What’s the Ottoman Empire?

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The Ottoman Empire was a powerful state that lasted from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. It began as a small state in Asia Minor and grew to control parts of Europe and Africa. Its greatest ruler was Suleiman the Magnificent, who brought the empire to its peak. However, the empire suffered defeats and lost territories, leading to its eventual dissolution after World War I. Turkey inherited the Ottoman tradition but not its territory.

The Ottoman Empire was a sprawling political and military entity that arose in the late Middle Ages and survived into the 20th century. The empire’s achievements include excellence in art and culture, autocratic brilliance, and a large handful of initial military victories, and eventual defeats towards the end of its reign.
The Ottoman Turks were initially a small state, one of the few successors of the Seljuk Turks, which flourished in Asia Minor in the early Middle Ages. In the 15th century, the Ottomans began consolidating their hold over Asia Minor. One of the first great successes of the empire was the capture of Constantinople, in 1500. This victory has been called a monumental achievement by many world historians, and it certainly marked the death knell of the western occupation of the former Byzantine capital.

The next century saw the rise of the Ottoman Empire’s most famous ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent. His long reign was punctuated by a series of brilliant victories, which gave the Ottomans control of large parts of Egypt and Balkan territory, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldavia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. It was Suleyman who installed a judicial system that lasted until the fall of the empire. It was also during his reign that the great Ottoman tradition of fine arts, architecture and literature began its ascent. Suleyman renamed Constantinople after Istanbul and had some of the most breathtaking buildings and paintings in the world created.

Suleyman’s reign, however, was the high point of the empire. Not long after his death, the Ottoman forces were defeated in the great naval battle of Lepanto by a combined Spanish and Venetian force. A progressive series of European victories followed, steadily dividing the territory into smaller and smaller pieces. A particularly annoying blow was the loss of Greece in the early 19th century.

Egypt also gained independence, as did Hungary, Moldova and large parts of Serbia. Various wars with Russia during this period included the Crimean War which also involved other major European powers. Bosnia and Herzegovina left the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century. The rest of the Balkan territories followed, only to be overwhelmed by the expanding dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary soon after the turn of the next century.

The last of the European possessions disappeared in the Balkan wars of 1912-1913. The following year, World War I began. During this struggle, the Ottomans were aligned with the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The only bright spot for the empire in this war was the victory in the Gallipoli campaign. When the Central Powers were defeated and the war ended, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. The once proud and expansive empire had become a collection of separate countries, including Turkey. Turkey has inherited the tradition of the empire, if not its territory.

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