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[Anatolian Civilizations] [Ottoman Empire]


STAGNATION ERA (1566-1899)       


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As each rise brings a fall in the end, the Ottoman Empire went into the eras of decline and dissolution after the flourishing era. The enlargement of the Ottoman continued for half a century after the reign of Kanuni, Suleiman the Magnificent. However, the indications of stagnation can be found even within the reign the Magnificent, Suleiman the Magnificent, while the Ottomans were having their most glorious days.

Hurrem Sultan, one of the women within the harem of the Magnificent, has started to influence governance, and has increased her capacity of power during the reign of the Magnificent, and has given great harm. A very promising successor, like Prince Mustafa, has been unfairly executed due to the initiatives of Hurrem and this has started the unfaithful developments considering the future of the state. As the other princes had died too, the empire passed on to the less capable son of the Magnificent, Selim II. Despite the fact that Selim II had some qualifications, it was the first time that such a mediocre man came to the throne of the Ottomans after it had 10 great and wise sovereigns in succession. Furthermore, a mediocre personality meant not being the appropriate person for the Ottoman throne. Then, seeing a sovereign as magnificent as one of the first ten Ottoman sovereigns would be realized only by chance. The same situation of incapacity applied for the high level administrators of the state. Nineteen people have taken the capacity as the grand vizier in the period of thirty years, from the death of Sokollu Mehmet Pasha, who worked as a grand vizier for fourteen years in a round (1579) until Halil Pasha’s becoming the grand vizier. The number of people deserving this position out of the nineteen people was not more than tree, and the ones who desired this capacity were toppled in short time. This situation was an indicator that the problem of ‘having incapable man’, commonly mentioned as ‘kaht-ı rical’, which was considered as the greatest shortage in the last period of the Ottomans, started even in the 17th century.

The fact that Suleiman the Magnificent raised his son-in-low, Rustem Pasha, who paved the way for corruption, and who is an unlikable figure according to the public, to the level of grand vizier, due to the pressures of his wife and daughter, has given a huge irreparable damage to the state.

Despite such types of mistakes, the Magnificent was considered as one of the greatest sovereigns due to his inborn capabilities, hard working characteristics, energy, method, quick grasp of issues, his capacity in putting the legal regulations harmonizing the necessities of the time, the Turkish national law called “orf-i sultan-i hukuk” (law of the Sultan) and the Islamic law, into effect and his invaluable successes. The lands of the empire more than doubled during his reign.

With the death of the Sultan the Magnificent, the great sultans and their successes ended; however, the sovereignty on the lands and sea, was still prevailing, and the political, social, legal, and economic structures were working effectively. Therefore, when Austria tried to annex Erdel during the reign of Selim II (1566-1574), the Ottomans acted drastically, and conquered Cyprus in 1570.

Don-Volga Canal Project

On the other hand the project to conglomerate the Don and Volga rivers via a canal, one of the wisest projects of the Turkish history and thought by the Magnificent for the first time and tried to be realized by Selim II three years after the Magnificent’s death, has ended in failure.

Russia giving taxes to the Crimean dynasty, started to disturb the nearby Turkish and Muslim countries and annexed Kazan dynasty in 1522 and Astarhan dynasty in 1557. When the rivers Don and Volga could be conglomerated via a canal of fifty kilometers at the point where they come closer, this conglomeration would provide great benefits. The Black Sea and the Caspian Sea would conglomerate, the way to the Azak- Astarhan river of 950 kilometers would be opened, both Northern Caucasia and Asterhan would pass onto Ottomans naturally, the connection of the Russians to the Caspian Sea, Caucasia, Iran and Turkistan; a direct connection between Turkey and Turkistan, and this connection would provide military, political, strategic benefits as well as economic benefits.

