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Ottoman conquests
GABOR AGOSTON

INTRODUCTION
The small Ottoman principality of Turkic
semi-nomads was formed in the last
decades of the thirteenth century in western
Asia Minor (Anatolia), near a place known
today as Sogut, between the weakened
Seljuk sultanate and the shrinking Eastern
Roman or Byzantine Empire. The designation Ottoman is corruption from Osman,
the name of the founder of the dynasty,
Osman (d. 1324?). Ottoman tradition
credited Ertugrul, Osmans father, with
leading his band of Turkish nomads into
western Anatolia in the second part of the
thirteenth century. Osmans small polity
was but one among the many Turkic or
Turkoman principalities that emerged in
the power vacuum caused by the Mongols
destruction of the empire of the Seljuk
Turks (1243), who had ruled most of Asia
Minor from the late eleventh century. The
rise of the House of Osman to prominence
was neither foreseeable at around 1300 nor
unchallenged in the decades and centuries to
come. Ottoman rule was contested by the
neighboring Turkic principalities, brothers,
sons, and uncles of the reigning Ottoman
sultans, and popular uprisings, as well as by
regional powers, both Christian (Byzantium,
Venice, Hungary) and Muslim (Timur and
Timurids, Karakoyunlus, Akkoyunlus,
Mamluks, and Safavids). In fact, twice in
the fifteenth century, in 1402 and 1444, the
very existence of the Ottoman polity was
at stake. Despite all these obstacles and
temporary setbacks, Osmans successors
built one of the greatest multiethnic and
multireligious dynastic empires, which
played a crucial role in European and
Middle Eastern politics until its demise in
World War I. The Ottoman Empire can best

be compared to the better-known Mediterranean empires of the Romans and Byzantines,


the similarly multiethnic continental empires
of the Habsburgs and Romanovs, and to the
Islamic empires of Asia: the Abbasid caliphate, Safavid Persia, and Mughal India.
Within three generations following
Osmans death through a variety of means
that included military conquest, diplomacy,
dynastic marriages, and the masterful exploitation of the Byzantine civil wars Ottoman
rulers Orhan Ghazi (r. 1324?1362), Murad I
(13621389), and Bayezid I (13891402)
extended Ottoman rule up to the banks of
the Danube and Euphrates rivers in southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, respectively.
In 1453 Sultan Mehmed II (r. 14441446,
14511481) conquered Constantinople, the
capital of the thousand-year-old Eastern
Roman or Byzantine Empire. Declaring
himself Caesar, the heir to the Byzantine
emperors, and lord of two lands (the
Balkans and Anatolia) and two seas (Black
Sea and the Aegean), Mehmed II announced
his imperial claims both in Europe and Asia.
In strategic terms the conquest marked
the unification of the Ottoman realms in the
Balkans and Asia Minor, and also the birth
of the patrimonial Ottoman Empire that
replaced the frontier principality of the early
Ottomans.
In 15161517 Sultan Selim I (r. 1512
1520) defeated the Mamluks of Egypt and
Syria and incorporated these lands into his
empire, thus extending Ottoman rule to the
Middle East and North Africa. Sultan
Suleiman I (r. 15201566) wrested Iraq
from the Ottomans most formidable rival,
Safavid Persia, and central Hungary from the
Habsburgs. Although Ottoman expansion
slowed down in the mid-sixteenth century,
it did not stop. Following further conquests
in the mid-seventeenth century in Hungary
(16601664), Crete (1669), and in the Polish
province of Podolia in modern-day Ukraine
(1672), the Ottoman Empire reached its

The Encyclopedia of War, First Edition. Edited by Gordon Martel.


2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Map 80

Ottoman conquests in Europe.

largest territorial extent. The Ottomans ruled


over a vast territory from Hungary in the
north to Yemen in the south, and from Algeria in the west to Iraq in the east, approximately 1.5 million square miles (40 percent of
the mainland United States) if one includes
loosely held lands and unproductive deserts.
From the end of the sixteenth century the
main strategic concern of Ottoman policymakers was the defense of earlier conquests
rather than territorial expansion. The late
sixteenth century also marked yet another
turning point in the history of the empire:
the transformation from the medieval
patrimonial empire into an early modern
limited monarchy, in which the central governments access to resources and means of
organized violence were more challenged
than in the previous era.

By the late seventeenth century the


Ottomans were operating at the limits of
their military and logistical capabilities. The
second Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683
under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha provoked a major rescue operation on the part of
European Christian states, and by 1699 an
international coalition of the Habsburg
Empire, PolishLithuanian Commonwealth,
Venice, the papacy, and Muscovite Russia
managed to reconquer most of historic
Hungary (including Croatia, Slavonia, and
the principality of Transylvania), Podolia,
and parts of Dalmatia and the Morea
(Peloponnese). However, the Ottomans continued to rule over most of the Balkans until
1878 and until World War I in their Middle
Eastern lands, a formidable accomplishment
even when one recognizes that Ottoman rule

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had become tenuous and often symbolic in
north Africa by the early eighteenth century
as well as in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula
by the early nineteenth century.

