Osman I

The Ottomans were nomadic Muslim Turks from central Asia who had been converted to Islam by Umayyad conquerors in the eighth century. Led by Uthman, an Uzbek of the Ottoman clan, they founded a principality in 1300 amid the ruins of the Mongolwrecked Seljuk Empire in northwest Turkey. Fifty years later Uthman's successors invaded Europe. They conquered Constantinople in 1453 and in the sixteenth century conquered all of the Middle East. From 1300 to 1916, when the empire fell, 36 sultans, all descendants of Uthman, ruled most of the Muslim world. Europeans referred to the Ottoman throne as the Sublime Porte, a name derived from a gate of the sultan's palace in Istanbul. [Source: Thomas Collelo, ed. Syria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1987]

The Ottoman Turks were named after Uthman or Osman I, their first sultan and leader (Ottoman is an English transformation of Osmanli, which means sons of Osman) They originated from Central Asia and conquered their way across Anatolia after the Seljuk empire declined.

The Ottoman Turks ended the 1,123 year and 18 days reign of the Byzantine Empire in 1452 when they transported ships over a hill and breached Constantinople's "impregnable" fortress walls. The Ottomans changed the name of the city to Istanbul, which continued to be the great crossroads for trade between east and west and a source of wealth for the masters of this trade.

To claim their vast territory the Ottoman armies defeated Hungarians, Serbs and Bulgars in Eastern Europe; Mamelukes and Arabs in Egypt and the Holy Land; and Persians in Iraq and Syria. The Ottomans fought with Russia on several occasions and attacked Vienna twice (1529 and 1683). They came close to conquering Vienna in 1529, fueling the fear of terrible Turks in Europe, and were kept out of Spain in the famous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571.

Books The Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross and The Ottomans by Andrew Wheatcroft. .

Ottoman Empire

Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923int
Expansion of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman empire lasted for almost 500 years. At its height in the 15th century it was the greatest power in the world, encompassing the Middle East, the Mediterranean and much of Eastern Europe. The terrible Turks were feared in Europe for their cruelty, but the things they did were no worse than what their western counterparts did, and in many ways the Ottoman sultans ruled more judiciously, and with a higher degree of religious tolerance, than European monarchs.

The Ottoman Empire was an empire inspired and sustained by Islamic institutions. Replacing the Byzantine Empire as the major power in the Eastern Mediterranean, it was the one of the largest and longest lasting Empires in history. According to the BBC: “The Ottoman Empire reached its height under Suleiman the Magnificent (reigned 1520-66), when it expanded to cover the Balkans and Hungary, and reached the gates of Vienna. The Empire began to decline after being defeated at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and losing almost its entire navy. It declined further during the next centuries, and was effectively finished off by the First World War and the Balkan Wars. One legacy of the Islamic Ottoman Empire is the robust secularism of modern Turkey. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 ]

Twenty modern nations were subjugated by the empire, and they including present-day Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia , Yemen, Syria., Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. It also embraced the great cities of Athens, Budapest, Belgrade, Sarejevo, Bucharest, Sofia, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Mecca, Cairo, Alexandria and Tunis.

The Ottoman were rivals of the Safavid Empire in Iran and contemporaries of Moghuls in India. They rose to power at a time when nations states were taking shape and Protestants were challenging Catholics in Europe and the Age of Discovery in the New World was just beginning.

Most of the territory occupied by the Ottomans was seized within a 100 years before and after conquest of Constantinople. The Ottomans held most of this territory for over 400 years and some it as long as 600 years. The Ottomans were able to hold onto power for so long because their hold on the lands they conquered ran deep. They rose slowly, taking more than a hundred years to seize Constantinople, and thus were firmly grounded when their moment came.

Ottoman Rulers

Ottoman sultans

Ottoman: 680–1342: 1281–1924
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Ertugrul: ca. 679–80: ca. 1280–81
Osman: 680–724: 1281–1324
Orhan: 724–61: 1324–60
Murad I: 761–91: 1360–89
Bayezid I: 791–805: 1389–1403
[Interregnum: 805–16: 1403–13]
Mehmet I Chelebi: 816–24: 1413–21
Murad II (1st reign): 824–48: 1421–44
Mehmet II Fatih (1st reign): 848–50: 1444–46
Murad II (2nd reign): 850–55: 1446–51
Mehmet II Fatih (2nd reign): 855–86: 1451–81
Bayezid II: 886–918: 1481–1512
Selim I Yavuz: 918–26: 1512–20
Süleyman I Kanuni: 926–74: 1520–66
Selim II: 974–82: 1566–74
Murad III: 982–1003: 1575–95
Mehmet III: 1003–12: 1595–1603
Ahmed I: 1012–26: 1603–17
Mustafa I (1st reign): 1026–27: 1617–18
Osman II: 1027–31: 1618–22
Mustafa I (2nd reign): 1031–32: 1622–23
Murad IV: 1032–49: 1623–40
Ibrahim: 1049–58: 1640–48
Mehmet IV: 1058–99: 1648–87

