What Was the Ottoman Empire and Why Was It Important?

(Last Updated On: May 1, 2019)
What Was the Ottoman Empire?

When the topic of great world empires comes up, there are a few that immediately come to mind. The Roman Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, and of course the Ottoman Empire. For hundreds of years, this latter group was one of the most feared and powerful empires in the entire world. But what was the Ottoman Empire exactly? Where was this empire located? And why was it so important?

What Was the Ottoman Empire?

Simply put, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful and longest lasting empires in the history of the world.

Back in 1299, the leader of some large Turkish tribes located in Anatolia decided to establish a more formal method of ruling. This leader, named Osman Gazi (later to be known as Osman I), began the process of setting up a formal government and expanding the territory that he controlled. This new group would become known as the Ottoman Empire.

Osman I received the title of Sultan, and became the highest form of authority in the newly formed Ottoman Empire. His control extended to all political, religious, and military aspects of the society.

The Ottoman Empire would have 36 different Sultans from beginning to end, and it is the first four that are largely responsible for expanding the territory of the empire. However, the empire would continue to grow throughout its history. At the height of their power, the Ottoman Empire controlled large parts of Europe and Asia. Their territory included what is now modern-day Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Egypt, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and more.

Map of the Ottoman Empire
Map of the Ottoman Empire c. 17th century

What Was the Ottoman Empire Known For?

The Ottoman Empire was known for their many contributions to the world of arts and culture. They turned the ancient city of Constantinople (which they renamed to Istanbul after capturing it) into a cultural hub filled with some of the world’s greatest paintings, poetry, textiles, and music.

The Ottomans were also noted for their interest in the sciences. Many citizens would go through a rigorous education in astronomy, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. And the Ottoman Empire is responsible for giving the world catheters, scalpels, forceps, and more.

Of course, not all of the Ottoman Empire’s legacy is good. Shortly before the fall of the empire, the Ottoman government began to systematically exterminate some 600,000-1,500,000 Armenians living within the empire. The event came to be known as the Armenian Genocide. Today, Turkey still disputes use of the term genocide to describe the killings, despite its acceptance by practically all scholars and historians.

Further reading: Where Is Armenia?

How Long Did the Ottoman Empire Last?

The Ottoman Empire lasted a very long time, beginning in 1299 and finally collapsing in 1922. This 623-year rule makes the Ottoman Empire one of the longest standing empires of all time.

We tend to think of it as some ancient group from a different world, but most people don’t realize that the Ottoman Empire lasted into the 20th century. In fact, the Ottoman Empire was even around when Warner Bros Studios was created.

Why Did the Ottoman Empire End?

By the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire had started to lose its position as one of the world’s most dominant forces. Other European empires gradually begun to gain power of their own and edge them out. After a series of military losses, such as the Battle of Vienna and the Balkan Wars, the Ottoman Empire controlled virtually no areas of Europe anymore. The final nail in the coffin came during the first World War. The Ottoman Empire joined forces with the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

After World War I ended in 1918, the Ottoman Empire was almost entirely broken up, with parts of their land given to Russia, Britain, France, and Greece. However, it wasn’t until 1922 that the title of Sultan was officially eliminated and the long reign of the Ottoman Empire officially came to an end.

In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was established in the Anatolian heartland.

Further reading: Is Turkey in Europe or Asia?