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The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire…
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The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire (original 1992; edition 2011)

by Alan Palmer (Author)

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255571,242 (3.33)1
Like England?s Charles II, the Ottoman Empire took (3zsan unconscionable time dying.(3y sSince the seventeenth century, observers had been predicting the collapse of this so-called Sick Man of Europe, yet it survived all its rivals. As late as 1910, the Ottoman Empire straddled three continents. Unlike the Romanovs, Habsburgs, or Hohenzollerns, the House of Osman, which had allied itself with the Kaiser, was still recognized as an imperial dynasty during the peace conference following World War I. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire offers a provocative view of the empire?s decline, from the failure to take Vienna in 1683 to the abolition of the Sultanate by Mustafa Kemal (Atat?rk) in 1922 during a revolutionary upsurge in Turkish national pride. The narrative contains instances of violent revolt and bloody reprisals, such as the massacres of Armenians in 1896, and other (3zsethnic episodes(3y sin Crete and Macedonia. More generally, it emphasizes recurring problems: competition between religious and secular authority; the acceptance or rejection of Western ideas; and the strength or weakness of successive Sultans. The book also highlights the special challenges of the early twentieth century, when railways and oilfields gave new importance to Ottoman lands in the Middle East. Events of the past few years have placed the problems that faced the last Sultans back on the world agenda. The old empire?s outposts in the Balkans and in Iraq are still considered trouble spots. Alan Palmer offers considerable insight into the historical roots of many contemporary problems: the Kurdish struggle for survival, the sad continuity of conflict in Lebanon, and the centuries-old Muslim presence in Sarajevo. He also recounts the Ottoman Empire?s lingering interests in their oil-rich Libyan provinces. By exploring that legacy over the past three centuries, The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire examines a past whose effect on the present may go a long way toward explaining the future. Praise for The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire: (3zsAlan Palmer writes the sort of history that dons did before ?accessible? became an academic insult. It is cool, rational, scholarly, literate.(3ys?John Keegan (3zsA scholarly, readable and balanced history.(3ys?The Independent on Sunday (3zsA marvellously readable book based on massive research.(3ys?Robert Blak… (more)
Member:dagmar.celeste
Title:The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire
Authors:Alan Palmer (Author)
Info:Fall River Press Edition (2011), Edition: a
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The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Palmer (1992)

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Informative. Author Alan Palmer presents a narrative history rather than a political or economic analysis, starting with the 1683 Siege of Vienna – the Ottoman Empire’s European high water mark. The reasons for the collapse are easy enough to deduce, however; like every other failed empire, external and internal pressures combined.


The external pressure came mostly from Russia and Austria-Hungary; England, France and Italy didn’t get into the act until relatively late. (However England contributed strongly to the outcome of the Greek independence movement and the de facto independence of Egypt). When I think of “Russo-Turkish” war, what first comes to mind is the 1877-1878 war, with the Siege of Plevna. However, Palmer notes wars in 1711 (Ottoman victory, Azov to the Ottomans); 1711 (no decision); 1735-1738 (Azov to Russia); 1768-1774 (Crimean independence, Russian territorial gains in the Ukraine and Caucasus); 1787-1792 (Crimea annexed by Russia, Russian territorial gains in the Ukraine); 1806-1812 (Bessarabia and part of Georgia to Russia); 1828-1829 (Georgia, Armenia, Wallachia, Moldova to Russia, Greece and Serbia autonomous); 1853-1856 (Crimean War; Moldova and Wallachia to the Ottomans; Russia forbidden a Black Sea Fleet (later unilaterally renounced); 1877-1878 (more of the Caucasus to Russia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania independent; Bosnia-Herzegovina to Austria-Hungary; Cyprus to Great Britain); and, of course, 1914-1917 (some bits and pieces of the Caucasus back to Turkey; Russia to hell in a handbasket). The Tsar’s strategy, which was working fairly well until 1917 intervened, was to nibble their way to Constantinople (it was Nicolas I who coined the phrase “sick man of Europe”). The Austro-Hungarians tried to pick up pieces while the Ottomans were distracted by Russia, and generally succeeded as well. The Italians got Libya and the Dodecanese in 1911-1912, and the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Montenegrins detached little slices in 1912-1913 (the Ottomans got a little back in the Second Balkan War, 1913). The slow loss of the European provinces was more significant than it might initially seem; these contained about 40% of the empires population, and a much larger fraction of its military.


