At its height, the Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and most powerful in history. What religion was the Ottoman Empire?
The Ottoman Empire was Islamic, ruled by many generations of Muslim sultans from about 1300 to 1922. Though Islam was the state religion, at the empire’s peak, the Ottomans were religiously tolerant and there were more Christians than Muslims living within their borders.
For more on the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, read on.
In the late 1200s, Osman I was the leader of a tribe of nomadic Islamic Turks in Anatolia, part of modern-day Turkey. The Christian Byzantine Empire, the successor of the Eastern Roman Empire, had been weakened by centuries of external and internal threats.
Osman saw an opportunity to carve out a territory for himself, launching a series of raids into the Byzantine territory and conquering regions. By 1300, Osman controlled enough land that he was a mighty ruler in his own right, the strongest in Asia Minor.
After Osman’s death, the territory continued expanding, using its newfound wealth to hire mercenaries and spread further into Byzantine land. They became known as the Ottomans and, in 1453, they accomplished what had once been thought impossible by conquering Constantinople.
Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, named for Emperor Constantine. Its conquest signaled the end of the Byzantines and, by extension, the symbolic end of the Roman Empire.
The Ottomans took the city as their new capital, naming it Istanbul. The new Ottoman Empire was ruled by a Sultan, who inherited the title from his father.
With Istanbul at the heart of the empire, the Ottomans spread rapidly, consolidating their position in the Balkans and reaching out across the Middle East and North Africa.
By the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire was one of the strongest in the world and sultan Süleiman the Magnificent oversaw a period of creative and intellectual successes.
At the empire’s most successful, the Ottomans were also religiously tolerant. Though the empire’s rulers were Muslim and Islam was the official state religion, there were actually more Christians than Muslims living within its borders at its peak.
Despite being progressive in some regards, the Ottoman Empire had its flaws. Slavery was an accepted part of society, with male slaves forced into labor either domestically or in military service.
Female slaves were often forced into sexual slavery. Brothers of Sultans were often targeted in an attempt to maintain stability in the realm, resulting in their death or imprisonment.
Controlling much of the Mediterranean coast and with access to both the Arabian and Black seas, the Ottomans occupied a unique trading position. The result was that there were always adequate funds for military campaigns and the empire expanded steadily for centuries.
This changed in 1683 when Ottoman expansion into Europe stalled after failing to conquer Vienna. The failure was a catalyst for a number of issues that increasingly affected the Ottomans.
The Ottoman Empire was weakened by internal political strife and plotting. The great powers of Europe were continually strengthening and expanding their own territory through colonization. This expansion in turn opened up new trade routes, lessening Ottoman control over the continent’s trade to Asia and Africa.
The Industrial Revolution also saw the Ottoman Empire, once among the most advanced civilizations in the world, falling behind. The Empire entered a state of decline and its territory shrank.
In 1908, a group known as the Young Turks staged a revolution and grasped control of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks waged war on their Balkan neighbors, looking to expand their borders again, but in reality, they lost a third of their own land.
Before World War I, the Ottomans allied with Germany and, when war came, they entered it on the side of the Germans. The war was catastrophic for the empire, resulting in the deaths of more than 66% of its military personnel.
There were also three million civilian casualties, with approximately 1.5 million Armenians killed in ethnically motivated massacres and death marches forced upon them by the Young Turks.
With the empire in ruins following the war, a group of Turkish nationalists abolished the sultanate, ending centuries of the Ottoman Empire. The former empire was split into a number of states, with the former core of the empire becoming the new Turkish Republic.
Regardless of its decline and collapse, the Byzantine Empire was one of the great Islamic civilizations in history.