EARLY CONQUESTS (13001402)


Historians have pointed out the propitious
location of Osmans small principality and
the fortunate circumstances natural disasters, power vacuum caused by the Mongol
invasion of the Middle East in the 1240s and
1250s, and the wars among the Ottomans
rivals which aided early Ottoman conquests. While these certainly played some
role in early Ottoman expansion, it was
Ottoman commanders who realized the
opportunities created by these circumstances
and acted upon them. A case in point is
Osmans first major victory against the
Byzantines, most probably on July 27, 1302,
on the plain of Bapheus near Nikomedia
(modern Izmit in Turkey). In March 1302,
floods temporarily diverted the course of the
Sakarya River (Sangarius) into its ancient
riverbed and rendered useless the Byzantine
forts. These had been built along the rivers
more recent course, on the left (Byzantine)
bank of the river, and refurbished by
Michael VIII Palaeologus (r. 12591282) in
12811282. However, the forts and the
defense structures built along the river
became ineffective after the flood and made
it easier for Osman and his small band to cross
the river and defeat the Byzantines (Lindner
2007: 102116). Osmans victory ultimately
opened the way to Constantinople.
The Ottomans first major success was the
capture of the Byzantine town of Prousa
(Bursa in Turkey) in 1326 by Orhan I,
Osmans son and successor, which Orhan
promptly made the capital of his principality.
In 1352 Orhan acquired the Ottomans first
bridgehead in Thrace through marriage and
political alliance. Two years later his son,

Suleiman Pasha, captured the important


Byzantine fort and naval base of Gallipoli,
whose defenses had just been destroyed by
a devastating earthquake.
Ottoman succession after the death of
Orhan was not without problems. When
Orhan died in the spring 1362, Murad I
acceded to the Ottoman throne in Bursa.
However, his younger brothers, Halil aged
16 and Ibrahim aged 6, and their supporters
(the Anatolian Turkoman lords of Karaman
and Eretna) challenged the new Ottoman
ruler. Murad I was fighting in Anatolia until
about 1365 to stabilize his rule there. In
addition to his campaigns, he used marriage
policy and purchase to gain supporters and
acquire the territories of the neighboring
Turkoman principalities of Germiyan
and Hamid in western and southwestern
Anatolia. Murad I also tried to win over
Alaeddin (r. 13611398) of Karaman, the
strongest of the Anatolian Turkoman emirates, by marrying his daughter Nilufer to
the Karaman emir. The latter, however,
challenged his father-in-law repeatedly,
and Murad I had to launch a campaign
against him in 1386. The battle, fought in
late 1386 near Ankara, the capital of modern Turkey, proved the superiority of the
better-organized Ottoman military over
the more traditional nomad army of the
Karamanids. Ottoman victory opened
the passes of the Taurus Mountains for the
Ottomans and enabled Murad I to seize
further lands. Thus the Ottomans gained
control over the lucrative trade routes
connecting their capital Bursa with Antalya,
the Mediterranean seaport in southwestern
Anatolia. However, the Karamans remained
a force to reckon with and it was not until
the late fifteenth century that the Ottomans
incorporated the Karaman lands into their
empire.
In Europe, with the conquest of Adrianople (Edirne, probably in 1369; see
Zachariadou 1970), which is located at the

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confluence of the Maritsa and Tundzha rivers, Murad I gained access to Thrace and
Bulgaria. The fact that Murad made the city
his new capital signaled that the Ottomans
were in Europe to stay and that they considered themselves a power with strategic
interests both in Europe and Asia.
Although Murad I was killed in 1389 in
the Battle of Kosovo Polje (Field of the
Blackbirds) against the Serbians, the
encounter strengthened Ottoman positions
in the Balkans. The Serbian ruler Lazar also
died in the battle and his son and successor,
Stephen Lazarevic, became the vassal of the
new Ottoman ruler, Bayezid I. Ottoman
victory at Kosovo put Hungary, which
now shared a border with the Ottomans,
on its guard. However, Hungary was unable
to halt the Ottomans, and the Crusading
army led by King Sigismund of Hungary
suffered a crushing defeat at Nikopol
(1396) on the Danube River.
The Anatolian Turkoman lords exploited
the death of Murad I at Kosovo and the
succession of Bayezid I to reclaim their
lost lands. However, Bayezids swiftly
reestablished Ottoman control over the
Turkoman principalities. In 1392 he annexed
the Black Sea coastal emirate of Kastamonu,
but the showdown with the Karamans and
the lord of Sivas had to wait until 1398,
owing to Bayezids wars against the Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Hungarians. It was
only after his conquest of Bulgaria (1393,
1395) and his victory over the European
Crusaders (1396) that in 1398 Bayezid
defeated and killed both Alaeddin Bey of
Karaman and Kad Burhaneddin of Sivas,
and incorporated their lands into the
Ottoman realms.
Byzantine support for the anti-Ottoman
Crusade provoked a long Ottoman blockade
of Constantinople (13941402). To control
navigation along the Bosporus, Bayezid I
ordered the construction of a castle on the
straits Asian shore (Anadolu Hisar or the

Asian castle) at its narrowest point, northeast


of Constantinople. This bold strategic move
could not compensate for the lack of adequate Ottoman siege artillery, but would
prove instrumental during the Ottoman
conquest of Constantinople in 1453. In the
early 1400s Constantinople escaped its fate,
for Bayezid had to face his new opponent,
Timur Lenk (Tamerlane), the ruler of
an expanding new Muslim empire in
Transoxania.

DEFEAT AND CIVIL WAR (14021413)


Recent Ottoman conquests in eastern Anatolia provoked a clash between the Ottomans
and Timur. Timur claimed suzerainty over
all Anatolian emirs on account of his descent
from Genghis Khan (r. 12061227), whose
Ilkhanid successors ruled over Asia Minor in
the second half of the thirteenth century.
Timur demanded that Bayezid accept him
as suzerain. Bayezid, on the other hand, considered himself heir of the Seljuk Turks, the
rulers of Anatolia from the late eleventh century through the early fourteenth century.
In open defiance, Bayezid turned to the
head of Sunni Islam, the caliph in Cairo,
and requested the title of Sultan of Rum,
used by the Rum Seljuks, whom the
Ottomans considered their ancestors. The
Turkoman principalities of eastern Anatolia
and Azerbaijan tried to maneuver between
Bayezid and Timur, giving ample pretext to
both rulers to start a war.
In 1400 and 1401 Timurs army, dominated by expert Chaghatay cavalry archers,
conquered and sacked Aleppo, Damascus,
and Baghdad, whose sultan escaped to
Bayezid. Apart from territorial disputes,
Bayezids rejection of surrendering to
Timur the fugitive sultan of Baghdad and
the ruler of the Karakoyunlu (Black Sheep)
Turkomans of Azerbaijan, also worsened the
conflict.

