Decline of the Ottoman Empire

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The Decline of the Ottoman Empire, from about 1492 to 1776 saw the weakening of multiple dimensions of the aging empire, as it lost more and more capabilities and fell further and further behind Europe. Historians often use the start and end dates of the decline as the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) and Treaty of Jassy (1792), respectively with the decline proceeding in a continuous rather than an abrupt manner between these dates lasting nearly one hundred years. The previous century had seen the Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire in which the empire experienced multiple setbacks due to poor central leadership, a weakening military, growing regionalism, and unfavourable trade shifts. The period can be seen as starting in 1683 with the disastrous defeat at Vienna. Heavy pressure came from the growing Russian Empire. Ottoman political debates were dominated by pessimism regarding the economic problems and defeats.[1] The Empire tried to catch up to the western world by military reforms which proved to be ineffective in the long run. The decline period was followed by the Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and Tanzimat (political reformation).

Mustafa II (1695–1703)[edit]

Mustafa II sought to turn back the Austrian advance into his Empire and in 1697 took the field in person to reconquer Ottoman Hungary. He was defeated at Zenta by Prince Eugene of Savoy and this event led the Ottomans to seek peace terms. By the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz, Mustafa II ceded Hungary (see Ottoman Hungary) and Transylvania to Austria, Morea to the Venetian Republic and withdrew Turkish forces from Polish Podolia. Also during this reign, Peter I of Russia (1682–1725) captured the Black Sea fortress of Azov from the Turks (1697). He was dethroned during the revolt named Edirne event.[2]

Ahmed III (1703–1730)[edit]

In 1710 Charles XII of Sweden convinced Sultan Ahmed III to declare war against Russia, and the Ottoman forces under Baltacı Mehmet Pasha won a major victory at the Battle of Prut. In the subsequent treaty, Russia returned Azov to the Ottomans, agreed to demolish the fortress of Taganrog and others in the area, and to stop interfering with the affairs of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or Cossacks. Discontent at the leniency of these terms was so strong at Constantinople that it nearly brought on a renewal of the war.

In 1715 Morea was taken from the Venetians. This led to hostilities with Austria, in which the Ottoman Empire had an unsuccessful outcome, and Belgrade fell into the hands of Austria in 1717. Through the mediation of England and the Netherlands the peace of Passarowitz was concluded in 1718, by which Turkey retained her conquests from the Venetians, but lost Banat.

During the course of the Persian war the Turks made successive conquests with little resistance from Persian armies, though often impeded by the nature of the country and the fierce spirit of the native tribes. After a few years, however, the war became less favourable to Ottoman ambition. The celebrated Persian military leader Nadir Konli Khan (who afterwards reconquered and conquered states for himself), gained his first renown by exploits against the enemies of Shah Tahmasp.

Most of Ahmet's reign was the sub period known as Tulip period. The period was marked by a high taste of architecture, literature and luxury as well as the first examples of industrial productions. But the social problems peaked and after the revolt of Patrona Halil Ahmet was dethroned.

Mahmud I (1730–1754)[edit]

Although Mahmud was brought to the throne by the civil strife engendered by Patrona Halil, he did not espouse Halil's anti-reform agenda.[3] In fact, much of his first year as sultan was spent in dealing with the reactionary forces unleashed by Halil. Eventually, on 24 November 1731, he was forced to execute Halil and his main followers, whereupon the rebellion ceased.[3]

In 1731, a dispute arose as to the right of dominion over the Circassians of the Kabartas, a region about half way between the Euxine (Black Sea) and the Caspian Sea, near the course of the river Terek. The Russians claimed the Kabartas as lands of Russian subjects. They asserted that the Circassians were originally Cossacks of the Ukraine, who migrated to the neighbourhood of the Russian city Terki, from which they took their name of Tchercassians, or Circassians. Thence (according to the memorandum drawn up by the Czar's ministers) the Circassians removed to the neighbourhood of Kuban; still, however, retaining their Christian creed and their allegiance to the Czar. The story tells further that the tyranny of the Crim Tartars(Crimean Tatars) forced the Circassians to become Muslims, to migrate farther eastward to the Kabartas; but, nevertheless, the Circassians were still to be regarded as subjects of their original earthly sovereign, and that the land which they occupied became the Czar's territory. This political ethnology had but little influence upon the Turks, especially as the Czar had, in a letter written nine years previously, acknowledged the sovereignty of the Sultan over the Circassians.

The Russian war was fought primarily in the Crimea and the Danubian Principalities (Wallachia and Moldavia). In this war, the Russian commander Von Munnich routed Mahmud I's Crimean Tatar vassals and then led his forces across the Dniestr, bringing much of Bessarabia under Russian control. The Austrians, however, did not fare as well, as Ottoman forces brought Belgrade and northern Serbia back under their control.

The Persian wars saw Ottoman forces ranged against the military genius of Nadir Shah. The Turks managed to retain control of Baghdad, but Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia fell back within the Persian sphere of influence.

Osman III (1754–1757)[edit]

Osman's short term was marked with sultan's peculiarities such as a dislike for women's companionship and intolerance of Jewish people. During his reign there were several big fires in İstanbul, the capital. In the last year of his reign, he appointed Koca Ragıp Pasha, an able and peaceful vizier, as the grand vizier which was a wise decision.

Mustafa III (1757–1774)[edit]

After the death of Koca Ragıp Pasha in 1763, The Sultan Mustafa III governed by himself. He was not good at selecting councilors and commanders. He was a headstrong and hasty man, which contributed to his poor decisions. However he was very industrious and talented, and was dedicated to promoting the interests of the Ottoman Empire.

Abdul Hamid I (1774–1789)[edit]

In 1774 after a catastrophic war with Russia, the Ottomans were compelled to sign the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji.

Selim III (1789–1807)[edit]

The first signs of dissolution were seen during the reign of Selim III (1789–1807). At the end of another war against the coalition of Austria and Russia, the empire signed the Treaty of Sistova (1791, with Austria) and the Treaty of Jassy (1792, with Russia). After the defeats Selim III attempted to improve administrative efficiency through reform, but was dethroned by the Kabakçı Mustafa rebellion when he tried to create a new army and navy.[4]

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Virginia H. Aksan, "Ottoman Political Writing, 1768–1808." International Journal of Middle East Studies (1993) 25#1 pp: 53-69. online
  2. ^ Rifaat Ali Abou-El-Haj, "The Narcissism of Mustafa II (1695-1703): A Psychohistorical Study." Studia Islamica (1974): 115-131. in JSTOR
  3. ^ a b Shaw, Stanford J. and Shaw, Ezel Kural (1976) History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, volume 1: Empire of the Gazis: the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808 Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, p. 240, ISBN 0-521-21280-4
  4. ^ Stanford J. Shaw, "The origins of Ottoman military reform: the Nizam-i Cedid army of Sultan Selim III." Journal of Modern History (1965): 291-306. in JSTOR

Further reading[edit]

  • Palmer, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire (1992)
  • Shaw, Stanford J. and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, volume 1: Empire of the Gazis: the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808 (1976)
  • Stoianovich, Traian. "Factors in the Decline of Ottoman Society in the Balkans," Slavic Review (1962) 21#4 pp 623-632 in JSTOR