Saturday, May 15, 2021

So what if the Ottomans shaped the modern world? — The Saker

Historical backgrounder. Largely a summary of God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World (Faber & Faber) by Alan Mikhail, chair of the Department of History at Yale.

Most people in the West are only familiar with the history of Western civilization, ignoring what shaped its place in the world historically, including the Mongol empire and the Ottoman empire, which rivaled or surpassed the Hellenistic empire created by Alexander's conquests and the Roman empire. The British empire was the largest formal empire historically, and the remnant was taken over by the US as the informal "American empire" in which Britain is still a major player and active clandestinely through Five Eyes.

Oh, and yes, "follow the money," as always. It was and is about controlling trade routes and thereby trade, as Pepe explains. Why did Columbus sail West. The Ottomans controlled eastern trade routes, e.g. the Silk Road.

Most people in the West are also ignorant of the historical dialectic (conflict) between Christian civilization and Islamic civilization. Presently, events are required some catching up on history, which involves debunking some myths about it regrading Western exceptionalism, which stems from its rooting in Christianity as "the one, true faith." That is a very one-sided picture of history and it still shapes events under the American empire that is now dominant but cresting.

The old region of historical contest and conquest, the Near East Central Asia and the Caucus, is back on the front burner. The contest is now largely between the West (the "grand chessboard") and China (BRI), with the Russian empire, the Persian empire, the Ottoman empire, and the Moghul empire. These were the primary regional power prior to the rise of the concept of the nation-state in Europe that was institutionalized by the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). Previously, local organization and governance was largely tribal and remains so in many areas today.

This is the subject not only of history and international relations but also of political and economic geography.

The Vineyard of the Saker
So what if the Ottomans shaped the modern world?
The Saker


Kaivey said...

I watched a documentary about the Ottoman Empire of YouTube. One reason for their success is that they weren't oppressive, and they were often welcomed by the common people of the countries they conquered because they taxed less than their own ruling class did.

Peter Pan said...

Lawrence of Arabia did not portray the Ottomans in a flattering light.

lastgreek said...

What success? Unless you’re in the harem business, ok fine. For Hellenism it was darkness for 400 years.

Ahmed Fares said...

From a comment on Quora by Geoffrey Villehardouin who lived in Thessaloniki, Greece:

Greek pupils are taught at schools that Ottoman rule of Greece were dark times. Subsequently most Greeks that have not researched into the subject more than basic education and greek movies, think that during the Ottoman Empire Greek culture was suppressed, Orthodox christianity was under persecution, taxes were unbearable and parents were under the constant fear of losing their children to forcible conscription to the jannisary corps, under the devsirme system. Greek culture was saved - according to the predominant popular narrative - thanks to the underground efforts of the Orthodox Church, Greek guerrilas on mountains (that were called “klepts”, meaning “thieves” or “bandits”) and the Greek diaspora living mostly in Italy, Austria and Russia.

The reasons behind this attitude from the Greek state was (and possibly is) to instill to sudents the feeling that the Ottomans, and subsequently their successors the Turks, were barbaric and mortal enemies to the Greeks, thus every Greek should be aware and bitter of Turkey always. This is an example of selective use of history accompanied with non-truths for the purpose of strengthening the nation state and unifying its people against present enemies. For example, Greece was also under occupation from the Republic of Venice, but current relations with Italy are very good. Hence, past Venetian rule is largely omitted from history classes, and when referenced is portrayed as very mild and sometimes desirable versus the Ottoman one.

But historians know that the truth is much more compliacted than the one presented above. Most of the times the Ottomans left the Greeks to educate themselves and practice their religion as they pleased. In fact, it was the Venetians that wanted to subject the Orthodox churches of Greece to Catholic bishops. Venetian taxes in most provinces were heavier than the Ottoman ones, at least before 1700 when the Ottoman Empire started to descend into economic crisis. The Devsirme system started to wane after 1600 and completely stopped after 1700. When a Greek documentary of national broadcaster revealed these facts and more from historic research some years ago, the Greek public was shocked. This was an indication that most Greeks have a very limited knowledge of the Ottoman Times and their understanding is based on myths and misleading analyses.

