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The Emergence of Ottoman Empire (Osmanli Imparatorlugu)




Map of Ottaman Empire: Rise and Fall of Ottomans


The Question of the Emergence of the Ottoman State


Timeline of Ottoman Empire (Click on to enlarge)The foundation of the Ottoman Empire has been a major question in modern historiography. How a small frontier principality on the Seljuk-Byzantine borderland developed into one of the most powerful empires of modern times still puzzles historians. How did it happen that this state, embodying two imperial heritages, Islamic and Byzantine, created a long lasting empire in Asia Minor and the Balkans? Herbert Adams Gibbons presents a theory of religious conversion as the answer to the fundamental question of the demographic, cultural, and institutional origins of the Ottoman state. Though popularized widely in general histories, this theory barely stands up to the criticisms of the philologically-grounded historians specializing in the field, such as M. Fuad Koprulu, Paul Wittek, and Friedrich Giese.

Subjecting the early sources on the origins of the Ottomans to a thorough analysis, these specialists proposed the theory of a Turkish-Seljukid origin of Ihe Ottoman state for population, culture, and state traditions. But among these specialists controversy arose over thc question of the basic structure of the early Ottoman society. While Koprulu suggested that it was predominantly tribal in character, Wittek considered it a military frontier society with a peculiar frontier culture. In fact, Wittek believed that it was basically the traditions of the Islamic military frontier organization that provided the socio-political foundations of the Ottoman state and that the Islamic tradition of Holy War gave it its dynamism for conquest and innovation. Both scholars stressed the central role of the Turcomans (Turkmens), pastoral nomads in the frontier society, without attempting to investigate the structure and internal changes of that society in the period of state formation. Koprulu's fundamental work on the socio-religious conditions of the Turcomans in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Anatolia, although illustrating many significan points, did not answer the question of how this society was transformed to a polity, or how Osman Ghazi became a military-political leader and the founder of a new state and dynasty.

The early Ottoman traditions have not been thoroughly and critically examined from this point of view. In this article I shall try to investigate, first, the fundamental cause of the social change on the frontier as a result of immigration and population pressure and, second, the primary factors leading to the state formation in this frontier society at the turn of the thirteenth century.


The Turkish Exodus to the West in Response to the Mongol Invasion (1221-1300) and the Emergence of Osman Ghazi.


The spectacular Turkish expansion into western Anatolia can be linked in the last analysis to the Mongol invasion and rule of the Middle East in the thirteenth century. There is considerable historical evidence supporting the view that this invasion caused an exodus of both the Turcoman tribes and the settled populations from Transoxiana, Iran, and Azerbaijan into Asia Minor. In the wake of the spread of Mongol control over Asia Minor (recognition of Mongol suzerainty in 1235; the Mongol invasion of Central Anatolia under Bayju in 1243; and, finally, the establishment of direct Mongol administration after 1277) a massive population movement toward the western frontier zone of the Seljukid state of Anatolia was set under way, and this continued throughout the thirteenth century.

The important stages of this movement are known. In the 1230s the Mongols drove out a number of Turcoman tribes from Maragha and Arran and from the Mughan piains in Azerbaijan, an area that was to become the favorite winter quarters of the Mongol tribal forces in Iran. Along with the Mongol pressure, the search for good pasture lands for their herds in marginal areas and the opportunity for booty raids into neighboring Christian lands led many of the Turcoman tribes to the mountain ranges in the remote frontier (udj) zones. Pressed by the Turcoman demands for yurt (a delimited area with summer and winter quarters) and confronted by their depredations on agricultural areas, the Seljukid central government hastened to drive them out toward the frontier areas, where they formed a large Turcoman belt in the northern, southern, and western mountain ranges of Asia Minor. In 1240, however, a terrible Turcoman insurrection shook the Seljukid state to its foundations

In 1256 the Mongol general Bayju asked the Seljukid sultan, Izzeddin Kaykawus II, to assign him summer and winter quarters in Anatolia for his army tribes to settle in. This was after Hulagu Khan had ordered the evacuation of Arran and Mughan plains to make way for the Mongol imperial army. The sultan rejected Bayju's demand. The ensuing battle ended with the defeat of the Seljukid army and their evacuation of the best pasture lands in the Tokat-Amasya area, including the lush Kazova plain. This event brought a new flow of Turcoman immigrants into the western border areas. Kaykawus eventually fled to Byzantium (1261), but the Turcomans continued their support for him and his sons against the Mongols. The following thirty years were an era of struggle in Anatolia -- a struggle that brought still more immigration. The figures provided by the Arab geographer Ibn Said (d. 1274 or 1286) give at least a general idea of the relative distribution of the Turcomans on these frontiers: 200,000 tents in the Tonguzlu (or Ladik, ancient Laodicaea) region, 100,000 tents in the Kastamoni (Paphlagonia), and 30,000 tents in the Kutahya (Cotyaeum).

