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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Five Ottoman Things

Discover the Ottomans

Five Things of Splendour Among the Ruins
Also see "Things of Legend"

Here are five facts about the Ottoman Empire. For example, did you know...

  • ...that to the average person in the West, the incredible story of how great leaders carried a border tribe into world super-power status through the Ottoman Empire is perhaps the least known in history? Overlooked in large due to Western historians who have peered at history through the lens of their own prejudices, yet for six centuries, the Ottoman influence, military might, open-mindedness, religious tolerance, and meritocracy resembled the United States of the 20th century. [The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire by Lord Patrick Balfour Kinross]

  • ...about the open-mindedness of most of the early Sultans in terms of not only tolerating, but promoting Christians and other religious minorities? The administrative patterns of the different periods of the Empire rewarded the early network of Christian-born officials that brought the standard of government to a level far beyond anything pertaining in Europe at the time, creating such an atmosphere that for centuries, European peasants preferred to be ruled by the Ottomans than by their own, more grasping, unpredictable rulers. Populations of Orthodox Christians often favoured being conquered by the Ottomans in preference to being dominated by Christian rulers affiliated with Rome, whom were often very intolerant of the Orthodox Christian tradition. [Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire by Caroline Finkel]

  • ...that the Ottomans forged an Anglo-Turkish alliance in the 16th century? England and the Ottoman Empire signed an agreement in 1581, granting English merchants preferential trading rights in the region, superior to any currently in existence with other European nations. It was hoped this alliance might play a key role in creating an effective East-West force, to divide the military focus of the dominant and aggressively expansionist European power, Catholic Spain. ["An Eye for Detail", by Lisa Jardine for the BBC, 21 December 2007]

  • ...why female harems during the Ottoman Empire existed in the first place? The simple answer is this. If the sovereign gets married to a princess of another power that power could lay claim to the throne, but if he has offspring with a bunch of slaves, women who are not of the Muslim faith and are not linked to powerful families, than outsiders could not lay claim to the throne by right of blood. Yet, in fact these concubines were not powerless. Through their sons and daughters, through networks based on retainers, son-in-laws and slaves, they gained great influence and wealth. Mothers of princes, wives and royal mothers to the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, they were a big part of the inner workings and political events within the palace. [The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Studies in Middle Eastern History) by Leslie P. Peirce]

  • ...that for some 130 years, the women of the Ottoman royal harem enjoyed extraordinary political influence? This unusual period during the 16th and 17th centuries – when powerful women exercised all royal prerogatives but one: leading Ottoman armies into battle – is popularly known as the 'sultanate of women'. ["The Sultanate of Women", Channel 4, UK, Oct-Nov 2003]
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