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The Ottoman Sultans and Caliphs, 1290-1924 AD


Timeline of Ottoman Empire (Click on to enlarge)The Sultānate of Rūm had been dormant for some years, failing even to capitalize on the victory of Myriocephalum (1176). After vassalage to the Mongols (1243), the domain finally disintegrated (1307). Meanwhile, however, the Turkish presence in Anatolia was actually invigorated with refugees from the Mongol advance. The new domains that resulted were the oghullar or "sons" of Rūm. These included many ghuzāh (sing. ghāzin), or fighters for Islām (otherwise mujāhidūn), particularly frontier fighters. 'Osman Ghāzī (now just Osman Gazi) found himself on the frontier of Roman Bithynia, across from his Christian military counterparts, the akritai (sing. akritźs). He defeated the Roman army at Bapheus in 1302 but is best remembered for breaking through into Bithynia and captured Prusa (1326), which became Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Emirate.

Osmanli Oghullarļ
'Osman I 1290-1326
defeats Romans near Nicomedia, Ottoman
conquest begins, 1302; Seljuks overthrown, 1307; Bursa [Prusa] taken, 1326
Orkhān 1326-1359
defeats Andronicus III, 1329; I.znik [Nicaea] taken, 1331; I.zmid [Nicomedia] taken, 1337; Gelibolu [Kallipolis] taken, 1354; Ankara [Angora] taken, 1354
Murād I 1359-1389
Edirne [Adrianople] taken, 1369; Konya [Iconium] taken, 1387; Thessalonica taken, 1387; battle of Kosovo, "Field of the Blackbirds," Sult.ān killed defeating Serbs, 1389
Bāyezīd I Yļldļrļm,
the "Thunderbolt"
seige of Constantinople, 1394-1402; Battle of Nicopolis, Sigismund of Hungary defeated, 1396; Battle of Ankara, Sult.ān defeated, captured & imprisoned by Tamerlane, 1402
Meh.med I 1402-1421
Civil War, 1402-1413, between Meh.med, Süleymān, & Mūsā; Thessalonica ceded to Romania, 1403
Murād II 1421-1451
Seige of Constantinople, 1422; Thessalonica captured from Venice, 1430
Meh.med II Fātih. the "Conqueror" 1451-1481
I.stanbul [Constantinople] taken, 1453; conquest of Bosnia, 1463; Khanate of Crimea becomes a Vassal, 1475; Seige of Rhodes repulsed, 1480
Bāyezīd II 1481-1512
Selīm I Yavuz,
"the Grim"
Conquest of Syria and Egypt, 1516-1517
Süleymān I, the Magnificent 1520-1566
Fall of Rhodes, 1523; Battle of Mohįcs, Conquest of Hungary, death of Louis II of Hungary & Bohemia, 1526; First Siege of Vienna, 1529; Conquest of Mesopotamia, 1534; Siege of Malta, 1565
Selīm II 1566-1574
Peace of Adrianople, tribute from Austria, 1568; conquest of Cyprus, 1571; Battle of Lepanto, naval defeat by Spain, Venice, & Malta, 1571
Murād III 1574-1595
inconclusive war with Austria, 1593-1606
Meh.med III 1595-1603
Ah.med I 1603-1617
Mus.t.afā I 1617-1618
'Osmān II 1618-1622
Ah.med I (restored) 1622-1623
Murād IV 1623-1640
Ibrāhīm 1640-1648
Meh.med IV 1648-1687
Naval defeat by Venice & Malta at Dardanelles, 1656; War with Austria, 1663-1664; Conquest of Crete from Venice, 1669; Second Siege of Vienna, 1683; Austrian conquest of Hungary, 1686-1697
Süleymān II 1687-1691
Parthenon destroyed in explosion, 1687
Ah.med II 1691-1695
Mus.t.afā II 1695-1703
Russia takes Azov, 1696; Loss of Hungary, 1697; Peace of Karolwitz, 1699
Ah.med III 1703-1730
Recovery of Azov, 1711; War with Austria, 1716-1718; Loss of Banat, Serbia, & Little Wallachia, 1716-1718; Peace of Passarowitz, 1718
Mah.mud I 1730-1754
War with Austria, Recovery of Serbia & Wallachia, 1737-1739; Peace of Belgrade, 1739
'Osmān III 1754-1757
Mus.t.afā III 1757-1774
'Abdül-H.amīd I 1774-1789
Russian conquest of Crimea, 1774-1783
Selīm III 1789-1807
Odessa annexed by Russia, 1791; Revolt of Serbs, 1804-1813; Russian invasion, occupation of Moldavia & Wallachia, 1806-1812; Sult.ān overthrown by Janissaries, 1807
Mus.t.afā IV 1807-1808
Mah.mūd II 1808-1839
Treaty of Bucharest, Russia ceded Bessarabia, 1812; Serbian autonomy, 1813; Greek Revolt, 1821-1829; Sult.ān massacres Janissaries, 1826; Russian invasion, occupation of Moldavia & Wallachia, 1828-1829; Treaty of Adrianople, Greek Independence, Danube Delta to Russia, autonomy of Moldavia & Wallachia, 1829
'Abdül-Mejīd I 1839-1861
Crimean War, 1853-1856; Russian invasion, 1853; Britain, France, & Austria enter against Russia, 1854; Austria occupies Moldavia & Wallachia, 1854-1857; Siege of Sebastopol, 1854-1855; Peace of Paris, recovery of Danube Delta, Wallachia & Moldavia combined as Romania, with part of Bessarabia, 1856
'Abdül-'Azīz 1861-1876
Revolts in Bosnia & Bulgaria, 1875-1876
Murād V 1876
'Abdül-H.amīd II, "the Damned" 1876-1909
Russo-Turkish War,
1877-1878; Congress of Berlin, Serbia, Romania, & Montenegro Independent, Bulgaria autonomous, Bessarabia to Russia, Dobruja to Romania, Cyprus to Britain, Bosnia, Herzegovina & Novipazar, Austrian Protectorate, 1878; British Occupy 2, 1882; Bulgaria annexes East Rumelia, 1885; Revolt of the Young Turks, 1908, Sult.ān overthrown
Meh.med V 1909-1918
First Balkan War, 1912-1913; Italy occupies Libya & the Dodecanese, 1912; Second Balkan War, recovery of Adrianople, 1913; World War I, 1914-1918
Meh.med VI 1918-1922
Armenian Republic conquered, 1920-1921; Greco-Turkish War, 1920-1922
'Abdül-Mejīd II Caliph only, 1922-1924

