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Title: The Causes of the Successes of the Ottoman Turks
Author: Phillpotts, James Surtees
Language: English
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  T. and G. SHRIMPTON.



By the fall of the Seljukian dynasty in Asia Minor, a vast number of
Turks, scattered over the fertile tracts of Western Asia, were left
without any organized government. The Emirs of the Seljouks in their
different districts tried to set up separate kingdoms for themselves,
but their power was successfully exercised only in making depredations
upon each other. For some time they were under the sway of the Khans of
Persia, but the decline of the Mogul Empire after the death of Cazan,
freed them from this control[1]. During this time of general anarchy,
a clan of Oghouz Turks, under Ertogruhl, settled in the dominions of
Alaeddin, the chief of Iconium. These Turks were of the same family as
the Huns and Avars, and the other Barbarian hordes, whose invasions
had continually devastated Europe for nearly ten centuries[2]; nor had
the energy and restless activity of their race yet begun to fail. They
were all united by the affinity of race, as well as by their language,
and by the common bond of the Sunnite creed. In return for Ertogruhl’s
services in war Alaeddin gave him a grant of territory in the highlands
of Phrygia. The warlike spirit of Ertogruhl’s son Othman, raised him to
the rank of an independent chieftain, and he soon made himself master
of strong positions on the borders of the Greek Empire. With ill-judged
parsimony, the Emperor Michael had disbanded the militia, who guarded
the passes of Mount Olympus, and had thus left Bithynia open to
attack. Orchan, the son of Othman, took advantage of these favourable
occurrences, enlarged his territory at the expense of the Greeks, and
by uniting several of the scattered Turkish tribes under one head, laid
the foundation of the Ottoman Empire.

Thus the circumstances of the times were throughout eminently
favourable to the Ottomans. The fall of the Seljouk monarchy, and
the consequent diffusion of the Turkish population, had given free
scope to their enterprising spirit. Through the civil wars of the
Byzantine Emperors and the disputes of the Venetians and Genoese, they
were enabled to gain their first footing in Europe. Had Amurath’s
attempt to extend his kingdom over the Christian nations of Thrace and
Roumelia been made in the 11th century, he would have roused all Europe
in common resistance to his rising power. But in 1388, the Servian
confederacy could obtain no aid from Western Christendom. As long as
Richard II. was king of England, and Charles VI. of France--while
Germany was ruled by the dissolute Winceslaus--Amurath had little to
fear from the powers of the West[3]. Spain was too much occupied by
her wars with the Moslems at home to think of the sufferings of her
Christian brethren in the East. Nor was there any danger that the rival
popes of Avignon and Rome would forget their private animosities to
assist in arresting the fall of a distant and schismatical church.

At the crowning point of their success, the siege of Constantinople
by Mahomet II., the advantages of time were again on the side of the
Ottomans. The Roman pontiff, furious at their obstinacy in refusing
to join the communion of the Latin church, had conceived an aversion
for the Greeks which could hardly be exceeded by any abhorrence of
the Mnssulman’s creed. It might have been expected that he would
rouse himself to prevent the destruction of the Eastern defences
of Christendom, but he chose rather a selfish and inglorious part,
content to foresee and even to foretell the coming overthrow of the
Greek Empire[4]. Thus did the Patriarch of the West, the natural head
of any confederacy for the succour of Constantinople, look on at its
fall with seeming unconcern. Meanwhile the English and the French were
engaged in a quarrel too deadly to be reconciled. The Germans would
not join with the Hungarians, nor would the Spanish have any concert
with the Genoese. In short no coalition of the powers of Europe was
possible. Even the Greeks themselves were too much divided by religious
dissensions to offer united resistance to their Moslem foe, and their
want of union could only be equalled by their cowardice. The valour
of the last Constantine did indeed shed glory over his own particular
fate, but the issue of the struggle could not be doubtful when the
disciplined troops and the famed artillery of the Turk were opposed to
the feeble and disunited force of the enervated Byzantines.

These external circumstances are important, as having been auxiliary to
the rise of the Ottomans. But the main causes of their success must be
sought in the wisdom of their rulers and in the institutions which they

Their government was most singularly constituted, and of a character
totally dissimilar to any of the governments of Christendom. The
institutions too from which they derived their solid and lasting power
were for the most part peculiar to themselves. On these institutions
the stability of the Ottoman greatness mainly rested. With their first
appearance it arose; with their gradual development it had grown; as
they were neglected and fell into disuse, the ancient glory of the
Crescent was dimmed, obscured, and finally extinguished.

