The Ottoman Empire is an excellent example of how the strength of a state can be at the same time as its weakness. The factors, which had contributed to the development and growth of the Ottoman Empire, had gradually turned into the factors causing its collapse. This paper analyzes both advantages and disadvantages of the Ottoman Empire.
The conquest of Constantinople made the Ottoman state a mighty power. This was not a horde of 50 000 men and women, but the state capable of having the army of 250 000 soldiers and the strong garrisons in different places of its vast territories. Such an increase in the number of Turks may be explained by the ease with which they had assimilated other peoples, such as the Turkic tribes of Anatolia, Greeks, Slavs, etc. Anyone who had agreed to sacrifice his religion could acquire a privileged position.
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The Ottoman Empire accepted a lot of volunteer soldiers from different ethnic backgrounds from other Muslim countries; most of them were the Turkish nomads from Asia Minor or emirates. Feudal nomadic nobility with its militia was attracted by the ability to conquest new lands and booty. Since all the nomads were warriors and the light cavalry of Turks, like the cavalry of all nomads, had a great mobility, the Ottoman Empire could always concentrate on the desired large military forces to attack. Strong patriarchal and feudal relations among the nomadic tribes made its militia have the high combat qualities as well as more united and strong in comparison with the militia of Byzantium and its Balkan neighbors. It was the society of warriors living due to war and in the name of new wars. New lands increased the number of warriors. Growing the strength of army increased its ability to seize new lands. The capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, was conveniently located at the crossroads of the world trade routes. It was inhabited by thousands of skilled artisans, where there were huge stockpiles of weapons and goods from the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. All these features were used for the new military campaigns and ensured a successful expansion. However, the expansion cannot last forever; and the above-stated factors turned into considerable weaknesses.
The feudal system, which was prevailing in the Ottoman Empire, hindered the development of handicrafts and trade as well as the formation of capitalist relations. Due to the domination of subsistence in the Turkish villages, economic ties between towns and villages were weak. The level of technology among artisans and factories was low. All the production was based on the manual labor. Trade also experienced the serious difficulties. There were some internal customs imposing numerous taxes on commodities. Each province had its own measures of length and weight. The government systematically issued the depreciated money. The country was uncontrollable, “The reach of the Ottoman government in Istanbul rarely extended beyond the central provinces of Anatolia and Rumelia, and then only weakly” (Hanio%u011Flu 2010).
The Ottoman Empire had no internal unity. Its parts were very different from each other in their ethnic composition, language and religion of population, the level of social, economic and cultural development, and the degree of dependence on the central government. The Turks themselves were a minority in the Empire. Only in Asia Minor and in the part of Rumelia (called as well European Turkey) being adjacent to Istanbul, they were living in more compact masses. In other provinces, they were scattered among the indigenous population, which they had failed to assimilate.
The Turkish domination over the oppressed peoples of Empire was based almost exclusively on the military force alone. This kind of dominance could last for a more or less long-term only with sufficient funds to preserve the oppression. Meanwhile, the military power of the Ottoman Empire was steadily declining. A military tenure system, which previously had been one of the major reasons of the success of the Turkish army, lost its former importance. Technically and legally it continued to exist. But its actual content was so different from the factors that had enhanced and enriched the Turkish feudal system. Thus, it became a source of its growing weakness. A prominent Turkish politician and writer of the 17th century, Koçi Bey, noted in his Risalesi (a pamphlet) that the Ottoman state had been created by a sword and could have only be upheld by it (Karpat 2002). As long as the conquests forcing people to strain all their forces were possible, the Ottoman Empire could maintain its existence, but it had no sufficient internal forces for the cultural development. With quitting of conquest, it witnessed an internal political disintegration and decomposition.