. From the 1260s onward Anatolia increasingly began to slip from Byzantine control, as Turkish Anatolian beyliks were established both in formerly Byzantine lands and in the territory of the fragmenting Seljuk Sultanate.

Political authority in western Anatolia was thus extremely fragmented by the end of the thirteenth century, split between locally established rulers, tribal groups, holy figures, and warlords, with Byzantine and Seljuk authority ever present but rapidly weakening. The fragmentation of authority has led several historians to describe the political entities of thirteenth and fourteenth-century Anatolia as Taifas, or "petty kings", a comparison with the history of late-medieval Muslim Spain. The power of these groups was largely dependent upon their ability to attract military manpower. Western Anatolia was then a hotbed of raiding activity, with warriors switching allegiance at will to whichever chief seemed most able to provide them with opportunities for plunder and glory.

Origin of the Ottoman state

The Ottoman dynasty is named after the first ruler of the Ottoman polity, Osman I. According to later Ottoman tradition, he was descended from a Turkic tribe which migrated out of Central Asia in the wake of the Mongol Conquests. As evidenced by coins minted during his reign, Osman’s father was named Ertuğrul, but beyond this the details "are too mythological to be taken for granted." The origins of the Ottoman dynasty thus remain obscure, shrouded in myth and legend, and the identity of Osman's tribe and ancestors is not known for certain.

Likewise, nothing is known about how Osman first established his principality (beylik) as the sources, none of them contemporary, provide many different and conflicting origin stories. What is certain is that at some point in the late thirteenth century Osman emerged as the leader of a small principality centered on the town of Söğüt in the north-western Anatolian region of Bithynia.

Osman's principality was initially supported by the tribal manpower of nomadic Turkish groups, whom he led in raids against the Byzantine territories of the region. This Ottoman tribe was based not on blood-ties, but on political expedience. Thus it was inclusive of all who wished to join, including people of Byzantine origin. The Ottoman enterprise came to be led by several great warrior families, at least one of which was of Greek Christian origin, that of Köse Mihal. Nevertheless, Islam played a role in Ottoman self-identity from the very start, as evidenced by a land grant issued by Osman's son Orhan in 1324, describing him as "Champion of the Faith".

Gaza and gazis in early Ottoman history

In 1938 the Austrian historian Paul Wittek published an influential work entitled The Rise of the Ottoman Empire, in which he put forth the argument that the early Ottoman state was constructed upon an ideology of Islamic holy war against non-Muslims. Such a war was known as gaza, and a warrior fighting in it was called a gazi. Wittek's formulation, subsequently known as the "Gaza Thesis," was influential for much of the twentieth century, and led historians to portray the early Ottomans as zealous religious warriors dedicated to the spread of Islam.

Beginning in the 1980s, historians increasingly began to criticize Wittek's thesis. Scholars now recognize that the terms gaza and gazi did not have strictly religious connotations for the early Ottomans, and were often used in a secular sense to simply refer to raids. Additionally, the early Ottomans were neither strict orthodox Muslims nor were they unwilling to cooperate with non-Muslims, and several of the companions of the first Ottoman rulers were either non-Muslims or recent converts. The idea of holy war existed during the fourteenth century, but it was only one out of many factors influencing Ottoman behavior. It was only later, in the fifteenth century, that Ottoman writers retroactively began to portray the early Ottomans as zealous Islamic warriors, in order to provide a noble origin for their dynasty which had by then constructed an intercontinental Islamic empire.


Anatolia and the Balkans were greatly impacted by the arrival of the Black Death after 1347. Urban centers and settled regions were devastated, while nomadic groups suffered less of an impact. The first Ottoman incursions into the Balkans began shortly thereafter. Depopulation resulting from the plague was thus almost certainly a major factor {?} in the success of early Ottoman expansion into the Balkans, and contributed to the weakening of the Byzantine Empire and the depopulation of Constantinople.


During this early period, before the Ottomans were able to establish a centralized system of government in the middle of the fifteenth century, the rulers' powers were "far more circumscribed, and depended heavily upon coalitions of support and alliances reached" among various power-holders within the empire, including Turkic tribal leaders and Balkan allies and vassals.

When the Ottoman polity first emerged at the end of the thirteenth century under the leadership of Osman I, it had a tribal organization without a complex administrative apparatus. As Ottoman territory expanded its rulers were faced with the challenge of administering an ever-larger population. Early on the Ottomans adopted the Seljuks of Rum as models, and by 1324 were able to produce Persian-language bureaucratic documents in the Seljuk style.

