III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > B. The Middle East and North Africa, 500–1500 > 2. The Muslim Middle East and North Africa, c. 945–1500 > d. The Ottoman Empire
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
d. The Ottoman Empire
The story of the Ottoman Empire has its beginning around the turn of the 14th century, in a corner of northwestern Anatolia where a group of Muslim Turkish tribesmen led by their chieftain, Osman, started to expand beyond their small principality on the Byzantine frontier. Their territorial base eventually grew into a great world empire that was named after Osman and was ruled by his descendants in unbroken succession throughout its nearly six and a half centuries of history.  1
When the Ottomans emerged on the scene as a political force, Anatolia was divided into a number of principalities (beyliks) ruled largely by Turkoman chieftains and families. The population was a mix of Muslims and native Christians, many of whom were converting to Islam. This situation was the outcome of a long process, beginning in the 11th century, by which Muslims, primarily western (Oghuz) Turks originating in central Asia, steadily broke through the Byzantine defenses and conquered Anatolia. New waves of Turkish and Muslim refugees fleeing from the Mongols entered Anatolia in the 13th century.  2
Information on the early Ottomans remains very patchy, and legends woven around their origins and exploits further complicate the task of reconstructing their formative years. Ottoman chroniclers portrayed them as Muslim ghazis, or holy warriors, driven to conquest and expansion by their religious zeal for the struggle against the infidel. This view, which modern scholarship has often perpetuated, appears to have been very much an idealization created by later writers and servants of the royal house. In reality the early Ottomans, like other Turkish nomads in the milieu of western Anatolia, conquered land and engaged in predation to meet the economic needs of their pastoral society rather than as part of a strictly religious campaign. They expanded at the expense of fellow Muslims, did not force conversion on the conquered Christian peoples, and maintained friendly ties with the Byzantine population, even using Christians in their armies.  3
The early Ottomans were nomadic pastoralists with an elected chieftain and an armed force made up of bands of tribesmen on horseback. But as the territory under their rule expanded and the tasks of governing and fighting became more complicated, their tribal organization was transformed into a settled state. In the course of the 14th century, they developed a standing army and a bureaucracy, shifted from pastoral life to agriculture, and transformed their chieftains into sultans who ruled as despotic monarchs. The result was a complex imperial system fashioned from a blend of Islamic, Turko-Mongol, and Byzantine institutions.  4
1. From Frontier Principality to Regional Power
c. 1280–c. 1324
OSMAN I, FOUNDER OF THE OTTOMAN DYNASTY. Although the chronology of his activities before 1302 cannot be established accurately, Osman appears to have been elected chieftain by his tribesmen sometime around 1280, and to have led their seasonal migrations and predatory raids from their pasture areas around Dorylaeum (Eskishehir) in northwestern Anatolia. He took advantage of the weakness of the Byzantines by launching attacks against their frontier settlements. His territorial base expanded steadily, especially in the fertile plains of Bithynia, and many native Christians became subject to his authority and even entered his service.  5
1302, July 27
Battle of Bapheus, outside Nicomedia, in which Osman defeated a Byzantine force and strengthened his standing as a recognized local leader. In the following years his forces were able to capture small forts in the area, although the larger cities, too heavily fortified for the light arms of the Ottomans, held out for a while.  6
c. 1324–62
ORHAN, Osman's son, continued the policy of territorial expansion, conquering virtually all of northwestern Anatolia and establishing a foothold in Europe. Cities and agricultural populations came under his family's control, and the frontier principality developed more fully into a settled state as well as a formidable player in the region's affairs. The title of sultan first appeared on coins minted by Orhan.  7
1326, Apr. 6
Fall of Bursa to the Ottomans, after a lengthy siege. Orhan made the city his capital.  8
1327, May 13
Ottoman conquest of Lopadion (Ulubad).  9
1329, June 10
Battle of Pelekanon, in which Orhan defeated a Byzantine expedition personally commanded by the emperor Andronicus III. The Byzantines abandoned further efforts to organize resistance to the Ottomans in Anatolia or to supply the remaining Byzantine cities there.  10
1331, Mar. 2
Ottoman conquest of Nicaea (Iznik). The first Ottoman medrese, or Muslim religious college, was created in the city that year, using a converted church building.  11
Ottoman conquest of Nicomedia (Izmit).  12
The Ottomans absorbed the neighboring Turkoman principality of Karasi, which brought them to the southern shores of the Dardanelles. They first crossed into Europe that year at the request of John Cantacuzenos, a claimant to the Byzantine throne who solicited their military assistance in his struggle for power. Orhan helped him take the towns along the Black Sea, and to cement the political alliance was given Cantacuzenos's daughter Theodora in marriage. From that point on, Ottoman troops moved back and forth across the straits.  13
Ottoman conquest of Gallipoli, after the establishment of a bridgehead on the peninsula (in Tzympe) in 1352. From this European base, troops led by Orhan's sons Suleyman and Murad began to launch raids northward into Thrace and to expand the area of Ottoman occupation. The Ottomans lost Gallipoli in 1366, but in 1376 the Byzantine emperor ceded it to the sultan by way of tribute.  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.