The next period of massive population movement in Asia Minor began in 1277 when the native Seljukid aristocracy and their Turcoman supporters allied themselves with the Mamluks of Egypt and rose up to fight a Holy War against the ''impious" domination of the Mongols. Now the aggressive spirit of jihad, resuscitated by the victor over the Mongols, Sultan Baybars of Egypt, appeared to generate within Anatolia intense enthusiasm for the battle against the Mongols, especially among the frontier Turcomans Hard pressed by the Mongol forces, the most warlike and mobile elements of the frontier Turcomans moved further west and south and directed their energies for Holy War in raids (ghaza) against the inadequately protected territories of Byzantium in western Anatolia and in Lesser Armenia in Cilicia. In order to establish direct Mongol control in Seljukid Anatolia, fresh Mongol forces, actually whole tribes, were sent to settle there after 1277, again mostly in the Amasya-Tokat region. By the end of the thirteenth century these forces amounted to five tumen's (50,000 men) and several ming's (one ming was 1,000 men).

The civil war in the llkhanid Empire (1291-1295) and a series of rebellions on the part of several Mongol military governors in Anatolia (Tughachar and Baltu in 1297; Sulemish in 1298-99) with the ensuing repressions resulted in the immigration of more Turcomans and, now, of certain Mongol tribes as well, putting further pressure on the frontier During this period the expansion of the Turcoman tribes toward the lower Sangarius (Sakarya) River and their relentless raids into the Byzantine province of Mesothynion (the peninsula of Nicomedia) were recorded by the contemporary historian Pachymeres. He related all this to the disorders which took place in the Paphlagonian frontier area between the Sangarius River and Kastamoni, a state of affairs which led to Mongol interference. Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman state, is mentioned for the first time in Byzantine sources as the leader of these vigorous raids by Turcomans into the Byzantine territory at the most advanced section of the frontier at the turn of the fourteenth century.

The weakening of Mongol power in Iran under Abu-Said (1317-1335) did not abate the volatile struggle in Asia Minor, as the Mongol governor, Timurtash (1318-1327), in command of strong forces in central Anatolia, now tried to gain actual independence by strengthening his control over the border areas. It should be added that Timurtash also adopted the Islamic Holy War ideology and even approached the Mamluks in an effort to overshadow the Turcoman ghazi leaders who had gained such great prestige in Asia Minor through their exploits against the Byzantines. Timurtash was particularly harsh in dealing with the begs who had, by now, established viable principalities in the former Seljukid frontier region. As to the newly established ghazi principalities of western Anatolia, they remained mostly beyond Timurtash's reach; and now, more than ever before, they directed their actions toward the Byzantine lands on the coasts. The period of 1291-1330 was indeed a crucial one for the Turkish expansion into the Aegean world.

In about 1330, Al-'Umari's two sources estimated that the sixteen Turcoman principalities established by that time could mobilize over half-a-million cavalrymen -- the figure given by Balaban the Genoes -- or over a quarter-of-a-million -- according to Haydar al-Uryan.'' In addition, they mentioned an unspecified number of infantry. The figures were obviously greatly exaggerated. However, if we remember that the majority of these forces consisted of Turcoman tribesmen, the figure given for each individual principality can be interpreted as the relative number of fighting tribesmen dependent upon a particular lord or ruler. It is noteworthy that the highest figures in these accounts were given for the Mentese-oghlu (100,000 in Caria), the Aydin-oghlu (70,000 in lonia), the Osman-oghlu (Ottomans -- 40,000 in Bythinia), the Karasi-oghlu (over 40,000 in Mysia), and the Sarukhan-oghlu (18,000 in Lydia) -- all of whom were operating in the area captured from the Byzantines in western Anatolia between 1260 and 1330.