Recently, some Greeks have started to review the Ottoman rule, and its assessment is getting more balanced. It wasn’t always that bad, and not only Turks, but also Albanians, Venetians and Greek collaborators are to be blamed for misfortunes. The main problem of the Ottoman rule, in my opinion, is that because Greece was not independent, contact with European technological discoveries and ideas, like Enlightment, was limited and this bogged down Greece development for the next centuries… For example, Belgium and Greece were liberated at the same time , around 1830. But Belgium had already experienced an early industrialization and shortly after independance had built railways. Greece on the other hand struggled hard to develop this former Ottoman backwater province…

lastgreek said...

With all due resect, AF, that is total nonsense.

And quora is one of the biggest jokes out there for information.

lastgreek said...

The Greeks and Armenians administratively, and in trade, ran the Ottoman Empire, because the Turks did not have the mental aptitude for such tasks, knowing only warfare and harems. Problem was that the Turks finally came to the realisation that they had to get rid of both the Greeks and Armenians (rid as in exterminate) or risk being a beggar in their own, lol, empire. Ever wonder how Jews from Spain wound up in Salonica? Turks brought them in as a buffer against the Greeks to keep them fuckin' busy.

Yeah, the Mongols had a better way... wtf, the whole world is going barmy!

lastgreek said...

The fuckin' soldiers who breached Constantinople's ancient land walls in 1453, were not Mongol Turks. They were mostly composed of fuckin' Greeks -- Greeks who were abducted as children from their families by the Mongol Turks to serve in the Sultan's army. The fuckin' Janissaries.

PS: I can't believe it. Here I am feeling great because I just received this morning my first dose of the pfizer vaccine and I come home to read how great the Mongol Ottomans were [SMH]

lastgreek said...

I am still not calm, cool and collected because I am still fuming :(

So I also want to add that not only did the Mongol Turks steal Greek/Roman land and human beings, but they also stole Greek/Roman symbols. The crescent and star on the bloody (literally) Turkish flag has no connection to Islam (not even the Mongolian grasslands), and why you do not see it on Saudi Arabia's flag or any other Arabic country's flag. Why? Because it is a Greek/Roman symbol. The fucker Mongol Turks stole that too!

I think I better go do some yard work if I am ever going to calm down before lunch :(

Peter Pan said...


Peter Pan said...

Time to upholster the ottoman.

Ahmed Fares said...


I am still not calm, cool and collected because I am still fuming :(

Greeks are an emotional people. (I should know, I worked in a Greek restaurant for seven years).

The comment I posted was one of a dozen that I read on the subject. I thought the comment was balanced. Here's another one from Reddit that listed references:

When talking about Ottoman Greece, one must be careful to avoid two ideological extremes:

1: That Ottomans were a wonderful and tolerant set of overlords that granted everybody complete freedom and hugged fluffy bunnies all day.

2: The Ottomans were an evil and ruthless empire that massacred people because it was fun and committed dark deeds that were surpassed only by Sauron and Bill Clinton.

One must have a more balanced view. Yes, the Ottomans granted the Greeks freedom to practice their religion. Many Greeks also came to play a critical role in the Ottoman political and economic system as Phanariots in the 18th century.

However, all of this was conditional. The legal and political dominance of Islam had to be acknowledged and obeyed. Despite the liberties they were granted, the Greeks, as with all Christians, were in an inferior social position in all matters.

Having said all this, the experience in Greece varied geographically. In the rural areas life continued much as had before: the people were devoted to family life, farming and religious matters, and although they were subject to Turkish land-holders (As part of the Timar and Miri systems), they simply paid their dues and performed their labour as they would have to any "lord", and this was an accepted part of rural life.

There were also parts of Greece were Ottoman authority never extended such as the Mani Peninsula. Here the Greek people resisted the Turks and fought against them.

The Greeks also had to paid a tribute in children called the devshirime. The children would be taken at a young age and trained to be soldiers and bureaucrats. Although attempts have been made by scholars to white-wash this system, it was very unpopular. Greeks did not want to see their off-spring converted to the faith of "heathens", taken away from their homes and made to adopt a different identity.

Once nationalism started to develop in amongst the Greeks and they campaigned for independence in the 19th century, then the massacres and genocide began in places like the Pontus.

In my last comment, I wrote:

Most of the times the Ottomans left the Greeks to educate themselves and practice their religion as they pleased. In fact, it was the Venetians that wanted to subject the Orthodox churches of Greece to Catholic bishops.

Is that not a positive?

Also, what's the counter-factual here. If Greeks were weak enough to be ruled by the Ottomans for 400 years, what empire would have been ruling them instead, assuming that they wouldn't have been independent.