Even in the legendary history of the founder of their nation is
shadowed forth the faint outline of their peculiar, policy. By patient
waiting till he attained his purpose, Othman won his wife from an alien
tribe. His expeditions were sanctioned by the blessing of the Holy
Scheik Edebali. From the fruit of these expeditions, from the Christian
captives who were condemned to slavery, was selected the wife of his
son Orchan. A Christian apostate, ‘Michael of the Pointed Beard’ was
the chief of Othman’s captains.

It was from the example of their founder, they would have us
believe, that they adopted customs of receiving renegades, of foreign
intermarriage, a warlike zeal sanctioned by religion, a system of
slavery-institutions which in later times were the distinguishing
characteristics of their race[5]. It matters not if these accounts
of Othman’s early history be the invention of later times; this
rather shows (since fiction is more philosophical than truth), that
the Ottomans themselves were convinced that it was mainly on the
preservation of these usages that their greatness rested. It was,
however, reserved for the sons of Othman to set the system on a
permanent basis, and to the legislative genius of Alaeddin in the
succeeding reign, was chiefly due the stability of the Ottoman race.

In general the Asiatic dynasties culminate to their height of power
with a marvellous rapidity, and then, dependent solely on the merits
of their rulers, with no institutions calculated to ensure any lasting
greatness, fall by a decline no less rapid and less marvellous than
their rise. The career of Ottoman conquest lacked the dazzling grandeur
which invests the exploits of Genghis Khan, or Timour, but it was not
destined to be as ephemeral as they. In its slow and cautious advance,
in the gradual organization of conquered provinces, in the unswerving
patience which waited always for the fittest opportunity, it bore no
faint resemblance to the stately march of Roman sovereignty.

The close of Othman’s life of seventy years saw him but just made
possessor of a single city of importance. It was not till the reign of
Orchan that the Ottomans ceased to acknowledge the sovereignty of the
Iconian Sultans, and first adopted a coinage of their own. The wise
policy of Orchan’s coadjutor, Alaeddin, gave them a respite from war
for twenty years, in which time he consolidated the small kingdom they
had already won, and perfected a system which was to be the instrument
of future conquest.

It was during this period of tranquillity that the organization of
the army was effected--an organization which, possessing in itself
the various merits of the most invincible forces that have ever been
collected--the asceticism and brotherhood of the Spartan companies, the
mixture of races in the army of Hannibal, the religious zeal of the
English Puritans, and the devotion of Caesar’s 10th legion--added to
all these, two peculiarities of their creed, the absolute subjection of
every individual to the sacred authority of the Sultan, and the warlike
inspirations of a religion that taught them that ‘in the conflict of
the crossing scymetars Paradise was to be won.’

It is a remarkable and significant fact, that this abstinence from war
for the long period of twenty years was never repeated by the Ottomans
during the time of their success. That soldiers long unemployed must
become either citizens or rebels is an axiom which must have special
force in a government like that of the Ottomans. War was the normal
condition of their race. It was to this object that not only their
iconoclastic creed, but the whole tenor of their institutions pointed,
and in this aspect they must chiefly be contemplated.

The feudal system of the Ottomans was essentially military. It was the
device of an aggressive power and was made to answer a double purpose;
to secure the permanency of its conquests, and to supply soldiers for
war. Ottoman feudalism was wholly different from that which prevailed
in Western Europe. The great distinction lay in the fact, that among
the Ottomans all the feudal vassals held their fiefs directly of
the Sultan, or his officers; whereas in Western Europe, between the
sovereigns and the lower tenants was interposed a powerful class,
which always more or less counterbalanced the supreme power. The one
was the division of a kingdom into petty fiefs, the other the fusion
of conquered territories under the sway of one victorious monarch. It
was through the feudal system of the Ottomans, in combination with
their institution of slavery, that war was made to feed war; that every
conquest supplied the means for future conquest.

