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The Ottoman Empire for AP World History

Cate O'Donnell

17 min read

Oct 24, 2023




Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque
Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque 559822477/Shutterstock

The Ottoman Empire was one of the longest-lasting empires in history. It existed between 1281 to 1923. Read the Google Slides to learn about how the Ottoman Empire changed the world.

A Brief History of the Ottoman Empire

Osman I, a descendant of Ghengis Khan, was the visionary leader who laid the foundation for the Ottoman Empire. In 1281, he established the small but significant state called Beylik of Osman, marking the official beginning of the Ottoman dynasty.

Over the decades, under the leadership of Osman and his successors, the Ottomans steadily expanded their territory through a combination of military prowess, strategic alliances, and skilled administration.

The turning point came with the reign of Osman’s grandson, Murad I, and his son Bayezid I. They launched successful military campaigns, capturing cities and expanding the Ottoman realm into Byzantine territories. During this period, the Ottomans began to be recognized as a formidable power in the region.

When Mehmed the Conqueror, also known as Mehmed II, captured Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans solidified their status as a major empire. This marked a pivotal moment in history as the Ottomans transitioned from a regional power to a global one.

Government of the Ottoman Empire

The government structure of the Ottoman Empire was a complex and hierarchical system that evolved over the centuries to accommodate the empire’s vast and diverse territories. At the pinnacle of power was the Sultan, who held absolute authority and was both the political and religious leader. Below the Sultan was a council of viziers and advisors who helped manage the empire’s affairs.

The empire was divided into provinces, each governed by a governor or bey, who had a degree of autonomy but answered to the central authority. Local administrators helped maintain law and order within their respective regions.

One of the most distinctive features of the Ottoman government was its use of the “millet” system. This system allowed religious and ethnic communities to govern their internal affairs and maintain a degree of autonomy. Each millet had its own leader and religious laws.

The military was also a critical component of Ottoman governance, with the Janissaries serving as elite infantry forces. These soldiers were recruited from conquered territories, converted to Islam, and served the empire with loyalty.

The Ottoman government’s blend of central authority and decentralized administration allowed it to govern a vast and diverse empire for centuries. It was a system that adapted to the challenges of ruling over a wide range of cultures, languages, and religions, and it played a significant role in the longevity of the Ottoman Empire.

Architecture of the Ottoman Empire

The architecture of the Ottoman Empire stands as a testament to the empire’s grandeur, innovation, and cultural diversity. Over the centuries, the Ottomans developed a distinctive architectural style that fused elements of Byzantine, Islamic, and Persian traditions. Their architectural legacy is characterized by domed structures, intricate tilework, and the extensive use of columns and arches.

One of the most iconic features of Ottoman architecture is the grand dome, exemplified by structures like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. These enormous domes symbolized the empire’s power and often featured intricate geometric and floral designs. The use of colorful ceramic tiles, particularly in the design of mosques, was another hallmark of Ottoman architecture, with the Iznik tiles being renowned for their beauty and craftsmanship.

Ottoman architecture also emphasized symmetry and balance, creating an aesthetic that was both pleasing to the eye and structurally sound. The use of calligraphy as a decorative element, often incorporating religious verses, added a spiritual dimension to their architectural creations.

The Ottoman architectural legacy can be seen not only in grand palaces and mosques but also in everyday buildings, public fountains, and even bridges. It reflects the empire’s ability to adapt and synthesize various influences into a unique and enduring architectural style that continues to captivate and inspire admirers worldwide.

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, officially known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks and a testament to the architectural and cultural brilliance of the Ottoman Empire. Constructed during the early 17th century, under the rule of Sultan Ahmed I, this magnificent mosque is renowned for its stunning blue tiles that adorn its interior walls, giving it the popular moniker, the “Blue Mosque.”

The mosque’s design, featuring a vast central dome and six minarets, is a striking example of classical Ottoman architecture. It incorporates elements from both Byzantine and Islamic traditions, showcasing a harmonious blend of styles that was emblematic of the empire. The interior is a breathtaking sight with its intricate tilework, intricate calligraphy, and a sense of grandeur that reflects the Ottoman Empire’s opulence during the height of its power.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, a magnificent architectural marvel, has stood as an iconic symbol of Istanbul, Turkey, for over a millennium. Originally built as a cathedral by the Roman Emperor Justinian I in 537 AD, it served as the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for nearly a thousand years. Its grand dome, innovative architecture, and intricate mosaics made it a testament to the skill and artistry of its time.

In 1453, after the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Constantinople under Mehmed the Conqueror, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque, marking a significant shift in its religious identity. The Ottomans added minarets and other Islamic elements to the structure.