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The ensuing clash between the two conquerors took place northeast of Ankara on
July 28, 1402, and ended with Timurs total
victory. Timurs forces not only outnumbered the Ottoman troops but also
deprived them of fresh water resources.
Initially the Ottomans fought successfully.
When, however, the Kara (Black) Tatars
on the Ottoman left wing attacked the
Ottomans rear, and when the cavalrymen
of the recently subjugated Turkish principalities deserted, the Ottomans were defeated
and Bayezid captured. He died in Timurs
captivity in March 1403. Timur restored
Bayezids recent conquests in eastern Anatolia to their former lords. Over the remaining
Ottoman realms a bitter fight started among
Bayezids sons (Alexandrescu-Dersca 1977;
Matschke 1991).
Timurs victory at Ankara not only
checked the first phase of the spectacular
Ottoman expansion in Asia Minor, but it
also threatened the very existence of the
Ottoman polity. Of Bayezids six sons
still alive in 1402, princes Suleiman, Isa,
Mehmed, and Musa fought against each
other to attain sole control over the
remaining Ottoman territories for a decade,
a period that is known in Ottoman history
as the Interregnum (14021413). By 1413
Mehmed I (r. 14131421) had emerged victorious and set out to reestablish Ottoman
power in Anatolia. In 1414 he annexed the
principality of Aydn, whose base was in
Izmir in western Turkey. Using military
force and diplomacy Mehmed managed
to restore Ottoman power in the former
Ottoman lands. However, his realms were
still smaller than those under his father.
Mehmed Is victories over the Karamans
also proved only temporary, as did his
agreement with the Byzantines to keep in
custody his rivals, including his brother
Mustafa, who had been released by Shah
Rukh (r. 14051447), Timurs son and
successor.

RECOVERY (14131451)
Mehmed Is son and successor, Murad II
(r. 14211444, 14461451), faced many
of the same challenges as his father. At his
accession, his uncle (dubbed False Mustafa
in official Ottoman chronicles), whom the
Byzantines released from custody, and
his 13-year-old brother (called Little
Mustafa), contested his legitimacy as pretenders, whereas the former lord of Aydn
(also released from Byzantine confinement)
rebelled against him. Murad II defeated and
executed his uncle (winter 1422) and brother
(February 1423), and re-annexed the Turkish
principalities of Aydn, Mentese, Germiyan
and Teke, and parts of Karaman. Using sheer
military force and a variety of political tools
(diplomacy, appeasement, vassalage, and
marriage alliances), Murad II not only
secured his throne, but saved the Ottoman
state from possible collapse during the crisis
years of 14431444.
Following Murad IIs subjugation of
Serbia in 1439, which by this time had
become Hungarys vassal and ally, as well as
the five-month siege of Belgrade (1440),
which had since 1427 been the key fortress
of the Hungarian southern defense line built
against the Ottomans, the Hungarians
launched their own campaign against the
Ottomans. The winter campaign of 1443
1444, led by King Wladislas (r. 14401444)
and his governor Janos Hunyadi, and
a renewed offensive of the emir of Karaman,
yet again threatened the very existence of the
Ottoman state, and forced Murad II to seek
peace. The HungarianSerbianOttoman
peace treaty of 1444 reestablished the pre1439 borders by returning Ottomanconquered Serbia to its ruler, George
Brankovic. Now Murad II turned against
the Karamans. In face of Ottoman military
might, the Karamans also accepted the status
quo ante. Having thwarted the danger,
Murad II abdicated in favor of his 12-year-

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old son, Mehmed II. However, the young
sultan was unable to deal with the renewed
threats: the rebellion of Iskender Bey alias
Georg Kastriota in Albania, a renewed
Karaman campaign, and, most importantly,
an anti-Ottoman Crusade. Urged by the
papacy, which declared the treaty concluded
by the infidels void, the Hungarians broke
the truce, and on September 22, 1444 the
Crusading army led by the Hungarian king
and Hunyadi crossed the Ottoman border
into the Balkans. At this critical moment
Murad II assumed command of the
army, while his son remained the sultan.
Under Murad IIs leadership, the Ottomans
met the Crusading army at Varna on the
Black Sea coast on November 10, 1444.
Outnumbered by forty thousand to eighteen
thousand, the Crusaders were defeated. King
Wladislas was dead and Hunyadi, the hero of
the Turkish wars, barely escaped with his
life (Engel 1994; Imber 2006).
The crises of 14431444 revealed the
vulnerability of the young Ottoman state
and the friction among the old and new
political and military elite, represented
respectively by viziers from the old Turkish
aristocracy and by Christian statesmen who
were either renegades or products of the
Ottoman child levy (devshirme) system.
The first group pursued a cautious policy
against the Ottomans European enemies,
while the new elite advocated for a more
belligerent strategy. In order to avoid a possible disaster such aggressive policy might
cause, grand vizier Halil Pasha, the scion of
the famous Turkish Chandarli family and
the leader of the old elite, recalled Murad II
from his retirement for the second time,
using as pretext the 1446 Janissary rebellion
in Edirne, which erupted partly because of
Mehmed IIs debasement of the Ottoman
silver coinage in which the Janissaries
received their salaries. During his second
reign (14461451) Murad II secured
Ottoman rule in the Balkans, defeating

another Crusading army in 1448 at Kosovo


Polje in Serbia. When he died in 1451, his
son Mehmed II, by then 19 years of age, was
poised to execute his belligerent plans
against his Christian rivals.