In the meantime, of course, various internal conflicts broke out, often more or less in conjunction with external attacks. After several hundred year of being content (well, maybe not content, but at least acquiescent) to being Ottomans, Serbs, Montenegrins, Greeks, Cretans, Bulgarians, Romanians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Kurds, Georgians, Armenians, Kurds, Tunisians and Saudis decided they wanted to be their own countries. Ironically, the Turks themselves got into the act at the end, deciding that they were a country and not an empire, which resulted in the expulsion of tens of thousands of people who had been living in Turkey for centuries.


The slow metamorphoses of the Janissaries also contributed to the decline. Originally, the Janissaries (from the Turkish yeni ҫeri, “new soldiers”) were slaves drawn from six-year-old male Christian children (theoretically from anywhere but in fact mostly from the European provinces). Converted to Islam, they were forbidden to marry, own houses, engage in business, or grow beards. In exchange they got good pay and (if they survived) retirement benefits. There were elite among the elite, the serdengeҫi, who made up assault forces (I wonder if these are the origin of Frank Herbert’s sardaukar?) The Janissary concept worked quite well for a long time. Because their only loyalty was to the Sultan, they never formed local attachments and made excellent internal security troops. Unfortunately for the Ottomans, their reputation outlasted their effectiveness; the restrictions on janissaries were gradually relaxed; they were allowed to marry, then live outside the barracks, then own businesses. As the empire ran down, the janissaries became more and more like a fraternal organization or political party (or perhaps like the Praetorian Guard) and less and less like a military force. The final attempt to use a janissary unit in a military action, in 1811, resulted in 11400 desertions out of an initial force of 13000 – after a 35 mile march. In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II staged a sort of reverse coup d’état; Mahmud II had been gradually reforming the regular Ottoman army – especially the artillery. When the Sultan announced a reduction in janissary privileges, they predictably revolted – and were crushed by cannon fire.


It’s a little disappointing that Palmer doesn’t pay too much attention to the economics of the Empire. The main reason for decline here was religious resistance to change (it is perhaps significant that the Arabic word for “heretic” can also be translated “innovator”). Although various Western innovations were gradually introduced, it was generally over the vehement protests of the religious authorities (as one example, the first printing press didn’t appear in Turkey until almost 300 years after its adoption in Europe). The religious leaders had a surprising (to me at least) influence over politics and the economy. I had tended to think of the Sultan as an all-powerful autocrat; however, of the last 18 Sultans, 9 were deposed or ruled in name only. The deposition usually came at the hands of the ulema; in theory all the faithful but in fact the leading clergy. The deposed Sultan usually retired to a guarded suite of rooms in one of the palaces; he was frequently (although not inevitably) found dead a short time after his deposition. The new Sultan could only come from a male of the Ottoman family; originally Sultans insured there would be no family opposition by having all their brothers and uncles strangled as part of their “coronation” (girding with the Sword of Osman) ceremony (given the realities of harem life – one Sultan had 103 sons – this could get messy). By the time of Palmer’s account, things had tempered a little and prospective royal claimants were instead “caged” – kept in a palace apartment. This lead to some unusual situations – several of the Sultans had been “caged” for 30 to 40 years before they ascended the throne, not exactly a situation conducive to learning statecraft.


The final decades of the Empire were complex; a constitution had been forced on the Sultan, and there was a representative assembly. Immediately a variety of political parties sprung up and went at each other’s throats. Turkey’s entry into WW I was not a forgone conclusion – even though there was considerable German influence – but the Royal Navy’s confiscation of two Turkish battleships just before they were launched was a considerable insult to Turkish public opinion (I expect the Foreign Office had never really considered Turkish “public opinion” before). The German battlecruiser Goeben showed up in Constantinople, having evaded the British and French navies; Admiral Souchon was made Commander in Chief of the Ottoman Navy and put his crew in fezzes. He then, apparently without notifying the Ottoman government, went off and bombarded Odessa and Sevastopol, and that, so to speak, was that.


Well-written history of a subject that was mostly new to me. It could use a couple of table for chronological reference – a list of Sultans, for example. There are no photographs, which is excusable. The maps are barely adequate; the index is rather sparse, but there is a handy glossary of Turkish words connected with government and the military. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 21, 2017 |
Fascinating history of probably the longest surviving empires in history. An empire that should have collapsed long ago but was really bandaged and tenuously held together through a combination of slavery (the Janissaries were drawn primarily from Christian families), bribes, religion, state sponsored feudalism, subterfuge, clever alliances and not true statecraft and efficient administration.

The empire that lasted from around 1450 until 1922, seemed to have produced only one Sultan of any consequence, Suleyman I the magnificient. These Ottomans had been knocking at the gates of the Byzantine Empire that directed it's power from Constantinople. Finally in the mid 1440s was able to push through and inherit the rich legacy left behind by this Eastern remnant of the erstwhile Roman empire.