The Ottoman Empire features the characteristics of most other empires, and some peculiar to those of the Middle East -- e.g. the refuge provided for Spanish Jews in 1492. Like anybody else, with a history that has its own pros and cons, also its own magnificience, e.g., a desire to surpass Sancta Sophia (called Aya Sofya in Turkish, after the Greek version of the name, Hagia Sophia) produced a series of some of the most beautiful mosques in Islām, which have inspired much of subsequent Islāmic architecture (the standard doomed mosque, starting with Muh.ammad 'Alī's Alabaster Mosque in Cairo)

Mehmed II enters Constantinople after its conquest in 1453 (Fatih Sultan Mehmet)

Today one of the sights of Istanbul is the Fatih Camii (Fātih. Jāmi-i), the "Conqueror's Mosque." This contains the tomb of Mehmed II, with a dedicated mosque, school, hospice, and (formerly) caravansaray. It stands on the site of the Church of the Holy Apostles, which was the burial place of the Emperor Constantine and subsequent Emperors of Romania. Already largely in ruins in 1453, it is not clear what the fate of all the Imperial burials was -- they may actually have simply been covered over by the later construction, the way the Imperial mosaics in Sancta Sophia were simply whitewashed, preserving them for modern display. What the Church probably looked like can still be seen in a probable copy, St. Mark's in Venice.

At Mehmed II's death, the Ottoman Empire looked much the way Romania had in the 11th Century. Selīm I "the Grim" did what the old Emperors had never been able to do, restore Syria and Egypt to the empire (from the Mamlūks). Süleimān I then added areas that had never been permanent parts of the Roman Empire, Iraq and Hungary. Picking up the Roman conflict with Irān, the Turks for the first time since Alexander the Great removed Iraq from Iranian possession (the map shows the pre-Safavid Aq Qoyunlu or White Sheep Turks). The conquest of Hungary was the first penetration of Islām into Francia since the conquest of Spain.

Suleyman the Magnificent (Kanuni Sultan Suleyman)The Ottoman Empire was at its height for about 150 years. It had at that point, however, reached the limits beyond which it could not easily project its power. Conflict continued with Austria and with Christian powers in the Mediterranean, but respective holdings didn't change much. The Sultān Ahmad Mosque, or the Blue Mosque, adjacent to the site of the old Hippodrome of Constantinople, is a fitting symbol of the achievement and confidence of this period. The long delayed fall of Crete in 1669 then seemed like the portent of renewed conquests. The energetic Köprülü vizirs planned a new assault, after 150 years, against Vienna in 1683. But this turned into a disaster, suddenly revealing the relative weakness that had actually overcome the Empire. Even a de facto alliance with friendly France, the greatest power of the day, could not prevent a series of defeats, the loss of Hungary, and the temporary loss of southern Greece to Venice.

It is noteworthy at this point that Ottoman Sultāns ceased to murder their brothers on accession. Henceforth the Throne passes, by Middle Eastern custom, to brothers and even to cousins before going to the next generation.

The threat of continuous defeat, which the beginning of the 18th century seemed to display, receded somewhat. Austria would not advance deeper into the Balkans and there was some breathing room. Nevertheless, the Ottomans were now facing the problem of catching up with the technological advances of Europe, even of relatively backward Russia, which it was in no way prepared to tackle. The problem was not any particular hostility to modern commercial culture -- merchants and markets were perfectly respectable characteristics of Middle Eastern Islāmic civilization -- but a very profound social conservatism, a satisfaction with the Mediaeval forms of life, prevented any of this from developing into modern institutions of banking, industry, and entrepreneurship. Like the Chinese, the Turks literally did not believe there was anything new to learn, much less from despised Unbelievers. The bustle and excitement of the great Istanbul Bazaar thus never led to the explosion of energy and production that was already characteristic of the Netherlands and other places in Western Europe. Turkey would always be playing catch-up but would then never actually catch up. Institutional reforms, when they were even tried, still could never go deep enough, could never actually produce a people striving and inquisitive beyond their previous habits. Peter the Great faced similar problems with another conservative society about the same time.


At the beginning of the 19th century, as Napoleon surged back and forth across Europe, the subject Christians of the Balkans became more and more restless, and Russia began to try again and again to retrieve Constantinople for Christendom and break through the Straits. The Ottomans, although achieving some successes, were not going to be able to resist this. The Empire's status as the "Sick Man of Europe" was now becoming quite established. It was Realpolitik that came to the rescue of the Sultān:  Britain did not want Russia to be too successful and so entered into a long policy of supporting the Turks against the forces, from Russia or Egypt or wherever, that might result in the collapse of Ottoman rule. Nevertheless, Britain could not allow too much oppression of subject Christians, and as the century wore on, small Christian states, from Serbia to Greece to Bulgaria, were allowed autonomy and then independence by the agreement of the Great Powers. This did not get any of them all they wanted, and it certainly limited Russian gains, but it kept the geo-political dam from bursting and kept the Sultān from falling off his Throne.


