Showing posts with label muslim world. Show all posts
Showing posts with label muslim world. Show all posts

Ottoman-Safavid Wars

Ottoman-Safavid Wars
Ottoman-Safavid Wars

The protracted conflict between the Ottomans and the Safavids was based on territorial and religious differences. Both great empires sought to control vast territories in present-day Iraq, along the Caspian and their mutual borders.

As Sunni Muslims, the Ottoman Empire also disagreed with the Shi’i Safavids over basic religious tenets and practices, similar to the disputes between various Catholic and Protestant powers in Europe.

In 1514, the Ottoman sultan Selim I, father of Suleiman I the Magnificent, declared a holy war against the Safavids, whom he considered heretics. Armed with cannons, the Ottoman army defeated Shah Isma’il, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, and occupied much of northern Persia (present-day Iran).

Suleiman continued the fight against Shah Tahmasp I (reigned 1524–76), but Tahmasp retaliated with a policy of “scorched earth,” making it impossible for the Ottoman forces to live off the land, as was usual for invading armies at the time. Tahmasp also struck an alliance of convenience with the Habsburgs, a major enemy of the Ottomans.

The Ottomans succeeded in taking Tabriz in northern Persia, but, stretched beyond his limits, Suleiman reluctantly signed a treaty with the Safavids in 1555. The Safavids managed to retain control over northern Persia and territory along the Caspian Sea but lost Iraq to the Ottomans. Following Suleiman’s death, Shah Abbas I managed to regain temporary control over Baghdad and Basra in Iraq, but after Abbas died, the Ottomans retook the territories.

The subsequent 1639 peace treaty between the two rival empires established borders that are almost identical to those shared by present-day Iraq and Iran. The two great powers remained enemies but no further warfare broke out.

Over the course of their rivalry, both empires achieved major military victories and suffered military defeats, but neither was able to defeat decisively the other. Their futile warfare undermined the economic and military power of both and was a major factor in their long declines.

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was a centralized absolute regime ruled from the top by the sultan. As in other nomadic and Islamic empires, the Ottomans never developed a legal procedure for accession and this was to be a source of instability and weakness.

The first sultans were among the most able sons of the sultans, and rival brothers were sometimes executed. By the 1600s, the oldest male members of the family were selected as sultans. Thus the sultanate passed among brothers or nephews and other possible heirs were kept under “house arrest” in various palaces.

The Ottoman Empire was a Sunni Islamic state, and although the sultans ultimately took the title of caliph, the Sheikh al Islam was the major religious authority of the state. In keeping with Islamic practice, there was no separation of religious and secular law in the early Ottoman Empire and the Shari’a was recognized as the law of the empire.

The Sheikh al Islam issued fatwas, legal opinions based on Islamic law, on matters ranging from the theological to the practical. Qadis, or Muslim judges, served in the provinces and local towns and muftis were appointed to give legal pronouncements if asked by the qadi.

Religious education was conducted in madrassas throughout the empire and the office of the waqf (pl. awqaf) oversaw religious endowments, many of which had been given by devout Muslims as zakat, or alms. Waqf endowments included hospitals, schools, retirement homes, public fountains, and soup kitchens.

Power Hierarchy

Politically, the vizier was the second-most powerful figure after the sultan. During the 18th century, when the sultans were weak or inept, the viziers, particularly the able and honest Koprülü family, managed the vast bureaucracy and government.

Early sultans governed through the imperial divan, or council, but ultimately the vizier oversaw the divan. A huge number of bureaucrats including scribes, translators, and clerks administered the day-to-day operation of the far-flung empire.

The sultans appointed valis, or governors, to rule over each province. To prevent governors from becoming too powerful, their terms in office were usually short; two years was the average. The constant administrative changes often led to inefficiency and corruption.

As a rule of thumb, the Ottomans exercised more direct authority in the provinces closest to the center of power in Istanbul; remote provinces, far from the center of power, enjoyed considerable autonomy and local families or officials often were the real sources of power.

Because remote regions such as Kuwait and Yemen often only gave an annual tribute to the Ottomans, it was sometimes unclear whether they were actually part of the empire. Unless protracted revolts broke out or people refused to pay taxes, the Ottomans generally interfered little in the daily lives of their subjects.

Militarily, the Janissaries composed the elite forces. They were conscripted through the devshirme system whereby young Christian boys from the Balkans were taken as slaves, converted to Islam, and trained as professional soldiers or administrators whose sole loyalty was to the state.

As the sultans became weaker, the Janissary corps became politically powerful and on occasion overthrew sultans to replace them with individuals of their own choice. The cavalry or sipahis, free-born Muslims, were given land as payment. Ownership of such land grants was sometimes hereditary. There were also a large number of conscripted foot soldiers.


The collection of taxes was a perennial duduk perkara and the Ottomans developed a system of tax farming, or iltizam, in which multazim, tax collectors, were hired to collect taxes throughout the empire.

This system led to considerable abuses, and often unfair tax burdens were placed on the poorest peasants, who lacked the resources or power to avoid payment or to buy off the tax collector. Peasant farmers were often informally tied to the land, much of which was owned by old feudal families who retained their wealth under the Ottomans.

Religious minorities, Christians, Jews, and Armenians, lived under the millet system. They paid an additional tax but maintained their own schools, controlled their local communities, and settled legal disputes among their members.

The Ottoman Empire was remarkably tolerant of minorities, who enjoyed considerable upward mobility and economic freedom. Members of ethnic and religious minorities could and did rise to high positions, including that of vizier or physician to the sultan. Only the position of sultan was reserved for members of the House of Osman.

Agreements of capitulation were signed with foreign powers such as the French. Under the capitulations foreign merchants and others were granted rights to conduct business within the empire and were exempt from Ottoman taxation and laws. When the empire was strong, the capitulations were not a problem, but as the empire declined, the millet system and capitulations became sources of foreign economic and political interference.

