The Turks were a people who had come from central Asia to settle in what is now Turkey. It was called Anatolia then. Osman I was a leader of the Turkish tribes in the area. In 1299, he united many of the independent states in the region to form the Ottoman Empire. Bursa became the first capital. Osman I set up a government and allowed his subjects to worship as they wanted. Although the Ottomans were Muslim, they allowed Christians and Jews to worship unhindered and free from persecution. The Ottomans believed that this policy would keep the Empire free from rebellion.
The head of the Ottoman Empire was the Sultan. Murad I was the first Sultan. A Sultan usually had all of his brothers put into prison when he took over the Empire. After the Sultan had a son, he had his brothers executed. Because the Sultan was afraid of being assassinated, he moved to a different room of his Topkapi Palace each night. The Sultan's mother had a lot of power because all the other wives in the Sultan's harem would struggle for their sons to be the next heir. They knew that if the son did not become the Sultan, he would be killed.
The Ottoman Empire continued to grow by adding more states. Edirne in Thrace, north of Greece, became the next capital in 1365 and remained so until 1453. The Sultan sent men to govern each of the countries he conquered. In 1453, Mehmet II captured the city of Constantinople, capital of the huge Byzantine Empire. He was then called an emperor. He made the city the capital of his empire, the Ottoman Empire. He changed the name to Istanbul. This empire was the one of the most powerful in the world for several hundred years after this time.
When Suleiman the Magnificent reigned from 1520-1566, much more land was added to the Ottoman Empire. The Empire took over much of Eastern Europe including Hungary and Greece. Suleiman was called the Lawgiver. He was thought to be the head of all the Muslims on earth. He wrote poetry and set up laws in a different way. He had mosques built in the Middle East. The art of the Ottomans, like pottery and calligraphy, became famous. The Ottoman Empire reached its height during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.
During this period, the Ottomans had competition from European countries vying for trade in the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans sent troops to help the Muslims in Kenya and Aceh (in Indonesia). Because of its unique situation, the Ottomans interacted with both the East and the West.
The Empire stopped growing in the 1600's. India and Europe began to compete economically with the Ottoman Empire. It had been plagued with internal corruption and lack of leadership also. After the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman Empire knew that it was no longer a very big power. In 1699, the Ottomans signed a treaty with the Austrian Empire. They lost a piece of land to the Austrians. A new banking system was put into place. Guilds were replaced by factories. Janissaries, the Sultan's special guards, were done away with. A modern army was established. The Ottomans began making alliances. It allied itself with France, England and others against Russia during the Crimean War.
However, the Ottomans could not repay loans to the European countries. They had trouble defending Egypt from the French in 1798 and Cyprus from the British in 1876. The people were starting to want a more democratic form of government. Several coups took place and resulted in the formation of a constitutional monarchy where a political party ruled the country. Mustapha Kemal Pasha led a war for independence after World War I. The Republic of Turkey was established on October 29, 1923.
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