Finally, it was the internal forces of Turkey that began to shake things up after a pattern that would become all too familiar in "underdeveloped" countries later:  A military coup, the "Young Turks," against the detested Sultān 'Abdül-Hamīd II in 1908. This did not help much when the Balkan states fell on Turkey in 1912. The choice of Germany as a European ally would then be fatal for the Ottoman future. Another ill effect was the transformation of the Mediaeval Cause of Islām into a more modern Turkish nationalism. This did not work well, and never would, with the Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds living within Turkish borders. The disaffection of the first exploded in a pro-Allied revolt in World War I. The second (after collaboration with "enemy")  led to deportation. And conflict with the third continues, with campaigns of terrorism, even today. Woodrow Wilson impotently called for an independent Armenia state. Turkey pushed the Armenian Republic back east of the Araks (Aras) River in 1920. No Power has called for an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile, the British and French were perfectly happy to detach the Arab lands from the Empire, not for independence, to be sure, but to further British and French imperial projects. This turned out to be more trouble than it was worth, especially when the Zionist colonization of Palestine, allowed by the British, led to the creation of Israel and to a conflict, including five major wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982), that continues until today. The settlement of World War I has thus been aptly called "the peace to end all peace."


Turkish Republic, 1923

The job of complete social transformation of Turkey was finally undertaken by Mustafā Kemal, who adopted the surname Atatürk, "Father of the Turks." With no concessions to Greeks, Armenians, or Kurds, Atatürk nevertheless abandoned most imperial aspirations. Giving up the Arabic alphabet and traditional costume (indeed, making their use even a capital offense), deposing the Ottomans, and otherwise trying to make Turkey a European, rather than a Middle Eastern, state, Atatürk simply hoped to make it the equal of other modern powers. To a considerable extent he succeeded, though Turkey is still haunted by the shadow of the military dictatorship by the threat of militant Islām, whose mediaevalism is fully triumphant in neighboring Irān, and by the disaffection of a small group of militant racist Kurdish nationalists-mostly manipulated, supported and used by some neighbouring forces and even by some international powers participating in NATO! Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of United States of America, British, French and some other (incoherent paradoxical) western powers, expert in exploiting differences to simply apply "divide and rule principle", could be perfectly happy to detach the Kurds, too, from Turkey (as they did to Armenians during 1st World War), not for independence of Kurds, to be sure, but to further Western imperial projects.

Presidents of Turkish Republic (1923)
Mustafa Kemal, (1934) Atatürk 1923-1938
Ismet Inönü 1938-1950
France cedes Alexandretta & Antioch, 1939
Celal Bayar 1950-1960
Kemal Gürcel 1961-1966
Cevdet Sunay 1966-1973
Fahri Korutürk 1973-1980
Kenan Evren 1980-1989
Turgut Özal 1989-1993
Süleyman Demirel 1993-2000
Ahmet Necdet Sezer 2000-2007
Abdullah Gül 2007-present

Nevertheless, Turkey has took her lessons from the history, and is undoubtedly the strongest state in the region, to the chagrin of neighboring Arabs and Christians alike. Long a member of NATO, Turkey looks foward to membership in the European Union. The membership of Turkey to the European Union is on the way and negotiations have began.

A discussion of general sources for this material is given under Francia and Islām. Some additional sources include The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia (John Channon with Rob Hudson, 1995), and various prose histories, such as The Ottoman Centuries (Lord Kinross, Morrow Quill, 1977).

Note on Turkish

The spelling of the names of the Ottomans is intended to indicate both the Turkish pronunciation and how they are spelled in Arabic (which no longer matters, since Turkish is no longer written in the Arabic alphabet, but is of historical interest). Here I have pretty much followed the usage of the Cambridge History of Islam. A good example is the name of the Conqueror of Constantinople, Meh.med II. This name is Muh.ammad in Arabic but is actually pronounced Mehmet in Turkish. Obviously, some compromises are made and the system is not perfect. In general, the consonants look Arabic and the vowels Turkish. Since Turkish (and Persian) reads the Arabic alphabet with three s's (Arabic s, s., and th) and four z's (Arabic z, z., d., and dh), some attempt is made to differentiate (e.g. with s for th). Modern Turkish writes c for English j and ē for English ch, but the English equivalents are used here.

The main reason that Arabic writing did not work well for Turkish was the Turkish vowel system. Where Classical Arabic had three short and three long vowels, and Persian could match its six vowels with those, Turkish has eight vowels, as shown at left (in the official Romanization). The most intriguing thing about Turkish vowels is the system of vowel harmony. Related Ural-Altaic languages, like Mongolian and even Hungarian (though some dispute the reality of the Ural-Altaic family, or even the Altaic family, or whether Korean and Japanese are Altaic members), also have vowel harmony, but this seems to appear in Turkish in its most complete, logical, and elegant form. The rules are simply, (1) front vowels are followed by front vowels (e.g. i by e), back vowels by back vowels (e.g. u by a), (2) unrounded vowels are followed by unrounded vowels (e.g. i by e), and (3) rounded vowels are followed by high rounded (e.g. o by u) or low unrounded vowels (e.g. o by a). There are Turkish grammatical inflections in which the vowel is supposed to be simply either high or low, with its character otherwise determined by the preceding vowels in the word. This all was impossible to show in the Arabic alphabet without a special notation that might have been developed but, evidently, never was. There are many words in Turkish that violate vowel harmony, but by this they can be identified as foreign loan words -- for example islām (instead of *islem), from Arabic, and istanbul (instead of *istenbil), from Greek or Arabic.

