Ottoman Empire

During the second Mongol invasion, Tamerlane had met and very nearly annihilated another rising power: the Ottomans. Under a minor chieftain named Othman, groups of Turkish-speaking peoples in Anatolia were united in the Ottoman confederation which, by the second half of the fourteenth century, had conquered much of present-day Greece and Turkey and was threatening Constantinople. The Ottoman state was born on the frontier between Islam and the Byzantine Empire. Turkish tribes, driven from their homeland in the steppes of Central Asia by the Mongols, had embraced Islam and settled in Anatolia on the battle lines of the Islamic world, where they formed the Ottoman confederation. They were called ghazis, warriors for the faith, and their highest ambition was to die in battle for their adopted religion. In addition to their military abilities the Turks seem to have been endowed with a special talent for organization. Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, this talent fossilized into bureaucracy – and a moribund bureaucracy at that. But at the beginning, when its institutions were responsive to the needs of the people and the state, the Ottoman Empire was a model of administrative efficiency. This, together with a series of brilliant sultans – culminating in the redoubtable Suleiman the Magnificent – established the foundations of an empire that at its height was comparable to that of the Romans. The first important step in the establishment of this empire was taken in 1326 when the Ottoman leader Orhan captured the town of Bursa, south of the Sea of Marmara, and made it his capital. It was probably during the reign of Orhan that the famous institution of the Janissaries, a word derived from the Turkish yeni cheri (“new troops”), was formed. An elite corps of slave soldiers conscripted from the subject population of the empire, they were carefully selected on the basis of physique and intelligence, educated, trained, introduced to Islam, and formed into one of the most formidable military corps ever known. At a later period the Janissaries became so powerful that they made and unmade sultans at their will, and membership in the corps was a sure road to advancement. Orhan’s successor, Murad I, who launched naval attacks upon the Aegean coasts of Europe, established himself on the European shores of the Bosporus, and crushed a Balkan coalition. The next Ottoman leader was Bayazid I, who besieged Constantinople and routed the armies dispatched by an alarmed Europe to raise the siege. It was at this point in history that Tamerlane and his Mongols advanced into Anatolia and very nearly crushed the Ottomans forever. They recovered, however, and later, under the leadership of a new sultan, Murad II, besieged Constantinople for...