The use of the Ottoman system for the supply of soldiers in time of
war may be estimated from the fact, that an armed horseman was required
for every fief of the value of twelve pounds a year, and another for
every additional twenty pounds. In the time of Solyman these fiefs were
able to furnish 150,000 cavalry[6]. The feudal troops were always kept
in readiness, nor was anything required to summon them to the field
but an order of the Sultan to the two Beglerbegs of the Empire from
whom it was communicated to a regular gradation of officers entrusted
with the task of mustering these Spahi, or Cavaliers, in their separate
divisions[7]. This force served without pay. If they fell in battle,
they were honoured as martyrs: if they distinguished themselves, or if
the expedition was successful, they were rewarded with larger gifts of
property. All their hopes of advancement depended upon the Sultan, and
his success in war. They were ready to do his bidding in any part of
the world, for the greater part of every country which they subdued was
divided among the members of their own body.

It is to this institution of feudalism that we must look for an
explanation of the fact, that the Turkish conquests, unlike those of
other great conquerors, seldom returned to their original possessors.
Immediately an additional piece of territory was gained, it became an
integral part of the Empire. Thus it was that the Sultans were able to
consolidate and unite their dominions, step by step, with every fresh
acquisition of land. In most cases, the conquest of distant territories
has been any thing rather than lucrative to the victorious nation. But
the Turkish conquests reimbursed the Sultan, and enriched the nation;
some portions of land were regularly assigned to the sovereign, and
others became public property.

Thus the community of the Timarli, or fief-holders, carried out, on
a large scale, the intention of the Roman system of colonise, both
as guarding the dangerous frontiers and ensuring the preservation of
conquered lands.

But there is one aspect of the Ottoman feudalism which we have not
yet regarded, and which redounds more than any other to their honor.
Toleration of creed, with one remarkable exception, was given to the
conquered Christians, and even in the days of Othman, equal protection
was dealt out alike to Greek and Turk, Christian and Mahometan. This
tolerant and enlightened system induced numbers of the Christians who
dwelt on the borders of the Ottoman Empire to exchange their hard
position, as Hungarian serfs, for that of Rayas under the Turks.

We have said that there was one most signal exception to the general
toleration of their rule, and this was the institution of the corps
of Janissaries, the Yengi Cheri, or “New Soldiers” of Alaeddin. The
importance of a well-disciplined standing army struck the far-seeing
mind of Orchan’s coadjutor, and to the organization of the army he
gave his chief attention during the twenty years of peace of which
we have spoken. He first formed, of the native Osmanli, a corps of
paid infantry. But it soon appeared that these Turks were too proud
and turbulent to endure the necessary discipline. In this perplexity
we are told that Alaeddin sought the advice of his relative Black
Khalil Tschendereli. Black Khalil’s counsel dictated a device of the
most subtle and effective kind--that the Ottoman army must be formed
out of the children of the conquered Christians, who should be forced
to become Mahometans. By this means, he argued, you will gain troops
which can be schooled to any discipline. To the Mussulman religion
you will gain many converts, while you will prevent any rebellion of
your Christian subjects by the incorporation of the whole strength of
their race with your own forces. The plan was adopted by Alaeddin and
carried out in the next reign by the First Amurath. Amurath’s warlike
spirit, and the lust of conquest that was predominant in his race, led
him to make repeated expeditions against the Sclavonic tribes of Servia
and Bosnia. Among this hardy race he found no treasures of gold and
silver--no spoil for his conquering army--but he found an inexhaustible
supply of brave soldiers[8]. The children who were taken captive in his
wars were immediately disciplined in the schools of the Janissaries,
and in due time drafted into their ranks. Those who were not available
for this purpose, or for the service of the Sultan, were sold as
slaves, and thus brought in a considerable revenue to the Turkish

As long as the flower of the Christian youth were converted not merely
into Mahometans, but into devoted supporters of the Ottoman power,
any revolt of the Rayas was impossible. In their strict discipline
and continued occupation the proselytes lost all remembrance of their
kindred and their country. With the highest positions in the Empire
open to their ambition, they might well glory in a station that raised
them over the heads of the native Osmanli. The rigorous pride with
which they kept their own body aloof from any foreign admixture may
offer a parallel to that remarkable system by which the proudest
chivalry of Egypt was formed out of Circassian slaves.