This great project, which could make all the Turkish communities come under one single flag, has worried the Russians greatly; however, they could do nothing to stop it. Preparations of great scale were made in order to realize the project. Around 100000 soldiers and workers were assigned duty for the opening of the canal and the conquest of Astarhan. On the other hand, Sokollu appointed Cerkez Kasim Bey, a person having no military experience at all and having no information regarding the region and the canal job at all, and holding a secondary official job like financial under secretariat, as the person responsible of this project. Kasim Bey was honored with the degree of full general and he was called as ‘Kasim Pasha’ then. The workers started to dig the canal in September, which was pretty late. The workers had tremendous losses due to the harsh winter conditions as the winter started. Devlet Giray Khan also did not hold on to the project thinking that the Crimean dynasty would be no longer important once the canal project is realized. On the contrary, he did his best to prevent the project. The project was overlooked by the major players. Then, as the Yemen project became the first priority, the canal work was left unfinished and all the expenses and efforts flew away. Therefore, a huge initiative of great significance, which could change the Turkish culture, failed.

The Crimean Khan has prepared the future of the Crimean tatars with his own hands by not providing the required support for the project and trying to prevent the project. So that Russia was getting prepared to swallow the small Turkish dynasties nearby, and to be a great power to destroy the Ottomans fiercely. Katip Celebi criticizes Sokullu of appointing a person of secondary importance like Kasim Pasha, as in the following: “The lesson we need to drive is that it is not right to undertake great jobs with small men. Each job requires a suitable man for this job. And this job was also a job to be undertaken by capable and skillful governor by starting on time and using his own initiative. It was not the right job for the commander or vizier.”

The second failure of the Ottomans during the reign of Selim II, happened to be in Inebahti. As the Turks conquered Cyprus, a huge Crusader alliance was prepared due to the initiatives of the Pope. The Ottoman navy was exploded in the sea battle breaking out in Inebahti, in 1571. Many people became martyr. Uluc (Kılıc) Ali Pasha, was able to arrive in Istanbul with approximately 60 ships, which he saved. Sokollu Mehmet Pasha warned the Venetian envoy, who visited himself, not to enjoy themselves so much and told them the following lines: “We have cut off your arm by conquering Cyprus. However, you have only shaved our beard by burning our navy. A non- present arm is irreversible and irreparable, whereas the shaved beard will grow even stronger”. Meanwhile, he gave an order to Kilic Ali Pasha and he wanted a new navy be established until the summer. When Kilic Ali Pasha said that it seemed impossible, he gave a historical answer and told him “Pasha, Pasha, it seems that you don’t know this nation well. It is such a strong-willed nation that it can make all its navy out of silver, all its masts out of satin, and all its robes out of good material!” . This turned into reality the following summer. When the Ottoman navy descended into the Mediterranean with a stronger navy than ever, the Venetians were to ask for peace at that time. The Venetian Republic even admitted paying compensation for the war expenses in the annexation efforts of Cyprus.

The Ottoman Turks continued to gain victories and successes in the 17th century. On the other hand, they lost wars; and therefore, gained insight into the fact that they were at a point of standstill in comparison to the previous era. Under these conditions, the allies of the Turkish side making researches on the causes of the standstill, voiced the fact that military, administrative, and scientific institutions were deteriorating. According to them, if these institutions were improved, the Ottoman Empire would gain its previous strength, and regain the material and spiritual superiority. However, there was one drawback. All these reforms could be realized by a wise and authoritarian sultan and capable and competent administrators. The number of such capable men had decreased to a great extent then, and the intrigues within the palace had dramatically increased. The sultans were killed by the people who were to protect them and be most liable to them. After Sultan Osman II (the Young Osman) was killed, it became even more difficult for the Ottoman sultans to improve the deteriorating aspects in the administration as they were afraid of being killed then.

The deterioration of the timar system has affected the financial structure of the state in a bad way. It was no longer possible to take the income of the land deserted by these soldiers. The representatives of the government sent to take money out of these people and lands have had a huge wealth in short time and they have stated to cause problems as influential people.

