Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire

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The Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire, Stephen Lee argues was relentless from 1566 to 1699, interrupted by a few short revivals. The decline gathered speed so that the Empire in 1699 was, "a mere shadow of that which intimidated East and West alike in 1566."[1] Although there are dissenting scholars, most historians point to "degenerate Sultans, incompetent Grand Vezirs, debilitated and ill-equipped armies, corrupt officials, avaricious speculators, grasping enemies and treacherous friends."[2] The main cause was a failure of leadership, as the first 10 sultans from 1292 to 1566, with one exception, had done quite well. The next 13 sultans from 1566 to 1703, with two exceptions, were lackadaisical or incompetent rulers. In a highly centralized system, the failure at the center proved fatal. A direct result was the strengthening of provincial elites who increasingly ignored Constantinople. Secondly the military strength and technology of European enemies grew stronger and stronger, while the Ottoman armies and arms scarcely improved.[3][4] Finally the Ottoman economic system grew distorted and impoverished, as war caused inflation, world trade moved in other directions, and the deterioration of law and order made economic progress difficult. [5][6]

Despite a few territorial gains like Crete, there were almost continuous rebellions in Anatolia and vast territories were lost to Safavid Persia. The period is marked by weak and semi mad sultans and incapable grand viziers. The valide sultans (mothers of the sultans) who acted like queen regent were the powerful figures of the period. Powerful women in the harem picked favourites for high office and corruption rather than competence ruled. The stagnation period was followed by the Decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Ahmet I (1603–1617)[edit]

Ahmet was enthroned while he was only 14. Unlike his predecessors he had never served in Anatolia as a sanjak governor. In the earlier part of his reign Ahmet I showed decision and vigour, which were belied by his subsequent conduct. The wars which attended his accession both in Hungary and in Persia terminated unfavourably for the Empire, and her prestige received its first check in the Treaty of Sitvatorok, signed in 1606, whereby the annual tribute paid by Austria was abolished. By the Treaty of Nasuh Pasha in 1612, Georgia and Azerbaijan were ceded to Persia. During Ahmet's reign about one hundred thousand Anatolian Turks were killed in the series of revolts known as Jelali revolts. Ahmet is also known for his efforts in the construction of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque).

Mustafa I (1617–1618), (1622–1623)[edit]

Ahmet made a major change in the laws of heredity. Up to Ahmet's reign only the late sultan's son could have the chance of enthroning. According to Ahmet's law, brothers could also be enthroned. Thus Mustafa, Ahmet's brother became the sultan after the latter's death. However he was almost insane and he was quickly replaced by Osman II. After Osman's death he was enthroned again, for a very short term.

Osman II (1618–1622)[edit]

Osman II (known as Genç Osman, "Osman the Young") secured the Empire's eastern border by signing a peace treaty with Safavid Persia. He personally led the Ottoman invasion of Poland during the Moldavian Magnate Wars. Forced to sign a peace treaty with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth after the Battle of Chotin (Chocim) (actually a siege of Chotin defended by Polish-Lithuanian forces under the command of hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz) in September–October, 1621, Osman II returned home to Constantinople[7] in shame, blaming the cowardice of the Janissaries and the insufficiency of his statesmen for his humiliation. Although he planned to abolish the jannisary corps, he was dethroned and brutally killed by the jannisary.

Murad IV (1623–1640)[edit]

Murad IV was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1623 to 1640. During the early years of his reign while he was still a child of 9, he witnessed the indiscipline of the janisarries. After 1632, he took command. Between 1632 and 1640 he was known both for restoring the authority of the state and for the brutality of his methods. Murad IV's reign is most notable for a war against Persia in which Ottoman forces conquered Azerbaijan, occupied Tabriz, Hamadan, and captured Baghdad in 1638. Murad IV himself commanded the invasion of Mesopotamia and proved to be an outstanding field commander. By the treaty of Zuhab he drew the border line between the Ottoman and the Safavid Empires which is more or less the present border line between Turkey - Iraq and Iran. His administration was known for banning alcohol.

İbrahim (1640–1648)[edit]

When Murat died, İbrahim was the last male member of the dynasty. A quack doctor Cinci Hoca who was supported by Kösem Sultan, the sultan's mother, became the most powerful man in the empire.

Mehmed IV (1648–1687)[edit]

Mehmed IV was the Sultan from 1648 to 1687, when the Empire had a population of over 30 million. Taking the throne at age six, his reign was significant as he changed the nature of the Sultan's position forever by giving up most of his executive power to his Grand Vizier.