Thus at the court of the Sultan were gathered an abundance of men,
from various nations, devoted only to the common weal of the race into
which they were adopted. Not only were there the prisoners taken in
war, as well as the tithe, so to speak, of Christian children taken
every five years, but from every pacha of the Empire came presents
of slaves to the Sultan[9]. These slaves were divided into different
classes, according to their abilities. Those who were destined for
Janissaries were trained to every exercise that could increase their
physical strength, and inure them to toil and hardship. Others were
educated for the more immediate service of the Sultan, either as his
state-officers or his body-guard. Thus the Turkish armies, though
they were those of an Asiatic nation, were composed of the hardiest
of Europeans. Nor were these Europeans ever suffered to fall into the
enervating habits of Asiatics. They had no homes in which they could be
pampered with Oriental luxury. Their barracks were like monasteries;
their dress the dark robes of monks; their meals the frugal fare of
mountaineers. They were not allowed to take wives; they might ply no
trades; engage in no commerce; nor were any admitted into their body
who had not gone through the regular course of this discipline. At home
they lived as if they were in the camp; in the camp they preserved the
same order, the same discipline as at home. War was the occupation
of their life. They had given no “hostages to fortune;” they had no
domestic ties that could bind them to a peaceful life. Their hopes of
advancement rested on their valour in battle. They were justly proud of
the achievements of their corps, and were stimulated by every motive of
ambition, self-interest, and the love of glory, above all, emulation
to surpass the successes of their predecessors. They knew that the
watchful eyes of the Sultan were on them in the fight, and that every
deed of heroism would meet with its appropriate reward. If he fell,
what recked a Janissary of death, save as the glorious consummation
of his prowess, as the opening of Paradise to the martyr who had won

The testimony of contemporary writers to the wonderful efficacy of
this remarkable institution is unanimous. Schwendi, a general of their
opponents, owns that the Janissaries had never turned their backs in
battle. Busbequius, the German ambassador, struck with admiration at
their discipline and endurance, warns his countrymen of the nature of
the foe whom they must be prepared to encounter, if they enter a war
with the Turks. Barbaro, an ambassador of the Venetian government,
comments with wonder on the fact that the power of the Ottomans
mainly rested on a corps of compulsory converts from Christianity.
The Venetian Relationi, quoted by Von Ranke, are full of the remarks
of ambassadors expressing their admiration of the whole system of the
Ottoman arms[11].

One of the most conspicuous features of their discipline was the
order, temperance, and cleanliness of an Ottoman camp, as constrasted
with the drunken, dissolute, and filthy habits of the armies of
Christendom[12]. Frequently encamped as they were in the pestilential
districts which proved disastrous to the French and English armies at
the commencement of the late Russian war, we can easily understand how
great an advantage over their opponents these wise regulations secured
them in their campaigns.

The fiery valour of the Christian knights might surpass the more
patient courage of the Ottoman troops, but their pride of birth, and
spirit of independence would not brook the discipline, nor render
the obedience, for which the Janissaries were remarkable; and to
this may be attributed the fatal results of the battle of Nicopolis.
At Kossova the Asiatic wing of the Turkish army had recoiled from
the repeated onsets of the Bosnian king and his warriors, but the
Janissaries ‘fighting with the zeal of proselytes’ against their
Sclavonic brethren recovered the fortunes of the day for Amurath[13].
At Varna the panic which had spread through the Turkish troops from
the furious attacks of Ladislaus and Hunyades was only checked by the
firm resistance, the unflinching endurance of the Janissaries[14]. When
the desperate and heroic resistance of the last Greek Emperor, and his
few brave adherents, had driven back the Anatolian soldiery, and the
fate of Constantinople was still hanging in the balance, it was their
surpassing valour that turned the scales of victory, bore down all
resistance, and won Eastern Rome for the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

At the great crises of their history we have seen how it was the
power of the Janissaries that saved the Ottomans; but in every
battle, in every campaign, the possession of a formidable corps of
well-disciplined infantry at a time when their opponents had no regular
infantry at all, gave them a continual advantage. It has been remarked
that the Ottomans never encountered the forces of the only two European
nations who had at this time any organized foot-soldiers[15]. We all
know how the chivalry of France fell before the English bowmen at
Cressy and Poictiers, and how the troops of Austria fled before the
halberdiers of Switzerland, and we may doubt whether the Janissaries
would have been equally invincible had they met the English or the
Swiss on the battle-fields of Servia.