The early Ottoman state's expansion was fueled by the military activity of frontier warriors (Turkish: gazi), of whom the Ottoman ruler was initially merely primus inter pares. Much of the state's centralization was carried out in opposition to these frontier warriors, who resented Ottoman efforts to control them. Ultimately, the Ottomans were successfully able to harness the military power of the gazis in order to conquer an empire, while increasingly subordinating those warriors to their will.

The early Ottomans were noteworthy for the low tax rates which their subjects were burdened with. This reflected both an ideological concern for the well-being of their subjects, and also a pragmatic need to earn the loyalty of newly conquered populations. As the Ottoman state centralized during the fifteenth century this relatively light tax burden was increased, prompting criticism from writers who saw such centralization in a negative light.

Of particular importance for Ottoman success was their ability to keep the empire intact from generation to generation. While other Turkic groups frequently divided their realms between the sons of a deceased ruler, the Ottomans consistently kept the empire united under a single heir.


State centralization

The process of centralization is closely connected with an influx of Muslim scholars from Central Anatolia, where a more urban and bureaucratic Turkish civilization had developed under the Seljuks of Rum.

Particularly influential was the Çandarlı family, which supplied several Grand Viziers to the early Ottomans and influenced their institutional development. Some time after 1376, Kara Halil, the head of the Çandarlı family, encouraged Murad I to institute a tax of one-fifth on slaves taken in war, known as the pençik. This gave the Ottoman rulers a source of manpower from which they could construct a new personal army, known as the Janissaries (yeniçeri). Such measures frustrated the gazis which the Ottomans relied upon to sustain their military conquests, and created lasting tensions within the state.

It was also during the reign of Murad I that the office of military judge (Kazasker) was created, indicating an increasing level of social stratification between the emerging military-administrative class (askeri) and the rest of society. Murad I also instituted the practice of appointing particular frontier warriors as "Lords of the Frontier"(uc begleri). Such power of appointment indicated that the Ottoman rulers were no longer merely primus inter pares but sat at the top of a hierarchy of leadership. As a way of openly declaring this new status, Murad became the first Ottoman ruler to adopt the title of sultan.

Beginning at the latest by the 1430s, but most likely earlier, the Ottomans conducted regular cadastral surveys of the territory under their rule, producing record-books known as tahrir defters.These surveys enabled the Ottoman state to organize the distribution of agricultural taxation rights to the military class of timariots, cavalrymen who collected revenue from the land in exchange for serving in the Ottoman army. Timariots came from diverse backgrounds. Some achieved their position as a reward for military service, while others were descended from the pre-Ottoman aristocracy and simply continued to collect revenue from their old lands, now serving in the Ottoman army as well. Of the latter, many were converts to Islam, while others remained Christian.

Of great symbolic importance for Ottoman centralization was the practice whereby Ottoman rulers would customarily stand upon hearing the sound of martial music, indicating their willingness to participate in gaza. Shortly after the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II discontinued this practice, indicating that the Ottoman ruler was no longer a simple frontier warrior, but the sovereign of an empire. The empire's capital was shifted from Edirne, the city symbolically connected with the frontier warrior ethos of gaza, to Constantinople, a city with deeply imperial connotations due to its long history as the capital of the Byzantine {!} Empire. This was seen, both symbolically and practically, as the moment of the empire's definitive shift from a frontier principality into an empire.


Osman's army at the beginning of the fourteenth century consisted largely of mounted warriors. These he used in raids, ambushes, and hit-and-run attacks, allowing him to control the countryside of Bithynia. However, he initially lacked the means to conduct sieges. Bursa, the first major town conquered by the Ottomans, surrendered under threat of starvation following a long blockade rather than from an assault. It was under Orhan (r. 1323/4-1362) and Murad I (r. 1362-1389) that the Ottomans mastered the techniques of siege warfare.

The warriors in Osman's service came from diverse backgrounds. Known variously as gazis and akıncıs (raiders), they were attracted to his success and joined out of a desire to win plunder and glory. Most of Osman’s early followers were Muslim Turks of tribal origin, while others were of Byzantine origin, either Christians or recent converts to Islam.

The Ottomans began employing gunpowder weapons from the 1380s at the latest. By the 1420s they were regularly using cannons in siege warfare. Cannons were also used for fortress defense, and shore batteries allowed the Ottomans to bypass a Crusader blockade of the Dardanelles in 1444. By that time handheld firearms had also come into use, and were adopted by some of the janissaries.