EXPANSION UNDER THE


CONQUEROR (14511481)
Mehmed IIs greatest achievement was the
conquest of Constantinople. To assume control over the Straits of the Bosporus, which
separated the Ottomans Asian and European lands, the sultan had a fortress built at
its narrowest point. Rumeli Hisar (the
European castle) stood opposite the old
Anatolian castle, which Bayezid I had
erected during his long blockade of Constantinople (13921402). With their cannons
deployed on the walls of the two castles, the
Ottomans effectively sealed off Byzantium,
depriving it of reinforcements and supplies.
With eighty thousand men, Mehmeds
forces greatly outnumbered the defenders,
who counted eight thousand Greeks and
two thousand foreigners, in addition to
forty thousand civilians. Following 54 days
of constant bombardment and repeated
attacks, Constantinople fell to Mehmed IIs
army on May 29, 1453. The conquest proved
the advantages of firearms against medieval
fortifications. Indeed, during the siege of the
Byzantine capital the Ottomans deployed
some of the largest bombards known to contemporaries, which threw shots of 530, 660,
790, and 880 lb, a testament to Ottoman
manufacturing, logistical and military capabilities, and mastery (Runciman 1965;
Babinger 1978; Agoston 2005).
The conquest of Constantinople known
in colloquial Turkish as Istanbul (corruption from the colloquial Greek is tin polin,
to the city) and on coins and in sultanic
documents as Kostantiniyya (the Islamic
form of the citys Greek name) affected

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the lives of the peoples of the Balkans,
Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, and the
Black Sea littoral for centuries to come. It
also brought unprecedented military, geopolitical, and economic rewards for the
Ottomans. It eliminated the heart of antiOttoman diplomacy and Crusades, which
had separated the Ottomans European and
Asian provinces. While neither the Balkans
nor Anatolia had a natural geographical
center, Constantinople was an ideal economic and logistical hub, with its commanding position over trade and military
routes between Asia and Europe. Not surprisingly, the possession of the city enabled
the Ottomans to cement their rule on both
continents for centuries and to create the
strongest contiguous empire in the area.
Mehmed IIs sobriquet (the Conqueror)
and the RomanByzantine title of Caesar
that he assumed, signaled his ambitions for
universal sovereignty, and the beginning of a
new era of Ottoman expansionism. The new
policy was carried out with new statesmen
of devshirme origin, who replaced the scions
of ancient Turkish families who had dominated Ottoman politics before 1453.
In the possession of Constantinople,
Mehmed II had two objectives: to defend
his new capital and to consolidate his rule
in his empires core provinces (the Balkans
and Anatolia) and the adjacent seas (Adriatic
and Black Sea). The Conquerors failure in
1456 at Belgrade against the Hungarians and
their leader Janos Hunyadi halted Ottoman
advance beyond the Danube River in central
Europe until the early 1520s, but could
not save Serbia from final subjugation
(1459). It was followed by the conquests of
the remaining Byzantine territories of the
Despotate of the Morea (1460) and the
Empire of Trebizond (1461), and of Bosnia
(1463) and Albania (1468). Ottoman capture
of Negroponte (1470) in the Venetian
Ottoman War of 14631479 and the 1479
VenetianOttoman border in Albania and

in the Morea, secured Ottoman possessions


in the western Balkans and the Peloponnese.
After annexing the southern shores of the
Black Sea (1461), Mehmed turned to the
northern shores. He eradicated the Genoese
trading colony of Caffa in the Crimea
(1475) and made the Crimean Tatar Giray
Dynasty, the rulers of northern Crimea and
the adjacent steppes, his vassal (1478), thus
turning the Black Sea for three centuries into
an Ottoman Lake, although Ottoman
control over the sea was never complete.
In Asia, renewed expansion eliminated
the Ottomans most stubborn rival, the
Karamans. While Mehmed II defeated
them in 1468, he could re-annex their
lands only after he defeated the Karamans
eastern neighbor, the Akkoyunlus (White
Sheep) in 1473. Under Uzun Hasan
(r. 14531478), this Turkoman confederation was transformed into an empire that
controlled eastern Anatolia, Azerbaijan,
Iraq, and western Iran from its capital
Tabriz, and challenged Ottoman sovereignty in Asia Minor. Mehmed IIs victory
over Uzun Hasan at the Battle of Tercan
(Otlukbeli) in 1473 demonstrated the superiority of Ottoman standing forces over the
traditional Turkoman tribal military organization. Although the Akkoyunlus continued to challenge the Ottomans until Selim I
incorporated their lands into his empire in
the early sixteenth century, the Ottomans
successfully reintegrated most of Anatolia
and the Balkans into their realms by the
time of Mehmed IIs death in 1481. Thus
Mehmed II could justly claim that he was
Lord of two Continents and of the Two
Seas, that is, that of Europe and Asia, and
the Aegean and Black Seas.

EUROPEAN AND SAFAVID THREATS


Mehmed IIs successor,
(r. 14811512), further

Bayezid II
consolidated

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Ottoman rule in Anatolia, but was unable to
annex the lands southeast and east of the
Taurus Mountains. Controlled by the
Ramazan and Dulkadir emirs, these lands
formed a buffer zone between the
Ottomans and the Mamluks of Egypt and
Syria. The OttomanMamluk War (1485
1491) over these territories was inconclusive. Ottoman strategic options were seriously curtailed in the 1480s and 1490s due
to the fact that the sultans brother Jem
escaped to Europe after his defeat in the
contest for the throne.
Jem spent the next seven years in France,
although both Pope Innocent VIII
(r. 14841492) and King Matthias Hunyadi
(Corvinus) of Hungary (r. 14581490)
wanted to have him for their planned antiOttoman Crusades. So did the Mamluk
Sultan Qayitbay (r. 14681496), who went
to war with the Ottomans from 1485
through 1491 over the Cilician plain and
the Turkoman emirate of Dulkadir, located
east of the Taurus Mountains in southeastern Anatolia. By spring 1489 Jem was in
Rome and the pope started a new round of
negotiations with the proponents of a
Crusade. However, the Mamluks concluded
their own treaty with Bayezid (1491), and
most of the key figures of the plan died:
King Matthias in 1490, Pope Innocent in
1492, and Jem in 1495.
By the early 1500s the Ottomans faced
their most formidable challenge. In 1501
Ismail, the leader of a militant Shia
religious group, routed the Akkoyunlus,
took Tabriz, and declared himself Shah of
Iran. Many saw in Ismail the reincarnation
of Imam Ali, Prophet Muhammads cousin
and son-in-law and the founder of the
minority Shia branch of Islam. Others
hoped that Ismail was the long-awaited hidden Imam. Shah Ismails belligerent policy
and persecution of Sunni Muslims and his
propagandists proselytization in the eastern

