The Character of the Ottomans

February 13, 2008 § Leave a comment

The Ottoman’s have long been the point of attack and criticism by various rivals and opposing states. These criticisms were often based on a religious platform subject to positions undermining the religious harmony that was established during Ottoman rule. However, despite these views it should be known that the character of the Ottoman Government is historically known to be of the highest grade of institutionalized statehood. This has been addressed a number of times but I would like to present an account given by Albert Howe Lyber, PhD, which was published by Cambridge/Harvard University Press in 1913. In this account Dr. Lyber writes of Ottoman character saying,

First, the Ottoman Turks of the sixteenth century ruled countries wholly within the sphere of the Mediterranean civilization. The only possible exception was the steppe lands north of the Black sea; but these had been almost as much under the sway of Rome and Constantinople as they ever were under that of Stamboul. Even communication with Eastern and Southern Asia was well-nigh cut off. The road to China north of the Caspian Sea alone remained open, but after the break-up of the Mongol Empire it had become long and dangerous. The rival and hostile New Persian power firmly closed the southern land route to India and China; and even the sea-way from Egypt eastward was blockaded by the newly-arrived Portuguese. Thus the Ottoman Empire, except in remote origins, which, indeed, profoundly influenced it, grew and flourished within what is commonly considered the main field of history. Accordingly, it has a greater claim upon the Western world on the score of kinship than has hitherto generally been allowed.

Second, within the Mediterranean civilization the Ottoman Empire combined regions of both Orient and Occident. The classical world knew chiefly Romans, Greeks, and Orientals. The Ottoman Turk succeeded to two-thirds of this world, the lands of Greece and the East. From the day of Issus to the day of Menzikert, Asia Minor had to all intents and purposes been a part of Europe. After Menzikert it became a center of Turkish rule, to which, in the course of time, territories from both Asia and Europe were added in widening circles. No deep knowledge of historical forces is necessary to suggest that neither Southern Europe nor Asia Minor itself could the teachings of fourteen centuries or more be obliterated in five centuries or less, or even in an eternity; nor would they fail to exert a profound influence from the moment of conquest. To regard the Ottoman Empire as a mere Oriental state would be to misread history and to misunderstand human nature. Its lands were of both Orient and Occident, so also were its people, so also were its culture and its government.

Third, the Ottoman Turks drew men and ideas from both Mohammedans and Christians. They have commonly been regarded as wholly Mohammedan, and therefore they have been shut off by a well-nigh impenetrable barrier from the sympathies of a world still possessed by the prejudices of crusading days. The foundations of such prejudices are easily open to attack. The main religious ideas of Mohammedanism are not except as to the divinity of Christ, inharmonious with those of Christianity; they were, indeed, in all probability drawn chiefly from the religious teachings of the Old Testament. The social system of Mohammedanism is also much like that of the Old Testament.[…] But, leaving aside the question of the kinship of Christianity and Mohammedanism, no one can deny that the Ottomans ruled over many Christians, that many of their ablest men and families were of Christian ancestry, and that, according to the nature of humanity, as much of their civilization and ruling ideas may have come from Christian as from Mohammedan sources. (7)

Some word references:

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