Süleyman II: 1099–1102: 1687–91
Ahmed II: 1102–6: 1691–95
Mustafa II: 1106–15: 1695–1703
Ahmed III: 1115–43: 1703–30
Mahmud I: 1143–68: 1730–54
Osman III: 1168–71: 1754–57
Mustafa III: 1171–87: 1757–74
cAbdülhamid I: 1187–1203: 1774–89
Selim III: 1203–22: 1789–1807
Mustafa IV: 1222–23: 1807–8
Mahmud II: 1223–55: 1808–39
cAbdülmecid I: 1255–77: 1839–61
cAbdüleziz: 1277–93: 1861–76
Murad V: 1293: 1876
cAbdülhamid II: 1293–1327: 1876–1909
Mehmet V Reshad: 1327–36: 1909–18
Mehmet VI: 1336–41: 1918–22
[Source: Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art]

cAbdülmecid II (caliph only): 1341–42: 1922–24
Kšprülü Wazirs: 1066–1122: 1656–1710
Mehmet Pasha: 1066–72: 1656–61
Fazil Ahmed Pasha: 1072–87: 1661–76
Kara Mustafa Pasha (by marriage): 1087–95: 1676–83
Fazil Mustafa Pasha: 1101–2: 1689–91
Hüseyin Pasha: 1109–14: 1697–1702
Nucman Pasha: 1122: 1710

Early History of the Ottoman Turks

The Ottoman dynasty began as one of several small semi-autonomous Turkish principalities that were created when the Seljuk Turks took over much of Central Asia and Anatolia. It endured under the Mongols.

Documentation of the early history of the Ottomans is scarce. According to semilegendary accounts, Ertugrul, khan of the Kayi tribe of the Oguz Turks, took service with the sultan of Rum at the head of a gazi force numbering "400 tents." Gazis were tribal bands of Turkish horsemen, He was granted territory--if he could seize and hold it--in Bithynia, facing the Byzantine strongholds at Bursa, Nicomedia (Izmit), and Nicaea. Leadership subsequently passed to Ertugrul's son, Osman I (r. ca. 1284-1324), founder of the Osmanli Dynasty--better known in the West as the Ottomans. This dynasty was to endure for six centuries through the reigns of thirty-six sultans. [Source: Library of Congress, January 1995 *]

Osman I’s small state was in northwestern Anatolia, near the shifting frontier of the Byzantine Empire. It had good pastures and agriculture land and was in the middle of important Silk Road trades routes, which allowed him to generate enough wealth to pay a sizable army.

Ottoman Turks Rise to Power Under Osman I

Osman rallies the Turks

Osman I (born 1258, ruled 1290-1326) unified Anatolian Turkish warriors into militaristic state and founded the Ottoman dynasty at a time when the Mongol states had collapsed, Anatolia was divided into small, independent ghazi states and these states were challenging a weak Byzantine empire.

Osman I was born to a chief of a pagan Turkish tribe in western Anatolia in 1258. At the time of his birth his family, the Osmanlis, controlled one the smallest ghazi states in Anatolia. He strengthened his army and his state by hiring out his army as mercenaries in civil wars and accepting conquered territory as payment.

Osman I mobilized a force of mostly Turkish tribes and mercenaries and waged holy war against Byzantium and Balkan Christians. After a siege on Constantinople in 1314 failed, Osman decided that rather then battling the Byzantines directly, the Turks would takeover land the Byzantines could no longer control. Osman I captured Bursa (1326) and Iznik (1329) from the Byzantines. Bursa became the first Ottoman capital.

Osman I's small amirate attracted gazis from other amirates, who required plunder from new conquests to maintain their way of life. Such growth gave the Ottoman state a military stature that was out of proportion to its size. Acquiring the title of sultan, Osman I organized a politically centralized administration that subordinated the activities of the gazis to its needs and facilitated rapid territorial expansion. Bursa fell in the final year of his reign.