Life as A Sultan

The sultan and his household ruled from the Topkapi in Istanbul. Topkapi was a sprawling complex of vast audience halls, throne rooms, living quarters for the harem, pleasure gardens and fountains, and a kitchen large enough to provide daily meals for 2,000 people.

The harem included the sultan’s wives, concubines, eunuchs, and the queen mother or Valide Sultan. Early sultans, like their counterparts in Europe and Asia, often married the daughters or sisters of defeated foes or wed to cement political and military alliances.

By the 16th century, sultans generally did not marry and Suleiman I the Magnificent’s marriage to his beloved Hurrem (Roxelana) was highly unusual. Women of the harem, particularly the Valide Sultan, exerted considerable political power during the 18th century.

They often conspired for their favorite sons to become the sultan. Although early sultans received firsthand training leading military forces and administering Ottoman provinces, by the 17th century royal princes were educated totally within the palace.

Their lack of outside experience and isolation within the harem made them poorly equipped to rule. Seventeenth-century sultans were often spoiled and self-indulgent with little or no awareness of the problems or corruption within ruling circles.

Ottoman Turkish was the language of the ruling elite and government. But as the language of the Qur’an, Arabic enjoyed a special place and was spoken as the first language by the Arabs who composed the majority of the population.

The Ottomans eagerly assimilated the artistic forms and cultures of those they ruled and often synthesized a wide variety of artistic forms into new, vibrant ones. A lavish court life with patronage of the arts evolved. As with most nomadic societies the Ottomans had a rich tradition of textiles and Ottoman artisans were known for their luxurious textiles, carpets, enameled tile work, and armor.

Ottoman Expansion

Following the collapse of Timurlane’s empire, Sultans Mehmed I (r. 1413–21) and Murad II (r. 1421–51) began the process of the reconquest and consolidation of the Ottoman Empire.

Mehmed enjoyed the support of the old Ottoman ghazi fighters and used that military support as the foundation for reestablishing Ottoman control over much of Anatolia and parts of the Balkans. He was contemplating an attack on Constantinople, the famed Byzantine capital, when he died.

His young son Murad failed in his attempts to take Constantinople but through force and clever diplomacy succeeded in establishing Ottoman control over western Anatolia; he also established an Ottoman navy based at Gallipoli while securing an uneasy peace with King Ladislaus of Lithuania and Poland in 1444. He then abdicated to lead a life of spiritual contemplation.

His son, Mehmed II, had been well trained for the sultanate and promptly began careful preparations to take Constantinople. In 1453, after a protracted siege, the city fell to the Ottoman forces and Mehmed entered the city as the new ruler.

Known as Istanbul to the Turks, the city became the new Ottoman capital and a vibrant center for trade and culture. Mehmed II the Conqueror expanded Ottoman control into the Balkans and launched attacks against the Venetians as well as into the Crimea and Iran.

By 1468, he had broken the obdurate Karaman opposition around Bursa and moved into the Black Sea region as well. In 1475, the Tartar khans in the Crimea bowed to Ottoman control.

The Ottomans now controlled territory from the Balkans to the vital Dardanelles Straits to the Crimea and the Black Sea and the Anatolian coast along the Mediterranean. At the time of Mehmed’s death, Ottoman forces were poised to attack Otranto in southern Italy, but with the succession of a new sultan they were called home in 1481, and the attack was never resumed.

Mehmed’s two sons, Jem and Bayezid, struggled over succession to the throne but key military forces supported Bayezid, who outmaneuvered his brother for the sultanate. Bayezid II (r. 1481–1512) continued raids into Hungary and along the Black Sea while attacking Venice in 1499.

Following a peace in 1503, the Ottoman navy emerged as the dominant force in the eastern Mediterranean. Bayezid also entered into a protracted and ultimately futile series of conflicts with the rival Safavid dynasty in Iran.

In 1512, as the Safavids threatened Ottoman territories, the ailing Bayezid turned over the throne to his able son Selim. Known as “the Grim,” Selim I (r. 1566–74) had extensive military experience and moved quickly against the Safavids under Shah Ismail, who scorched the earth as he retreated from eastern Anatolia around Lake Van.

Selim then turned his army against the Mamluks in Syria and Egypt. Previous Ottoman attacks on the Mamluks had failed, but by the early 16th century, the Mamluks had been seriously weakened by the perpetual rivalries among their leaders and the loss of lucrative trade to the Portuguese navy and merchants, who had established maritime trading posts in key African and Asian ports.


In 1516, Selim defeated the Mamluks in northern Syria near the city of Aleppo; he appointed Ottoman governors to administer the northern regions close to Anatolia but local leaders remained powerful in southern Syria. The cities of Aleppo and Damascus were the main power bases in Syria.

The last Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakkil, who had been living under Mamluk protection, was captured and taken to Istanbul. He died in 1543, thereby formally ending the Abbasid line of the caliphate. Selim also confronted the Mamluks outside Cairo. After a short struggle, Cairo fell and in 1517 all of Egypt came under Ottoman control.

However the Ottomans retained the Mamluks as titular rules of Egypt under Ottoman suzerainty. The Ottoman sultan now controlled territory from the Balkans to the Nile including the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The sultans adopted the title caliph but it held little real meaning. However, the Ottomans believed themselves to be the protectors of the Islamic world and of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj) to the Hijaz in Arabia.

When Selim died, his only son, Suleiman, inherited an empire at the peak of its power and wealth. Suleiman ruled for 46 years and continued his forebears’ traditions of military conquest. After taking the island of Rhodes from the Knights of St. John, who escaped to the island of Malta, and the city of Belgrade, Suleiman moved to confront his major enemy, the Habsburg dynasty of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire.

