James 2017 The Rise of the Ottoman Empire




November 2017

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The Rise of the Ottoman Empire and its Effect on
Southeastern Europe


            As a manifestation of the Turkish
tribes inhabiting Anatolia (Asia Minor), the Ottoman Empire came to be recognized as one of
the most significant and powerful empires in the history of Europe and the
world. Founded by Turkish
tribal leader Osman I, the empire rose towards the end of the 13th Century, saw a period of great expansion
during the 16th and 17th centuries, and eventually fell in 1922
after maintaining power for over 600 years. At the peak of its dominance, the Ottomans held control over
most of Eastern,
and Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and parts of Africa. The capital of the empire was very strategically located in
Constantinople (now Istanbul) on the tip of Northeastern Greece, allowing for direct control and
jurisdiction between the Eastern and Western worlds of the time. During the middle and ending
stages of their reign, the Ottomans eventually began to suffer multiple military defeats, causing them to lose a
significant amount of their territories. Despite these territorial losses, the Ottoman Empire had still managed
to sustain power, ultimately
deciding to join the Central Powers in the midst of World War I throughout the
early years of the 20th Century as an attempt to prevent any further
losses of land. During
this period,
the Ottoman government had been dealing with damaging internal conflicts and
began inflicting major atrocities against the Balkan states such as Greece and
Assyria. Though
there exists a plethora of theories, beliefs, and opinions on the rise of the Ottoman Empire in
Southeastern Europe, the profoundly negative impact it had politically, socially, and economically on states such
as Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria during the early
years of rule is irrefutable and undeniable.

The defeat of Ottoman reign is marked by the over-powering
of Allied Powers and the conclusion of World War I. As a result of its fall, the empire was broken down and
divided up. This, subsequently, led to the Turkish War of
Independence in which the Ottoman Empire was completely destroyed and the
Republic of Turkey was established. While the Ottomans maintained rule over and
significantly impacted most of Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, the effect this empire had on the Balkan states of
Southeastern Europe is something that cannot be over-looked when considering
its overall rise and era of reign.

The rise and foundation of the very powerful Ottoman
rule, specifically  within the Balkan states, can be attributed as the cause
of many of the issues experienced in these countries.1 “Nothing will ever equal the horror of this
harrowing and terrible spectacle,” claimed an observer who experienced the sack of Constantinople
in 1453 first-hand.2 However, before considering the effect of the Ottomans on
Southeastern Europe, one must first reflect upon the political, social, and economic conditions that allowed for the
formation of such an empire. Its establishment in Southeastern Europe and the means by which this
was achieved is largely debated amongst many different historians and orientalists
to this day.

The first factor to take into consideration are the
historical conditions of the time. During this period, the second Serbian Empire was in the midst of its
with the Byzantine Empire steadily growing weaker as well. The Balkan Peninsula was
beginning to enter a period of turmoil, experiencing large amounts of political, social, and religious chaos.3 Internal struggles amongst members of the Slav
ruling families,
along with that of the Byzantine Empire led to the creation of a void in the
Balkans and allowed for the emergence of the newly established Ottoman rule. These unfavorable conditions of
the Balkan states were obvious contributors to the Ottoman rise, however, they do not provide the most
thorough explanation, as the origins of the empire go much deeper. As stated previously, there are many different
thoughts on this subject. Considered to be the most widely accepted view to explain the rise of
Ottoman rule in Southeastern Europe is that of H.A. Gibbons who authored the book entitled The Foundation of the Ottoman Empire. 4

Gibbons’ theory on this subject touches on a number
of different factors, but essentially argues that the spread of Islam was the main
contributor to Ottoman rise in the Balkans. He begins with the founder of the empire, Osman I. Prior to the establishment of
an empire, Osman’s
fled the country in fear of the impending Mongol invasion. This, consequently, lead to Osman’s reign over a
small tribe located in Anatolia during which Ala al-Din Kai-Qubad I ruled. Before immersing itself in the
Muslim environment and eventually accepting Islam as their faith, this tribe was characterized as
a group of pagan Turks working as herdsmen.

Following their assimilation into the Muslim culture, the tribe, invigorated with a new-found
began forcing the Christian Greeks of the surrounding territories to convert to
Islam. In previous
years, the Muslims
and Christians of these areas experienced pleasant relations with each other
and for the most part kept to themselves. During this time of peace there existed only about
400 Muslim warriors. Following Osman and his tribe’s conversion to Islam, that number began to multiply
with the country’s borders beginning to grow towards Greece and the Byzantines, leading to a mixed race of
Pagan Turks and Christian Greeks. This period marked the creation of the newly-founded
Ottoman race.