Ottomans in Bursa

After Baghdad fell to the Mongols, the Seljuk Turks declared an independent Sultanate in east and central Asia Minor. In 1301, Uthman overthrew the Seljuk aristocracy and proclaimed himself the Sultan of Asia Minor. At first the rule of the Ottoman Sultans was insecure. To consolidate their Empire the Ottoman Sultans formed groups of fanatical fighters - the orders of the Janissaries, a crack infantry group of slaves and Christian converts to Islam. The Ottomans inflicted a series of defeats on the declining Christian Byzantine Empire and then quickly expanded westward. |::|

Bursa and Cumalıkızık, about 200 kilometers from Istanbul (Constantinople) is regarded as the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire. According to UNESCO: “Located on the slopes of Uludağ Mountain in the southern Marmara region of the north-western part of Turkey, Bursa and the nearby village Cumalıkızık represent the creation of an urban and rural system establishing the first capital city of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan’s seat in the early 14th century. In the empire’s establishment process, Bursa became the first city, which was shaped by kulliyes, in the context of waqf (public endowments) system determining the expansion of the city and its architectural and stylistic traditions. [Source: UNESCO *=*]

Area controlled by Osman I

“The site illustrates the creation of an urban and rural system establishing the Ottoman Empire and embodies the key functions of the social and economic organization of the new capital which evolved around a civic centre. These include commercial districts of khans, kulliyes (religious institutions) integrating mosques, religious schools, public baths and a kitchen for the poor, as well as the tomb of Orhan Ghazi, founder of the Ottoman dynasty. One component outside the historic centre of Bursa is the village of Cumalıkızık, the only rural village of this system to show the provision of hinterland support for the capital. *=*

“The specific development of the city emerged from five focal points, mostly on hills, where the five sultans (Orhan Ghazi, Murad I, Yıldırım Bayezid, Çelebi Mehmed, Murad II) established public kulliyes consisting of mosques, madrasahs (school), hamams (public baths), imarets (public kitchens) and tombs . These kulliyes, featuring as centres with social, cultural, religious and educational functions, determined the boundaries of the city. Houses were constructed near the kulliyes, turning into neighborhoods surrounding the kulliyes within the course of time. Kulliyes were also related with rural areas due to the waqf system. For example, the aim of Cumalıkızık as a waqf village, meaning that it permanently belonged to an institution (a kulliye), was to provide income for Orhan Ghazi Kulliye, as stated in historical documents. *=*

“The exceptional city planning methodology is expressed in the relationship of the five sultan kulliyes, one of which constitutes the core of the city’s commercial centre, and Cumalıkızık which is the best preserved waqf village in Bursa. This methodology developed during the foundation of the first Ottoman capital in early 14th century and expanded until the middle of the 15th century. *=*

Ottomans Grow in Power

Osman’s descendants expanded into western Asia, eastern Europe and northern Africa and established a powerful state based on nomadic customs brought with them from the Central Asia steppes. As time went by they established institutions in the traditional Middle Eastern empires based on what they learned from the people they conquered.

The Ottomans were generally welcomed by the former Byzantine subjects, who suffered as the Byzantine empire declined and was disarray. The Ottomans brought stability, revived the economy and coverted many former Christians to Islam.

Turks in the 16th century Codice Casanatense

The Ottomans took much of Anatolia and the Balkans before they conquered Constantinople. Over a 120 period in the 14th and 15th centuries they gobbled up territory to the north and south of Constantinople, surrounding it and sealing it off from Europe. By the end of the 14th century the Ottomans controlled much of Anatolia an what is now Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.

Osman’s successor, Orhan (r. 1324-60), crossed the Dardanelles in force and established a permanent European base at Gallipoli in 1354. Murad I (r. 1360-89) annexed most of Thrace (called Rumelia, or "Roman land," by the Turks), encircling Constantinople, and moved the seat of Ottoman government to Adrianople (Edirne) in Europe. In 1389 the Ottoman gazis defeated the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo, although at the cost of Murad's life. The steady stream of Ottoman victories in the Balkans continued under Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402). Bulgaria was subdued in 1393, and in 1396 a French-led force of crusaders that had crossed the Danube from Hungary was annihilated at Nicopolis.*

Ottoman success was attributed to their military skill, dissatisfaction among the local people with their previous rulers, and the devastating effect of the plague and drought in the 14th century when some cities in the Middle East lost a third of their population to a single epidemic of the Black Death.

Tamerland Crushes the Ottomans

Europe was given a respite from Turkish threats and the Ottomans suffered a major setback , when Tamerlane swept in Anatolia from Samarkand in Central Asia. Tamerlane's great achievement was the conquest of much of Asia Minor from the Turkish Empire through the defeat and capture of the Ottoman sultan Bajazet I.

