Decline of the Ottoman Empire The history of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century is one of increasing internal weakness and deterioration. Once a super power, the Ottoman Empire fell because of a combination of internal degeneration and external pressures. Loss of economic vitality resulted as Europe went to Africa for trade and relied on the Americas rather than the Ottoman middleman. Industrialized Europe soon surpassed outdated Ottoman traditions. Poor leadership gave way to loss of centralized control, and ultimately, its collapse.
Ottoman decline occurred due to economic difficulties, military issues, and demise of political structure (corruption in government). One of the main causes of the decline of the Ottoman Empire was the decline in losses due to trade, along with many stifling economic issues. At one point, the Ottoman Empire was the center of trade, due to its location. As technology advanced, and explorers discovered new parts of the world, the Ottoman Empire became less of an influence in trade.
This trend started as early as the 1580s, when Omer Talib, an Ottoman geographer, warned the Sultan of the threat. He said, “Now the Europeans have learnt to know the whole world; they send their ships everywhere and seize important ports. Formerly the goods…. used to come to Suez and were distributed by Muslims to the entire world. But now these goods are carried on Portuguese, Dutch, and English ships…the Ottomans must seize the shores of Yemen and the passing trade…otherwise Europeans will Rule” (Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, page 28).
Exactly as predicted, the world trade, which used to flow through the Ottoman Empire, decreased sharply in the 17th Century. The Europeans traded directly with Asia leaving the Ottomans in the middle. The Dutch and British completely closed the old international trade routes through the Middle East. The lack of trade was not the only economic issue that brought the decline of the Ottoman influence. Inflation played a huge role in the destabilization of central Ottoman powers, along causing unrest among the population.
The Ottomans had a silver based monetary system and with the newfound metals from the Americas, it caused the sudden flow of cheap and plentiful silver, which had a catastrophic financial impact. The price of silver fell, bringing an imbalance of trade between the East and West. Eventually, guilds were unable to provide quality goods at prices low enough to compete with the cheap European manufactured goods that entered the empire without restriction due to trade agreements. This continued inflation caused prices to quadruple and the devaluation of the coin.
Adding to that, much of the states’ revenue was stuck to the hands of the local elites which shows how decentralized the system had become. Although economic issues affected the Ottoman Empire greatly, they weren’t the only cause for the decline of the empire. The Ottoman Empire was known as one of the most powerful empires, but as technology advanced, their influence of power decreased. The Ottoman Empire witnessed substantial loss in their military power, as a result of the Janissaries diminishing loyalty, which was the essence of the military.
These janissaries were a highly regarded military group. Although they represented and defended the Ottoman Empire, they were not of Ottoman decent, but Europeans who were trained to be loyal to the Empire. The janissaries were generally boys between the ages of 8 to 16 who came from European and Christian rural families, who had been taken to Istanbul, the capital of the empire, where they were converted to Islam. They were the glue which kept the military system together, and which made it so strong.
However, starting in the mid 1600s, the Janissaries began to slowly divide amongst themselves, which caused the military system to slowly weaken. They began dividing old versus young, and reformers versus anti-reformers. The Sultans who were trying to implement reforms lost control over the Janissaries who resisted these changes because they would have meant a loss or decrease in many of their privileges. After numerous revolts, realizing that there was no chance in correcting the situation, the Sultans abolished Janissaries in 1826.
This caused extreme military weakness within the Empire, and essentially caused the military system to fall in disarray and chaos. This weakening of their military made it an ideal environment for external military conflicts, allowing European powers to take over parts of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the Ottoman military demise can be blamed on the corrupt administration within the Empire. The Sultans had discovered a quick and easy way of making money by selling jobs such as tax collectors positions to the highest bidder.
Government officials known as Viziers were appointed through manipulation and palace favors, as opposed to the honest being promoted up the administrative ladder through experience and ability. These viziers were responsible for the city and the affairs of the province they governed. They problem with giving someone a high position based on how much they paid is that they did not have the skills or experience to properly perform the Job. Learning from the Sultan, this trend of officials selling their position spread throughout the empire.
These corrupt and unqualified officials would use their authority to squeeze more taxes from the populace. The taxes that were collected hardly went back to the state. In most cases, these viziers would just keep the revenue for themselves. The corruption started at the highest level, and worked its way down the administrative system, weakening and disrupting the Government, which caused the entire Empire to feel the consequences. The Ottoman Empire was at one point on of the vastest empires in history. Unable to keep up with the advancing global market, it became less of an influential trading region.
Along with an unstable economy and a high inflation on their currency, they suffered from collapse of their military. Even if the Janissaries had not revolted, and actually accepted moves toward advancing the Empires military, the industrial revolution and the shift in global trade would have starved the empire from the financial means to survive. Political corruption was a less direct cause of decline, as it took many years for the entire system to become flawed by it, however, the combination of all 3 factors brought the demise of the Ottoman Empire
Works Cited “History of the Ottoman Empire – Decline and Fall. ” History of the Ottoman Empire – Decline and Fall. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <http://www. turizm. net/turkey/history/ottoman3. html>. Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. London: Issued under the Auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs [by] Oxford U. P. , 1968. Print. Inalc? k, Halil. The Ottoman Empire; the Classical Age, 1300-1600. New York: Praeger, 1973. Print.
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