The Ottoman Empire reached its peak (in size and splendor) under Suleiman the Magnificent but almost immediately after Suleimanâs time the Empire began to decline.
The grandeur, superiority and prosperity of the Ottoman Empire was unequaled having reached it Zenith under Suleiman the Magnificent; their splendor and success was however to decline after the succession of Suleiman. Suleiman the Magnificent also known as Suleiman the Law giver ruled the Ottoman empire for forty six years bringing in change and prosperity that had never again been witnessed. Expansion of the empire, economic growth and a well organized government were the symbols of his forty six year reign. The most unfortunate thing is that after Suleiman's exit decline of the empire threatened to wash away all the efforts that Suleiman had put into making it the most powerful empire of the time. The succeeding Sultans could not match up with Sultan the magnificent, both in skill and intelligence. The empire was headed for a long journey down in the loss of power.
Suleiman the Magnificent
Suleiman the Magnificent with no doubt was a prominent monarch who not only led the Ottoman empire to into becoming a political power but also employed his great leadership qualities to bring economic power, education and vital changes in the laws of taxation and crime. His special talent as a poet and his love for art enabled him to patron Ottoman's culture bringing in architectural, artistic and literary development during a period that came to be referred to as the golden age. Agricultural development and constant supply of staple foods in the empire was owed to the excellent organization and intelligent planning exercised by Suleiman.
Suleiman the Magnificent succeeded his father Selim I who ruled between 1512 and 1520 and who had expanded the empire significantly when he defeated Shah Ismail conquering the eastern and Southern Frontiers of the empire. This had laid a good ground for Suleiman the Magnificent to expand the empire even more given his determined spirit and aggression. Suleiman had a dire passion to expand the Ottoman empire and he actually led the empire's military personally to conquer Hungary, Rhodes and Belgrade. It is during his reign that the Ottoman fleet took an outstanding presence in the seas dominating the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. Most notable in the achievements that followed was the conquering of the Hungary Kingdom. The success of Ottoman empire in Suleiman's reign can be attributed to the efficient government, law and the determination which the spirited Sultan instilled in his army. Unity, discipline, endurance and a habit of victory were key values in the Ottoman military.
Decline of the Ottoman Empire
Had the Ottomans followed the same trend, the empire could have become even more powerful. However, no leader possessed the spirit and determination of Suleiman which led to the decline of the empire. Ottoman started losing battles and their territory started shrinking. Western Europe began establishing naval routes to Asia such that the trade monopoly exercised by Ottoman encountered competition. The result was the serious economic decline coupled with devaluation of Ottoman currency that led to high levels of inflation. South Europe also challenged Ottoman when they tested their naval strength during the battle of Lepanto where they won over the Ottoman fleet. Ottoman was being overtaken by Europe in invention such that development of the much needed technology to improve their military position was low. Ottoman lost their military reverence when Europeans underwent a military revolution coming up with better weapons and military tactics. Ottoman's strength was being undermined by the day. The peak of Ottoman decline was marked in 1699 following their defeat at Vienna. The end of the Great Turkish War after fifteen years witnessed a surrender of the Ottomans to the European territories for the first time. Most of these territories were conquered permanently and the empire was quickly reducing in size. Its ability to expand was really challenged and there was little that the Ottomans could do to revive their previous status as a military power.
Factors Leading to Decline of the Empire
Various factors led to the decline of the Ottoman empire with the first one being the weak sultans who whose misrule led to few developments and by 1683 there was nothing much to show for expansion to Europe by Ottoman. Of all the seventeen sultans following Suleiman, very few exhibited good leadership qualities among them Murad IV who managed to recapture Yerevan in 1635 and Mustafa II who led the counter attack in Hungary against the Habsburgs in 1697. One significant reason has been suggested for the poor leaders who ruled Ottoman after Suleiman. The Sultanate by which the Sultan would select the most competent person to succeed him was no longer strong enough. The empire had no formal means in which to nominate the successor. Death of competing princes was used as a means of avoiding civil unrest. This is a culture that had been significant even in the times of Suleiman. In order to hold power, the Sultans had to have his brother killed and at the same time have his sons held hostage such that they could not access education and that they would be completely cut out of the rest of the world. This way, the Sultan was assured that no competition could come their way. Selim II who succeeded Suleiman for example was not efficient and could not equal his brother Mustafa who Suleiman had killed.