Almost immediately following the foundation of Ottoman rule, its numbers grew at a
surprisingly rapid pace. This immediate growth and expansion was a direct cause of the
assimilation of the Greek people who made up a significant amount of the empire.5

Although the mixing of Christian Greeks into Muslim
culture and Ottoman rule was a primary cause of the empire’s immediate and
rapid expansion, it
was not,
however, the
sole factor.

One must also take into account the weakened conditions that which the Byzantines
and Balkan states were experiencing during this time. This weakened state only
worsened during Ottoman invasions, leading to a depopulated Constantinople and
disbanded Byzantine Empire and allowing for more Ottoman growth.

Another factor to take into consideration is the very
authoritarianist personalities of the Ottoman rulers who helped to create and
establish the policies implemented as a means of converting Christians Greeks, specifically those of the
Balkan peninsula, to
Islam. These policies
consisted of rules and laws that indirectly forced conversion. For example, prisoners of war were given the
chance to accept Islam in order to avoid slavery. The law of devshirme was also established, making it very beneficial for
the Balkan people to immediately convert.6 When considering Gibbon’s theories as to how the
Ottoman Empire rose to power in the Balkans and rapidly expanded, one would assume that the massive
religious assimilation that occurred was the primary and sole cause.

Based on firsthand experience, the writings of Orgier Ghiselan
de Busbecq agree with this viewpoint. “The very earth, as I have said, seemed to mourn and to long for Christian care and

And even more so Constantinople itself; nay, the whole of Greece.”7
illegitimiate son of the Count of Busbecq, was alive to experience the Ottoman sack of
Constantinople in 1453. In the mid 1500’s, he was sent on a journey to Turkey under the command of Archduke
Ferdinand I during which he wrote a series of letters to a friend of his. These writings consisted of
observations and accounts regarding both the physical nature and human nature
of the empire. Although
Busbeq admired the physical beauty of the land and respected the Ottoman system
of government, he
clearly recognized the significant impact it had on the European nations
and politically. Moreover, he warned of the impending
danger that loomed over Europe, explaining how a disheveled Europe was no match for the united and
growing Ottoman empire.

During its rise, there were many different political and social factors
that played major roles toward Ottoman expansion. Under the name Seljuk, the Anatolian Turks formed a powerful political
group. This group
consisted of 3 subgroups: nomads, villagers, and urban life. 8
The nomads,
who shifted residency seasonally, raised animals and did farm work to make a living. The tribes they inhabited were
very war-like. Given
the chance, nomads
on the frontier would constantly raid and plunder any and all enemy territory
they happened to find. The people of these tribes were also very prone to rebellion and
anarchy whenever the central government weakened.

In relation to the villagers and urban occupants, the nomads were a very
aggressive people that despised the other two groups. The villagers made up the
largest portion of Anatolia’s population.9 The village lifestyle appeared for the first times later
in the twelfth century. This class of people coming from western Turkey brought their farming
culture to Anatolia. Most villagers who did not work the land, worked as laborers or sharecroppers to provide for

Although villagers were important to society, urban dwellers proved to be the
most significant cultural component to the Anatolian Turks. Urban life in Anatolia
flourished during the early Seljuk conquests. In the early thirteenth century, the Anatolian Seljuk saw great
success both politically and militarily.10 This was due in large part to their strategic

After their initial conquest, they organized their administrative system and gained access to the sea
on the north and south shores. Because of how profound successful trade is for the development of city
life, Anatolian
Turks and their rulers did everything they could to ensure this component was

Another theory regarding the Ottoman rise is that
which claims they went about their Balkan conquests in a gradual and somewhat
peaceful manor.

This theory makes the claim that there were two separate and systematically
implemented steps carried out by the Ottomans during their conquests of
Southeastern Europe.11 The first of these steps was to create some type of
suzerainty over the neighboring states, followed by the eradication of the native dynasty. The Sultan had absolute power
and answered to no one. The only source of authority in the land was his word. Therefore, anyone who worked for or
carried out business under the name of the Sultan was considered of higher rank
in the population.12

The eradication of the native countries government, in turn, allowed direct Ottoman control
over the state and the establishment of the timar system. Timar was a system in which the
revenue of a conquered territory would be allocated among soldiers and other
members of the military class in the form of land grants. The system itself was based on
a meticulous recording of the native state’s population and resources. This theory of gradual conquest
argues that the establishment of the timar did not mean a revolutionary change
of the conquered state’s social and economic order, but was instead a “conservative
reconciliation of local conditions and classes with Ottoman institutions which
aimed at gradual assimilation.”13 This
claim, however, can be seriously disputed by
the first-hand accounts of those who experienced Ottoman invasion and reign in
their home countries.