To counter Habsburg power, Suleiman entered into alliances with the French rulers, who viewed the Habsburgs as impediments to their territorial ambitions. Similarly, the Venetians wavered back and forth between alliances with the Habsburgs to counter Ottoman expansion and with the Ottomans to counter Austrian power.

At the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Suleiman won a major victory that was followed by Ottoman forces’ occupying the cities of Buda and Pest in Hungary. The Ottomans also fought Russia over territories in the Balkans and Black Sea.

In 1529, Suleiman led the Ottoman army deep into Austrian territory and laid siege to Vienna. However, he failed to take the city before winter and as Ottoman troops refused to fight during winter months, he was forced to retreat without taking the city.

The Ottomans took Baghdad in 1554 and again in 1639 from their Safavid rivals. Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) was largely controlled from Mosul in the north and by various Mazelike in the south. Suleiman died in 1655 while on yet another campaign into Hungary.

Although the Ottoman Empire was the major land power of the age, it was also a major naval power. In 1533 Khair ad Din (c. 1475–1546) became admiral in chief of the Ottoman navy. Khair ad Din and his brothers had been notorious privateers in the Mediterranean and entered into the Ottoman service in the early 16th century.

Known as Barbarossa, “Red Beard,” Khair ad Din defeated the Austria fleet of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, at the Battle of Preveza in 1538, thereby establishing Ottoman ascendancy throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

North Africa

Algiers and Tunis in North Africa were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire and thousands of loyal Ottomans were settled in Algiers as further protection against Spanish incursions.

Although the Spanish were able to establish outposts along the northern Moroccan coast, the Moroccan Sa’did dynasty used gunpowder armaments to repel both Ottoman and Spanish attacks; thus Morocco never became part of the Ottoman Empire. When Khair ad Din died, his son Hasan Pasha was made bey, or ruler, of Algiers.

In North Africa, the Ottomans exercised loose control over the territories through appointed pashas, Janissary forces, and local beys and deys, who frequently competed with one another for actual political power.

In Tunis during the early 18th century, an Ottoman cavalryman established the Husaynid dynasty, which, although it paid lip service to Ottoman suzerainty, was largely independent. It lasted into the mid-20th century, when Tunisia became an independent nation.

Although the Ottoman navy failed to take Malta, it was ascendant throughout most of the Mediterranean in the 16th century. However, in 1571 unified Christian European forces were victorious over the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto.

Based in Egypt and in Basra in present-day Iraq, Ottoman ships extended their reach to Yemen and Aden in the southern Arabian Peninsula and even raided along the Indian coast. Suleiman’s son Selim II (reigned 1566–74) conquered Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean and his successor Murad III (reigned 1574–95) continued Ottoman territorial gains until 1683.

At its fullest extent in 1683, Ottoman territory included all of the Balkans and much of Hungary in Europe, the entire Black Sea coast and Crimea in the north; the western shores of the Caspian Sea in the east; the eastern Mediterranean coast and islands, the Arab provinces of greater Syria (present-day nations and territory of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), Iraq, and most of Arabia including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; and in the west Egypt and North Africa (present-day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria) to the borders of Morocco. During the 18th century, a series of weak sultans contributed to a decline of Ottoman strength and to the gradual end to their military victories.

Ottoman Decline

The long decline of the Ottoman Empire was caused by a variety of internal and external factors. During the 17th century, a series of inept sultans failed to provide dynamic military and political leadership of their able predecessors. Corruption and inefficiency grew with few if any attempts at necessary reforms.

The cultural and political life of the empire began to ossify. Externally, European rivals grew in political, military, and economic power. New Portuguese-controlled sea routes to India were formidable competition to the overland trade routes controlled by Muslim states, especially the Ottoman Empire.

The increase of trade over sea routes developed during the age of exploration by European powers, thereby contributed to the emergence of Europe as the dominant world force by the 19th century. The discovery of vast amounts of gold and silver in the Western Hemisphere also increased the revenues flowing into European treasuries.

This new wealth enabled European rulers to mount increasingly well-armed military forces. Silver flooded into Ottoman territories and caused a drop in the value of Ottoman exchange as well as major inflation. As Ottoman conquests ceased, the treasury was no longer replenished with booty and goods from defeated foes.

The Ottomans also gradually lost the military technological edge they had previously held. In addition, protracted wars with the rival Safavid Empire in the east sapped vital economic and military reserves.

A series of weak, inept sultans increased the political weakness of the empire and made it difficult for it to respond with dynamic reforms or responses to the internal and external challenges. Sultan Ibrahim (reigned 1640–48) was so quixotic and self-indulgent that the Janissaries and Sheikh al Islam deposed him in favor of his young son, Mehmed IV (reigned 1648–87).

To preserve the throne for her son, Mehmed’s mother interfered and secured the appointment of the able and efficient Mehmed Koprülü as vizier. During this era, the Koprülüs were largely responsible for running the government and for initiating some reforms that helped to preserve the empire.

The so-called long war between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans from 1593 to 1606 was an early indication of Ottoman military decline. The Ottomans retained most of their holdings in the Balkans, in spite of local revolts, but the Ottoman sultan was forced to recognize the Habsburg ruler as a fellow emperor.

The Ottoman military decline was marked by the loss to the so-called Holy League of Austria, Poland, and Venice during the Balkan Wars of 1683–97. The Ottomans again laid siege to Vienna in 1683 and for a short time it appeared the city might surrender.

Then Polish forces came to the rescue and defeated the attacking Ottoman army. This marked the last attempt by the Ottomans to take the city. Subsequently, the Habsburgs pushed the Ottomans south of the Danube and Venice took portions of Greece and the Adriatic coast, while the Russians attacked in the Crimea.