The Ottomans believed so much in their superiority such that they could not see Europe challenging them. The superiority of the Muslims did not allow them to concentrate on building their intellectual knowledge and they significantly grew resistant to new ideas such that advances made in the west gradually overtook them. The Ottomans saw themselves as overly powerful and civilized. When change gradually came to the west, they could not adapt to the changes and hence they remained behind in their production methods and trade techniques. In other words, Ottomans refused to industrialize.
The failure to improve technology and industrialization resulted in economic stagnation and decline in their military abilities as the countries of the West continued to advance. To make matters worse, Europe developed trade routes that overtook Ottoman as a trade monopoly. This resulted in severe inflation and eventually a sharp drop in the country's economy. The economy decline fuelled corruption as European manufactured goods were sold in the country undercutting locally produced goods. This kind of arrangement only went on to enrich Europe while the Ottomans continued to get be oppressed. Reviving the economy was not going to be easy at this rate. Efforts to revive it through the Suez and Don-Volaga Channel projects by did not work out after the projects were cancelled.
Breakdown of centralized government was another factor leading to the decline. The government offices became a source of conflict with leaders fighting over power and engaging in absolute bribery. They would sell offices to those who could afford and in return these buyers would end up recovering their money through exploiting the citizens with heavy taxes. Undesirable practices and irresponsible use of office consisting of nepotism, favorism and bribery was significant in the government offices. The final result was the disorganization of the government and the order that had been instilled by Suleiman was not at all present.
Some of these factors leading to the decline of Ottoman empire were still there even during Suleiman the Magnificent's time.
The culture of killing potential successors to the throne was present even in Suleiman the Magnificent's time. Further more, Suleiman killed his son Mustafa who the most talented and would have become a better leader of the empire. He also drove another of his sons to exile such that Selim II who was incompetent and inexperienced took the throne after him. After Mustafa and his brother were eliminated, only Selim and Bayezid remained as potential heirs of the throne. Suleiman gave each of them authority over one side of the empire and soon after a civil war between the two brothers ensued. Bayezid was finally killed together with his four sons. Selim II thus occupied the throne.
The Ottomans had also a notion that their empire was quite powerful both economically and politically. They therefore felt that no nation could challenge them which is the reason why the Ottomans did not pay attention to developing their intellectual knowledge. It is this ignorance that finally led to the western countries overpowering them in terms of military and economic progress.
By the time of Suleiman the Magnificent left the throne in 1566, Ottoman empire was a world power with unrivaled military, territorial coverage and economic prosperity. So powerful was the Ottoman empire that Europe felt threatened. Ambassador Busbecq even warned of possible conquest of Europe under Suleiman. The size of the empire had increased significantly after conquering many states. The military had more men than it needed following the recruitment of the young Christian boys who were taken as slaves, converted to Muslim and then trained to join the army. Nothing was missing in this empire whose economy, agriculture and culture had grown beyond compare. This was however to become a thing of the past shortly after Suleiman the Magnificent was succeeded. Things started to fall apart as the Ottoman territories were captured and their military power threatened by the countries of the west which were quickly advancing in technology. The economy was going down and there was no way the empire could go back to the status that it had so tirelessly worked for under Suleiman. Poor leadership, uncontrolled government structure and inability to move with the industrial and technological changes led to the continuous decline of the Ottoman empire. Even as they tried to correct their past mistakes, there was no denying that the sultans following Suleiman the magnificent could not be as efficient as he was. The grandeur, superiority and prosperity of the Ottoman empire was unequaled having reached it Zenith under Suleiman the Magnificent; their splendor and success was however to decline after the succession of Suleiman. The Ottoman empire was to finally come to an end in 1923 when the Republic of Turkey became official.
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