Tamerlane crushed the Ottomans at Angora in 1402 and captured the Bajazet I and carried him away in chains. The unfortunate sultan died in captivity the next year, leaving four heirs, who for a decade competed for control of what remained of Ottoman Anatolia. He advanced as far west as the Aegean port of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey), where he captured a crusader castle and massacred all of its defenders. The Byzantine palace gates of the Ottoman capital of Bursa were carried off to Samarkand, where they were much admired by Clavijo.


Before the Tamerlane conquest, a, Ottoman policy had been directed toward consolidating the sultan's hold over the gazi amirates by means of conquest, usurpation, and purchase. Many Turkish gazis had defected to Tamerlane’s side. By the 1420s, however, Ottoman power had revived to the extent that fresh campaigns were undertaken in Greece. When Tamerlane died, the Ottomans under Murat II (ruled 1421-51) regained much of their lost territory, plus some taken by Tamerlane.

Creation of the Ottoman Empire

Suzan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “At the time of its foundation in the early fourteenth century, the Osmanli or Ottoman state was one among many small principalities that emerged as a result of the disintegration of the Seljuk sultanate in Anatolia and subsequent instability caused by Mongol rule. This embryonic Ottoman state, located on the frontiers of the Islamic world, gradually absorbed former Byzantine territories in Anatolia and the Balkans. In 1453, this expansion culminated in the Ottoman capture of Constantinople, the great capital of Eastern Christendom. With the conquest of the Mamluk empire in 1517, the Ottomans ruled over the most powerful state in the Islamic world. By the middle of the sixteenth century, continued military success in an area extending from Central Europe to the Indian Ocean gave the Ottomans the status of a world power. [Source: Suzan Yalman, Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, based on original work by Linda Komaroff\^/]

Troops of the Osmanli Dynasty, which gave its name to the Ottoman Empire, moved rapidly into southeastern Europe, defeating Serbian forces at the battle of Kosovo in 1389. Although they were temporarily halted when the Mongol forces of Timur occupied part of Anatolia in the early fifteenth century, in 1453 Ottoman forces captured Constantinople, the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans renamed Constantinople Istanbul and made it the capital of a new empire and the seat of Sunni Islam as well as Greek Orthodoxy. Under Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66), the empire expanded across North Africa to Morocco, farther into southeastern Europe, and across the Middle Eastern regions of Kurdistan and Mesopotamia. However, after Süleyman’s death the empire began showing signs of decay. The Ottoman navy lost the key Battle of Lepanto to Spanish and Portuguese forces in 1571, and succession struggles shook Istanbul. [Source: Library of Congress, 2008 *]

Early Sultans

Orhan I (ruled from 1326 to 1359) was Osman I’s son. He expanded Ottoman territory to the Aegean Coast and gained a foothold on the European side of the Dardanelles after striking a deal with the Byzantines. He built up his army by exacting tribute from his Christian subjects in the form of children. The best and brightest of these children were trained to be soldiers and bureaucrats and became known as the Janissaries.

Murat I (ruled 1359-89) was Orhan I’s son. He conquered Thrace, and moved the capital to Edirne in By 1372, the most what was left of the Byzantine empire was in Ottoman hands and the Byzantine Emperor was a dependant ally, In 1389 he defeated the Serbs in the famous battle in Kosovo but died fighting. The Serbian Prince Hrelbeljanovic Lazar was captured and executed, The defeat marked the end of independent Serbia. To this day the Serbs revere Prince Lazar as a martyr and have never forgiven the Turks.

Mehmet the Conqueror

Mehmet II (Mehmet the Conqueror) by by Paolo Veronese

Mehmet II (ruled 1451-81) became known as Mehmet the Conqueror because he was able to conquer the crown jewel of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople. He was the sixth Ottoman sultan and is credited with elevated the Ottoman sultanate to empire status. and expanding this empire by conquering Serbia and adding Bosnia, Albania (1486) and most of Greece (1499). He was unable to defeat Hungary, defended by it great hero Janos Hunyady.

Mehmet the Conqueror became sultan when he was in his teens. The first thing he did when he became sultan was strangle his baby brother, viewed as a threat t his power. Mehmet was only 21 when he began his campaign to capture Constantinople, which was largely a success because he mastered the use of gunpowder weapons and had the support of Balkan nobles, many of whom had converted to Islam.

Mehmet took “Roman Caesar” as one of his titles and made Constantinople the capita of the Ottoman Empire. Claiming Alexander the Great as his model, he ordered courtiers to read parts of Alexander’s biography to him everyday.

In a famous portrait painted by Gentile Bellini, Mehmet has a long slender nose and deep piercing eyes. He spoke Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Persian and Hebrew fluently and studied Christianity and reportedly even considered converting to the religion, which, if he did, would have had a profound impact on world history.