provinces of the Ottoman Empire undermined Ottoman sovereignty among the


Turkoman and Kurdish tribes. Bayezid II
proved unable to deal effectively with the
Safavids and their followers in eastern Asia
Minor, known as Kizilbash or Red-head
after their twelve-tasseled red hats, which
symbolized the Twelver Shia branch of
Islam. Bayezid thus was deposed in 1512 by
his son Selim I (r. 15121520).
Selim I confronted Shah Ismail at the
Battle of Chaldiran (August 23, 1514),
northeast of Lake Van in eastern Turkey.
The battle, which ended with Ottoman victory, is usually presented in history books as
an example of the effectiveness of firearms
technology. Whereas the victorious
Ottomans employed some two thousand
Janissary infantry musketeers and 150 cannon, the Safavids, who had previously used
firearms, had none at this battle, the shahs
army consisting mainly of light cavalry
archers. While Ottoman firearms undoubtedly proved crucial, apart from their firepower, the fact that the Ottoman cannons
were chained together, thus reducing the
effect of the Safavid cavalry charges, and
the Ottomans numerical superiority (sixty
thousand men versus forty thousand
Safavid troops) also played important roles
in Selims victory. However, the sultan was
unable to exploit his triumph. Although the
Ottomans pursued Ismail as far as Tabriz,
the shah managed to escape further to the
south. Moreover, Selims troops refused
to winter in Persia, forcing the sultan to
return to Anatolia and abandon his plan
to continue his anti-Safavid campaign
in the spring. Nonetheless, the Battle of
Chaldiran resulted in a major readjustment
of the OttomanSafavid border. It secured
Ottoman rule over most of eastern
and southeastern Asia Minor and deprived
Shah Ismail of his most important
recruiting ground for his Turkoman army.

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CONQUEST OF THE ARAB LANDS
Historians disagree as to whether Selim I
had planned the conquest of Mamluk
Syria and Egypt. Whatever the sultans
plans were, his annexation of the Dulkadir
emirate (1515) inevitably led to the confrontation with the Mamluks, the Dulkadirs
nominal sovereign. To justify his attack
against the Mamluks, Selim advanced several
pretexts and secured a fatwa, or religious
opinion, from the Ottoman religious establishment. This justified the war against
them with the alleged MamlukSafavids
alliance.
The two armies met north of Aleppo at
Marj Dabiq on August 24, 1516. Ottoman
firearms and desertion in the Mamluk camp
sealed the fate of the Mamluks. When
Mamluk sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri died,
apparently of a heart attack, the remnants
of his troops fled. Aleppo and Damascus
both surrendered without a fight. Selims
name was incorporated into the sermon
(hutba) during the next Friday prayer,
performed in the great Mosque of the
Ummayyad Caliphs in Damascus. The
Ottomans followed the fleeing Mamluk
army to Egypt and delivered a second
crushing defeat on January 23, 1517 at
Raydaniyya, outside Cairo. Although remnants of the Mamluk army offered stiff
resistance in Cairo, the resistance collapsed
when Sultan Tumanbay (r. 15161517) was
captured and killed. With him died the
Mamluk sultanate, which had ruled for
more than 250 years in Egypt and Syria. Its
territories were incorporated into Selims
empire as the new Ottoman provinces of
Aleppo, Damascus, and Egypt.
The conquest had major strategic consequences. It expanded the Ottoman Empires
territories from 341,100 square miles in
1512 to 576,900 square miles. More importantly, revenues from Syria and Egypt
accounted for one third of the Ottoman

treasurys incomes. The protection of the


maritime lanes of communications between
Istanbul and Cairo thus became vital and
necessitated the further strengthening of the
Ottoman navy. It also led to confrontation
with the dominant Christian maritime
powers of the Mediterranean: Venice,
Spain, and the Knights of St. John, based
on the island of Rhodes. Protecting the
Hejaz against Portuguese encroachment
into the Red Sea, on the other hand,
brought the Ottomans into conflict with
the Portuguese. However, all these conflicts
were left to Selims successor, Suleiman I
(r. 15201566).
While Suleimans wars against the Habsburgs defined his policy and shaped the
future of Europe, his campaigns against
Safavid Persia (15341535, 15481549,
1553) had decisive consequences in the Middle East. Ottoman conquests in Iraq (including that of Baghdad) were acknowledged in
the SafavidOttoman Treaty of Amasya
(1555), and the eastern border of the empire,
established in 1555, was to remain essentially
unchanged until World War I. The
Ottomans and Safavids fought two more
exhausting wars (15781590, 16031639),
but Safavid gains (recapture of Baghdad)
under Shah Abbas (15871629) proved
short-lived, and the 1555 border was
restored in 1639, with some modifications.

OTTOMANHABSBURG RIVALRY:
THE HUNGARIAN FRONTIER
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
OttomanHabsburg rivalry played an
important role in shaping the future of
both Europe and Asia, and can only be compared to the sixteenth-century Valois Habsburg struggle over Europe or to the
competition between the United States and
the Soviet Union and their respective allies
during the Cold War.