The defeated Ottomans were forced to sign the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 whereby all of Hungary, including Transylvania in present-day Romania and the northern Balkan territories of Croatia and Slovenia, were ceded to Austria. Large portions of the Dalmatian coast were taken by Venice but regained by the Ottomans in 1718.

Although the Ottoman Empire was severely weakened by the mid-18th century, its decline lasted longer than the entire histories of most world empires and the empire would not finally collapse until the 20th century.

Omani Empire in East Africa

Ruin of Omani Empire Palace
Ruin of Omani Empire Palace

The Omani empire in East Africa was based on the Swahili coast, which extended from present-day central Somalia to Cape Delgado in southern Mozambique. It included a number of islands and archipelagos in the Indian Ocean.

There were more than 400 urban settlements of varying sizes. The trading networks within the interior extended from 20 to 200 miles. The trade provided a valuable intermediary between the African interior and the vast Indian Ocean trade.

This lucrative trade had been disrupted by the arrival of the Portuguese after 1498. The non-Muslim Portuguese had interfered with the Muslim Swahili trading connections without offering security. Consequently they were attacked by the Turks by the coast and the Jagga and Zimba from the interior.

Treasure hunts for gold and silver and slave-hunting expeditions disrupted the interior trade just as Portuguese opposition to Islam disrupted the Indian Ocean aspect of the trade. In the early 17th century, the cities sought liberation from Portugal and called in the Omanis from southeastern Arabia.

The Omanis were a good fit as they had been trading partners with the Swahili city-states for centuries, were fellow Muslims, and used the Arabic alphabet, as did the Swahili.

They had also been threatened by the Portuguese, who sought to control their strategic position of the Straits of Hormuz at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. Thus they were glad to arrive in the 1640s to attack the Portuguese.

Between 1640 and 1730, they conquered all of the Swahili cities from Somalia to the border between Tanganyika and Mozambique. By 1730, Zanzibar had emerged as the most important Swahili city and the Omanis and an Omani governor were established there.

But though the Omanis came as allies and liberators, they remained as conquerors through appointing representatives in each city. Over the next half-century, the Swahili cities grew tired of Omani taxes and there were periodic revolts.

There were temporary overthrows of Omani representatives, but these would be put down. The only city to regain authority was Mombassa under the Mazrui family. They were partially protected in their harbor by Fort St. Jesus, the fortress built by the Portuguese for their military headquarters.

During the 18th century, old trade patterns reemerged under Omani rule due to increased demand for slaves, the availability of capital from places such as India to finance trade, and the willingness of Africans in the interior to take slaves and ivory to the coast.

There were effects of the new emphasis on slaves, which replaced the earlier trade in gold (with Zimbabwe) and copper (from Katanga). The international trade for slaves made Omani sultans rich; it also turned communities against each other. Former African trading partners of the Swahili raided each other (encouraged by Omanis to take persons to sell as slaves).

Some of the smaller Swahili settlements disappeared as they were not defensible against voracious slave traders. Overall, the Swahili city-states did not regain the wealth that they had experienced during the golden era of 1300–1500.

Internally the people began to identify with Omani conquerors. Inside Swahili cities Omani soldiers of fortune expropriated large tracts of land although many were actually ethnic Baluchis. Many upper-class Swahili found it advantageous to intermarry with Omanis and even claim Arab ancestry.

These internal changes plus the participation of wealthy coastal people in the interior slave trade and the owning of slaves from the interior created a chasm between the coast and the interior that persists to this day.

By 1800, the Omani empire in East Africa faced new challenges as the English and French established themselves off East Africa in the Comoros and Madagascar (French), as well as Mauritius and Seychelles (English).

Nadir Shah - Persian Conqueror

Nadir Shah (Nader Shah), often called the “Napoleon of Iran,” was the last of the Central Asian conquerors who made the region quake under the hoofbeats of his army. Like Genghis Khan, Babur the Tiger, and Timurlane before him, Nadir came from humble origins and rose to the pinnacle of power through a potent combination of great courage, implacable brutality, and shrewd wisdom.

Nadir was born in 1688 in Persia, five years after the defeat of Persia’s great enemy, the Ottoman Turks, at the gates of Vienna in 1683. He was an outsider in Persia, a member of one of the Turkomen tribes that had once swelled the ranks of the armies of Genghis Khan and Timurlane.

Much like Genghis Khan, known in early life as Temujin among the Mughals, Nadir was captured and taken into slavery by a rival Turkomen clan, the Ozbegs, while a boy.

The Ozbegs (modernday Uzbeks) had been powerful in Central Asia since the 14th century, even before the birth of Timurlane, in 1336. Nadir apparently managed to escape his slavery, although his mother, taken with him, seems to have died in captivity. Nadir went to the Afshar clan and sought service under one of their chieftains.

His ambitions proved too much for the Afshars, and he left to found a durjana army, which eventually reached the strength of 5,000 men, all hardened Turkomen warriors like him.

Nadir seemed destined to live out his life as a durjana until war erupted between Persia and Afghanistan in 1719. Prior to this date, the Safavid empire had been powerful in southern Afghanistan and claimed the loyalty of the powerful Ghilzai tribe.

The Safavids, however, were Shi’i Muslims, while the Ghilzais were Sunni. Safavid rulers had respected the different Ghizai beliefs until the Safavid sultan Hussein, who had been raised to the Persian throne in 1694, began a purge under the ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Majilesi, whose zeal in his religion would equal that of the ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini some 300 years later.

All Sunnis were persecuted, both in Iran and in Iranian-controlled regions of Afghanistan. Zoroastrians (Parsees), Jews, and Christians also suffered from this Shi’i inquisition.

In 1715, the Ghilzai leader Mir Wais died of natural causes, but his example kept the Ghilzai resistance alive. Even the Abdali tribe in Afghanistan, which had tried to maintain its neutrality, revolted against the Persians in the city of Herat, which would be contested by Afghans and Persians for decades.