There are many various reasons why the Ottomans went into the periods of stagnation, decline and dissolution. The leading causes were the corruption in the governance, military, economy, social structures, education, incapable people’s gaining capacity, corruption and backing becoming widespread issues.

The establishment of central dynasties in Europe, the improvements in science, technology and art as a result of Renaissance and Reform, Europe’s gaining wealth as a result of geographical discoveries, the lessening in the trade income of the Ottomans, and the fact that the Ottoman Empire could not update itself to these improvements are some of the other important causes of the deterioration. No radical changes were made in the way state was governed in that era. The initiatives to pave the way for changes were prevented, as well. Riots broke out with the further increase in the negative points causing the stagnation at the beginning of the 17th century.

The wars in which the Ottomans took part from the reign of Murat III (1574-1595), who came to the throne after Selim II, turned out to continue for even longer periods, and turned to have negative consequences for the Ottomans. Consequently, the Battles of Iran taking start in 1578 and continuing until 1639, during the reign of four sultans: Mehmet III(1595-1603), Ahmet I (1603-1617), Osman II (1618-1622) and Murat IV (1623-1640), constitute some of the most important causes of the stagnation. Iran, trying to catch a moment when the Ottomans would be weak and cooperating with the West Christian World, had the goal of keeping the Ottomans busy. Against this backdrop, the Ottomans had to support their military structures by sending some soldiers from Anatolia, and this resulted in the malfunctioning of the balances in Anatolia.

Osman II (the Young Osman), the first sultan to go on the expeditions with the army, realized that the Janissaries were about to get out of order. He decided to take action; however, his initiative resulted in a first in the history of Ottomans. An Ottoman sultan was executed for the first time by a subject of his. Then, Murat IV learned his lessons, and brought the Ottomans to a period of vividness just like in the Rising Era with his quick-witted characteristics, cautious political attitude and biting strength.

Murat IV, maintained the stability within the country by getting rid of the soldiers called ‘sipahi’ in Anatolia and the groups of people having been employed by force and have gained influence and wealth by corruption called ‘mutegallibe’ while going on the Revan and Baghdat expeditions on Iran. Then, the Sultan, gaining victories in these expeditions has ended the battles between Iran and the Ottoman Empire, which have been going on for almost sixteen years at intervals. In the end, the sides signed the Kasr-i Sirin Agreement. The provisions of this agreement are still on effect with only a few alterations.

The death of Murat Khan IV, at a young age(1640) and Sultan Ibrahim’s being a martyr by the rebels (1648) resulted in Mehmet IV’s acceding to the throne at the age of seven. As a result of these events, the leaders of janissaries have gained influence on the administrative issues by time. The janissaries the leaders of sipahis had a major role in choosing the vizier. This situation caused deterioration in the political and economic structure of the state. The agas took hold of the different kinds of jobs and there was none then to stands against them. The leaders of the military overestimated the number of the soldiers and therefore took ulufe and they were also bribed due to the appointments carried out by them. Despite the fact that such events were prevented from time to time, they went ton until Koprulu Mehmet Pasha became the grand vizier.

As this sturbulent atmosphre was prevailing, the fact that the illiterate and weak viziers appointed men for the states by getting bribery resulted in the fact that the public fell into the hands of fierce and brutal people. Due to the violent acts carried out by these appointed men, some of the people living in villages sold out their property and got to be bandits, and some of them took refuge in the cities and towns. The rest was under strong pressure. Though the rebellion was prevented with the initiatives of Kuyucu Murat Pahsa and then those of the Murat IV, the riots still continued as the central government fell even weaker than ever. This situation was still prevailing in the first eight years of Mehmet IV, as well. When the sultan became fifteen, he made Koprulu Mehmet Pahsa the vizier again and therefore, the state gained balance and stability in internal affairs, whereas it gained respect within the foreign affairs. The Ottoman Empire, was again in peace just like it was during the reign of the Magnificent, Kanuni Sultan Suleiman, while Koprulu Mehmet Pasha (1656-1661) and Koprulu Fazil Ahmet Pasha (1661-1676) were the grand viziers. Meanwhile, there were no soldier (kapikulu) riots at all. Although we got some defeats from time to time, the Turkish army went through a new era of victory. The Uyvar Castle of Austria was conquered by the Ottomans in 1663.

