Paul Wittek

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Paul Wittek (11 January 1894, Baden bei Wien — 13 June 1978, Eastcote, Middlesex) was an Orientalist and historian from Austria. His 1938 thesis on the rise of the Ottoman Empire, known as the Ghazi thesis, argues that the Ottoman's raison d'être was the expansion of Islam. Until the 1980s, his theory was the most influential and dominant explanation of the formation of the Ottoman Empire.

Biography[edit]

Wittek was conscripted at the outbreak of World War I as a reserve officer to an Austro-Hungarian artillery regiment. In October 1914, he suffered a head wound in Galicia and was taken to Vienna to recover. Subsequently, he served first on the Isonzo Front and in 1917 was drafted as a military adviser to the Ottoman Empire, where he was stationed in Istanbul and Syria until the war ended. During this time Wittek learned Ottoman Turkish and acquired the patronage of Johannes Heinrich Mordtmann (de), the former German consul in Istanbul. After the war ended, Wittek returned to Vienna and continued his studies of ancient history, which he had already begun before the war. In 1920 he obtained his doctorate with a study of the oldest Roman social and constitutional history.

Wittek was in Vienna at the emergence of the fledgling discipline of Ottoman studies. He was co-editor and author of the first scholarly journal in this field called "Messages to Ottoman history", which was published from 1921 till 1926. For his livelihood Wittek worked as a journalist for the Austrian Rundschau. From 1924, he worked for the German Archaeological Institute, where he focused on the early Ottoman epigraphy. Together with Turkish historians, he managed to prevent the sale of the Ottoman archives to Bulgaria as scrap paper.

After the rise of Nazism in 1934 Wittek moved to Belgium, where he worked at the Institute for Byzantine Studies in Brussels with Henri Gregoire. After the German attack on Belgium Wittek fled in a small boat to England, where he was interned as an enemy alien. By supporting British Orientalists he was finally released and found a job at the University of London. After the war he returned to his family, who had remained in Belgium. In 1948 he returned to London and took over the newly created Chair of Turkish at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he remained until his retirement in 1961.

Wittek, who was close to the George Circle, has published little, but has become very powerfully in his discipline. His only books, "The Principality Menteşe" and "The Rise of the Ottoman Empire" appeared in the 1930s. In the latter Wittek formulated his Ghazi thesis, according to which the ideology of sectarian struggle was the major cohesive factor in the formative phase of the Ottoman Empire. The Ghazi thesis was, until Rudi Paul Lindner's nomad thesis in the 1980s, the prevailing view of the emergence of the Ottoman Empire.

Books[edit]

  • Klaus Kreiser: In Memoriam Paul Wittek, In: Istanbuler Mitteilungen 29 (1979), S. 5-6.
  • Stanford J. Shaw: In Memoriam: Professor Paul Wittek, 1894-1978, In: International Journal of Middle East Studies 10 (1979), S. 139-141.
  • John Wansbrough: Obituary: Paul Wittek, In: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 42 (1979), S. 137-139.
  • Colin Heywood: Wittek and the Austrian tradition, In: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1988), S. 7-25.
  • Colin Heywood: A Subterranean History: Paul Wittek (1894-1978) and the Early Ottoman State, In: Die Welt des Islams, New Series 38 (1998), S. 386-405.
  • Colin Heywood: "Boundless Dreams of the Levant": Paul Wittek, the George-"Kreis", and the Writing of Ottoman History, In: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1989), S. 32-50.

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