Ottoman’s Capture Constantinople

Aside from scattered outposts in Greece, all that remained of the Byzantine Empire was its capital, Constantinople. Cut off by land since 1365, the city, despite long periods of truce with the Turks, was supplied and reinforced by Venetian traders who controlled its commerce by sea. On becoming sultan in 1444, Mehmet II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81) immediately set out to conquer the city. The military campaigning season of 1453 commenced with the fifty-day siege of Constantinople, during which Mehmet II brought warships overland on greased runners into the Bosporus inlet known as the Golden Horn to bypass the chain barrage and fortresses that had blocked the entrance to Constantinople's harbor. On May 29, the Turks fought their way through the gates of the city and brought the siege to a successful conclusion. [Source: Library of Congress *]

As an isolated military action, the taking of Constantinople did not have a critical effect on European security, but to the Ottoman Dynasty the capture of the imperial capital was of supreme symbolic importance. Mehmet II regarded himself as the direct successor to the Byzantine emperors. He made Constantinople the imperial capital, as it had been under the Byzantine emperors, and set about rebuilding the city. The cathedral of Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque, and Constantinople--which the Turks called Istanbul (from the Greek phrase eis tin polin , "to the city")--replaced Baghdad as the center of Sunni Islam. The city also remained the ecclesiastical center of the Greek Orthodox Church, of which Mehmet II proclaimed himself the protector and for which he appointed a new patriarch after the custom of the Byzantine emperors.*

According to the BBC: “Constantinople was the heart of the Byzantine Empire. It became the capital of the Ottoman Empire when it was conquered in 1453 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II. Mehmet slaughtered many of the population and forced the rest into exile, later repopulating the city by importing people from elsewhere in Ottoman territory. Mehmet renamed Constantinople Istanbul – the 'city of Islam' - and set about rebuilding it, both physically and politically, as his capital. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

“When Sultan Mehmet II rode into the city of Constantinople on a white horse in 1453, it marked the end of a thousand years of the Byzantine Empire. Earlier attempts to capture the city had largely failed - so why did the Ottomans succeed this time? What effect did the fall of Constantinople have on the rest of the Christian world?”

Attempts by the Turks to Take Constantinople

Abdullah Bin Bashar Al Khath`amy said his father heard the Prophet Muhammad say: "You will liberate Constantinople, blessed is the Amir who is its Amir, and blessed is the army, that army." Muhammad El-Halaby wrote: “A few words which issued from the Imam of the Muslim nation with respect to the promise from the Allah, All Glory to Him, at the tongue of His messenger (s.a.w.) which made the Muslim lieutenants in different times to compete with pounding hearts to liberate this city so that they can achieve the honour of the above description which Allah has blessed them with at the tongue of His messenger.” [Source: Br.Muhammad El-Halaby, Eulogy of Istanbul, from “The Counsels of Nabi Efendi to his Son Aboul Khair”]

Mehmet I prepares to attack Constantinople

Muhammad El-Halaby wrote: “The first to besiege Constantinople was Mu'awiya son of Abi Sufyan during the Khilafa of 'Ali bin Abi Taleb (May Allah be pleased with him) in the year 34 (ah), he was followed by his son Yazid in 47 (ah) then Sufyan Bin Aws in 52 (ah) who was in turn followed by Salma during the Khilafa of 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul 'Aziz in the year 97 (ah). It was also besieged during the Khilafa of Hisham Ibn 'Abdul Malik in 121 (ah) and the last siege was during the Khilafa of Haroun Al Rashid may Allah have mercy on him in 182 (ah). [Source: Muhammad El-Halaby, “The Liberation/Fall of Constantinople 1453,” Internet Archive, from ><]

“The sieges stopped when the Islamic government began to weaken and split and became preoccupied with its enemies internally and externally until the arrival of the 'Uthmany sultans who took turns in besieging it one after the other with no result, until the blessed general came who deserved the description of the messenger (s.a.w.), this happened approximately eight centuries after the first siege. This was on the 16th of Rabee' Al Awwal in 857 (ah) when the 'Uthmany sultan Muhammad Al Fateh May Allah have mercy with him moved against the city walls with his army of 150,000 Mujahideen who were very keen to achieve the great honour of accomplishing the blessed promise. ><