When Mil Wais’s brother seemed willing to come to terms with the Persians, his son, Mahmoud, killed his uncle and in 1719 invaded Persia itself. In 1722, Mahmoud defeated Hussein and became ruler of Iran.

Then he unleashed a reign of terror among the Persians, which soon caused his own supporters to fear for their lives. Consequently in 1725, his Ghizais assassinated him in the Persian capital of Isfahan and his cousin Ashraf became shah, attempting to legitimize his rule by marrying a Safavid princess.

By this time the weakened Safavid Empire proved a tempting target for its enemies. In 1723, Ottoman Turkish troops of the sultan Ahmed III struck from the west, launching damaging raids as far as Hamadan.

At the same time, the Russian forces of Peter the Great, who had just won the Great Northern War (1700–1721), attacked Persia from the north. The once-powerful Safavid Empire was so weakened that it agreed to a peaceful settlement and dividing Iran’s northwestern provinces.

In the beginning of the Afghan invasion of Persia, Nadir had supported Mahmoud and the Ghilzais. But when they ceased paying him and his bandits, he changed loyalties to the son of the Safavid sultan Hussein, who had succeeded his father as Shah Tahmasp II. With Tahmasp II’s support, Nadir began what today would be called a war of national liberation to free the Persians from their foreign oppressors.

He began his revolt in his home province of Khousan, where he knew he could count upon the support of his clansmen. With a growing army he was able to expel Ashraf from Isfahan, but not before he massacred thousands of Persians in revenge. Nadir relentlessly pursued Ashraf, who was overtaken during his retreat and killed in 1730.


Nadir pursued a cautious attack strategy and concentrated his efforts on first removing the weakest of his enemies, the Ghilzais. However Tahmasp II foolishly attacked the Turks, losing Georgia and Armenia to them. Nadir, now the preeminent Safavid general, deposed Tahmasp and put upon the throne the young Abbas III.

Although careful to keep up the legitimacy of the Safavid dynasty, there was no doubt now that Nadir was the true ruler of Persia, although Abbas III was officially shah from 1732. In a series of lightning campaigns Nadir struck back at the Russians, now under the czarina Anna, and at the Turks.

The Turks were driven out of the territories they had conquered, and the Russians by 1735 had also been expelled from Persia. By this time, a successful warlord, Nadir overthrew Abbas III and became ruler of Persia in his own right, the first of the Afshar dynasty, in 1736.

Having consolidated his position at home, as Genghis Khan and Timurlane before him, Nadir embarked on a campaign of conquest that took him first into Afghanistan. His diplomatic cunning was shown at its greatest when, apparently with the promise of much booty, he was able in 1739 to enlist the Ghilzais and Abdalis into his army, only nine years after he had chased them out of Persia.

Moreover, in a show of bravura, he allowed the Afghans to join his personal bodyguard troops. Nadir swept aside any Afghan resistance at the cities of Kabul and Kandahar.

It was now that he revealed the real target of his invasion—the riches of the Mughal Empire of India. Nadir was able to enter the capital of the now-decrepit Delhi almost unopposed by the emperor Mohammed Shah. Nadir had already destroyed the main Mughal army at Karnal in the Punjab. On the pretext of an attack on the Persians, Nadir ordered the massacre of thousands of citizens of Delhi.

Some estimates put the number as high as 20,000. For 58 days, Nadir pillaged Delhi. When he finally grew tired, he took back with him a treasure trove of riches. He even took the priceless Koh-i-noor Diamond and the Mughal emperor’s own Peacock Throne.

Until the fall of the Persian (Iranian) monarchy in 1979, the Peacock Throne would be used by the reigning shahs of Persia. On his way back to Afghanistan and then Persia, Nadir was attacked at the Khyber Pass by the Pashtun tribes, either urged on by the Mughals or tempted by the sheer size of Nadir’s treasure train. The attack, however, was defeated by the Persian forces in a counter attack.

Undeterred by the attack in the Khyber Pass, Nadir resumed his campaigns of conquest by sweeping north over the Amu Darya and attacking the rich cities of the Silk Road that reached throughout Central Asia. Bokhara, Khiva, and Samarkand, the city of Timurlane, all fell before him.

However, in his later years, Nadir seems to have fallen victim to a form of dementia and began to think that his closest supporters were turning against him and coveting his power. Fearing that his own son, Reza Qouli, was plotting against him, Nadir had him blinded, presumably in the Persian way, with daggers thrust into both eyes.

Nadir’s end came in his camp at Quchan, when he ordered his Abdali guard to kill his army commanders. Apparently some of the Abdalis, perhaps Ahmad Shah himself, carried the news to the Persians. In June 1747, Nadir was assassinated and beheaded by his own troops.

Ahmad Shah was able to retreat to Afghanistan, where he founded the Durrani dynasty. In Iran, Nadir was succeeded by his nephew Adil Shah, who had most of Nadir’s offspring, including the unfortunate Reza Quoli, killed to assure his title to the throne. The Afshar dynasty would rule in Persia until Karim Khan seized control in the midst of anarchy, launching the Zand dynasty.

Mughal Empire

Mughal Empire
Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire in India was founded by Babur, also known as Zahir-ud-din Mohammed, born in 1482 in Ferghana in Central Asia, a descendant of Timurlane. With Central Asia in turmoil in 1501, Babur fled his native Ferghana and gained the great city of Samarkand, but he could not hold it. He next captured Kabul in 1504, with the intention of creating his own kingdom in Afghanistan.

However, for Babur, Afghanistan was only the stepping stone to the greatest conquest of all: India. For seven centuries, India had been the ultimate prize for all Muslim conquerors from Central Asia, and Babur shared that dream.