To sum up, a new Turkey with great demographic potential and a heightened Holy War ideology, was emerging in the old Seljukid frontier zone east of a line from the mouth of the Dalaman (Indos) River to that of the Sakarya (Sangarius). A thrust by this explosive frontier society against the neighboring Byzantine territory in western Anatolia and in the Balkans was almost inevitable. The expansion was accomplished in the following stages: (I) it began with the seasonal movements of Turcoman nomadic groups into the Byzantine coastal plains; (2) it was intensified by the organization of small raiding groups under ghazi leaders, mostly of tribal ongin, for booty raids or for employment as mercenaries; (3) it continued with the emergence of successful leaders capable of bringing together under their clientship local chiefs to conguer and then establish beyliks (principalities) in conquered lands on the model of the principalities founded in the old Seljukid frontier zone; and finally (4) with the involvement of these ghazi-beyliks, with their definite political and economic aims, in the regional struggle for supremacy in the Aegean and in the Balkans, the previously undirected thrusts of the war bands became focused on new goals.


The Formation of Ghazi-Mercenary Bands


As a result of economic pressure in the predominantly nomadic society of the frontier, the pursuit of economic activities supplementary to stock raising was seen to occur before the period of large scale settlement. Lumbering and carpet making became specializations among the nomads of the southern and western parts of the area, as the market for these commodities expanded in Egypt. In fact, carpets, lumber, and other forest products such as nut-gall later on would constitute the main export items of the ports of Antalya (Satalia), Alaiye (Candelore), Finike, Balat (Palatia), and Ayasoluk (Altoluogo) under the Turcoman principalities.

The slave trade, with the growing demand from the large markets in Asia Minor, Iran, and in the Arab lands and the generally rising price of slaves during this period, appears to have had far reaching consequences for the frontier society. Enslavement of the neighboring "infidels" became a most profitable business as well as a ''pious" act. Thus it was that between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries the Turkish chronicles and the "gesta e vitae" literature, as well as Christian sources, placed great emphasis on the enslaving activity of the ghazis. The continuous raiding for slaves and the opportunity for employment as mercenaries appears to have brought about a specialization and social differentiation in the Turcoman frontier society.

Even if it is not to be taken as a truly historical account, the Ottoman tradition on the origins and rise of Osman Ghazi is of particular interest, for it aids one in understanding how, in a Turcoman clan of pastoral nomads, a ghazi can emerge to create a subordinate band of mounted warriors and comrades (noker or yoldash) constantly occupied with raiding the lands of the ''infidel''. The distinction and the dominant position of the war leader in the clan was further enhanced by the "coming under his flag" of ever increasing numbers of gharibs (rootless wanderers of various origins). These were always warmly welcomed by the leader and became "his people," his clients, personally attached to him and called by his name: Aydinli, Sarukhanlu, Osmanli, or Mihallu. The process entailed a dissolution of tribal kinship ties, with the exception of those of the leader's family, who kept and consolidated their privileges within the peculiar pattern of agnate kinship. The Holy War ideology, as much as the success of the actual raids, reinforced ties within the band to produce a cohesive social group centered around the leader. Consequently, dervishes embodying the ghaza ideology and bringing to the leader's authority the spiritual sanction of Islam were ever present within the frontier society. In actual fact, the pattern of the change was a very old one, dating back to the Central Asian Turks. What happened in the second half of the thirteenth century was an unprecedented extension of the process, apparently as a result of population pressure, coupled with the central government's loss of control over these Turcomans and with the collapse of the Byzantine defenses in western Anatolia. Now Turcoman war bands occupied themselves as mercenary companies in the service of the Christian governments throughout the Balkans as well as in staging booty raids.

The increase in horse breeding in the udj areas can be considered both cause and effect of this transformation. The territory where the Turcomans had their yurt were congenial to horse breeding, and horse breeding in Anatolia showed considerable development during this period. Horse prices were quite low; and as the fame of Anatolian Turcoman horses spread, they came to be in great demand in neighboring countries. Until the mid-sixteenth century, horsemanship, along with peculiar Turco-Mongol tactics, constituted the basic military advantage of the Turcoman and Ottoman troups facing western armies. Infantry continued to exist, its ranks filled by soldiers drafted from among the Muslim reaya (the tax paying subjects) in the early Turcoman principalities as well as in the early Ottoman state; but cavalry (sipahi), was the foundation of the military elite, and Cavalrymen enjoyed full membership in the ruling class; riding was considered a privilege, and was denied to the ordinary reaya in these societies.