In the first book I had about Turkish, Teach Yourself Books, Turkish [St. Paul's House, Warwick Lane, London, 1953, 1975], the author, G. L. Lewis, specifically ridicules Hagopian's Ottoman-Turkish Conversation-Grammar of 1907 because, out of 215 pages, it devoted 161 to Arabic and Persian [p.vi]. Well, I have gone to some trouble to get a copy of Hagopian's Ottoman-Turkish Conversation-Grammar, and it is a very fine book. The section on Arabic and Persian is very much as though every English grammar book came along with Donald M. Ayers' English words from Latin and Greek elements [University of Arizona Press, 1986], which I encountered as the textbook for a popular class at the University of Texas on the Greek and Latin contributions to English. As it happens, of course, fewer and fewer American students are even taught English grammar, much less enough Greek or Latin to understand or appreciate its use of them. This not a virtue. Nor is the nationalistic enthusiasm that seeks to purge languages of "foreign" words, which has happened in Turkish, German, French, Hungarian, and elsewhere. This kind of thing is simply an attempt to purge history itself -- along with a ugly attempt to sharpen ethnic identities and differences.

Later, Geoffrey Lewis appears to have thought better of his ridicule. Subsequently editions of Teach Yourself Turkish cut down on the dismissive remarks; and recently Lewis has published The Turkish Language Reform, A Catastrophic Success [Oxford, 1999, 2002]. Here we learn about the artificial coinages, supposedly "true" Turkish, and the confusion that has now alienated modern Turkey from its own heritage, the best of Ottoman literature. Indeed, the writings of Kemal Atatürk himself have needed more than once to be "translated" into New(er) Turkish. At a literary or technical level usage still sometimes shifts between an Arabic word, a "Turkish" neologism, or French, just to make sure that everyone can recognize one of the words. Lewis's own Turkish Grammar [Oxford, 1967, 2000] provides information to enable people to read the Ottoman language. It probably is too late to deliberately go back, but, like German returning to Telefon from Fernsprecher, perhaps Turkish usage will drift back to more of its Persian and Arabic heritage



Ottoman Empire 1800-1922 and Balkan States

The Shihābī Amīrs of Lebanon, 1697-1842 AD

The Golden Age of Lebanon is considered by many to have come in the reign of the Amīr Bashīr II Shihābī. The Shihābīs were originally Sunnī Moslems, but they came to rule an area dominated by the Druzes, practioners of a religious off-shoot of Islām and regarded by many Moslems as apostates from Islām. When the Amīrs themselves converted to Maronite Christianity, this effected an alliance, sometimes uneasy, between the largest communities in Lebanon, the Maronites and the Druzes. Still symbolic of the success of this alliance and the prosperity of the period is the beautiful Bayt ad-Dīn (or Beit ed-Din, "House of Religion") Palace, begun by Bashīr II in 1788 and not completed for 30 years. Unfortunately, Bashīr II moved to consolidate his power through an alliance with Muhammad 'Alī of Egypt. This would have been an excellent strategy were it not for the intervention of Britain to drive the Egyptians out of Syria and restore Ottoman authority. Bashīr II was deposed in the process. The influence of France, especially, to protect the Christians in Lebanon, however, was not exerted successfully to preserve Lebanese autonomy, and tended to alienate the non-Christians anyway. After Lebanese independence from France itself in 1946, Bayt ad-Dīn became a residence for the President of the Republic. For many years Lebanon prospered as the "Switzerland of the Middle East," and Beirut as the "Paris of the Middle East"; but by the 1970's the communal differences that had been a source of strength when the communities needed to unite against outside persecution began to be a source of weakness, as sometimes had happened before, when the communities fell out among themselves and the issue came to be the distribution of political privileges and patronage to each "confessional" community. Things were particularly destablized by the large number of Palestinian refugees, who had no political standing in Lebanon at all, and whose activities against Israel drew Israeli retaliation on Lebanon. Since the Maronites were politically and economically dominant, everyone united against them and full civil war broke out in 1975. This ended up bringing the Syrians into Lebanon in 1976. The Druzes, and much of the anti-Maronite cause, were led by the charismatic Kamal Jumblatt, whose assassination in 1977, widely rumored to have been ordered by the Syrians, symbolically ended the first phase of the Lebanese "troubles." The shakeup of the civil war then brought to the surface something new:  The Shi'ite community, always the poor relation in Lebanese politics, predominant in the South and in the Beka'a Valley (areas originally peripheral to Mount Lebanon), had not only quietly grown into the largest community in Lebanon but now was throughly radicalized and activized, in a natural alliance with the Palestinians, and, ominously, with the more distant Shi'ite coreligionists, the Iranian Islāmic Revolutionaries.
 The Israelis, who invaded Lebanon in 1982 to get rid of the Palestinians, more or less accomplished that task, with the PLO leaving for Tunisia, but then discovered, as the Syrians had already, that the communal rivalries of the Lebanese themselves, especially with the Shi'tes adopting Iranian suicide and terror tactics, made the place a tar baby for any outsiders who wanted to exert control by force. With the foreign powers chasened, the Lebanese began to patch things up with some needed political compromises; and as the 1990's progressed, some peace and prosperity seemed to be returning to the country. It remains to be seen, however, if a modus vivendi can be found to produce another golden age of communal alliance against the outside.


The House of Muh.ammad 'Alī in Egypt, 1805-1953 AD

Egypt was abruptly pulled into modern history with the invasion of Napoleon in 1798. Although Egypt had been conquered by the Turks in 1517, the strange slave dynasty of the Mamlūks had continued and by Napoleon's time had reestablished de facto authority in the declining Empire. After the French were driven from Egypt in 1801, Muhammad Alī arrived, supposedly to reėstablish Turkish authority.