In 1505, Babur staged his first raid into northern India, then controlled by Sikander, one of the Lodi dynasty of Muslim sultans in Delhi. The Lodi dynasty had also come to India from Afghanistan. Surprisingly, Sikander took no real action against Babur’s incursion, a fact that was not lost on Babur in the future.

The troublesome Afghan tribes delayed Babur’s plans until 1526, when he invaded India in force. He met the Lodi sultan Ibrahim outside Delhi at the Battle of Panipat. Although Babur commanded only 12,000 men and Ibrahim about 100,000 and 1,000 elephants, Babur used his men well, armed with matchlock muskets and cannon, and won the battle. The Lodi forces were defeated and Ibrahim killed. Establishing his capital in Delhi, Babur then conquered most of northern India, establishing the Mughal (Mogul, Moghul) Empire.

Babur died in 1530 and his son Humayun succeeded him as the second Mughal emperor. However within 10 years Humayun lost his empire. He fled to Persia, then ruled by the Safavid dynasty. This time of exile instilled in Humayun and his son a profound respect for Persian ways so that when they conquered India again their rule was influenced by Persian culture. Persian would become the official language for Mughal India.

In 1555, Humayun raised another army in Persia with the support of Persian shah Tahmasp I and set out to reconquer his kingdom from Sher Shah, who now ruled in northern India. By August 1555, he had reentered Delhi in triumph but died in 1556. His son Akbar, then only 13, took power in 1556.

But Akbar won a decisive victory at the Second Battle of Panipat and became the padishah and undisputed ruler of the realm. Having crushed his Afghan and Hindu foes at Panipat, Akbar moved to consolidate his rule of Afghanistan and northern India.

Akbar began to implement a aktivitas of cooptation with his Hindu subjects to neutralize the threat of a Hindu uprising against his rule. He married a Hindu princess and his son and successor Jahangir was born of this marriage.

Hindus were invited to join the bureaucracy that governed his empire and became an important part of Mughal administration. Akbar wisely allowed the Indian princely states a large degree of autonomy so long as they recognized him as their padishah.

Religious Tolerance

Akbar did not impose the shariah, or Muslim law, upon his Hindu subjects. Instead, he limited the application of the shariah to the Muslim community within his kingdom and let the Hindus retain their own laws.

Exposed to a different religious tradition, including Zoroastrianism and Jainism, Akbar began perhaps the greatest intellectual exploration in Indian history. Studying all the faiths, including the Roman Catholicism that had been brought to Goa by the Portuguese, Akbar created a new religion named Din-i Ilahi, or “the Religion of God.” It was nothing less than an effort to draw together all the religions in his empire into one faith, which he hoped all would accept under his leadership. However this endeavor failed.

In 1605, Akbar died, leaving a legacy of stability to his son, Jahangir. Jahangir did not pursue a military policy but did cement his position in Bengal in the east, probably to gain control of the maritime trade.

In 1614, the Rajput king, Man Singh, who had fought Akbar to a stalemate at Haldhigati in 1576, made his submission to Jahangir. Toward the end of his reign, Jahangir’s son, who would reign as Shah Jahan, rose in rebellion against his father, a ekspresi dominan that would weaken the Mughal dynasty.

When Shah Jahan became emperor in 1628, he attempted to return to the days of military glory of Akbar and engaged in campaigns in the south. In 1658, Jahan’s son Aurangzeb seized power and imprisoned his father, who would live in captivity until his death in 1666. During a reign that would last until 1707, Aurangzeb waged many wars, driving the Mughals to conquer much of the Indian subcontinent.

He conquered the rest of the Deccan region, seizing the sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda, which had achieved virtual independence during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Aurangzeb turned his armies against the martial Hindu called Mavalhas and conquered their lands after an exhuastive campaign.

While Aurangzeb was extending the Mughal domains to their greatest territorial extent, he was also fatally changing the unified society that Akbar had tried to create. Aurangzeb was a pious, extremist Muslim and returned to the traditional Muslim doctrine that Muslim shariah law should extend to all subjects of an Islamic realm.

He persecuted Hindus. As a result, rebellions started to break out. Aurangzeb’s religious intolerance also made mortal enemies out of the Sikhs, who had peacefully followed the teachings of Guru Nanah from the 16th century.

Their ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur, was brought before Aurangzeb on a charge of blasphemy for preaching a non-Muslim faith and put to death. Sikhs under their 10th guru Govind would retreat to the Punjab to form their own martial kingdom to defend themselves against Aurangzeb’s holy war.

At the same time, the French and British East India Companies had established trading posts in India. Taking advantage of the growing unrest in the Mughal Empire, they would make their first inroads into the Indian subcontinent. When Aurangzeb died in 1707, another succession crisis would further weaken the great Mughal Empire, already in decline, largely the result of his policy decisions.

Toward the end of his life, Aurangzeb wrote, “I am forlorn and destitute, and misery is my ultimate lot.” In a very real sense, he had also penned the obituary for the Mughal Empire.

Battle of Mohács

Battle of Mohács
Battle of Mohács

The Battle of Mohács, which erupted in the summer of 1526, was a major Ottoman victory over the Hungarian king Louis, marking the end of the Jagiellon dynasty. Led by Suleiman I the Magnificent, the Ottoman troops, estimated at 100,000 strong, crushed the far smaller Hungarian forces on the open plain of Mohács. Besides having numerous soldiers, the Ottomans had far superior weaponry that included artillery and highly skilled marksmen.

One of the first so-called gunpowder empires, the Ottomans effectively used cannons to stop the charging Hungarian cavalry. King Louis was killed fleeing the field, and Suleiman was said to have mourned him as a valiant opponent. Several bishops and over 20,000 Hungarian troops also perished.