Mehmet II

Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, was a prominent figure in the history of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned as the sultan from 1444 to 1446 and then again from 1451 to 1481. His reign is chiefly remembered for his ambitious military campaigns and, most notably, his conquest of Constantinople in 1453, a pivotal moment that marked the end of the Byzantine Empire.

Mehmet II’s relentless pursuit of Constantinople, which had been the Byzantine capital for over a millennium, demonstrated his strategic brilliance. In May 1453, his forces laid siege to the city, and after a protracted battle, they successfully breached its massive walls and captured the city. The fall of Constantinople was a transformative event in world history, as it led to the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Europe and marked the end of the Byzantine Empire.

Mehmet II was a complex ruler. While he was a formidable military commander, he was also a patron of the arts and sciences, fostering a cultural renaissance in the Ottoman Empire. He encouraged scholars and artists from various backgrounds to contribute to the empire’s cultural and intellectual growth. His reign saw the construction of several architectural marvels, including the famous Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

The Ottomans Capture Constantinople

The capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 marked a momentous event in history, signifying the end of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of Ottoman dominance. Under the leadership of the ambitious Sultan Mehmed II, the Ottomans laid siege to the city for several weeks, employing innovative military tactics, including the use of massive cannons. On May 29, 1453, the Ottoman forces breached Constantinople’s ancient walls, leading to the city’s fall.

The conquest of Constantinople had far-reaching consequences. It not only solidified the Ottoman Empire as a major power in the region but also altered the geopolitical landscape of Europe and the Middle East. The Ottomans transformed the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, symbolizing the shift in religious and cultural dominance from Christianity to Islam. The fall of Constantinople is often considered the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, as it prompted the migration of Byzantine scholars to Western Europe, carrying with them classical knowledge and contributing to the intellectual revival of the time.

The Ottomans Rename Constantinople

The Ottoman Empire renamed Constantinople to Istanbul after the conquest in 1453. The renaming was part of a broader process of cultural and administrative changes that accompanied the Ottoman takeover of the city. The name Istanbul has its roots in the Greek phrase “εἰς τὴν πόλιν” (pronounced “is tim polin”), meaning “to the city” or “in the city.” Over time, this term evolved into Istanbul, which became the commonly used name for the city.

The renaming of Constantinople to Istanbul reflected the Ottoman Empire’s cultural and religious shift. The Ottomans were a predominantly Muslim empire, and the name change symbolized the city’s transformation from a historic center of Christianity under the Byzantine Empire to a key city in the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and remained so until the empire’s dissolution in the early 20th century. The name Istanbul continues to be used for the city today, as it has become a symbol of Turkey’s rich historical and cultural heritage.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, nestled in the heart of Istanbul, stands as a majestic testament to the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. Constructed in the 15th century, this sprawling palace complex served as the primary residence of Ottoman sultans for nearly four centuries. With its exquisite architecture, lush gardens, and a stunning view of the Bosphorus, it embodies the opulence and cultural richness of the Ottoman dynasty.

The palace is a treasure trove of history, housing an extensive collection of artifacts, manuscripts, and precious objects, many of which are showcased in various museums on its grounds. One of its most famous displays is the Holy Relics Chamber, where important Islamic relics are kept, including the belongings of the Prophet Muhammad.

The palace’s labyrinthine layout comprises numerous courtyards, pavilions, and halls, each with its unique charm and purpose. Among its highlights are the Harem, where the sultan’s family resided, and the Imperial Council Chamber, where crucial decisions about the empire’s governance were made.

Topkapi Palace is not just a historical site but a vivid window into the magnificent legacy of the Ottoman Empire, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in its art, culture, and the grandeur of a bygone era.

The Golden Age of Suleiman

The Golden Age of Suleiman, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent or Suleiman the Lawgiver, marked a pinnacle in the history of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century. Suleiman I, who reigned from 1520 to 1566, is often regarded as one of the most illustrious sultans in Ottoman history. His rule was characterized by a flourishing of art, culture, and military conquests.

Under Suleiman’s leadership, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith, with vast territories under its control, stretching from Central Europe to the Arabian Peninsula. His armies conquered key cities and expanded the empire’s influence across Europe and Asia.

Suleiman’s reign also witnessed a renaissance in arts and culture, with the construction of iconic structures like the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and a flourishing of poetry, literature, and the arts. The Ottomans became known for their intricate tilework, calligraphy, and miniature paintings.

