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Ottomans

With ambitions set on far horizons, the Ottomans are eager to bring the world's riches home and see their borders span continents.

A rising power in Anatolia since the 11th century, the Ottomans conquered the Balkans before taking control of the remaining areas of the Byzantine Empire once and for all in 1453. Starting from these core territories, they built a contiguous land empire that ran from Algiers to Baghdad and Hedjaz to Vienna.

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The Ottoman rulers were descended from Oghuz Turk populations that settled in the Near East and Middle East during the 10th century. At the turn of the 14th century, they established their power in the Turkic-speaking principalities of Anatolia that emerged after the disintegration of the Seljuq sultanate. Their push into Anatolia to fight the Byzantine Empire, and then into the Balkans to battle the Serbian and Bulgarian lords, ended with the blockade and siege of Constantinople, which they took in 1453 with an army of 80,000 men. The Empire then continued to expand into central Europe and the Mediterranean. Under the reigns of Selim I (1512–1520) and Suleiman I (1520–1566), a unified Islamic empire and califate was restored with authority over the Near East, Mesopotamia, the provinces of Egypt, Hejaz, Cyrenaica, and Algiers and stretching from the Balkans to the gates of Vienna. The Ottoman navy fought several wars against the Venetian navy’s galleasses in a struggle for power over the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, but it remained a major force in the Red Sea and over the entire Indian ocean. A military and diplomatic power under Suleiman I, the Ottoman Empire took part in wars in Western Europe between Francis I of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Gold and silver extracted from mines in the Balkans supplied the sultan with colossal wealth that poured into the prosperous merchant trade networks linking Mughal India to the Western Mediterranean up until the 18th century.

Did you know?

One of Captain Haddock’s favorite insults in The Adventures of Tintin—“bashi-bazouk”—refers to Ottoman auxiliary units that were active from the 15th century onward, composed mainly of Balkan mercenaries. The bashi-bazouk were often used to control the civilian population and were infamous in the European 19th-century press for acts of violent repression during the Balkan independence struggles.