This major new history of the Ottoman dynasty reveals a diverse empire that straddled East and West.
The Ottoman Empire has long been depicted as the Islamic, Asian antithesis of the Christian, European West. But the reality was starkly different: the Ottomans’ multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious domain reached deep into Europe’s heart. Indeed, the Ottoman rulers saw themselves as the new Romans. Recounting the Ottomans’ remarkable rise from a frontier principality to a world empire, historian Marc David Baer traces their debts to their Turkish, Mongolian, Islamic, and Byzantine heritage. The Ottomans pioneered religious toleration even as they used religious conversion to integrate conquered peoples. But in the nineteenth century, they embraced exclusivity, leading to ethnic cleansing, genocide, and the empire’s demise after the First World War.
The Ottomans vividly reveals the dynasty’s full history and its enduring impact on Europe and the world.
The Ottoman Empire was surprisingly tolerant and modern, according to this sweeping chronicle. Historian Baer (Honored by the Glory of Islam) recaps the Empire's rise at its 17th-century peak it ruled most of the Middle East and southeastern Europe and long decline within a larger European context, emphasizing its entwinement with European geopolitics and culture and its seething intellectual and religious currents, which paralleled the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. He also highlights its innovative multiculturalism and social engineering. The Ottomans' Muslim-dominated society incorporated Christians, Jews, and ethnic minorities respectfully, Baer notes, until a 20th-century turn to Turkish ethno-nationalism precipitated the Armenian genocide, and its early system of converting Christian slave children to Islam and training them for the military and governmental posts produced a meritocratic army and administration. Baer's elegantly written narrative is full of bloody state building a new sultan was expected to murder his brothers to keep them from challenging him for the throne along with intriguing, counterintuitive takes on Ottoman culture. He claims, for instance, that the sultan's fabled harem was an epicenter of female political empowerment, and that sexual relations between men and boys were de rigueur among elites. This immersive study makes the Ottomans seem less exotic but more fascinating.