However, perhaps the most enduring legacy of Suleiman’s rule was his commitment to justice and legal reform. His legal code, known as the Kanun, promoted fairness, human rights, and civil liberties. Suleiman’s reign is often celebrated as a time of cultural richness, political strength, and legal advancements, making it a true “golden age” in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Suleiman in Europe

Suleiman the Magnificent, one of the most prominent sultans of the Ottoman Empire, left an indelible mark on Europe during the 16th century. His reign was characterized by ambitious military campaigns, leading to the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into significant parts of Europe.

Under his leadership, the Ottomans reached the gates of Vienna, marking a high point in their European conquests. However, the Ottomans were unable to conquer Vienna because of the difficulty in moving and supplying troops, winter weather, and the city’s strong fortifications.

Suleiman’s military campaigns in Hungary, the Mediterranean, and North Africa extended the empire’s influence and control across European and Mediterranean lands. His armies captured key cities, including Belgrade, Rhodes, and Tunis, solidifying the Ottoman Empire’s dominance in the Mediterranean.

However, Suleiman’s legacy in Europe is a complex one. While his military campaigns brought territorial expansion, they also initiated a long period of conflict with the Habsburgs and European powers. The struggle for dominance in Central Europe eventually culminated in the famous Battle of Vienna in 1683. Suleiman’s reign in Europe is thus marked by both territorial gains and the beginning of protracted conflicts that would shape the continent’s history for centuries to come.

The Ottomans Try to Capture Vienna

In 1529, the Ottoman Empire, under the leadership of Suleiman the Magnificent, launched a formidable campaign to lay siege to Vienna, a key city in Central Europe. Suleiman sought to extend Ottoman influence deeper into the heart of Europe, and Vienna stood as a symbolic and strategic target. The Ottoman forces, numbering around 120,000, encircled the city, bringing with them advanced artillery and a formidable military presence. The siege, however, faced numerous challenges, including adverse weather conditions and staunch resistance from the defenders within Vienna’s walls. As the Ottoman forces pressed on, they encountered fierce opposition from a united front of Habsburg and local defenders. Despite initial successes in breaching outer defenses, the Ottomans ultimately faced logistical difficulties and decided to lift the siege in October 1529. The failure of the Ottoman siege marked a crucial moment in European history, signaling the limitations of Ottoman expansion into Central Europe and paving the way for future conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and European powers.

Suleiman’s Navy

Suleiman the Magnificent’s navy was a formidable force that played a crucial role in the expansion and consolidation of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century. Under his reign, the Ottoman Navy became one of the most powerful in the world, rivaling the naval forces of European powers and securing the Ottomans’ dominance in the Mediterranean.

Suleiman’s navy was instrumental in expanding Ottoman territories in the Mediterranean and North Africa. It played a key role in the capture of important cities such as Rhodes and Tunis. The navy also facilitated trade, protecting Ottoman interests and ensuring the flow of goods and wealth throughout the empire.

One of the most famous aspects of Suleiman’s navy was its incorporation of a formidable fleet of galleys. These warships were equipped with cannons and well-trained crews, making them a force to be reckoned with on the open seas. The Ottoman Navy also possessed a significant number of skilled sailors, who navigated the Mediterranean’s challenging waters with expertise.

Suleiman’s naval power extended the reach and influence of the Ottoman Empire, and it became a vital component of the empire’s military might and global trade dominance during his reign. The Ottoman Navy’s legacy as a formidable maritime force continues to be celebrated as a symbol of the empire’s strength and maritime prowess.

Mosque of Suleiman

The Mosque of Suleiman, also known as the Suleymaniye Mosque, stands as one of the most magnificent and iconic architectural gems in Istanbul and the entire Ottoman Empire. It was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and constructed by the renowned architect Mimar Sinan in the mid-16th century.

This mosque is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture, characterized by its grandeur, symmetrical design, and colossal dome. The mosque’s central dome, flanked by four towering minarets, symbolizes the empire’s power and majesty. Its interior is adorned with intricate tilework, calligraphy, and beautiful stained glass windows.

Beyond its architectural splendor, the Mosque of Suleiman holds deep cultural and historical significance. It not only served as a place of worship but also encompassed a complex of educational and charitable institutions, including a madrasa, a hospital, and a public kitchen that provided meals to the needy.


Devshirme, a unique and controversial practice in the Ottoman Empire, was a system of recruiting talented young boys from Christian communities within the empire’s territories. These boys, typically of Balkan and Anatolian descent, were selected based on their potential and were often between the ages of 8 and 18. Once chosen, they were forcibly converted to Islam and placed into Ottoman service.