Ahmed Fares said...

I yearn for the good old days when we were under the protection of the Ottoman Empire.

(Probably said by at least one Greek sometime between the invasion of Greece by Mussolini and the end of the German occupation.)

lastgreek said...

"(Probably said by at least one Greek sometime between the invasion of Greece by Mussolini and the end of the German)"

Yeah, I hear you loud and clear. AF:

Today, May 19, is Remembrance Day of the 100,000's of Pontic Greeks who were exterminated by the Mongol Turks in Asia Minor.

lastgreek said...

Oh, btw, Turkey stayed neutral in WW2, only joining the allies days before the axis surrender was assured.

The main talking point that Turks use to deny that they commited genocide against Greeks and Armenians is that there are still Greeks and Armenians today breathing. In other words, "How could there have been a genocide when we did not kill them all?"

Peter Pan said...

Have you ever ridden a mechanical Turk?

Ahmed Fares said...


I think you're completely misunderstanding what I said.

My comment was about life under the Turks during those 400 years of occupation, not what happened when the Greeks tried to gain their independence.

Just to be clear, if there was one Greek that was forced to convert to Islam, or give up a child, or whatever during that time, that would be wrong. But how do you judge the Ottoman Empire as compared to other empires?

Roman Empire... feeding Christians to lions. Link has a pic.. lion and Christians.

Diocletianic Persecution

The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303, the Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding Christians' legal rights and demanding that they comply with traditional religious practices.

Ahmed Fares said...

Or how about the Alhambra Decree.

Alhambra Decree

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion; Spanish: Decreto de la Alhambra, Edicto de Granada) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492, by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from the Crowns of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year. The primary purpose was to eliminate the influence of practicing Jews on Spain's large formerly-Jewish converso New Christian population, to ensure the latter and their descendants did not revert to Judaism. Over half of Spain's Jews had converted as a result of the religious persecution and pogroms which occurred in 1391. Due to continuing attacks, around 50,000 more had converted by 1415. A further number of those remaining chose to convert to avoid expulsion. As a result of the Alhambra decree and persecution in the years leading up to the expulsion, of Spain’s estimated 300,000 Jewish origin population, a total of over 200,000 had converted to Catholicism to remain in Spain, and between 40,000 and 100,000 remained Jewish and suffered expulsion. An unknown number of the expelled eventually succumbed to the pressures of life in exile away from formerly-Jewish relatives and networks back in Spain, and so converted to Catholicism to be allowed to return in the years following expulsion.

As the article shows, Jews fled to the Ottoman Empire, knowing that as "People of The Book", they would be protected.

Dhimmi is a historical term referring to the status accorded to People of the Book living in an Islamic state. The word literally means "protected person." According to scholars, dhimmis had their rights fully protected in their communities, but as citizens in the Islamic state, had certain restrictions, and it was obligatory for them to pay the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were excluded from specific duties assigned to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.

Under sharia, the dhimmi communities were usually subjected to their own special laws, rather than some of the laws which were applicable only to the Muslim community. For example, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have its own Halakhic courts, and the Ottoman millet system allowed its various dhimmi communities to rule themselves under separate legal courts. These courts did not cover cases that involved religious groups outside of their own community, or capital offences. Dhimmi communities were also allowed to engage in certain practices that were usually forbidden for the Muslim community, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork.

The jizya by the way, is a tax paid in lieu of military service. All citizens of modern countries pay the jizya, i.e., that portion of taxes that fund the military.

Ahmed Fares said...

More on the jizya:

Khalid Bin Al-Walid was one of the early Muslim commanders (bold mine).

History is full of instances such as bear upon this point. But we would mention just two out of Mr. T. W. Arnold's book The Preaching of Islam. (Ashraf’s edition 1965). On page 61 of the book he says: "'Again in the treaty made by Khalid with some towns in the neighborhood of Hirah." he writes (Tabari. the historian): "If we protect you, then Jizya is due to us; but if we do not, then it is not due." He goes on to say that "The Arab general, Abu Ubaidah, accordingly wrote to the governors of the conquered cities of Syria, ordering them to pay back all the Jizya that had been collected from the cities, and wrote to the people saying:

"We give you back the money that we took from you, as we have received news that a strong force is advancing against us. The agreement between us was that we should protect you, and since this is not now in our power, we return you all that we took. But if we are victorious we shall consider ourselves bound to you by the old terms of our agreement."