Comparing the Rise of the Modern State in the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe The Ottoman Empire was one of great power and splendor. It arose from a small state in Central Asia during the middle ages to conquest Constantinople in 1453. This victory established the Ottoman’s superior power in the Balkans and Mediterranean. The political and religious leaders of the Empire were called Sultans. These absolute monarchs continued to expand outward into Egypt and North Africa through military power and conquest.
Making this possible their dominant Navy and a warrior aristocracy which was based on merit and lent soldiers land to raise families. “Slave” soldiers or Janissaries were utilized as well to expand territory. These soldiers were highly trained and utilized gunpowder in battle. Amassing such a large Empire surely had its benefits for the Ottoman’s (increased trade area/access to resources) but ruling over such a vast and diverse area would also prove to present problems. How were the leaders expected to maintain control over all within their territory?
In my opinion the Sultans were wise to allow those within the Empire religious freedom and tolerance. Those conquered and of different faith would be made to pay a religious tax for non-Muslims but in other aspects were given an equal footing. This I believe was very forward thinking for the time and especially notable due to the lack of enlightenment thinkers within the Ottoman Empire. This policy in my thinking is a major contributing factor to the length of the Ottoman rule.
During the rise of the Ottoman Empire the Western European states held a diminished position of power but in turn were able to go through an ongoing shift in culture and thinking. Following the ideas that birthed from the Enlightenment, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the western European states were poised for a shift in power. People had begun to value life and the individual, becoming concerned with science, the arts and nature. A transmutation from an agricultural society to one of industry and technology developed.
As a result of the Protestant and English reformations and the development of enlightened monarchs science became of more value and technology thrived. Scientists and great thinkers were now able to question the nature of the world and the church did not hold an oppressive rule over the ideas being passed down in the education system. These radical cultural shifts were helped along by the stability of the Western European area. A climate shift occurred in the 12th and 13th centuries that began to elongate Europe’s growing season.
Ample food for the growing population allowed for leisure time and luxury. People took in interest in material goods which required skilled craftsman’s and labors and as a result the economy boomed. Intellectuals now had time question and inquire the natural world. A transmutation from an agricultural society to one of industry and technology was in motion. The scientific revolution along with access to rich iron ores allowed the West to develop things like the horseshoe and horse collar.
This coupled with ideas like the three field system (one for summer, one for fall and one to lay fallow) allowed farmers to maximize output of food from their lands. Cooking pots also began to be made out of Iron and this helped to enrich the diet of Westerners and contribute to overall health of the population and increased fertility of women. All of the positive forward thinking notions that were moving throughout hot spots like Italy, France, Spain and Great Britain were exactly what was not happening in the East. As the West got more fertile during the climate shift the Middle East became drier and less nurturing.
Enlighten Despots like Catherine the great in Russia and Louis XVI had severed many educational ties to the church allowing for the development of the first universities and fostering education in their areas. In sharp contrast to this the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire remained tied to their religion even as it hindered them. Old Islamic views of superiority blinded the people of the east and impeded development. This false feeling of superiority was fueled by the failed crusades and a mindset that viewed these setbacks as “temporary”.
This refusal to “open their eyes” to the truth of the situation would be the downfall of the Empire. Intellectuals of the Muslim East spent much time learning and reciting the Koran in place of questioning and learning about the natural world and embracing new thinking. They felt that all things that needed to be discussed and explored had and all new technologies, inquires to the natural world were an affront to god. Future Sultans were often secluded and left to be raised by concubines of the Sultan in harems.
This would often lead to unprepared successors/rulers and it would be left to the mothers to help in political council. This too would prove ineffective. During and after the 19th century the Ottoman Empire became commonly known as the “Sick Man of Europe” The Ottoman empire was simply not able to catch up to the boom in development the Western states experienced. All agricultural societies in this area had previously been able to keep each other in check, but the leaps and bounds made by the West put them out of reach to a society like the Ottoman Empire.
Industrialization and factories that were now appearing all over the West lacked in the East because they had missed out on Enlightenment ideas and notions of capitalism. Western states had strong centralized banks that developed capital to fund new developments and endeavors while the Ottoman’s lost footholds in their empire shrinking to a shell of their former prowess. Missing one step in the process of development put the Ottoman’s behind with no chance of catching up. The west was not superior and out of reach.