The most promising among these recruits were sent to the Ottoman capital, where they received education and training. They were groomed for various roles within the empire, including military service in the elite Janissary corps, civil administration, and other state functions. Devshirme boys were known for their loyalty to the sultan, as they owed their allegiance to the state that had educated and elevated them.

Devshirme was a source of contention, as it separated young boys from their families and communities, often against their will. However, it also provided opportunities for social mobility and allowed individuals to rise through the ranks based on merit rather than birthright. While it remains a subject of historical debate, Devshirme played a significant role in shaping the Ottoman Empire’s social and administrative structure, leaving a lasting legacy in its history.


The Janissaries were a renowned and distinctive military institution within the Ottoman Empire. Established during the reign of Sultan Murad I in the late 14th century, the Janissaries were an elite corps comprised of Christian boys, primarily from the Devshirme system, who were forcibly converted to Islam and meticulously trained for military service.

What set the Janissaries apart was their unwavering loyalty to the Ottoman sultan. They were known for their discipline, skill, and devotion, which made them a formidable and loyal fighting force. Over time, the Janissaries evolved from being primarily an infantry force into a more complex military and administrative institution. They held significant influence within the empire, which occasionally led to power struggles with the sultans.

However, their power eventually waned, and in the early 19th century, the Janissaries were disbanded as part of a series of reforms initiated by Sultan Mahmud II. This marked the end of a legendary military tradition that had spanned several centuries and played a crucial role in shaping the Ottoman Empire’s history and military prowess.

Sharia Law

During the Ottoman Empire, Sharia law played a pivotal role in shaping the legal and social framework of the empire. As the Ottomans expanded their dominion across diverse regions and cultures, they needed a unified legal system, and Sharia, derived from Islamic principles, provided the foundation. Sharia law governed various aspects of life, including family matters, criminal justice, property, and commerce.

The Ottomans established religious courts, known as qadis, to interpret and apply Sharia law. These courts were integral to maintaining social order and ensuring that Islamic principles were upheld. While Sharia law was the foundation, the Ottomans also incorporated customary laws from the regions they conquered to accommodate local practices and traditions.

One of the most significant aspects of Ottoman Sharia law was its flexibility. It allowed for the coexistence of different legal systems within the empire, which was essential for governing a diverse population. Sharia law was a source of stability and continuity in the Ottoman Empire, as it provided a common legal framework that transcended ethnic and religious differences. It also played a role in upholding justice, ensuring fair treatment, and fostering a sense of equity among the empire’s subjects. While it had its limitations and complexities, Sharia law was a fundamental component of the Ottoman legal system and society.

Tax Farming (Iltizam)

Tax farming, also known as Iltizam, was a unique fiscal system employed in the Ottoman Empire. This system involved the auctioning or leasing of tax collection rights to individuals or groups, known as tax farmers or tax-farmers, for a specific period.

Tax farmers would bid for the right to collect taxes in a particular region or for specific revenue sources. In return, they paid a lump sum to the government, effectively purchasing the tax revenue rights. The tax farmers were then responsible for collecting the taxes from the local population. They often had significant discretion in how much they collected, which could lead to exploitation and excessive taxation.

While tax farming had the potential for abuse, it was a practical way for the government to ensure a regular flow of revenue without directly managing the tax collection process. However, this system faced criticism for its inequities and corrupt practices. Over time, many empires, including the Ottoman Empire, began to reform or replace tax farming with more centralized and regulated taxation systems to improve revenue collection and reduce the exploitation of the population. The history of tax farming serves as a testament to the evolving fiscal practices within different societies.

Millet System

The Millet System, a unique administrative and legal framework within the Ottoman Empire, was designed to manage the diverse religious and ethnic groups residing under Ottoman rule. This system was implemented to govern non-Muslim communities, such as Christians and Jews, who enjoyed a degree of autonomy in their internal affairs.

Under the Millet System, each religious community was recognized as a separate legal entity, or “millet,” and was headed by a religious leader or patriarch. These leaders had the authority to regulate and administer their community’s affairs, including matters of family law, inheritance, education, and even taxation. The Ottoman state allowed these religious leaders a significant degree of autonomy in exchange for their loyalty and compliance with imperial rule.

This system had both positive and negative aspects. It granted religious minorities a degree of self-governance, enabling them to maintain their customs and traditions. However, it also perpetuated divisions among religious and ethnic groups, as each millet operated independently. Over time, the Millet System became a symbol of the Ottoman Empire’s ability to manage its diverse subjects but also reflected the empire’s limitations in achieving true integration and equality among its citizens.