Cultural and intellectual life


By the early fifteenth century, the Ottoman court was actively fostering literary output, much of it borrowing from the longstanding literary tradition of other Islamic courts further east. The first extant account of Ottoman history ever written was produced by the poet Ahmedi, originally meant to be presented to Sultan Bayezid I but, following the latter's death in 1402, written for his son Süleyman Çelebi instead. This work, entitled the İskendernāme, (“The Book of Alexander”) was part of a genre known as "mirror for princes"(naṣīḥatnāme), meant to provide advice and guidance to the ruler with regard to statecraft. Thus rather than providing a factual account of the dynasty's history, Ahmedi's goal was to indirectly criticize the sultan by depicting his ancestors as model rulers, in contrast to the perceived deviance of Bayezid. Specifically, Ahmedi took issue with Bayezid's military campaigns against fellow Muslims in Anatolia, and thus depicted his ancestors as totally devoted to holy war against the Christian states of the Balkans.

Political history

Osman I (c. 1299-1323/4)

An estimation of the territory under the control of Osman.

Osman’s origins are extremely obscure, and almost nothing is known about his career before the beginning of the fourteenth century. The date of 1299 is frequently given as the beginning of his reign, however this date does not correspond with any historical event, and is purely symbolic. By 1300 he had become the leader of a group of Turkish pastoral tribes, through which he ruled over a small territory around the town of Söğüt in the north-western Anatolian region of Bithynia. He led frequent raids against the neighboring Byzantine Empire, the success of which allowed him to attract warriors to join his following, particularly after his victory over a Byzantine army in the Battle of Bapheus in 1301 or 1302. Osman's military activity was largely limited to raiding, as by his death in 1323/4 the Ottomans had not yet developed the military techniques necessary to conduct effective siege warfare.  Although he is famous for his raids against the Byzantines, Osman also had many military confrontations with Tatar groups and the neighboring principality of Germiyan.

Osman was adept at forging political and commercial relationships with nearby groups, Muslim as well as Christian. Early on he attracted several notable figures to his side, including Köse Mihal, a Byzantine village headman whose descendants (known as the Mihaloğulları) enjoyed primacy among the frontier warriors in Ottoman service. Köse Mihal was noteworthy for having been a Christian Greek; while he eventually converted to Islam, his prominent historical role indicates Osman’s willingness to cooperate with non-Muslims and incorporate them into his political enterprise.

Osman I strengthened his legitimacy by marrying the daughter of Sheikh Edebali, a prominent local religious leader who was said to have been at the head of a community of dervishes on the frontier. Later Ottoman writers embellished this event by depicting Osman as having experienced a dream while staying with Edebali, in which it was foretold that his descendants would rule over a vast empire.

Orhan 1323/4-1362



Upon Osman's death his son Orhan succeeded him as leader of the Ottomans. Orhan oversaw the conquest of Bithynia's major towns, as Bursa (Prusa) was conquered in 1326 and the rest of the region's towns fell shortly thereafter. Already by 1324, the Ottomans were making use of Seljuk bureaucratic practices, and had developed the capacity to mint coins and utilize siege tactics. It was under Orhan that the Ottomans began to attract Islamic scholars from the east to act as administrators and judges, and the first medrese (University) was established in Iznik in 1331.[52]

Beylik after Orhan’s reign.

In addition to fighting with the Byzantines, Orhan also conquered the Turkish principality of Karesi in 1345-6, thus placing all potential crossing points to Europe in Ottoman hands. The experienced Karesi warriors were incorporated into the Ottoman military, and were a valuable asset in subsequent campaigns into the Balkans.

Orhan married Theodora, the daughter of Byzantine {!} prince John VI Cantacuzenus. In 1346 Orhan openly supported John VI in the overthrowing of the emperor John V Palaeologus. When John VI became co-emperor (1347-1354) he allowed Orhan to raid the peninsula of Gallipoli in 1352, after which the Ottomans gained their first permanent stronghold in Europe at Çimpe Castle in 1354. Orhan decided to pursue war against Europe, Anatolian Turks were settled in and around Gallipoli to secure it as a springboard for military operations in Thrace against the Byzantines and Bulgarians. Most of eastern Thrace was overrun by Ottoman forces within a decade and permanently brought under Orhan's control by means of heavy colonization. The initial Thracian conquests placed the Ottomans strategically astride all of the major overland communication routes linking Constantinople to the Balkans’ frontiers, facilitating their expanded military operations. ln addition, control of the highways in Thrace isolated Byzantium from direct overland contact with any of its potential allies in the Balkans or in Western Europe. Byzantine Emperor John V was forced to sign an unfavorable treaty with Orhan in 1356 that recognized his Thracian losses. For the next 50 years, the Ottomans would go on to conquer vast amounts of territory in the Balkans, reaching as far north as modern-day Serbia.

In taking control over the passageways to Europe, the Ottomans gained a significant advantage over their rival Turkish principalities in Anatolia, as they now could gain immense prestige and booty from conquests carried out on the Balkan frontier.

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