The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire

With kind permission from J.W. Smith, a major part of Chapter 14 of The World's Wasted Wealth II (Institute for Economic Democracy1, 1994) has been reproduced here. (See the beginning of this chapter2 if you have not read it.) Also, please note that I do not make any proceeds from the sale of this book in any way.

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  1. Rise of the Ottoman Empire
  2. Decline of the Ottoman Empire

Rise of the Ottoman Empire

If we are to understand the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and the planned "New World Order," we must know the history behind the efforts of the world's power brokers to control the resources of the volatile Middle East. It is the history of the Eastern cultures' relationship to world trade.

The Roman, Byzantine, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, and Ottoman empires all demanded tribute from their outlying provinces and continually consumed this wealth-and eventually wealth from the center-defending against encroachment by competing empires.

The Romans extended their empire around the entire Mediterranean Sea and part of the Bible is the record of battles resisting subjugation in the peripheral province of Israel. After three hundred years of persecution, during the fourth century A.D., Emperors Constantine and Theodosius made Christianity the state religion and "forbade the worship of ancient pagan gods."13

Over the next eleven hundred years, as the Roman Empire in the West was overwhelmed by barbarians, the people of Turkestan - who had a long history of conquest and defeat, back and forth, with China, Mongolia, Europe, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt - accepted the Islamic religion, formed an alliance with other Arabs and Muslims, and defeated and then ruled the Byzantine (Eastern) half of the "Holy Roman Empire." See footnote 1 This was the Islamic/Ottoman (Turkish) empire, which reached its zenith under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1550 A.D.

By the eighth century, just one hundred years after the death of Mohammed, the Arabs had converted most of North Africa to the Muslim faith, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, and overrun Spain. They then entered France, but were decisively defeated by the Christians at the Battle of Tours (Poiters) in the year 732 A.D. From the eighth to the fifteenth century, the Spanish Christians slowly pushed the Muslims back, and during the reign of Queen Isabella in 1492, the same year Columbus reached the Americas, they drove the Muslims off the peninsula. 24

While that seven hundred-year battle was being fought, Muslims remained firmly astraddle the trade routes to the silk of China and the spices of the Far East. The searches for another route to the Far East were also attempts to envelop the Muslims in a giant pincer movement. Portugal's coinage minted from African gold was even called the "Cruzada" (the Crusade). 35 But while Christians prevailed in the West, the Muslims were growing stronger in the East.

The success of the Turkish people up to this time was due to their warlike heritage, superior cannons, and the cohesive strength of the Islamic faith. But, as with all extended empires, the greater the distance from its center, the more difficult it became to defeat and control other societies. Though they had defeated Byzantium, they were still face to face with the Western half of the former Holy Roman Empire and its common bond of Christianity.

As "the center of gravity of the Western world [shifted] from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard," a series of defeats marked the turning point of Islamic/Ottoman fortunes in the East. See footnote 2 The first came in 1571 when, in a three-hour battle, a Christian fleet "composed of 208 Venetian, Spanish, Genoese, and papal galleys" destroyed 90 percent of the Ottoman fleet of 260 ships in Greece's Bay of Lepanto. For the next hundred years, the Turks tried to regain their momentum and expand deeper into Europe. But they suffered a horrendous defeat in 1683 trying to take Vienna and, weakened by that setback, lost several other cities, including Athens, to the Christians. At this time Russia, under Peter the Great, joined the Holy Alliance against the Turks; the inexorable crushing of the Islamic/Ottoman empire by the Christian empire had begun. See footnote 3

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Decline of the Ottoman Empire

The battles ebbed and flowed for another hundred years, but, as America won its freedom and the French their revolution, the Moslem empire steadily gave ground. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was imminent, and European powers started positioning themselves to claim the spoils. France sought to maintain influence in Jerusalem, Egypt, Algeria, and later, Tunisia. Its building of the Suez Canal (1859-1869) conflicted with Britain's plans to control the land and sea routes to Asia.

While jockeying for position in the Middle East, France and England joined forces to prevent Russian expansion from getting out of hand in the Balkans (Crimean War, 1854-1856). But ten years later, while England was occupied with the conquest of India, Russia pushed the Turks out of most of Europe. Those gains to Russia were largely lost when Britain recalled some of her troops from India and, in concert with France, denied Russia those political gains.

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  1. The former Byzantine empire was the eastern half of the Holy Roman Empire. They were once one empire ruled by co-emperors, one in Rome and one in Constantinople. Whenever one emperor died, the other named his replacement. Over several centuries, Hellenic culture overwhelmed the efforts to transpose Latin culture into the Balkans and Asia minor and the two empires became culturally separate (Ostrogorsky, Byzantine State). This established the "East" and "West" that still divide the world today. Back to text

  2. At this time, large amounts of silver and gold were being plundered from the Americas. This not only furnished the money that is credited with starting the Industrial Revolution, it seriously devalued Turkish money required to buy the tools of war. Thus the treasures gathered for centuries by the people of the great Aztec, Mayan, and Inca cultures were transported to Christian Europe and provided the muscle that overwhelmed the Islamic empire (Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers [New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1988], p. 16). Back to text

  3. The actual plan to envelop and crush the Islamic empire began two hundred years earlier with Portugal's exploration of the west coast of Africa, which led to the discoveries of Vasco da Gama and Columbus (Roberts, Triumph of the West, chapter 6, especially p. 180). Back to text

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