10
Suleimans accession to the throne in 1520
signaled a major shift in Ottoman policy. He
abandoned his fathers eastern campaigns
and turned to his empires Christian enemies. The reasons for this shift were mainly
sociopolitical, economic, and military. By
the time Suleiman ascended to the throne,
it had become clear that Selims policy vis-a`vis the Safavids could not be maintained.
Warfare since 1511 had exhausted the
Ottomans eastern provinces and the imperial army was stretched too thin. Distance,
early winters, and snow, combined with
Shah Ismails tactic of battle-avoidance
and his use of a scorched earth policy that
destroyed crops and poisoned wells, caused
serious problems for the otherwise wellorganized Ottoman campaign logistics,
rendering seasonal campaigning ineffective.
The sultans Asian troops fought reluctantly
against the shahs Anatolian Turkoman
and Kurdish followers and often deserted.
They wanted instead to fight against the
Hungarian infidels, whom they considered weaker warriors. The sultans troops
in the Balkans likewise lobbied for the
renewal of European campaigns, from
which they hoped to profit economically
through spoils of war and military fiefs.
In 1521 Suleiman conquered Hungarys
key fortress of Belgrade (August 29, 1521).
The conquest of Belgrade shows that
Suleiman either ascended to the throne
with his new strategy to attack his European
rivals, or such a decision was made right after
he assumed power (September 30, 1520).
Owing to the logistical constraints of the
time, preparations for campaigns habitually
started in the autumn of the previous year,
and thus mobilization orders for the 1521
campaign would have been issued in October
or November 1520. In 1522 the sultans navy
set sail against Rhodes, captured the fortress,
and evicted the Knights of St. John from the
island to Malta. These swift conquests in his
early years, especially in light of previous

Ottoman failures (Belgrade 1456, Rhodes


1480), established Suleimans image in
Europe as a formidable adversary, and within
the Islamic world as a warrior sultan and
defender of Islam.
Suleiman achieved his greatest victory at
the Battle of Mohacs (August 29, 1526) in
southern Hungary, where his army of
60,00070,000 men annihilated the badly
organized and obsolete Hungarian royal
army of 26,000 men. The Battle of Mohacs
proved one of the most important events in
European history of the early sixteenth century since it led to the direct confrontation
of the Ottomans and Habsburgs, the two
superpowers of the time, in central
Europe. The battle was also related to the
HabsburgValois rivalry between Charles V
and Francis I. When Charles V defeated and
captured Francis I at the Battle of Pavia
(1525), the French king sought Suleimans
help. The sultan chose to challenge the
Habsburgs through Hungary, whose king
Louis II was the brother-in-law of Habsburg
Ferdinand and Charles V. Franciss plea for
help served as pretext and opportunity to
divide the Europeans; it was not the cause
of Suleimans Hungarian campaign, which
had already been decided upon in Istanbul.
However, by killing King Louis II at
Mohacs, Suleiman miscalculated, for part
of the Hungarian nobility elected Habsburg
Ferdinand king of Hungary (r. 15261564).
This made HabsburgOttoman military
confrontation in central Europe inescapable. Since Suleiman was unable to capture
the Habsburg capital Vienna in 1529 and
1532, he temporarily accepted the partition
of Hungary between Ferdinand and his
opponent, the Hungarian aristocrat Janos
Szapolyai, also elected and crowned as
king of Hungary (r. 15261540), and
supported the latter in the ensuing civil war.
Szapolyais death in 1540 and Ferdinands
unsuccessful siege of Buda, Hungarys capital, in 1541 triggered a new Ottoman

11
campaign led by Suleiman. This ended with
his capture of Buda, which served as the
center of Ottoman administration in Hungary until its Habsburg reconquest in 1686.
Ottoman campaigns in the coming decades
(1543, 15511552, 1566) and local Ottoman
forces expanded the territories under
Istanbuls control and stabilized Ottoman
rule in Hungary both administratively and
financially. In 15511552 Ottoman troops
from Buda and the Balkans captured
Temesvar (modern Timisoara in Romania),
which became the center of the Ottomans
second province in Hungary. The Ottoman
realms in Hungary were further expanded
during the wars of 15931606 and
16601663. The Ottomans conquered several strategic fortresses in Hungary, including Eger (1596), Kanizsa (1600), Varad
(modern Oradea in Romania, 1660) and
Ersekujvar (modern Novy Zamky in Slovakia, 1663), which all became centers of newly
established Ottoman provinces. The conquest of Ersekujvar also demonstrated that
Ottoman siegecraft was still up to date and
capable of capturing some of the best Habsburg fortresses, which had recently been
modernized and strengthened.

OTTOMANHABSBURG RIVALRY:
THE MEDITERRANEAN FRONTIER
The other theater of OttomanHabsburg
rivalry was the Mediterranean, which the
Ottomans came to control as far as Tunis
and Algiers by 1541. Charles Vs conquest
of Tunis (1535) proved short-lived.
Suleimans navy, commanded since 1533 by
Hayreddin Barbarossa, won a splendid victory at Preveza (1538) off northwestern
Greece against the joint naval forces of the
Holy League of Spain, Venice, Genoa,
the papacy, Portugal, and the Knights of
St. John. The destruction of Charles Vs