“However, they did not rely solely on the promise, they also underwent a complete preparation to achieve the victory. The historian Ismail Hami Danshbund, a contemporary of the sultan Muhammad Alfateh narrates: "The sultan would spend long hours every night since ascending the throne, studying the plans of the city, looking for strategic points of defence and attempting to find weak points which he could benefit from and to work on the appropriate plan to attack these points. In addition to this, the Sultan had committed to memory all the previous attempts to liberate the city, the names of their leaders, and the reasons for their failure... He would continue to discuss with his lieutenants and generals what is required for the final attack. He also ordered the engineers to build what is required to facilitate the liberation. They built large cannons which would traject numerous heavy metal balls and bombs weighing as much as three tonnes. In addition to the other heavy artillery which the sultan built himself which were used for the first time in the attack on Constantinople; which had a great effect in the liberation of the city. That was from the material end, however, on the morale end, he took with him many contemporary scholars and Imams who held authority such as Sheikh Alqourany, and Sheikh Khisrawi, who would motivate the soldiers and drive them towards Jihad... As for his enemies, as soon as he reached the walls of the Constantinople, he ordered the call of Azan for Jum`a and commenced prayer. When the Byzantines saw the hundred and fifty thousand Muslims praying behind their leader and the sound of their takbir breaking the horizon, they began to tremble in fear and worry, and their minds were defeated before their bodies.” ><

Ships transported overland to the Golden Horn

“At this came the essential role of the leader in the battle as the sultan stood and spoke to his soldiers taking example from the messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) during the battle of Uhud giving an example of bravery in a few words, saying: "my sons, here I am ready for death in the path of Allah, so whoever desires martyrdom, let him follow me. Then the Muslims followed their leader like the flood from the dam tearing down the obstacles of Kufr until they entered the city and raised therein the word of monotheism... In this manner fell the city of Heracle which stood stubbornly in front of the Muslims for eight centuries... So they entered it erasing the Bizantine government opening the doors of Europe for the call of Islam. They recorded a white page in our history, realising the promise of the messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) as when he was asked which of the two cities would be liberated first, Constantinople or Rome, he said: "The city of Heracle (i.e. Constantinople) would be liberated first." [Ahmad, authenticated by Al Albany].

How the Turks Finally Took Constantinople

Mehmet the Conqueror launched a campaign against Constantinople in 1452. Over 100,000 Turks were matched against 8,000 Byzantine defenders. The smallest of the Turks' 67 cannons fired 200 pound stones and the largest had a three foot bore that heaved 1,200 pound cannon balls. To transport this massive canon from Edirne, a cart pulled by 60 oxen was needed, and a construction crew preceded it, building bridges and roads strong enough to accommodate it. The cannon took so long to load and clean it could only be fired seven times a day. But even after seven weeks of constant barrage from the Ottoman cannons and human-wave attacks that left the moats red with blood, the walls of Constantinople still stood.☼

After just one Turkish assault, forty carts were needed to carry away the dead. In an attempt to surmount Constantinople's walls the Turks built wooden towers which the Byzantines blew up with barrels of gun powder tossed down from the battlements. Both sides inflicted large numbers of casualties with pikes, crossbows and muskets.

The weakest wall of Constantinople stood in front of the Golden Horn, which in turn was closed off by a massive chain that extended across the front of the waterway. To reach this wall for the final assault, engineers built a huge slipway on a hill that flanked the Golden Horn. Seventy ships were rolled on logs and pulled over the hill by men and animals. The objective of this Herculean effort was not only to attack from this side, but also to force the Byzantines to stretch their manpower around the entire perimeter of the wall, possibly exposing a weak point somewhere else.

Fall of Constantinople

So intoxicated were Mehmet's men with boldness of their scheme, said an Ottoman historian, "They manned the ships on land as if they were on the sea. Some of them hoisted the sails with a shout...Others seated themselves on the benches, holding their hands and moving them as if rowing."☼


p>At 2:00 o'clock in the morning, the Turks launched an all out assault on a gate just north of the Topkapi Gate north of the city with “swarms of soldiers on ladders and heavy cannon fire. The ladders were hurled back, but the Turks found a lightly guarded sally port in the moat and poured through." Shouts of "The Turk Are In City!" rang throughout Constantinople as Turks ran through the street raping, killing and collecting booty. When Mehmet rode through the streets the next day on his horse, alters had been toppled, golden chalices had been seized, and slaughtered soldiers were organized into piles.☼