His reign is notable for a brief revival of Ottoman fortunes led by Grand Vizier Mehmed Köprülü and his son Fazıl Ahmet . They regained the Aegean islands from Venice and fought successful campaigns against Transylvania (1664) and Poland (1670–1674). At one point, when Mehmed IV allied himself with Petro Doroshenko, Ottoman rule was close to extending into Podolia and Ukraine. See Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks for his correspondence with the Cossacks.

A later vizier, Kara Mustafa was less able. Supporting the 1683 Hungarian uprising of Imre Thököly against Austrian rule, Kara Mustafa marched a vast army through Hungary and besieged Vienna at the Battle of Vienna. On the Kahlenberg Heights, the Ottomans suffered a catastrophic rout by Polish forces famously led by their King, John III Sobieski (1674–96), and his Holy League allies, notably the Imperial army.

In 1687 he was deposed by the combined forces of Yeğen Osman and the janissaries. Mehmed then was imprisoned in Topkapı Palace. However, he was permitted to leave the Palace from time to time, as he died in Edirne Palace in 1693. He was buried in Turhan Hadice Sultan's tomb, near his mother's mosque in Constantinople. Just before he died in 1691, a plot was discovered in which the senior clerics of the empire planned to reinstate Mehmed on the throne in response to the ill health of his successor, Suleiman II.

Süleyman II (1687–1691)[edit]

Jannisaries's revolt continued during the early phase of Süleyman's reign. Meanwhile, Prince Eugene of Savoy led Austrian forces to victories in the Great Turkish War. Süleyman II who was an ailing sultan appointed Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Pasha as the grandvizier. This was a wise choice for Fazıl Mustafa Pasha temporarily changed the course of events by recapturing the important fort Belgrad.

Ahmet II (1691–1695)[edit]

Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Pasha's death during the Battle of Slankamen was a great loss for the Ottoman side. Ottoman Empire lost all Hungary except Banat. But Ottoman-Cremean side was more successful in the Polish front. Nevertheless when Russia also joined the Allies, Ottomans had to fight in Azov fort also.

Mustafa II (1695–1703)[edit]

Although Mustafa II (1695–1703), last of campaigning sultans, won a few minor victories, he suffered a devastating loss in the Battle of Zenta by Prince Eugene of Savoy of Austria. By 1699, Ottoman Hungary had been conquered by the Austrians. The Treaty of Karlowitz was signed that year. By this treaty, 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).[8]


  1. ^ Stephen J. Lee, Aspects of European History: 1494-1789 (2nd ed., 1984) p 77
  2. ^ Joel Shinder, "Career Line Formation in the Ottoman Bureaucracy, 1648-1750: A New Perspective," Journal of the Economic & Social History of the Orient (1973) 16#2 pp 217-237; Shindler is a dissenter.
  3. ^ David Nicolle, Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300-1774 (Osprey, 1983)
  4. ^ Jonathan Grant, "Rethinking The Ottoman "Decline": Military Technology Diffusion in the Ottoman Empire, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries," Journal of World History (1999) 10#1 pp 179-201.
  5. ^ Lee, Aspects of European History: 1494-1789' (1984) pp 77-84
  6. ^ On the economic troubles see Hakan Berument and Asli Gunay 1. "Inflation Dynamics and its Sources in the Ottoman Empire: 1586–1913." International Review of Applied Economics (2007) 21#2 pp: 207-245. online
  7. ^ Caroline Finkel, Osman's Dream, (2004), 57
  8. ^ Abou-El-Haj, Rifaat Ali. "The Narcissism of Mustafa II (1695-1703): A Psychohistorical Study." Studia Islamica (1974): 115-131.
  • Incorporates text from "History of Ottoman Turks" (1878)

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Finkel, Caroline. Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1923. (John Murray, 2005) excerpt and text search
  • Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Howard, Douglas A. "Ottoman Historiography and the Literature of 'Decline' of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries." Journal of Asian History (1988): 52-77. in JSTOR
  • Kinross, Patrick Balfour Baron, and John Patrick Douglas Balfour Kinross. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (Morrow, 1977), popular history
  • McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923 (1997), online edition
  • Palmer, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire (1992)
  • Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 (2005), standard scholarly survey excerpt and text search
  • Rifa'at 'Ali Abou-El-Haj, Formation of the Modern State: The Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Syracuse University Press, 2005) argues against the decline theory.
  • Shaw, Stanford J., and Ezel Kural Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 1, 1977.
  • Sicker, Martin. The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna (Praeger Publishers, 20000 online
  • Sicker, Martin. The Islamic World in Decline: From the Treaty of Karlowitz to the Disintegration of the Ottoman Empire (Praeger, 2001) online
  • Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. (2003). 399 pp.