navy off the coast of Algiers (1541), the Ottoman capture of Tripoli (1551), and their
victory at Djerba (1560) over yet another
Holy League that aimed at retaking Tripoli,
cemented Ottoman control in the Mediterranean. The Ottomans were, however, less
successful against the Portuguese. Though
the Ottomans managed to defend the Hejaz
and the Red Sea, attempts at dislodging the
Portuguese from the Indian Ocean had failed
repeatedly under Suleiman (1538, 1552,
1554). The idea to deploy part of their Mediterranean fleet in the Indian Ocean via
a canal near Suez (1569), which clearly
showed Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed
Pashas (15561578) global strategy, proved
technically and economically unfeasible.
In the Mediterranean, the Battle of
Lepanto (October 7, 1571), provoked by
the Ottomans conquest of Cyprus
(15701571), was the most dramatic confrontation between Muslim and Christian
oar-powered navies. For Sokollu Mehmed
Pasha, the conquest of Cyprus seemed a
long-overdue task. This Venetian-held island
was a nuisance in the Ottoman-controlled
eastern Mediterranean, for it offered a safe
haven for Christian corsairs who endangered
Ottoman lines of maritime communication
between Istanbul and Egypt, the richest
province of the empire, and preyed on Muslim merchant and pilgrim ships. Failure to
eliminate Christian privateering would cause
severe economic losses and weaken Istanbuls
legitimacy in the Islamic world. Cyprus was
a tempting target too for its known richness
and for its closeness to Ottoman logistical
bases, an important consideration given the
war galley fleets limited radius of operation.
During the 1570 campaign the Ottomans
mobilized more than two hundred vessels
and sixty thousand land forces. Despite its
up-to-date, trace italienne fortifications,
Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, fell on
September 9, following a 46-day siege. The

12
ferocity of the three-day sack of Nicosia
persuaded the other Venetian forts to surrender, except for the eastern port garrison
of Famagusta, which was captured only on
August 1, 1571, after 74 days of heavy bombardment. Although the Ottomans agreed
to generous terms of capitulation, the
massacre of Muslim pilgrims, kept in the
garrison, provoked Ottoman retaliation.
On August 5 the Venetian officers were
beheaded and the islands Venetian governor, who had ordered the killing of the
Muslims, was skinned alive, his hide stuffed
with straw and paraded along the Anatolian
coast and Istanbul.
The Ottoman conquest of Cyprus provoked the formation of yet another antiOttoman Holy League, this time that of
Spain, Venice, Genoa, Tuscany, Savoy,
Urbino, Parma, and the Knights of Malta,
proclaimed in Rome in May 1571. The
leagues joint fleet under the command of
Philip IIs half-brother Don Juan achieved a
resounding victory at the Battle of Lepanto,
destroying almost the entire Ottoman navy
with its crew and ordnance. However, to the
surprise of Istanbuls enemies, by next spring
the Ottomans were said to have rebuilt their
navy, with 150 new vessels, complete with
artillery. The Ottomans continued to hold
Cyprus, and the Holy League collapsed as
Venice concluded a treaty with Istanbul in
1573 and as Spanish resources were redirected to meet new challenges in the Netherlands. In 1574, in a bold strategic move
and naval gamble that stretched the logistical
and temporal limits March to late October,
known in Ottoman sources as sea season of
Mediterranean galley warfare, the Ottomans
retook Tunis from Habsburg Spain, with
a naval force larger than either party had at
Lepanto. This victory, off the coast of Spanish Habsburg Sicily at such a great distance
from Istanbul, the logistical center of Ottoman operations, demonstrated Ottoman
naval resurgence and restored Ottoman

military prestige on both sides of the religious divide. Capitalizing on their recent
victory, in 1576 Ottoman Janissaries and
cannoneers helped unseat the Moroccan sultan Muhammad al-Mutawakkil, who had
challenged Ottoman sovereignty, and
replaced him with Istanbuls client Abd alMalik of the same Saadi dynasty. Threatened
by the recent Ottoman advance in North
Africa, the Portuguese launched an attack
on Morocco in 1578 under the command
of their devout Crusading king, Don
Sebastian. The expedition resulted in the
dramatic Battle of Alcazar (1578), which
left both Moroccan sultans and the
Portuguese king dead. Alcazar was the last
major confrontation between Christian
and Muslim forces in the Mediterranean.
After 1578 the two main adversaries in the
conflict, the Spanish Habsburgs and the
Ottomans, disengaged and signed a truce in
1580. Both had more pressing concerns: the
Ottomans had been fighting the
Safavids since 1578, while Spain was busy
with the Dutch Revolt and acquiring its
weakened Catholic neighbor, Portugal
(1581).

CONQUESTS IN THE SEVENTEENTH


AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
OttomanHabsburg relations were relatively
peaceful in the first half of the seventeenth
century due largely to Habsburg commitments in the Thirty Years War (16181648)
and the protracted OttomanVenetian war
over Crete (16451669), which ended with
the Ottoman conquest of the island. The
hostilities between Ottoman and Habsburg
forces broke out in the 1660s, in a decade
that saw a series of Ottoman conquests in
Hungary (1660 and 1663), Crete (1669),
and PolandLithuania (1672) under the
able leadership of grand viziers Koprulu
Mehmed Pasha (16561661) and his

13
son, Kopruluzade Fazil Ahmed Pasha
(16611676).
Increased Ottoman military activity was
linked to the reforms introduced by the
Koprulu grand viziers, which improved
Istanbuls administrative, financial, and military capabilities. Recent revival of Ottoman
military fortunes and Viennas conciliatory
policy toward the Ottomans, exemplified by
the Treaty of Vasvar (August 10, 1664), which
acknowledged the latest Ottoman conquests
in Hungary (Varad and Ersekujvar) despite
decisive Habsburg victory at Szentgotthard
(August 1, 1664), were interpreted in Istanbul as signs of Habsburg weakness. Rumors
of a possible Ottoman attack against
the Habsburgs circulated from the 1670s
onwards, but the last major Ottoman assault
against the Habsburg capital took place only
in 1683.
Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha reached
Vienna on July 14 with an army of ninety
thousand men. He started the siege of the
city the next day with heavy bombardment
that lasted for the next two months.
Although the defenders under Count Ernst
Rudiger von Starhemberg numbered only
sixteen thousand soldiers and some eight
thousand civilians, they had 260 cannons
compared to the besiegers 130 field guns
and nineteen siege cannon. The Ottomans
compensated for their lack of sufficient
siege train with mine attacks, of which they
were experts. Although by early September
the defenses of the city had been considerably
weakened and the defenders had lost
about half of their strength, Kara Mustafa
missed the opportunity to take the city.
On September 12 near Kahlenberg, at the
edge of the Vienna Woods, a relief army of
75,00080,000 men and 160 cannon defeated
the Ottomans, due largely to the charge
of the Polish cavalry and dragoons, led
by King Jan III Sobieski (r. 16741696).
Vienna was saved by a coalition of central