Brilliant, ruthless, farsighted, and probably the most important Albanian in world history, Muhammad 'Alī very quickly established his own authority instead. The final Mamlūks were massacred in 1811, and Muhammad 'Alī moved to create a modern state, and especially a modern army, for Egypt. In this he was as successful as any non-European power at the time. By the time the Greeks revolted against Turkey in 1821, it was Muhammad 'Alī who turned out to have the best resources to put down the revolution and was called on by the Sultān in 1824 to do so. He very nearly did, until Britain intervened and sank the Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Navarino in 1827. Frustrated in that direction, Muh.ammad 'Alī was successful in his conquest of the Sudan (1820-1822), probably advancing further up the Nile than any power since Ancient Egypt, though at a terrible cost to the Sudanese in massacre, mutilations, and slaving (of which the American boxer Cassius Clay was probably unaware when he adoped the name "Muhammad Ali" upon his conversion to Islām). Egyptian interventions in Arabia in 1818-1822 and 1838-1843 very nearly exterminated the House of Sa'ūd and its fundamentalist Wahhābī movement, which much later would create a united and independent Sa'ūdī Arabia.

When Muhammad Alī moved into Syria in 1831, however, this was a threat to the authority and perhaps even the existence of the Ottoman Empire. When war broke out in 1839, Britain intervened to support the Empire and to throw Muhammad 'Alī out in 1841.

The most formative subsequent event for Egyptian history was certainly the construction of the Suez Canal. Although Britain had nothing to do with the project, and it was the French Emperor Napoleon III who attended the lavish opening ceremonies, the collapse of Egyptian financies led to the purchase by Britain of all Egypt's shares in the Canal Company. This did not solve Egypt's financial problems, which got worse. The Khedive Ismā'īl also wasted resources on disastrous campaigns against Ethiopia in 1875-1876. With its interests now in danger, Britain occupied Egypt, without French support, in 1882. Ironically, the Occupation was undertaken under Prime Minister William Gladstone, who was opposed to British Imperialism. He was not, however, going to endanger British finances just because the Khedive didn't know how to handle his.

This made Egypt a de facto part of the British Empire, indeed one of the most important parts, with the Suez Canal an essential strategic link between Britain and India. Some of the most colorful episodes in British Imperial history occured because of this. In 1881 a revolt had started in the Sudan, led by a man claiming to be the Apocalyptic Mahdī of Islāmic tradition. Gladstone was not going to spend British money, or Egyptian, in trying to suppress the rebellion. Consequently, Charles Gordon, known as "Chinese Gordon" for his part in putting down the Taiping Rebellion in China (1860-1864), and who had already been governor-general of the Sudan from 1877-1880, was sent back in order to evacuate the Egyptian garrison. Once there, he decided to stay and resist the Mahdī. By 1885 this insubordination stirred up public opinion back home and forced Gladstone to send a relief expedition; but it missed rescuing Gordon by two days, as the Mahdī's forces overran Khartoum and killed Gordon. This made Gordon one of the great heroes of the day, humiliated Britain, and resulted in the fall of Gladstone's government. However, the Sudan was, for the time being, abandoned. When the British returned in 1898, in the heyday of imperial jingoism, Lord Kitchener, with a young Winston Churchill along, calmly massacred the mediaeval army of the Mahdī's successor at the Battle of Omdurman, avenged Gordon, and made himself one of the immortal heroes of the British Empire too. Although formally in Egyptian service, Kitchener reconquered the Sudan as an Anglo-Egyptian "condominium." The theory of British and Egyptian joint rule in the Sudan continued until Sudanese independence in 1956, though between 1924 and 1936 the British didn't even allow Egyptian forces or authorities into the Sudan.


All this took place with Egypt still legally part of the Ottoman Empire. Right down until 1914 the Turkish flag was dutifully flown and Turkish passports issued. When Turkey repaid a century of British support by throwing its lot with Germany in World War I, however, the fiction came to an end, and Egypt de jure came under British rule as a Protectorate, with the Sultānate, abolished by the Turks in 1517, re-established. This was not popular in Egypt, and after the war Egypt did become a formally independent Kingdom. However, the British did retain Treaty rights to garrison and protect the Suez Canal; so, in many ways, the British Occupation of 1882 simply continued. There was little doubt of that once World War II started. Egypt, a legally Neutral country, was first invaded by Italy and then by Germany, with British forces meeting, fighting, and ultimately expelling them. Egypt at the time seemed no less a part of the British Empire than it had ever been. Egypt did eventually declare war on Germany, but not until February 24, 1945.

The end of Muh.ammad 'Alī's dynasty resulted from the humiliation of continuing British occupation, the mortification of Egyptian failure in the war against Israeli independence in 1948, and from the failure of King Fārūq, who was rather more successful as a playboy than as a leader, to deal with any of it. The army, soon led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, swept away the monarchy, got British forces to leave Egypt, and then won a great political victory when Britain and France (74 years late) reoccupied the Canal, Israel invaded the Sinai, and both the United States and the Soviet Union told them all to leave in no uncertain terms, in the Suez Crisis of 1956 (just as Soviet tanks were rolling into Hungary!). Thus, Egypt became a player in the Cold War, and the heritage of Muh.ammad 'Alī, the Ottoman Empire, and British imperialism faded rapidly.

The Sanūsī Amīrs & Kings of Libya, 1837-1969 AD

Libya begins as two domains in the Ottoman Empire, Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east. Eventually, lands in the deeper desert, Fezzan, were brought under control. Most of the desert, however, is uninhabitable. Cyrenaica entered history originally as a place of Greek colonies. It is mountainous and, especially in the past, reasonably well watered. Tripolitania clings to the Mediterranean coast around the city of Tripoli. Just a few miles down the coast from Tripoli is Labdah, Roman Leptis Magna, which was the home town of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (b.145).

