The Ottomans by Marc David Baer review – when east met west

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In May 1453, Ottoman subject forces nether Sultan Mehmed II captured the erstwhile large Byzantine superior of Constantinople, present Istanbul. It was a landmark moment. What was viewed arsenic 1 of the top cities of Christendom, and described by the sultan arsenic “the 2nd Rome”, had fallen to Muslim conquerors. The sultan adjacent called himself “caesar”.

After a lengthy siege, Mehmed rode his achromatic equine to Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century Greek Orthodox Church of Divine Wisdom, astatine the clip the largest gathering successful the world. He ordered a azygous minaret to beryllium added, turning it into a mosque, but refrained from remaking Constantinople arsenic a purely Muslim city. Instead, helium promoted the Sunni-dominated tolerance and diverseness the Ottomans had been practising for much than a period successful south-eastern Europe – agelong earlier European Christian societies tolerated their spiritual minorities. The caller Ottoman ruling people was composed mostly of converted Christians.

Marc David Baer’s halfway statement successful this highly readable publication is that much than 600 years of the Ottoman empire should beryllium seen arsenic an inseparable portion of the past of Europe, and not arsenic thing detached from it, arsenic with mendacious narratives that overgarment the eastbound and west, and Christianity and Islam, arsenic antithetical.

Traditional European accounts of Ottoman regularisation thin to emphasise religion alternatively than secular matters successful enactment with the value attached to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. But, arsenic the writer contends, “their communicative is the unacknowledged portion of the communicative the West tells astir itself.” At the highest of its power, this planetary empire governed astir a 4th of Europe’s onshore country – modern Serbia, Bosnia, Hungary and Greece – and took successful ample chunks of the Middle East, including the Muslim beatified places of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, to northbound Africa.

The communicative begins successful the precocious 13th period with Osman, the eponymous laminitis of the Ottoman dynasty – a Muslim Turkic nomad who migrated, with herds of horses, oxen, goats and sheep, to Christian-majority Anatolia, past chiefly Armenian oregon Greek. Osman’s son, Orhan, organised the archetypal subject units from prisoners captured successful Christian-ruled areas. Conversion to Islam became a cardinal diagnostic of Ottoman life, arsenic did the signifier of fratricide – sultans sidesplitting their brothers to guarantee a creaseless succession – on with rebellions by “deviant dervishes”: extremist Sufi Muslims.

Baer, prof of planetary past astatine the London School of Economics, defines the “Ottomans’ tripartite heritage” arsenic “Byzantine-Roman, Turco-Mongol and Muslim” – and a “Eurasian amalgam”. The Ottomans became the biggest trading spouse of occidental Europe successful the Renaissance era. King Henry VIII of England enjoyed dressing successful their fashionable styles. Suleiman I (who ruled 1520-1566), the archetypal sultan to telephone himself “caliph”, fought the Persian Safavids successful the eastbound and the Habsburgs successful the west.

This publication is impressively well-structured. Chronological chapters focused connected successive rulers are followed by thematic ones addressing taste issues, messianic depictions of the sultan, the emergence of the Ottomans arsenic a maritime powerfulness and attitudes to women, Jews and eunuchs successful dynastic politics.

Selim I’s conquests doubled the size of the empire, and by the extremity of the 16th period the Ottomans, Baer writes, “had reached the highest of their planetary governmental powerfulness and prosperity”. Decline acceptable successful pursuing the failed siege of Vienna successful 1683. Reasons for the decision included the city’s sheer region from Istanbul, the nonaccomplishment of Ottoman firepower superiority and the enlargement of rival empires successful cardinal Europe. By the 2nd fractional of the 18th period Russia had replaced the Safavids arsenic the Ottomans’ main enemy. And it was Tsar Nicholas I who referred to the empire, connected the eve of the Crimean war, arsenic “the sick antheral of Europe”.

This “sick man” statement became peculiarly fashionable during the 33-year reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II, who fuelled European outrage, and was known arsenic the “red sultan” connected relationship of his massacres of Armenians. He suspended parliament and sparked the emergence of revolutionaries, called the Young Turks, who would erode Ottoman power. The outbreak of the archetypal satellite warfare was followed successful 1915 by the Armenian genocide.

A distinctly Ottoman mentation of orientalism played a relation successful medication of the shrinking empire, with the elite successful Istanbul viewing itself arsenic a civilising unit implicit Arabs, Bedouins and Kurds – what 1 student wittily labelled “the achromatic man’s load wearing a fez”. Eventually, Turkish nationalism replaced Ottoman Muslim nationalism nether Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), who inaugurated a caller language: modern Turkish, shorn of Arabic and Persian words, and written successful Latin alternatively than successful Arabic script. Kurds were viewed arsenic “savages” successful the caller Turkish republic.

Memory matters: successful 1918, the French wide who entered Istanbul aft the Allied triumph was riding a achromatic equine successful a deliberately humiliating imitation of Mehmed II much than 450 years earlier. Baer’s good publication gives a panoramic and thought-provoking relationship of implicit fractional a millennium of Ottoman and – it present goes without saying – European history.