Many believe that it was primarily religion that helped this ramshackle empire survive for as long as it did. All the Sultans including Suleyman depended heavily on the Ulema and Shariat for advice and direction so there was little evidence of separation of Church and State as is the case even today. After the prophet there were several caliphates whose caliphs were his direct descendents such as the Abbasid, Ummayad, Fatimid and eventually the Ottoman Caliphate.

Towards the end the fate of the empire was increasingly being dictated by the whims and fancies of the five great powers of that age Great Britain, France, Austria, Russia and Germany. With England and France providing much of the financial assistance to keep the perenially bankrupt empire afloat and Germany providing the weaponry and military assistance that helped it retain a semblance of power.

This fairy tale gone wrong does have a happy ending, it did find it's super hero in the form of Mustafa Kemal. This formidable guy who singlehandedly managed to achieve several superhuman feats, unthinkable in a predominantly Islamic state. As one of the founders of a new Nationalist movement he managed to get on his side a bulk of the well trained and professional Ottoman Army that rebelled against the weak sultan. With this he managed to wrest control of a lot of territory lost in earlier campaigns and frittered away by weak sultans who signed away vast swathes of territories in treaties and pacts drawn up by the great powers.

The greatest feat of all is perhaps the establishment of a secular federal republic and the abolishment of the Caliphate and the toning down of it's attendant institution the Ulema. A state that survives to this day and carries on the vision laid out by it's enlightened founder. There are several such theocratic states that could use a Mustafa Kemal.
  danoomistmatiste | Jan 24, 2016 |
Fascinating history of probably the longest surviving empires in history. An empire that should have collapsed long ago but was really bandaged and tenuously held together through a combination of slavery (the Janissaries were drawn primarily from Christian families), bribes, religion, state sponsored feudalism, subterfuge, clever alliances and not true statecraft and efficient administration.

The empire that lasted from around 1450 until 1922, seemed to have produced only one Sultan of any consequence, Suleyman I the magnificient. These Ottomans had been knocking at the gates of the Byzantine Empire that directed it's power from Constantinople. Finally in the mid 1440s was able to push through and inherit the rich legacy left behind by this Eastern remnant of the erstwhile Roman empire.

Many believe that it was primarily religion that helped this ramshackle empire survive for as long as it did. All the Sultans including Suleyman depended heavily on the Ulema and Shariat for advice and direction so there was little evidence of separation of Church and State as is the case even today. After the prophet there were several caliphates whose caliphs were his direct descendents such as the Abbasid, Ummayad, Fatimid and eventually the Ottoman Caliphate.

Towards the end the fate of the empire was increasingly being dictated by the whims and fancies of the five great powers of that age Great Britain, France, Austria, Russia and Germany. With England and France providing much of the financial assistance to keep the perenially bankrupt empire afloat and Germany providing the weaponry and military assistance that helped it retain a semblance of power.

This fairy tale gone wrong does have a happy ending, it did find it's super hero in the form of Mustafa Kemal. This formidable guy who singlehandedly managed to achieve several superhuman feats, unthinkable in a predominantly Islamic state. As one of the founders of a new Nationalist movement he managed to get on his side a bulk of the well trained and professional Ottoman Army that rebelled against the weak sultan. With this he managed to wrest control of a lot of territory lost in earlier campaigns and frittered away by weak sultans who signed away vast swathes of territories in treaties and pacts drawn up by the great powers.

The greatest feat of all is perhaps the establishment of a secular federal republic and the abolishment of the Caliphate and the toning down of it's attendant institution the Ulema. A state that survives to this day and carries on the vision laid out by it's enlightened founder. There are several such theocratic states that could use a Mustafa Kemal.
  kkhambadkone | Jan 17, 2016 |
A scholarly overview of the Ottoman Empire beginning with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the establishment of modern Turkey in 1922. ( )
  Waltersgn | Jul 18, 2015 |
I like a history book with a thesis and this book seemed to have a thesis: How did the Ottoman Empire persist for centuries despite seeming in a perpetual state of decline? I think the book failed to address this and instead followed a more traditional path for a history book - relating people, places and events. It isn't a good book for someone unfamiliar with the subject. There are key events that are given light treatment as if the author assumed we already knew all about it. However, it made me realize that so many of the current events in the region are just a continuation of a long history. Especially, how the policies of the Soviet Union were just a continuation of the foreign policies of Tsarist Russia. The book has definitely made me much more interested in learning more about the region and visiting Turkey. ( )
  theageofsilt | May 13, 2013 |
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to E.R.P., with love and gratitude
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"There never has been and never will be a more dreadful happening", wrote a monastic scribe in Crete when in June 1453 reports reached the island that Constantinople had fallen to the Turk.
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