This was a thinly populated backwater for the Turks, noteworthy mainly for Roman ruins and piracy (with U.S. Marines landing at Tripoli in 1801). It all achieved greater significance when Italy displaced the Ottomans in 1911 (ceded in 1912). Indeed, Libya became one of the most important strategic theaters of World War II. The Italians tried invading Egypt from Libya in September 1940 but by February 1941 had been thrown completely out of Cyrenaica, with 130,000 soldiers captured. Alarmed, Hitler sent Erwin Rommel with a couple of divisions to prevent the Italian position from collapsing completely. Rommel, however, went on the offensive. For more than a year, things surged back and forth, with Cyrenaica recovered, lost, and recovered again. By July 1942, Rommel was deep into Egypt, barely stopped at El Alamein, 60 miles from Alexandria. By then, however, the United States was in the War; and the strongly reinforced British began an offensive in October. They broke through and soon swept the Germans and Italians entirely out of Libya. Retreating into Tunisia, they were caught against the Americans who had landed in Morocco and Algeria in November.

After the War, Libya formally became independent in 1951, under the Sasūnī Amīr of Cyrenaica. The long lived King Idrīs was eventually overthrown in 1969. This was under the leadership of the eratic and megalomanaical Muammar Qaddafi. Along with armed clashes with Egypt and Chad, Libya became a sponsor of terrorism. Blamed for a bombing in Berlin in 1986, Libya was bombed by Ronald Reagan in retaliation. Later blamed for a bomb that brought down Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, sanctions were imposed on Libya until accused operatives were surrendered. This eventually happened, Qaddafi may have thought better of his ways, and sanctions were lifted in 2003. Meanwhile, Qaddafi had dressed up his dictatorship with an idiosyncratic political theory. Libya became the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." Jamahiriya, similar to the Arabic word for "republic," jumhūrīya, was a term coined by Qaddafi for his politcal system, which was supposed to be a kind of direct, mass democracy, but is probably no more democratic that similar arrangements in the Soviet Union. Like Mao's little red book, Qaddafi produced a little green book. Qaddafi seems secure enough, like many other dictators (one thinks of Castro), but increasingly anachronistic (Castro, again).

Ottoman Empire 1800-1922 and Balkan States

  • Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812
  • War of Greek Independence (1821-1829)
  • Crimean War (1853-1856)
  • Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878
  • Balkan Wars

A characteristic of imperial states is an easy mixing of peoples and languages. They all have too much to fear from the imperial power for too much trouble to develop between them. When the heavy imperial hand is withdrawn, however, serious trouble can result. Thus, the end of the British Empire resulted in the partitions, amid war and massacre, of India, Palestine, and Cyprus. The decline of Turkish power similarly uncorked more than a century of conflict, continuing even in 2000, in the Balkans. Border areas end up with the most ambiguious identities and so can provoke the greatest conflict. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been swapped back and forth between Hungary and Romania and Serbia in the 12th and 13th centuries, and then were long held by the Turks, ended up with a mixed population of Croats (Latin/Catholic Christians), Serbs (Orthodox Christians), and Moslem Bosnians (Bosniacs). All, as it happened, spoke the same language, Serbo-Croatian, but written in different alphabets. The disintegration of Yugoslavia, with the lifting of the heavy imperial hand of Communism in the 1990's, led to terrible fighting, massacres, and atrocities, most famously carried out by the Serbs against the others, but not unheard of from the Croatians, Bosniacs, and Kosovar Albanians also. A famous bridge in Mostar in Herzegovina, which had linked, actually and symbolically, the Christian and Moslem parts of the city, was destroyed (evidently by Croatians) in the fighting. With a peace settlement patched up for Bosnia, the Serbs then turned their hand against the restless Albanian majority of Kosovo, which the Serbs regarded as the Serbian heartland but which had contained few Serbs for a long time. It is enough to make one yearn for the return of the Palaeologi.

 Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812

The first map above shows the situation in 1817, after the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, rebellions by Serbia, and a final grant of autonomy to Serbia. The Ionians Islands had originally belonged to Venice but were seized by Britain in the Napoleonic Era and ceded to Britain by the Congress of Vienna.

War of Greek Independence (1821-1829)

The two maps, just above and to the right, show the situation (1) after the War of Greek Independence (1821-1829) and (2) after the Crimean War (1853-1856). To save Greece, all the Great Powers were drawn in against Turkey.

With Greek independence went increased territory for Serbia, autonomy for Wallachia and Moldavia, and border concessions to Russia.

Crimean War (1853-1856)

In the Crimean War, Britain and France joined Turkey against Russia, with much of the fighting taking place, as one might expect from the name, in the Crimea. This pretty much preserved the status quo for Turkey, though the borders were extended against Russia along the Black Sea. One change we see, however, was the unification of Wallachia and Moldavia into the state of Romānia.

The Russian wars against Turkey in the 19th Century led several times to the occupation of Wallachia and Moldavia. After the Crimean War (1853-1856) and, for a change, Austrian occupation (1854-1857), and a bad experience with a local candidate for rule of the unified country, a European prince, as in Greece and Bulgaria, was brought in, Karl of Hohenzollern. The Congress of Berlin recognized Karl (Carol) and Romanian independence (1878). With the Allies in World War I, winning Transylvania from Hungary and Moldova from Russia -- Romania was the biggest long term winner of the War in the Balkans -- Romania, after much internal strife, switched to the Axis in World War II, losing Moldova to the Soviet Union (seized in 1940, actually, before Romania was a belligerent) and part of Dobruja to Bulgaria.

Rejecting the Cyrllic alphabet and the Turkish influenced "Rumania" (or "Roumania") for the Latin alphabet and the pure Latin Romānia, Romania can now claim that name as its own, with few remembering that it was the proper name of the Roman (and the "Byzantine") Empire. In the Middle Ages, "Romania" tended to refer to the contemporaneous extent of the Empire, i.e. Anatolia and the Balkans ("Asia and Europa" or "Rūm and Rumelia"). 

Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878

The two maps above show the situation before and after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Note that by then Britain had ceded the Ionians Islands to Greece (1864). In 1875 rebellions started in Bosnia and then Bulgaria. The brutality with which these were suppressed aroused European opinion, and after some delay Russia declared war. With some hard fighting, the Russians ended up capturing Adrianople and arriving at the outskirts of Constantinople. The Treaty of San Stephano which ended the war mostly freed the Balkans, but the Great Powers didn't like it. The Congress of Berlin rolled things back a bit. Serbia, Romānia, and Montenegro all became independent, with increases in territory, but Bulgaria was divided and merely allowed autonomy. Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Novipazar were made protectorates of Austria. The map looked much the same for many years, with Bulgaria annexing East Rumelia in 1885.

Balkan Wars

1908 was a big year in the Balkans. Bulgaria became independent and Austria annexed most of its protectorate from the Congress of Berlin. In Turkey, the Sultan, "Abdul the Damned," was overthrown by the Young Turks, whose impetus, unfortunately, was more merely nationalistic than liberal. Meanwhile, Greece was able to add Thessaly (1881, with adjustments in 1897). A rebellion on Crete led to autonomy (1898) as a prelude to Greek control (1912).

The revolt of Greece against the Turks was one of the sensations of the 19th century, drawing partisans, like Lord Byron, from far and wide. Against the Ottomans alone, the Greeks could well have been successful, but the Sultan called in Muh.ammad 'Alī, who had modernized the Eyptian army enough that the rebellion was being suppressed. This was too much, however, for "civilized" opinion. Not only the Russians, the traditional protectors of Orthodox Christians in Turkey, but Britain and France, inspired by all that Classical Oxbridge learning, moved to help the Greeks, sinking Muhammad 'Alī's fleet at Navarino in 1827. They say that the ships are still visible at the bottom of the bay, right by the island of Sphacteria, where the Athenians defeated the Spartans early in the Peloponnesian War, and just south of "Sandy Pylos," where a great Mycenaean city supplied wise Nestor to the Greek forces at Troy.

The house of Denmark supplied most the kings of modern Greece. The kingship itself contained an interesting ambiguity, since the Greek word basileus only meant "king" in Classical Greek. In mediaeval Greek, basileus was used by the Emperors of Romania to translate Latin imperator, i.e. "emperor." So which was it? Was the ruler of Greece merely the King of the Hellenes, or the Emperor of the Romans (Rhōmaioi)? When the Greeks tried to seize a large part of western Asia Minor from the Turks in 1920, it looked like restoring the Empire was the objective. Turkey remained, and remains, fundamentally stronger than Greece, and the Greek invasion only provoked the expulsion of Greeks from the Asia Minor.

Politically, Greece has swung back and forth in the 20th century. Whether the monarchy was a good thing was often in doubt, as it was briefly abolished in the 20's and almost not reinstituted after World War II. Then the Army took over in 1967, creating a dictatorship that lasted until 1974. King Constantine II tried to organize a counter-coup against the dictatorship, but then fled the country when he failed. Eventually the dictators abolished the monarchy. When democracy was restored, after a stupid attempt to overthrow the government of Cyprus (provoking a Turkish intervention), the Greeks nevertheless seemed to think that Constantine had not been sufficiently vigorous in opposing the dictatorship, so the monarchy was not restored. Since then, Greece seems to have made a speciality of electing anti-American, socialist governments, long after that made any sense either geo-politically or economically. A good example of recent foolishness was a nationwide strike on May 17, 2001, with 10,000 protesters marching on the Parliament in Athens. Protesting what? Well, the Greek state pension system is nearly bankrupt, and the Government is considering reforms, like cutting benefits and increasing the retirement age (to 65). Even the socialist government, however, might have anticipated the offense to the Greek sense of entitlement that this would cause.

A real basis for the latter concerns Cyprus. In 1974 the Greek generals tried to annex Cyprus to Greece. This provoked a Turkish intervention and the de facto partition of the Island (and, happily for Greece, the overthrow of the generals). The Turks even set up a separate Turkish Cypriot Republic, which is recognized by no one in the world but Turkey. What this all really meant was that the effort to maintain Cyprus as a bi-national Republic, since independence from Britain in 1960, had failed utterly. The obvious solution would seem to be a real partition of the island with the Greek and Turkish parts annexed, respectively, by Greece and Turkey. 

As noted above, it is now largely forgotten in Greece, and entirely outside of it, that in the Middle Ages the Greeks called themselves "Romans" (Rhōmaioi), because, as it happens, they were. For many centuries Hellźnes, which the Ancient Greeks had called themselves, and now the modern Greeks again, meant pagan Greeks. The history of Mediaeval Greece is thus found with that of Rome and Byzantium.

The map for 1912 gives us the situation right before the Balkan Wars. Turkish holdings in Europe still extend all the way to the Adriatic, including Albania which, although largely Moslem, has already been restless for independence.

The Balkan Wars all but eliminated Turkey in Europe. In the First War (1912-1913), everyone attacked Turkey, which even lost Adrianople to Bulgaria. Serbia was going to annex Albania, but the Great Powers required that it become an independent state. The Serbs were not happy about that, and Bulgaria wasn't happy about its share either. So the Second War (1913) featured everyone against Bulgaria, which lost Macedonia to Serbia, Adrianople to Turkey, and some territory south of the Danube to Romānia. Meanwhile, Italy had been at war with Turkey in 1912 and had obtained Libya and, on this map, the Dodecanese Islands.