Battle to Take Constantinople

Muhammad El-Halaby wrote: ““After the sultan divided and placed his army, he sent his messenger to the king of Bizantia asking him to hand over the city giving him a full guarantee of safety for its residents, their wealth, their lives, their beliefs, and their honour. The refusal of the king to do this and his declaration of war against the Muslims led to the bombardment of the city for 48 days leading to the demolishing of some of the outer walls, without reaching the inner walls. The city withstood other operations. When king Constantine realised the seriousness of the situation, he wrote to the pope who assisted him with five large ships filled with weapons, provisions, and soldiers.. leading to the increase in morale of the defenders. Their joy did not last for long however, for the next morning, they were surprised with eighty ships inside their gulf which they had blocked with heavy chains and fortified with a large force. However, the sultan through his foresight brought the ships over land by paving a path for them of six miles of large tree branches which he had embalmed with oil so that the giant ships can slide over them with their tens of thousands of soldiers.. until they were brought to the gulf waters behind the enemy defences. At the time that the ships reached the gulf, the ships of the Bizantines were flaming with the fire from the artillery of the Ottomans, despite this, Constantinople withheld one more time. However, the sultan persisted, and he ordered the digging of tunnels underground to use these to crawl into the city, though the early discovery of these by the Bizantines made them of no effect. [Source: Muhammad El-Halaby, “The Liberation/Fall of Constantinople 1453,” Internet Archive, from ><]

Mehmet II with a Byzantine priest

“With the new morn, the sultan ordered the setting up of his secret weapon which he had invented himself, which is a giant mobile tower, higher than the walls of the city accommodating hundreds of soldiers. This struck fear amongst the Bizantines leading them to believe that the Muslims were using demons in their battles. After the Muslims broke the middle walls, the defenders were able to destroy the moving towers by throwing chemicals at them. However, the resistance of the city began to weaken, while nightfall had left the Bizantines filled with fear leading them to spend their night in their churches praying their Lord to send to their aid the blue angels to save Constantinople from the Muslims. Whilst the sultan spent his night motivating his armies reminding them of the hadith of the messenger (s.a.w.), and praying for victory from Allah. ><

“As soon as the new morn came, the soldiers began their general attack. The Muslims began to erect towers and ladders and to cast projectiles at the inner walls of the city. However, the forts of the city and the desperate defense of its army delayed its liberation, and thousands of Muslim soldiers fell martyrs. When the sultan saw the size of his loss, he ordered the foot soldiers to withdraw. whilst he also ordered a continuation of the bombardment until midday, when he ordered a complete attack and stirred them to this. The Muslim army attacked and some of the Mujahideen were able to enter the city, the first to enter it was the Mujahid Hasan Ulu Badi with thirty of his brothers, however, the arrows rained on them from every side, and they were all martyred, the Muslims then began to retreat, and they almost began to flee. ><

According to the BBC: “The capture of Constantinople ended the Byzantine Empire after 1100 years. The effect of this on Christian Europe was enormous. One unexpected effect was that many scholars fled from the new empire and went to Italy, where they were influential in sparking off the Renaissance, and increasing trade with the east. Although the Pope demanded a crusade to recapture Istanbul from the Muslims, the Christian nations failed to produce an army for him, and no attempt to retake the city was made. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

“The Muslim dominance of the trading centre of the former Constantinople increased the pressure on Western nations to find new ways to the East by going westwards. This eventually led to the expeditions of Columbus, Magellan, and Drake. |::|

Mehmet’s Rule

Mehmet II with Ali Kuscu

According to the BBC: “After battles between Muslims and Christians, churches were converted into mosques and mosques into churches according to who was the winner. Although Mehmet converted many churches into mosques, he did not suppress the Christian faith itself. There were practical reasons for this: 1) Christians were the largest group of the population and coexistence was likely to be more efficient than conflict; 2) The institutions of the church provided a machine for implementing Mehmet's rule [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

“But Mehmet was also influenced by the Islamic rule that Muslims should show respect to all religions. Mehmet not only tolerated the Christians, he made special efforts to attract Jews to Istanbul. This was attractive to the Jews, who had previously been persecuted by the Orthodox Christian Church. |::|

“The non-Muslim communities (millets) were controlled by the Sultan acting through their religious leaders. These communities were given their own parts of towns in which to live and worship. They were given a great deal of freedom to lead their lives according to their particular faiths, and so were largely supportive of their Muslim overlords. |::|

After Mehmet

According to the BBC: “Mehmet II died in 1481, and he nominated his eldest son Bayezid as the new Sultan. The Shi'a Muslims in the Ottoman Empire revolted in favour of Bayezid's brother Jem. The Janissaries suppressed the revolt and from then on became very important in Ottoman politics. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

“With Janissary support Bayezid's son Selim laid the foundations for a world Ottoman Empire based entirely on the despotism of the Sultan. The Shi'as were ruthlessly suppressed and they retreated to Persia, joining with the local groups of Shi'a and eventually forming their own state under the Safavid Shahs. |::|

