The Decline of the Ottoman Empireby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
How did various changes in the Ottoman Empire lead to its eventual demise?
Ottoman decline occurred due to losses in trade and lack of industrialization.
Once a super power, the Ottoman Empire fell because of a combination of internal degeneration and external pressures. Loss of economic vitality resulted as Europe circumnavigated Africa for trade and relied on the Americas rather than the Ottoman middleman. Industrialized Europe soon surpassed outdated Ottoman traditions. Poor leadership gave way to loss of centralized control and the ultimate collapse after supporting Germany in WWI.
Near the beginning of the fourteenth century, Osman I established the Ottoman Empire, which was destined to become one of the most powerful empires in history. At the zenith of its power it controlled a massive area of land, including substantial holdings in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Although he could not know it, Osman I was the first in a long line of Sultans that would rule the empire for over 600 years. During that period, the empire would rise to incredible heights, then decline, like so many others throughout history. But why did it fall? The demise of the Ottoman Empire was caused by a combination of internal degeneration and external pressures.
One of the primary causes blamed for the fall of the Ottoman Empire was the decline of the Sultanate. Originally the Sultanate was a strong institution, in which the Sultan would select a competent successor from among his often numerous sons (some Sultans had over 500 sons).1 Over time, however, the Sultanate weakened. This weakening may have begun late in the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.2 Although his reign marked the height of the Ottoman Empire's Golden Age, in his later years Suleyman became less actively involved in the affairs of state. In addition, his two most qualified successors plotted against him late in his life, and he had them executed. As a result, Selim II (known by some as "Selim the Drunkard"), became the next Sultan, despite the fact that he had lived a relatively secluded life in the palace and did not have experience in running the government.3 He was overly fond of physical pleasures and did not take seriously his governing responsibilities. After him, the Sultanate continued to decline. One of the causes of this was that the possible successors of the Sultan, such as the Sultan's brothers, were confined in the harem, where they became lazy and incompetent.4 Another cause was the Sultans' desertion of the tradition of training their sons in government and related affairs.5 In the end, the degeneration in the Sultanate played a significant role in the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
Among the results of the decline of the Sultanate was the weakening of the central government's control over the empire. Significant sections of the empire began to operate more or less autonomously.6 And the central government itself became fraught with strife and conflict as various parties struggled for power. By 1808 many of the empire's holdings in North Africa were leaning toward independence, and in 1826, Greece started on its way to sovereignty.7 Because of the decline of the Sultanate, the Ottomans were beginning to lose control of their empire.
In addition to the problems in the government, the Ottoman Empire experienced economic stagnation as they failed to adapt to the changes in the world around them. For a long time the Ottoman Empire served as the gateway to the East, because it sat at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Consequently, the revenue from the trade routes formed a large part of the economy. As Europeans began to develop new trade routes that bypassed the Ottoman Empire, however, the Ottoman economy was severely damaged.8 Then, during the eighteenth century, the Ottomans failed to industrialize as the European countries did. Naturally this caused them to lag behind in productivity and efficiency, making their wares uncompetitive and further harming the economy.9 Economic stagnation, therefore, also weakened the empire.
The final major factor in the fall of the Ottomans was the shift in the international balance of power. Formed during the reign of Orkhan, the second Sultan, the Ottoman military division called the Janissaries had remained the fiercest fighting force in Europe for many years.10 During the days of Suleyman, the Ottoman Empire had become the most powerful state in the world, and it posed a serious threat to Europe. In fact, in 1529 Suleyman carried war as far as the gates of Vienna. However, as time went on, the situation changed. The Janissaries and their methods of warfare became obsolete. No longer did the Ottomans possess an unmatched fighting force. On top of this, numerous wars with land-hungry Russia, including the Crimean War, weakened the empire, as did the many wars the Ottomans fought with the encroaching European nations. In addition, the empire had to deal with the Balkan Rebellion. Eventually, the Ottomans became involved in World War I and sided with Germany. By the war's end, the empire was torn apart until all that remained was the territory of modern-day Turkey.
In the end, the Ottoman Empire fell because of a combination of internal degeneration and external pressures. The government declined with the degeneration of the Sultanate. The economy faltered when new trade routes bypassed Ottoman territory and when the Ottomans failed to industrialize. And the empire crumbled when war and rebellion overwhelmed it during World War I.
When examining the rise and decline of the Ottoman empire, it is necessary to remember that it is ultimately God who controls the fate of nations, kingdoms, and empires.12 Before the Ottoman Empire entered their slow decline, they had served as a relatively safe haven for Jews persecuted under the inquisitions and genocides at the hands of the European Catholics. However, the Ottoman empire gradually became alarmed by Protestants in England and America who called for a "Restoration of the Jews" as early as the 17th century. By the latter part of the 19th century, up to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, God was evidently done with the "sick man of Europe". The British Empire also suffered greatly as they shifted away from the honoring the Balfour Declaration and instead used their British Mandate over Palestine to join forces with the newly formed Arab states in 1948, in a futile attempt to finish what Hitler had started. Conversely, the United States in 1948, like the Ottoman Empire in 1492, welcomed and supported Jews. In turn, these nations who blessed the Jews were blessed by God (Genesis 12:3). President Truman's blessing led the USA to become the world's super power after WWII, as had Sultan Bayazid II's pledge to protect the Jews led the Ottoman Empire to become the world's super power.13
12See Romans 13:1.
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