Bulgaria was the last of the mediaeval Balkan states to regain complete independence from Turkey. Although usually regarded as a Kingdom, rather more was implied when King Ferdinand (a second cousin of Edward VII of England) also called himself "Tsar." He is actually supposed to have carried around the vestments (obtained from a theatrical costumer) of a Roman (/Byzantine) Emperor. This was no less than what most of the successor states wanted, but the Bulgarians came closest to the physical heart of mediaeval Romania in the First Balkan War (1912-1913) when they occupied Adrianople and drew near Constantinople. This advantage, however, was lost in the Second Balkan War (1913), when Bulgaria took on all the other belligerents from the First War, largely in a dispute with Serbia over Macedonia (where a dialect or near relative of Bulgarian was spoken), and was overwhelmingly defeated. Adrianople went back to Turkey, Macedonia went to Serbia, and other territories went to Greece and Romania. Still stinging from this defeat, Bulgaria threw its lot with the Axis in World War I, which cost it access to the Aegean Sea. The same strategy was followed in World War II, where the wartime borders show us the Bulgarian wish list, with gains from Serbia, Romania, and Greece (Turkey was not in the War). The post-War settlement erased those gains, except against Romania, which had also been a member of the Axis. Today Macedonia has broken away from Yugoslavia, but to become independent rather than a part of Bulgaria. Note that the numbering of Kings Boris III and Simeon II goes back to the original mediaeval Bulgarian Tsars.

Trouble over Bosnia began World War I, when a member of a Serbian "Black Hand" assassination squad killed the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Austria ended up declaring war on Serbia, Russia on Austria, and Germany on Russia. The Germans then, of course, invaded France, Russia's ally, and did so through Belgium, violating recognized Belgian neutrality and bringing Britain into the War. Turkey and Bulgaria, the losers of the Balkan Wars, sided with Germany and Austria, while the other Balkan countries went with the Allies (Greece reluctantly -- Queen Sophia was Kaiser Wilhelm's sister). The result was losses for Bulgaria and gains for all the Allies, with Serbia orchestrating the formation of Yugoslavia from Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and other remants of Austria-Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. Romānia got Transylvania from Hungary and also gains from Russia, which was distracted by the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Bulgaria's loss of its Aegean coast would prove fortunate for the region when it later went communist. However little Greece and Turkey liked each other, it was convenient for them as Western allies to have a land frontier.

 Just about the poorest and least educated people in Europe, the Albanians had unexpected independence thrust upon them after the First Balkan War (1912-1913) and then found themselves locked into paranoid and pauperized isolation by a particularly nasty and megalomanaical Communist regime after World War II, under longtime Communist Party Chief Enver Hoxha. After the schism between Comminist China and the Soviet Union, for many years Albania was China's only international ally and supporter, regularly submitting the PRC for membership in the United Nations. But eventually, after membership, China began allowing Capitalism, and Albania had to retreat into its own paranoid isolation as the last surviving Stalinist dictatorship. Since Hoxha expected the Capitalists to invade at any time, the Albanian landscape became covered with small bunkers, to defend every inch. The country, which had always been poor anyway, became even poorer in Hoxha's grip, and it is nowhere near even recovering, much less developing to the level of its European neighbors. The Fall of Communism even witnessed large numbers of Albanians attempting to flee to Italy by boat. Among the mysterious, autochthonous peoples of the Balkans, the Albanians were strongly Latinized under Rome, Islamicized under Turkey, coveted by Italy and Serbia, and include substantial communities in Greece (denied by Greece, which officially has no ethnic minorities). Like a number of peoples in the Balkans, they may not know just what to make of themselves in the modern world, much less how their society is supposed to function. Recent conspicuous Americans of Albanian heritage have been the Belushis, John and his brother Jim, and Sandra Bullock (whose mother is German and father, reportedly, of Albanian derivation). One of John Belushi's memorable roles on Saturday Night Live was in the ongoing "Greek Diner" skits. The Belushis, indeed, had run such a diner in Chicago.

As the Ottoman Empire declined in strength, and Christians in the Balkans found European allies who favored their independence, like Britain for Greece and Russia for Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria, the Balkans became the scene of one conflict after another. The Turks were not entirely out of the picture until 1913, and this still left a number of the successor states, especially Bulgaria and Serbia, not entirely happy with their shares. The Serbs also pursued a grievance against Austria-Hungary, which inspired the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914, precipitating World War I. In the end the Serbs realized their dream of "Yugoslavia," the union of all the "Southern Slavs." The dream of the Serbs, however, was not necessarily the dream of all their fellow Yugoslavs. Macedonians really spoke a dialect of Bulgarian, and would have been part of Bulgaria if the Bulgarians had had their way. Slovenia, which historically had been part of Austria, and Croatia, which historically had been part of Hungary, were divided from the Serbs by religion, Catholicism versus Serbian Orthodoxy, and history, the Latin West versus the Greek, Slavonic, and Turkish East, even though both the Serbs and Croatians really spoke the same language -- Serbo-Croatian. Bosnia-Herzegovina was a messy mixture of Serbs, Croatians, and those from both groups who had converted to Islam during the long Turkish presence (the Bosniacs).


Sources and Links
  • Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.
  • Rome and Romania Index
  • Islāmic Index
  • Philosophy of History
  • Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.  
  • http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~turkish/resources
  • http://www.ee.bilkent.edu.tr/~history/topkapi.html
  • http://turkishstudies.org/grantsprogram2.html
  • http://tsi.idc.ac.il/ts/ts.html
  • http://www.ejts.org/document86.html
  • http://www.theottomans.org/english/index.asp
  • http://www.osmanli700.gen.tr/english/engindex.html
  • http://lexicorient.com/e.o/ottomans.htm
  • Hellenistic Index
  • Outremer
  • Russia Index
  • Culmen Mundi
  • Culmen Franciae
  • Modern Romania Index
  • Armenian Issue: Allegations & Facts
  • Assembly of Turkish American Associations

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