In the Ottoman Empire, the Jizya was a poll tax imposed on non-Muslim citizens, primarily Christians and Jews. It served as a significant source of revenue for the empire while also symbolizing the distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim subjects. The Jizya tax was one of several levies that non-Muslims were required to pay in exchange for the protection and certain rights guaranteed by the Ottoman state.

The Jizya tax was a subject of debate and varying policies throughout the empire’s history. At times, it was imposed with strict regulations and higher rates, leading to financial burdens on non-Muslim communities. At other times, the Ottoman authorities showed tolerance and flexibility in its collection. Non-Muslims who paid the Jizya were exempt from military service, a benefit that contributed to the tax’s continued collection.

While the Jizya represented a form of discrimination against non-Muslims, it was part of the Ottoman Empire’s complex system of governance, which aimed to balance the rights and responsibilities of diverse religious and ethnic groups. This system helped maintain social order and stability within the empire for many centuries.

The Battle of Lepanto

The Battle of Lepanto, fought on October 7, 1571, was a momentous naval engagement between the Holy League, an alliance of Catholic European states, and the Ottoman Empire. The battle took place in the waters off the western coast of Greece near the Gulf of Patras. It was a significant conflict in the broader struggle between Christianity and the Ottoman Empire, which had been expanding its influence and territories.

Led by Don John of Austria on the Christian side, the Holy League’s fleet clashed with the formidable Ottoman navy commanded by Ali Pasha. The battle was a decisive victory for the Holy League, primarily due to the superior firepower of their galleasses, a type of large warship armed with cannons. The battle resulted in a significant loss of Ottoman ships and manpower.

The Battle of Lepanto is often viewed as a critical event that curtailed Ottoman naval dominance in the Mediterranean and halted their westward expansion. It also symbolized the determination of Christian Europe to resist the Ottoman Empire’s advance. Although the battle did not lead to the end of the conflict between the two powers, it remains a historically significant confrontation in the ongoing struggle between the East and West during the late Renaissance period.

The Ottomans Try to Capture Vienna, Again

In 1683, the Ottoman Empire, led by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha, embarked on a second attempt to capture Vienna, marking a continuation of the Ottoman-Habsburg conflicts in Europe. The Ottoman forces, numbering around 150,000, besieged Vienna with the goal of expanding Ottoman territories further into Central Europe. The siege initially saw success for the Ottomans as they breached the city’s defenses, posing a significant threat to Vienna’s inhabitants. However, a decisive turning point came with the arrival of Polish and Holy Roman Empire forces, led by King John III Sobieski of Poland. On September 12, 1683, the Battle of Vienna unfolded, culminating in a resounding victory for the Christian coalition. The Ottoman forces were decisively defeated, forcing them to retreat and lifting the siege. The Battle of Vienna not only halted the Ottoman advance into Europe but also marked the beginning of a gradual Ottoman retreat from Central Europe. This event held profound implications for the geopolitical balance of power in the region.

World War I

Originally, the Ottoman Empire had maintained a policy of neutrality in World War I, seeking to preserve its territorial integrity and maintain a delicate balance between the Central Powers and the Allied Powers. However, as the war unfolded, the Ottoman leadership, particularly under the influence of the “Three Pashas” (Enver Pasha, Talat Pasha, and Djemal Pasha), decided to align with the Central Powers, hoping to regain lost territories and secure their rule.

The Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war brought about a series of pivotal events, most notably the Armenian Genocide, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians were systematically killed or forcibly removed from their homes. The Ottoman Empire’s military involvement led to several significant battles, including the Gallipoli Campaign, where Ottoman forces successfully repelled the Allied invasion. However, the empire also suffered defeats in other theaters, leading to territorial losses.

World War I proved to be a turning point for the Ottoman Empire, as its defeat and the subsequent occupation of its capital, Istanbul, set the stage for a series of events that culminated in the dissolution of the empire and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The End of the Ottoman Empire

Several factors contributed to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. First, internal strife and power struggles within the ruling elite weakened the central authority. The empire’s administrative and military systems became outdated and inefficient, leading to financial troubles and corruption. Additionally, the emergence of nationalist movements within various ethnic and religious communities under Ottoman rule fostered demands for autonomy and independence.

Externally, the Ottoman Empire faced military defeats in World War I, which further weakened its position. The empire’s involvement in the war on the side of the Central Powers led to occupation and territorial losses. Following the war, a series of international treaties, such as the Treaty of Sèvres, dismembered the empire and redistributed its territories among the victorious powers.

The end of the Ottoman Empire is often associated with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who sought to modernize and secularize the new nation. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished, and the last Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed VI, went into exile. This marked the official end of the Ottoman Empire.

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Cate O'Donnell

17 min read

Oct 24, 2023