European countries, whose army proved to


be tactically superior and was, for the first
time in the history of OttomanEuropean
confrontations, able to match the Ottomans
in terms of deployed manpower and weaponry, as well as in logistical support.
The grand viziers defeat led to his downfall and execution, soon followed by the
dethronement of his master, Sultan
Mehmed IV (r. 16481687). More importantly, Kara Mustafas 1683 campaign provoked the creation of an anti-Ottoman
coalition, also called the Holy League. In
the ensuing Long War of 16841699 the
Ottomans lost Hungary, Sultan Suleimans
most prestigious conquest. The peace treaty
of Karlowitz that ended the long war in
1699 signaled a new era in the history of
OttomanHabsburg, and, more generally,
in OttomanEuropean relations.
HabsburgOttoman relations remained
relatively calm following the peace treaty of
Karlowitz. Both empires waged wars on
other fronts. The War of the Spanish Succession (17011714) and the Hungarian insurrection of Ferenc Rakoczi II (17031711)
tied up Viennas resources. The Ottomans
were fighting successful wars against the
Russians (Pruth campaign, 1711) in Moldavia (modern Romania) and the Venetians
(17141718) in the Morea. By 1716, however, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI had
grown alarmed by the Ottomans recent
conquests in the Morea. He concluded an
offensive and defensive treaty with Venice
(April 13, 1716), which led to Istanbuls
declaration of war against Vienna.
Habsburg forces under Prince Eugene of
Savoy (16631736), imperial field marshal
and president of the Viennese Court War
Council, defeated the Ottomans near
Petervarad (Petrovaradin in modern Serbia,
August 5, 1716), northwest of Belgrade on
the right bank of the Danube. Despite severe
imperial losses of about 4,500 dead and

14
wounded, Eugene decided to besiege
Temesvar, the center of an Ottoman province
since 1552. Temesvars Ottoman defenders
resisted the siege for 43 days, but eventually
gave up the fortress (October 16). Eugene
crowned his military success next year at
the Battle of Belgrade (August 16), with
destruction of the Ottoman relief army of
about a hundred thousand and with the
capture of Belgrade (August 17, 1717). In
the following peace treaty of Passarowitz
(Pozarevac in modern Serbia, 1718) the
Ottomans ceded the Banat of Temesvar and
northern Serbia (including Belgrade) to
Habsburg Austria. However, Istanbul kept
its recent conquests in the Morea and Crete,
territories that the Ottomans had lost to the
Venetians at the Treaty of Karlowitz.
Ottoman victories in the Morea against
the Venetians can be explained by Ottoman
numerical superiority and good logistics, as
well as by Ottoman skills in siege warfare,
the dominant form of confrontation in that
war and a traditionally strong feature of the
Ottoman art of war. However, the weaknesses of the Ottoman military the uneven
quality of the troops, lack of discipline, and
so on were also visible in the Morea war,
and against the Habsburgs these deficiencies proved fatal to the Ottomans. The
Habsburgs were a different enemy. They
not only matched the Ottomans in terms
of mobilized forces, but, due to Eugenes
military brilliance, the expertise of his officer corps, and the discipline of his forces,
they also managed to overcome the often
poorly led and undisciplined Ottoman
army. But Habsburg superiority was also
misleading and should not be overstated.
After Eugenes death in 1736 Vienna lacked
comparably expert and efficient military
leadership, and incompetent command
would lead to defeat, including in the
Austro-Ottoman War of 17371739, during
which the Porte regained Belgrade.

THE WANING OF OTTOMAN POWER


While in their European provinces and
the Caucasus the Ottomans faced a new
formidable enemy, Imperial Russia, and
the various nationalist and separatist movements, led by local notables and supported
by Russia, in their Arab provinces the main
challenge came from local notables and
dynasties. The Wahhabis, led by the Saudi
emirs, took control of the Hejaz (Mecca and
Medina, 18031814). Meanwhile, Ottoman
power in Egypt was challenged by the
Mamluk emirs and by the invasion of the
French (17981802). Finally, in 1805,
Mehmed Ali, an Albanian mercenary of
Istanbul, seized power in Egypt. Relying
upon his European-style army, Mehmed
Ali was to remain in power for forty years.
In North Africa, Ottoman rule had always
depended on the cooperation of local governors, who enjoyed varying degrees of selfrule. By the early eighteenth century, Tunis
and Tripoli of Barbary had become essentially independent provinces. Even in the
strategically more important Arab provinces
closer to home, Istanbul had to relinquish
its authority to local governors. By the
mid-eighteenth century, governors in
Baghdad had been ruling with the
help of slaves (mamluk), imported from
Georgia, and attained a great degree of
independence.
SEE ALSO: Byzantine warfare; Charles V
(Holy Roman Emperor) (15001558); Janissaries; Lepanto, Battle of (1571); Mamluks;
Manzikert, Battle of (1071); Montecu`ccoli,
General Raimondo (16091680); Muscovy,
military rise of (14601730); Peter I of Russia
(The Great) (16721725); Philip II of Spain
(15271598); Russo-Turkish Wars (pre-1878);
Selim I (The Grim) (14651520); Suleiman I
(The Magnificent) (14941566); Timur
(The Lame) (13361405).

15
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Aksan, V.H. (2007) Ottoman Wars 17001870:
An Empire Besieged. Harlow: Longman/
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Allouche, A. (1983) The Origins and Development
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