The institution of the Janissary force must not be considered as a
system of mere cruelty and intolerance. The records of the age tell us
that it was an usual occurrence for Christian parents voluntarily to
bring their sons to the press-gang of the Janissaries, in order that in
due time they might be enrolled in their ranks, while the high offices
which were thrown open to these proselytes of Mahometanism brought
renegades in numbers to the Sultan’s court, where no distinction of
birth or country interfered to mar their fortunes. This system of
the reception of refugees from all countries gained for the Ottomans
many of the greatest names which adorn their history. Of the ten
grand-viziers of Solyman, eight were renegades from Christianity. It
was indeed noted as an unusual circumstance that one of his viziers was
a native Turk[16]. Piale, who defeated the united Christian fleets in
1560 off the isle of Djerbe, was himself the son of Christian parents.
Cicala Pasha, the great commander under the successors of Solyman,
was an Italian by birth, but as aga of the Janissaries became one of
the fiercest enemies of the Christians. And in the earliest times we
find that Evrenos, who under Bajazet and Amurath I. added the greater
part of Greece to the Ottoman dominions, was originally a Christian
chieftain and a guardian of the passes of Mount Olympus. During the
flourishing period of the Empire nearly all the high civil and military
offices were filled by Christian slaves, who had risen either from the
ranks of the Janissaries, or who had been brought up by the Mufti in
the profession of the law[17]. Thus, to use the words of Gibbon, “a
servile class, an artificial people, were raised by the discipline of
education to obey, to conquer, and to command[18].”

If it be true according to the account we have given of the
constitution of the Empire, that the highest offices of the state were
conferred by the ruling prince on men raised by his own hand from
slavery--that the feudal tenants were subject to a single superior, and
the army directed by a single will,--it is evident that nothing but
the largest capacity for legislation and military command could have
successfully wielded such enormous authority.

Of the extraordinary genius of the early Sultans there is abundant
proof[19]. The character of Othman was precisely suited for one
who was to be the founder of a dynasty. He was conspicuous among a
warlike tribe for his boldness and independence, and he possessed that
marvellous influence over the minds of those around him, which is one
of the peculiar characteristics of the greatest men. In Orchan we see
the enduring watchfulness, the indomitable resolution which never fails
to attain its object, while in the person of Alaeddin his coadjutor we
may admire the far-sighted legislator, the brightness of whose original
genius shone forth undimmed by the prejudices of an unenlightened
age. By the organization of a standing army he marked out future
conquests for his race, while by the tolerant spirit of his legislation
he ordained that a due protection should be given to the conquered.
Amurath by a series of successful campaigns gained the city of
Adrianople for his capital. Then with admirable prudence he paused for
a while to consolidate his conquests and mature his resources, and thus
paved the way for his final victory at Kossova. The name of Yilderim
or the Thunderbolt testifies to the energy of the First Bajazet, but
it was a just punishment for his overbearing pride in later years that
the Tartar Conqueror Timour was provoked to crush his power on the
field of Angora, and to doom him to an ignominious captivity. The work
of the destroyer was for the time complete, and it seemed as if the
Ottoman power was irrecoverably ruined. But the mould into which their
national life had been cast was not so easily destroyed. The force of
their institutions still remained, and the people were still attached
to the tolerance of their ancient government, and so, after many years
of civil war, the unity of the Ottoman power was easily restored by
the vigorous hand of Mahomet the First. The bold measures of Amurath
II. caused the signal overthrow of his Hungarian opponents at Varna,
and the annexation of Servia and Bosnia in the succeeding reign are
due in great measure to his toleration and prudence. The abdication
of his father gave Mahomet the Second experience in the command of an
Empire at the early age of eighteen, and a double failure as viceroy
secured him wisdom for his sole reign. Setting aside any consideration
of his character, it is impossible to deny his legislative ability
and military genius, in building up the greatness of his nation.
The domestic dissensions of the Empire, under the feebler hand of
Bajazet II., showed how requisite a warlike and energetic Sultan was
to its preservation under its peculiar constitution. Tabriz, and the
subjection of the Mamelukes, were monuments of the ferocious spirit of
the warrior Selim. By ceaseless carnage he made himself master of the
whole of Egypt, took great part of Syria, and added the Caliphate to
the titles of the Ottoman sovereign. At the moment when his cruelty had
nearly driven his people to rebellion, the rise of Solyman furnished a
pillar of strength to the house of Othman. At the time of his reign the
thrones of Europe, as well as those of Persia and India, were occupied
by some of the most powerful sovereigns of modern times. But in “a
century rich with mighty spirits” there are few names which can compare
with that of Solyman the Magnificent, the great lawgiver and commander
of his nation. Under his sway, the dynasty of the Ottoman Turks reached
its zenith. Though the institutions of his predecessors, and the
military organization they had bequeathed, supplied a foundation, yet
it was in great measure to his own genius, vigour, and capacity, that
the mighty fabric of the Ottoman power owed its stupendous greatness,
and that an Empire founded but three centuries before by a few families
of wandering Turkomans, then numbered among its subjects twenty
different races, and nearly fifty millions of inhabitants, and still
survives with wonderful tenacity, after three centuries of decline,
unbroken by a single vicissitude of success.