Leading up to and during the middle of the 15th
the Byzantine Empire had been in the midst of a great decline in power. In 1453, the last of the domain met its
demise following an invasion led by the Sultan Mehmed II in which the Ottoman
soldiers wreaked havoc on the city and its population for about fifty-seven
days.14 The fall of Constantinople not only marked the
conclusion of the Byzantine Empire, but also caused the significant weakening of Christianity. With Constantinople out of the
way, the Muslim
armies of the Ottoman rule were now able to more easily expand into Europe and
spread the Islamic faith.

The impact of these invasions on the Balkan states is
something that cannot be over-looked when studying Ottoman reign. The effects are shown through various
first-person accounts recorded by those who experienced Ottoman invasion and rule
in their native lands. “People frightened by the shouting ran out of their houses and were cut
down by the sword before they knew what was happening. And some were massacred in
their houses where they tried to hide, and some in churches where they sought refuge.”15
This scene,
depicted by a first-hand observer of the sack of Constantinople, helps to paint a vivid picture
of the cruelty and ruthlessness of the Ottoman soldiers during their rise to power.

Greece had not been the only country subject to these
kinds of atrocities as the Ottoman Turks dominated the Balkans for over five

The Ottoman presence in these areas was so profound that it resulted in the
creation of the image of the Turk as the prime enemy of the Balkan nations.16 “Elderly citizens were ruthlessly beaten, temples were desecrated, and sacred objects were either destroyed
or melted down and sold.”17 The
Balkans regained their independence from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s, however great amounts of
hostility and anger are still in existence to this day. There were several different
elements that played a role in the demonization of Turks by the Balkans.

Aside from the damage caused by Ottoman invasions, economies of these nations
deteriorated during their reign, especially that of Greece in which life for urban citizens became
ruralized and the Christian population was subject to heavy taxation. Although the Ottomans did not
necessarily require the Greeks to convert to Islam, many did in an effort to avoid
any social or economic backlash they may encounter from the Ottoman reign. Those who did convert were
considered turncoats by those who did not, causing a significant amount of social controversy
amongst the citizens.

An excerpt from a former Greek newspaper article
stated, “for
centuries the Turks have enslaved people, destroyed and plundered nations, civilizations, monuments, antiquities, and violated human rights.”18
Ottoman presence in the Balkans caused the demonization of the Turks and the
image of them as the ruthless oppressors of the Balkans that still exists to
this day. The
mass overlapping of various races, political views, and religious beliefs within the nations took a huge
toll on the Balkans.

In the mid 1990’s, a survey taken in Greece recorded that about
eighty-nine percent of those asked view the Turks as their enemy to which they
still have hostility towards. Two other surveys conducted around the same time in Bulgaria showed the
majority of the population view Turks as untruthful religious fanatics. In February of 1993, Greece and Serbia both accused
Turkey of attempting to carry out some sort of neo-ottomanist policy when they
undertook a tour of the Balkans under the leadership of President Turgut Ozal.19 While media outlets and other news sources do play a
large part in strengthening this picture of the Turkish people, the perception is very real.

The overall rise of the Ottoman Empire in
Southeastern Europe, resulting from a combination of favorable historical conditions, religious expansion, and an oppressive style of rule
can be attributed as the cause of many of the issues experienced in these
countries.20 During the 13th-15th centuries
and throughout Ottoman reign, the Balkan nations were subject to major atrocities and a great amount
of social,
and political upheaval. The oppressive hold the Ottoman Turks had on the Balkans created the image
of them as a ruthless people and their prime enemy still to this day.











1 Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad., and Gary Leiser. The Origins of the
Ottoman Empire. State University of New York Press, 1992. 3.

2 Routh, C. R. N. They
Saw It Happen in Europe: Events in European History, 1450-1600. 1965.

3 Sugar, Peter. “Southeastern Europe under Ottoman
Rule, 1354-1804.” The American Historical Review, vol. 84, no. 3,
1979. Google Scholar, doi:10.2307/1855524. 3.

Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad 2.

Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad 4.

Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad 6.

Augerius Gislenius., and Edward Seymour. Forster. The Turkish Letters
of Ogier Ghiselin De Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador at Constantinople, 1554-1562:
Translated from the Latin of the Elzevir Edition of 1663. Louisiana State
University Press, 2013. 40.

Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad. 56.

Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad. 53.

Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad. 56.

Halil. “Ottoman
Methods of Conquest.” Studia
Islamica, no. 2, 1954, pp. 103-129. JSTOR JSTOR, Maisonneuve &
Larose. 103.

            12 Inalcik, Halil. 112.

Inalcik, Halil. 103.

Routh, C.R.N. They Saw It Happen in
Europe: Events in European History, 1450-1600. 1965. 

Routh, C.R.N.

Sylvie. “The Impact of
the Ottoman Legacy on Balkans.” Scribd, Scribd,


2005. 2.

Routh, C.R.N.

            18 Gangloff, Sylvie. 2.


Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad. 3.