Following the victory, Suleiman swiftly moved on to conquer the twin cities of Pest and Buda, the Hungarian capital on the Ottoman armies, Suleiman then led his victorious troops, laden with booty and captives, back to Istanbul for the winter.

As result of their victory, the Ottomans incorporated Hungary into their expanding empire. The Habsburgs, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, took advantage of the destruction of most of the Hungarian nobility to increase their authority in central Europe, and the two great empires began their long struggle against one another for control of southern and central Europe.

Mehmed II - Ottoman Sultan

Mehmed II - Ottoman Sultan
Mehmed II - Ottoman Sultan

Mehmed II (reigned 1444–46; 1451–81) was only 12 years old when his father, Murad II, abdicated to pursue a life of religious contemplation (following Sufi or Islamic mysticism) and appointed him sultan in 1444.

Faced with a threatening battle at Varna, Mehmed called his father back from central Anatolia to lead the troops. When his father died in 1451, Mehmed resumed the throne. Noted for the many military victories throughout his life, Mehmed was known as al-Fatih or the Conqueror.

Mehmed was only in his early 20s when he launched the successful siege of Constantinople, the Byzantine capital that the Ottomans had previously failed to conquer. In a siege that lasted over 50 days, the Ottomans mounted a major assault with over 200 ships and at least 50,000 well-trained soldiers. Ottoman cannon bombarded the walled city that had been considered impregnable.

A fortress, Rumeli Hisari, was constructed on the northwest coast of the Black Sea to prevent reinforcements from assisting the besieged city. To circumvent the long chain that blocked the waterway into the Golden Horn, Mehmed transported seafaring galleys over a long greased planked road built north of the city and used a pontoon bridge to take troops across.

After some weeks the Ottomans broke through the city walls and met with little resistance from the inhabitants, who had vainly hoped for outside reinforcements. Rather than the customary three days allotted to soldiers taking a conquered city, Mehmed only allowed his troops a few hours of pillaging in the city. He entered the city with great pomp and promptly offered prayers at the great Byzantine basilica, Aya Sophia, which was then turned into a mosque.

Although he was known, especially on the battlefield, for his furious temper, Mehmed was generous in victory, granting autonomy to the Greek Orthodox residents of city and permitting the return of those who had fled prior to the siege. Mehmed also encouraged others to move into his new capital, known to the Turks as Istanbul.

Mehmed made Istanbul a major entrepôt and center of learning and culture. He established new schools, hospitals, caravanserai, and soup kitchens. He saw himself as the heir to the Roman Empire and viewed his empire as the guardian of Islam, whose duty it was to protect Muslims everywhere. Islam was the source of legality of his new great empire.

Under Mehmed, the empire developed a centralized administration; the janissary corps was enlarged while the many religious and ethnic minorities within the empire were treated with leniency and fairness.

Mehmed also encouraged skilled artisans and intellectuals escaping Muslim Spain after it fell to the Reconquista to settle in Istanbul. He granted monopolies over the sale of basic necessities to private individuals and used these revenues to bolster the Ottoman treasury.

Well educated, Mehmed spoke numerous languages and was interested in the study of military tactics, especially the exploits of Alexander the Great. Unusually for a Muslim leader who generally eschewed physical representations, Mehmed also hired the famed Venetian artist Gentile Bellini to paint his portrait.

Under Mehmed, the Ottomans dominated all of the Balkans to the Danube River and all of Anatolia, but he failed to defeat the Mamluks in Syria. Mehmed died preparing for a campaign to take the island of Rhodes and southern Italy and was succeeded by his son Bayezid II.

Lebna Dengel - Ethiopian Ruler

 Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia
 Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia

Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia, also known as Dawit II, or David II, was one of the celebrated Christian kings of Ethiopia. Lebna Dengel succeeded to the throne of Ethiopia at the age of 12, partly through the maneuverings of his grandmother, the empress Eleni.

The empress was the daughter of King Hadiya, a Muslim, and she officially served as Lebna Dengel’s regent. Eleni had begun her rise to power when she became one of the four wives of Zara Yakob (1438–68) in 1445, thereby joining her prominent Muslim family with the Christian family of Zara Yakob.

As one of the celebrated evangelizing emperors of Ethiopia, along with Amda Tseyon (1314–44) and Sayfa Arad (1344–72), Zara Yakob holds a unique place in Ethiopian history. When he built a new royal residence at Debre Berhan, Eleni, who had converted to Christianity, established a church on the grounds.

Zara Yakob died after designating his young son Ba’eda Maryam (1468–78) as his heir, and Eleni became even more prominent in Ethiopian politics. Since his mother was dead, Ba’eda Maryam designated Eleni, to whom he was close, as the queen mother and chose her to serve as his regent.

Eleni also served in this capacity during the troubled reign of her son Na’od (1494–1505), who had succeeded his half brother Ba’eda Maryam to the throne. When Na’od was killed in a battle against the Muslims, his son Lebna Dengel was only seven years old.

Throughout much of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Eleni served as the power behind the Ethiopian throne, essentially serving as the reigning monarch. As a devout and active Christian, Eleni is credited with founding the modern church of Ethiopia. Although her exact birth date is unknown, Eleni was born sometime in the 1430s and died in the early 1520s in her 90s.

While Christians and Muslims coexisted in Ethiopia during Lebna Dengel’s reign, it was far from a peaceful relationship. In 1516, when the emir Mahfuz of Haran invaded the Ethiopian highlands, Lebna Dengel ambushed the invaders and continued to press his advantage by killing the emir and following them back to Haran, where he again attacked.

Lebna Dengel returned to his home a hero, convinced that the Muslims would no longer threaten Ethiopian Christians. He was fatally wrong. Suspecting that a Muslim attack was imminent, Eleni sent out a plea for assistance from Portugal. Consequently, in 1520, a Portuguese expeditionary force arrived in Ethiopia, led by Dom Ridrigo da Lama.