Thus for ten successive reigns, with perhaps a single exception, the
throne of the Ottoman Turks was held by men of extraordinary talents.
Nor was this vigour of the early Sultans merely accidental. The strict
discipline to which they were subjected in early years, the attention
that was paid to their education, and their subsequent training in the
council and the field, must all have tended to this result.

The real weakness of the Ottoman government, its absolute dependence
on a single man, was marvellously compensated and overcome by a
continued succession of vigorous sovereigns. The superiority of a
well regulated constitution over a despotism generally lies in a
comparative equality of ability through all its different members. As
long as absolute power is held by the strong hand of a great man all is
prosperous. But a continued succession of great men rarely occurs, and
when it falls to an irresolute hand to wield the sceptre of despotism
the real weakness of the system appears. In France, the Revolution was
the ultimate result of the exercise of unlimited power, by Louis the
fourteenth; in England, the great Rebellion was the final issue of the
attempt to subject the English people to a despotism. The reason that
the same result did not occur in the case of the Ottomans is to be
found in the historic facts: first, that the later Sultans were, in
the eyes of Mahometans, the successors of the Prophet, as well as the
descendants of Othman; and, secondly, that the Janissaries, like the
Praetorian guards at Rome, jealously prevented their rulers from being
made subject to any power but their own.

Besides the wonderful efficacy of their military organization and the
talents of their Sultans, there is one point of their history which is
worthy of remark as having tended indirectly towards their success.
The whole tenor of their legislation was much in advance of that of
the European powers in general. English history has often been said
to be a century before that of France, but the history of the early
Turkish Emperors was much more strikingly advanced beyond that of the
other sovereigns of Europe. At the end of the fifteenth century, when,
although the times were not yet ready for the development of popular
right, the oppressions of European feudalism had become intolerable,
the strong hand of despotic sovereigns supplied the only safe guard
against lawless outrage. The aggrandizement of their power at that time
saved the states which they governed. In this respect, however, the
Ottomans were before their age--for whilst the states of Europe were
for the most part impotent through the overbearing spirit of the feudal
nobility, the Ottoman government was vigorously swayed by an Absolute
Monarch[20]. Thus, when England was distracted by the wars of the
Roses, Mahomet the Conqueror was leading his nation on to victory. In
fact, the aggrandizement of the Ottoman Sultans was anterior to that of
the European sovereigns.

In other points we may notice the same advancement in their history.
Their whole military system was beyond their age. They possessed
disciplined infantry, when a standing army was unknown, and cavalry
had not yet been supplanted by foot-soldiers in the rest of Europe.
They had a regular commissariat department to supply their armies with
the necessaries of war, and a special corps to do the work of Sappers
and Miners, long before such a division of labour was adopted by
Christendom. On the departments of artillery and engineering Mahomet
II. bestowed his special attention. The Ottomans first made regular
approaches in besieging a fortress, and became masters of the Italians
in the art of fortification[21].