The role, at this early stage, of the tribal war bands as mercenary companies, occasionally referred to as boluk in Turkish, must be emphasized. At this time, Turkish mercenaries were generally eastern Mediterranean -- just as were the Almogavars in the western Mediterranean. By 1300 the decline of the fief-holding feudal cavalry had become universal throughout the Mediterranean world. The governments in Italy and in the Balkans had by now learned from experience that the hiring of mercenary companies was by far the most preferable course open to them. In the Balkans the governments even competed against each other to attract the Turcoman mercenary companies, who, for their part, were often satisfied with mere booty, especially in the form of slaves. These companies were considered militarily the most efficient not only because of the superiority of their weapon, the famous Turkish bow, but also because of their unique organization and their proved professionalism, the product of long experience in fighting together. It seams that the Byzantine government under Andronicus II was justified in trying to recover (through extraordinary impositions on the fiefs) the state revenues accumulated in the hands of the provincial gentry, who proved to be no longer militarily efficient. By such means the government was believed to have accumulated funds sufficient to hire the mercenary companies of Alans, Kipchaks, Turks, or Catalan-Almogavars.

As an alternative to the ghaza raid, the opportunity for overseas employment with the prospect of taking rich booty must have encourage the formation of more and more mercenary boluks among the frontier Turcomans. Once such a company came into being, it had to continue as such. Grim experiences in overseas Christian countries, sometimes ending in terrible massacres, taught them the advantages of assembling in still larger groups, as a kind of confederation, under an able leader. This evolution led to the emergence of the begs, the founders of the frontier principalities. The detailed account of Umur Ghazi's activities provides a clear picture of this process. The cooperation of Turkish boluks with the Catalan company in Thrace and Greece between 1305 and 1311 should also be viewed as a result of it. But the larger the groups, the greater the difficulty of finding adequate provisions through simple pillage within a limited circuit of The mercenaries were indispensable to the governments employing them during the first half of the fourteenth century. But their ever-present inclination toward pillage, their readiness to change sides when promised better conditions -- all natural features of the mercenary institution -- made instability a predominant feature of international politics in the 8alkans during this period. There was a parallel situation in Italy during the same period of great mercenary use, 1320 to 1380. Attempts to use feudal forces or militia against the mercenaries invariably ended in pitiful defeat. For example, a sizeable Turkish mercenary force of 5,000 men hired by Michael Palaeologus to fight against the Franks of the Morea first won him success; but when they changed sides in 1264, the Franks gained the upper hand. Along with other freebooters, Turks were also enrolled during this period in the Byzantine navy.

In the critical years of the Turkish advance in western Anatolia, the Byzantine government hastened first to hire the Alan mercenaries, 7,000 in number, who were seeking employment after the execution of Nogay in 1299; the famous Catalan company was hired in 1304. Although pledging to fight for the Cross or for Islam, Catalan and Turkish mercenaries easily came to terms among themselves about pursuit of their common interests. More than once the Byzantine government (and later on Cantacuzenus), weakened and financially strapped by decentralizing forces, tried to satisfy the mercenaries in their service by directing them to pillage in unfriendly neighboring countries: not only Bulgaria and Serbia, but also the Greek lands which were thought to be rebellious. Cantacuzenus considered it to be, even for the Byzantine state itself, a privilege and a piece of good fortune to secure the continued support of Turkish forces from Anatolia -- as long as they remained uninterested in conquest or settlement in the Balkans.

At this juncture, Turkish groups acting as ghazi raiding parties or mercenary companies had joined together and come under the command of powerful leaders such as Umur Ghazi of the Aydin dynasty and Orkhan and his son Suleyman Pasa of the Ottoman house; and only through these leaders could the Byzantines hope to acquire sizeable mercenary aid from Anatolia. These Turkish begs were thus the real beneficiaries of "their services as loyal friends of the Byzantines" (to put it in the terms of the Byzantine sources). Through alliance with the Byzantines, the Turcoman begs could provide employment and booty for the ever-growing number of ghazis gathering under their flags to raid on an increasingly larger scale in the Balkans. Umur was not interested in either conquest or settlement on overseas lands. However, Suleyman Pasa found conditions favorable for such policies, and in 1352 he declared his epoch-making decision to change direction by occupying Tzympe, a bridgehead on the European side of the Dardanelles.

Prof. Dr. Halil Inalcik, "The Question of the Emergence of the Ottoman State" in International Journal of Turkish Studies, vol. II, 1980, pp. 71-79.


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