Ottoman history has a meaning beyond the history of Turkey and the Turks. Today, we know that more than twenty countries in the Balkans, the Danube, the Middle East and North Africa, which have different languages, religions, races and political regimes, are facing some common problems as the owners of a common heritage. These problems are to some extent the living history of the Ottoman Empire. There were three “Roman Empires” in the Mediterranean world. These three Romes were political social systems with their own traditional structures and ideologies, different from the nationalist empires of the new ages. The third and last of these traditional Roman empires is the Ottoman Empire. That is why we say that examining the institutions and structure of this empire has a meaning beyond examining the history of the Turks.
This historical phenomenon is the common destiny and common past of the people in the Mediterranean region. Today, people on three continents have begun to look at problems with a more rational eye. “The history of the Third Roman Empire is the memory of the common past of all these peoples, sometimes with disasters and sometimes with honorable events. As each of the peoples in the Ottoman countries takes their place in the modern world, they will review the characteristics and diseases they have acquired from this common heritage together and seek precautions.
Great empires in our region at the beginning of the Middle Ages
The Middle East and the Mediterranean region is a world where the first agricultural activities were seen, and therefore urbanization and organized society, in short, the state emerged. Urbanization and organization seen around rivers in ancient times could not have occurred in arid lands. For this reason, the states created by river civilizations and fertile regions could easily dominate large areas throughout history, and the Mediterranean-Middle East world, the cradle of this civilization, witnessed the birth and continuation of great empires.
These regions have not been able to leave the traditional agricultural order and make the agricultural technological revolution for ages. The Mediterranean and Middle Eastern empires of the early and middle ages had to organize irrigation facilities to prevent drought and famine, transportation and accommodation for the continuation of trade.
In this part of the world, where arid and low-density lands stretched as far as possible, small statelets did not have a chance to survive as in Western Europe of the Middle Ages. However, a political delegation that controlled large regions had a chance for power.
For this, the medieval eastern state is the great empire. However, the primitiveness of transportation and communication technology and the inadequacy of the means of control (such as postal, bureaucratic organization, monetary system, etc.) have caused the fact that a widely used description for the eastern monarchies, namely the centralized-state type, does not exist technically.
Peasant and artisanal groups have always been subordinated to the management of local control groups. In other words, classical feudalism first emerged in Middle Eastern societies and continued until late times. However, local powers prevented the formation of a legal economic infrastructure and organization that would establish an independent state. Therefore, central state power prevailed.
In our Turkish, there are not only Arabic and Persian idioms, but also a heap of words from Italian, Greek, Syriac, Hungarian, eastern and southern Slavic languages. Likewise, many Turkish words and idioms can be found in these languages. Even this situation shows that there is no civilization that remains unique in the Mediterranean-Middle East region. The history and social order of Turkey is also a synthesis of the Mediterranean. For this reason, we enter our subject by examining the state and social order of the Sassanids, Byzantines, Arabs and Italians.
We live in this synthesis at every stage of our daily lives. Turkish cuisine is a Balkan-Middle East synthesis. It was the Ottoman order of the 16th century that brought Hungarian goulash, Rumelian vegetable dishes to the warm provinces of Mesopotamia, and Mesopotamian desserts to the tables of distant Balkan peoples.
From the Balkan states to the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, it is possible to see the remnants of this administration everywhere. The borders of the republics that make up the Arab world are to some extent the borders of the former Ottoman provinces. Sometimes, it is not exactly like that, and there is a problem like in Iraq. The border of administrative units in Bulgaria is the old sanjak. The remnants of the Ottoman land system create problems in the countries where the private property regime is observed. Mecelle was in effect in Arab countries until recently.
The Middle East region has been the world of great empires. In this region, where writing was used, organized society and urbanization were seen for the first time, small states did not have a chance to survive throughout history, except during times of depression and migration. There is no other region where cultural interaction and assimilation is so strong. In the arid lands of the Middle East, where neither the small state nor the original small society culture has a chance to survive, one of the small states dominates the other small ones, just as only one of the eaglets has a chance to survive.
Civilization was born in the Middle East-Mediterranean region. But we see that traditional culture and technology started to change in the 20th century. Because of this change, the Middle East world is a whole of countries where big problems are experienced. The knowledge of Ottoman history gives the opportunity to approach these problems. The geographical composition of the Ottoman countries has changed continuously throughout the six centuries of life of the state.
Conquests and territorial losses changed the ethnic composition of the people of the country as well as the administrative division of the country. In fact, there is no need to enumerate all these changes here. Moreover, the historical geography of the Ottoman country is still far from being an issue that scientists can solve. However, when we look at the borders of the 17th century, we encounter the following situation.
The borders of the Ottoman country, starting from Transylvania and Transdanubian Hungary in the west, follow the entire Danube basin to the Black Sea, and include the Dalmatian coast, the Mediterranean islands and the whole Peloponnese-Peloponnese in the south. border in the north; Podolia extends to the steppes of Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, via Wallachia-Boğdan.
This whole area, together with the privileged principality, the statelets under the protection and the provinces attached to the center, constitute the Rumelia part. In the east, the border starting from Azerbaijan and Luristan included the Southern Caucasus, the protectorate and dependent states in the North Caucasus, and finally the entire Anatolian continent, Al Jazeera, Syria and Lower Mesopotamia as provinces affiliated to the center. If we consider Arabia and the Hejaz lands with the status of privileged principality, the Asian continent of the empire will be completed. In Africa, if we count Egypt, a part of Abyssinia, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, which are called Western Hearths, we will have roughly completed the composition of the country.
It is clear that this whole area does not have a homogeneous population. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand that the state does not have a homogeneous administrative-financial structure. This is the situation that has made Ottoman history a series of problems that are difficult to solve. That’s why we generally have to be limited when dealing with issues, and the problems of the Anatolian continent will be binding for us.
There are studies that need to be done in rural and urban areas in order to know the Ottoman history. History and sociology are disciplines that should benefit from each other’s results. The concepts of sociology are the language of history. History is the laboratory of sociology. He will learn the methods and techniques for approaching historical scientific problems from sociology. The future of Turkish historiography; depends on human geography, toponymy, financial history research.
Source: Prof İlber Ortaylı. Türkiye Teşkilat ve İdare Tarihi