It is curious also that a nation popularly considered to have
consisted of unenlightened barbarians should have been far in advance
of us in some of the points which we consider as the distinguishing
features of modern European civilization. Every advantage of Free
Trade was allowed to the foreign merchant who traded to the Turkish
sea-ports[22]. A system of municipal government was established
throughout their dominions. A religious toleration beyond the spirit
of the age was carried out towards the Christian population of their
kingdom. In this particular the difference in the spirit of the
Christian and Turkish governments is well illustrated by a traditionary
account of the answers of Amurath and Hunyades, when questioned by the
Servians on the subject of the maintenance of their religion. While
Hunyades is said to have declared that, if victorious, he would compel
them to join the Latin Communion, Amurath’s famous answer was: “I will
build a church near every mosque, and the people shall worship in
whichever they may prefer[23].”

But it was not to a purer moral principle that the system owed its
origin. The clear sight of their rulers perceived that some toleration
was necessary for the well-being of their composite empire. But the
ruling genius of their creed was not tolerant then, any more than it
is now. The institution of the Janissaries was in accordance with
the tenets of their religion. But the protection of their Christian
subjects was the conciliatory measure of a wise legislator, not of a
devout Mahometan. Oh the one hand the compulsory conversion of a large
portion of their hardier slave-population furnished them with a rich
harvest of soldiers, while their toleration in other respects procured
for them the contentment of their less warlike subjects.

The truth of the remark of Machiavelli that a man cannot found a
state without opportunities, was not impugned by the rise of Othman
and his dynasty. The divisions of the Seljukians seemed to invite the
exaltation of some new power. A widely diffused Turkish population was
left without a ruler. The imbecility of the Persian and Eastern Empires
afforded ample scope for purposes of aggression. The distracted state
of Christendom prevented any combination against the intrusion of
Mussulmans in Europe.

Such were the external circumstances that favoured the rise of the
Ottomans. But the great internal Causes of their successes we have
traced to the genius of their early Sultans, and to their military
organization, under which latter head must be included their peculiar
feudal system and the institution of their Janissary corps. There were
other incidental causes of their greatness, such as the warlike spirit
common to the Tartar race and the Mahometan religion, the absolute
position of the supreme head which gave unity to the empire, and its
early progress in prudent legislation.

The failure of the two great elements of their power mainly caused
their decline. The empire needed vigorous rulers; the Sultans after
Solyman have been characterized by a native statesman as “either fools
or tyrants.” It required a well-disciplined army; but after Solyman,
the discipline of the Janissaries decayed; their very system was
corrupted; they admitted native Turks into their body; they began to
take wives and to ply trades, becoming turbulent citizens rather than
soldiers; and with their decay fell the military organization of the


  [Footnote 1: Gibbon, vol. viii. p. 20.]

  [Footnote 2: Ibid. vol. viii. p. 2. n.]

  [Footnote 3: Creasy, History of Ottomans, vol. i, p. 43.]

  [Footnote 4: Gibbon, vol. viii. p. 153.]

  [Footnote 5: See an Article in the Christian Remembrancer
  for April, 1855, p. 232.]

  [Footnote 6: Creasy, vol. i. p. 327.]

  [Footnote 7: Ranke’s Spanish and Ottoman Empires, p. 1.]

  [Footnote 8: Gibbon, vol. viii. 28.]

  [Footnote 9: Ranke, p. 6.]

  [Footnote 10: Ranke, passim.]

  [Footnote 11: Ranke, p. 7.]

  [Footnote 12: Creasy, vol. i. p. 324.]

  [Footnote 13: Gibbon, vol. viii. p. 30.]

  [Footnote 14: Creasy, vol. i. p. 112.]

  [Footnote 15: Creasy, vol. i. p. 161.]

  [Footnote 16: Hulme’s Chapters on Turkish History (in
  Blackwood, July, 1840,) p. 18.]

  [Footnote 17: Von Hammer’s History of the Ottoman Turks,
  vol. i. p. 193.]

  [Footnote 18: Gibbon, vol. viii, p. 93.]

  [Footnote 19: Sec Freeman’s History and Conquests of the
  Saracens, p. 145.]

  [Footnote 20: For proofs that the Ottoman government was
  really absolute, see Robertson’s Charles V. note 43.]

  [Footnote 21: Robertson’s Charles V. note 45.]

  [Footnote 22: Creasy, i. p. 334.]

  [Footnote 23: Creasy, i. p. 114.]

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