“Sultan Selim introduced the policy of fratricide (the murder of brothers). Under this system whenever a new Sultan ascended to the throne his brothers would be locked up. As soon as the Sultan had produced his first son the brothers (and their sons) would be killed. The new Sultan's sons would be then confined until their father's death and the whole system would start again. “This often meant that dozens of sons would be killed while only one would become Sultan. In the later centuries of Ottoman rule, the brothers were imprisoned rather than executed. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

Ottomans Expand in the Middle East and Fight the Safavids

During the short rule of Selim I (ruled 1512 to 1520), the Ottomans responded to a Persian attack and moved eastward and southward under the banner of jihad inro Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Egypt. Under Selim I there was a mass slaughter of dissident Muslims on the eve of the war with the Safavids in 1514. Selim I extended Ottoman sovereignty southward, conquering Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. He also gained recognition as guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The Ottoman absorbed most of what was the Arabic-speaking part of the Arab-Muslim empire, with the exception of parts of Morocco, Arabia and the Sudan, while the non-Arabic-speaking came under Persian Safavid and Indian Moghul control. The European portion of the Ottoman Empire had a larger population and brought in more revenues, thus more government resources were devoted to expanding, maintaining and protecting it.

In 1516-17, the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks and absorbed Syria, Egypt and western Arabia into their empire. The Mamluks (or Mamelukes) were a self-perpetuating caste of non-Muslim slave soldiers used by Muslim states to fight wars against one another. The Mamluks were used by the Arabs to fight the Crusaders, the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and the Mongols.

Selim I was condemned for shooting firearms at Muslims. But he captured Mecca and took the title caliph---ruler of all Muslims. From that day on the Ottoman sultans were the leaders of the entire Muslim world. By 1515 their territory extended from the Danube to the Nile. Suleyman the Magnificent entered Baghdad in 1534 AD after defeating the Safavids.

The Safavids (1502-1736) from Persia were fanatical Shiites. They resisted Ottoman conquest and fought with Sunni Ottomans from the 16th century to the early 18th century. The Ottomans hated the Safavids. They were regarded as infidels and the Ottomans launched campaigns of jihad against them. Many were murdered in Ottoman territory.

Mesopotamia was a battle ground between Ottomans and Persians. The Safavids attacked the Sunni Ottoman Empire and were crushed in the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. Under Selim I there was a mass slaughter of dissident Muslims in the Ottoman Empire before the battle.

The Safavids also made peace when they thought it expedient. When Suleyman the Magnificent conquered Baghdad 34 camels were needed to carry gifts from the Persian shah to the Ottoman court. The gifts included a jewel box adorned with a pear-size ruby, 20 silk carpets, a tent topped with gold and valuable manuscripts and illuminated Korans. In 1624, Baghdad was retaken by the Persian Safavids under Shah Abbas but retaken by the Ottomans in 1638.

Süleyman the Magnificent’s Conquests

Suzan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Under Süleyman, popularly known as "the Magnificent" or "the Lawmaker," the Ottoman empire reached the apogee of its military and political power. Süleyman's armies conquered Hungary, over which the Ottomans maintained control for over 150 years, and they advanced as far west as Vienna, threatening the Habsburgs. To the east, the Ottoman forces wrested control of Iraq from the Safavids of Iran. In the Mediterranean, their navy captured all the principal North African ports, and for a time the Ottoman fleet completely dominated the sea. By the end of Süleyman's reign, Ottoman hegemony extended over a great portion of Europe, Asia, and Africa. [Source: Suzan Yalman, Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, based on original work by Linda Komaroff \^/]

Belgrade fell to Süleyman in 1521, and in 1522 he compelled the Knights of Saint John to abandon Rhodes. In 1526 the Ottoman victory at the Battle of Mohács led to the taking of Buda on the Danube. Vienna was besieged unsuccessfully during the campaign season of 1529. North Africa up to the Moroccan frontier was brought under Ottoman suzerainty in the 1520s and 1530s, and governors named by the sultan were installed in Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. In 1534 Kurdistan and Mesopotamia were taken from Persia. The latter conquest gave the Ottomans an outlet to the Persian Gulf, where they were soon engaged in a naval war with the Portuguese.*

When Süleyman died in 1566, the Ottoman Empire was a world power. Most of the great cities of Islam--Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, and Baghdad--were under the sultan's crescent flag. The Porte exercised direct control over Anatolia, the sub-Danubian Balkan provinces, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Egypt, Mecca, and the North African provinces were governed under special regulations, as were satellite domains in Arabia and the Caucasus, and among the Crimean Tartars. In addition, the native rulers of Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, and Ragusa (Dubrovnik) were vassals of the sultan.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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