Vienna Defeat

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa, becoming the grand vizier after Fazil Ahmet Pasha lay siege on Vienna in 1683 to help the King of the Hungarian Dynasty upon his demand. The Ottoman army, made up of 100-120 soldiers has defeated the Austrian army led by the Duke Charle de Loren and confiscated all their wealth. The Austrian King Leopold, lost all his hopes due to this defeat and flew away to Vienna. Count Strahmmberg, who stayed in the village, took defense measures by conscripting all the powerful men having the ability to use guns. With the conquest of Vienna, German- Austria Empire would recede, and therefore, a powerful Hungarian Kingdom would be established in Hungary. As long as Hungary is alive, Austria could not be a threat for Ottoman Empire anymore. Accordingly, a strong defense wall would be constructed againist the attacks of Austria, and the Turkish state would live in peace for long years.

In the first two-month period of the Vienna siege which was a shock for the Europeans, the Ottomans were able to get the external bastions of the city. It seemed like there were only a few days left for the city to fall. However, the Pasha did not order his soldiers to attack, as he did not want to loot, and destroy the city. Instead he asked the Vienna to surrounder on its own will. Meanwhile, a Holy Alliance was established between Austria, Latvia, Meissen China, Bavaria and Frankonia in order to defend the Vienna. An army of 120 thousand soldiers, commanded by the Latvian King Jan Sobiesky, was established.

The Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha gave the duty to take control of the Tuna bridge to stop the Crusaders coming to take the Vienna to the Crimean Khan Murat Giray. Should the enemy pass over this bridge, then Budin Beylerbeyi (Leader) İbrahim Pasha would oppose them.

As the Crusaders passed the Tuna Bridge, the Khan of the Tatars could do nothing apart from moving onto a corner and watching. As the imam (prayer leader) of the Khan pled him to counterattack, he said the following words. “You don’t know the characteristics of those Ottomans. It is really easy to counterattack these enemies and I know that it is betrayal to our religion, as well. However, I want the Ottomans to realize that they don’t have much to pride on. They should realize the Tatar’s value”.

Budin Beylerbeyi (Leader) İbrahim Pasha, paved way for the Crusaders who came to attack the Turkish invaders behind passing the Tuna bridge easily, as he was already against this siege and who wasn’t on good terms with the grand vizier on those grounds. Afterwards, he receded to Budin with his soldiers. Kara Mustafa Pasha, tried to oppose valiantly between the two fires against the huge number of enemy forces with his remaining eleven thousand forces until the night, after some time he realized that he had already lost the battle; therefore, he took his men in in Yanikkkale quickly.

The Vienna defeat did not result in great losses among the Turkish army; however, it had great psychological effects. The grand siege trying to protect the castles in Hungary by consigning extra men to these regions, has receded to Belgrade. Meanwhile, the pashas who were opposed to the grand siege succeeded in making his execution statement signed by the others due to th Vienna defeat. Accordingly, the execution of Kara Mustafa Pasha would devoid the state of a powerful pasha who would be able to pave the way for the recovery of the military and prevent a possible defeat.

Consequently, Venetia participated in the Holy Alliance and therefore, the Ottoman Empire was to fight in four fronts, namely, Austria, Latvia, Russia, and Venetia. Despite the fact that the Ottoman Empire gained success form time to time, it had grave losses with the long wars. In the end, the Ottoman Empire was to sign the Karlofca Treaty in 1699.