Stagnation and reform of the Ottoman Empire

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The stagnation and reform of the Ottoman Empire lasted between 1683 to 1827 and was followed by its decline and modernization. The Sultanate of Women and Köprülü Era (1656–1703) were significant in this period. Despite a few territorial gains such as Crete, there were almost continuous rebellions in Anatolia and vast territories were lost again to Safavid Persia, once being conquered from them. 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.

Köprülü Era 1683–1699[edit]

1687–1691 Süleyman II[edit]

In 1686, the Habsburgs began occupying parts of modern Serbia. 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 of Belgrade in 1691.

1691–1695 Ahmet II[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.

Territorial losses 1699–1827[edit]

From about 1699 to 1792 saw the weakening of multiple dimensions of the aging empire. 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 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.

1695–1703 Mustafa II[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). He was dethroned during the revolt named the Edirne Event.[2]

Tulip Era 1718–1730[edit]

1703–1730 Ahmed III[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.

1730–1754 Mahmud I[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.

1754–1757 Osman III[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.

1757–1774 Mustafa III[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.

1774–1789 Abdul Hamid I[edit]

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

1789–1807 Selim III[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]

1807–1808 Mustafa IV[edit]

After the rebellion of Kabakçı Mustafa, the reformist sultan Selim III was dethroned in 1807. The new sultan, Mustafa IV, opposed all reform projects. Mustafa's reign was however short. The reformist Alemdar Mustafa Pasha dethroned him with the intension of re-enthroning Selim III. However, Selim was killed by Mustafa IV and Mahmut II was enthroned in his stead.

Character of the period[edit]

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."[5] 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."[6] 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.[7][8] 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. [9][10]


  • Incorporates text from "History of Ottoman Turks" (1878)
  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
  5. ^ Stephen J. Lee, Aspects of European History: 1494–1789 (2nd ed., 1984) p 77
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ David Nicolle, Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300–1774 (Osprey, 1983)
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Lee, Aspects of European History: 1494–1789' (1984) pp 77–84
  10. ^ 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


  • 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

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
  • 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.