Despite the presence of the Portuguese in Ethiopia, in March 1529, Muslim forces under Ahmed Ibn Ghazi (c. 1507–43), popularly known as “the Gran,” triumphed over Lebna Dengel’s forces. By 1531, Muslim forces were in control of Ethiopia and remained so until 1543.

During the period of Muslim dominance, Emperor Lebna Dengel actively resisted all efforts to make him renounce his faith. When Ahmed ibn Ghazi demanded the hand of Lebna Dengel’s daughter in marriage, warning Lebna Dengel that he had no other course than to comply, the emperor summarily refused.

Assuring the Gran that he would not allow his daughter to marry a nonbeliever, Lebna Dengel wrote to him that he was determined to retain his trust in the Lord rather than in the Gran. Afterward, Lebna Dengel’s faith was repeatedly tested as he was forced to flee for his life. For the rest of his life, he was often hungry, uncomfortable, and in physical danger.

Lebna Dengel was still hiding from Muslim forces when he was killed in battle on September 2, 1540, near the monastery of Dabra Dam in Tigre. Subsequently, the tide turned for Christian Ethiopians. Lebna Dengel had appealed to Portugal for assistance in 1535, but help did not arrive until after his death.

The emperor Galawdewos (Claudius) succeeded to his father’s throne, and the Ethiopian Empire was restored with the help of the Portuguese who arrived in Ethiopia in 1541. This force of 400 Portuguese musketeers was led by Cristóvão da Gama, the son of the celebrated explorer Vasco da Gama.

After Lebna Dengel’s death, his son Galawdewos, assisted by the Portuguese musketeers, led an attack in which the Gran was killed in 1543 in a battle near Lake Tana. Once the Muslims were ousted, the Christians performed a penitential and reinstatement ceremony and proclaimed the return of Christianity to Ethiopia.

Although the Muslims had been ousted from Ethiopia, the Gran’s widow, Bati Del Wambara, continued raids on the Christians. Galawdewos was killed in battle in 1559, and the Muslims triumphantly displayed his head on a stake.

Many of the Portuguese who survived the various battles remained in Ethiopia when the troops pulled out of Ethiopia in 1547. They were soon joined by a group of Jesuit missionaries. The presence of the Portuguese was evident in Ethiopia in a number of ways since the Portuguese government fully intended to retain a certain amount of power in the country The Portuguese taught the Ethiopian soldiers how to use firearms and converted a number of locals to Western Catholicism.

By the mid-17th century, however, the Ethiopian government had expelled the Jesuits and denied other missionaries admission to the country. For the next two centuries, Ethiopia rejected all foreign overtures, preferring to exist in isolation.

Koprülü Family

Koprülü Family
Koprülü Family

Four different members of the Koprülü family served as grand viziers in the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century. Of obscure Albanian origins, Mohammad Koprülü had a fairly inauspicious career in the vast Ottoman bureaucracy until 1656, when he was appointed grand vizier. He soon distinguished himself as an able, efficient, and honest administrator.

Mohammad removed corrupt officials from office and oversaw the defeat of major rebellions in the Anatolian Peninsula and the Balkans. He also reinstituted rigorous adherence to the law.

Before his death in 1661, Mohammad recommended that his son Ahmed (Fazil Ahmed Koprülü) succeed him as grand vizier. Ahmed (served 1661–76) proved to be as able an direktur as his father and continued to strengthen the empire.

Led by Kara Mustafa, Ahmed’s brother-in-law, the Ottomans moved in 1683 to regain their ascendancy in Hungary and lay siege to Vienna, the city Suleiman I the Magnificent had failed to take in 1529. Reinforced with troops from Poland, the Habsburgs, now equipped with heavy artillery, defeated the Ottomans, who were forced to retreat to Belgrade. Upon the sultan’s orders, Kara Mustafa was then assassinated.

In 1689, Ahmed’s brother Mustafa was appointed grand vizier and continued the family tradition of honest administration; Mustafa reduced some taxes—a popular policy—as well as instituting other economic reforms.

Although a devout Muslim, Mustafa was also known for his religious tolerance and fair treatment of the large Christian minority populations in the empire and he became known as “Koprülü the Virtuous.” However, his tenure as grand vizier was short as he died fighting with Ottoman troops in the Balkans in 1691.

In 1697, Sultan Mustafa II sought to restore Ottoman power by appointing Husayn Koprülü as his grand vizier. His tax policies enabled the Ottomans to raise and equip a large army and fleet to protect territory in the Balkans; Husayn served as vizier until 1702 and another Koprülü became vizier for a short time in 1710. But even the reforms and efficiency of the Koprülü viziers failed to halt the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the gradual loss of territory to Russian and other European enemies.

Mamluk Dynasties in Egypt

Mamluk Dynasties
Mamluk Dynasties
The Mamluks ruled Egypt from the middle of the 13th century to 1517. The first 24 Mamluk sultans were called the Bahri (river) rulers. In 1382, they were followed by the Burji (tower) Mamluks, so called because they had been quartered in the towers of the Citadel fortress overlooking Cairo. The Mamluks, mostly of Turkish and Mongol origins, were slaves and professional soldiers.

They were purchased by other former slaves as young boys in the slave markets in Syria and Egypt and educated as a professional military caste. With the completion of their education they were freed and given full military regalia and land to pay for the upkeep of the equipment and horses.

The Mamluks were notoriously disputatious and constantly fought among themselves for succession to the throne. Since there was no principle of hereditary monarchy, any Mamluk could hope to become the ruler if he could overthrow the current sultan.

As a result, the average reign of a sultan was only six years. Mamluks married within the caste to the sisters and relatives of other Mamluks. Their society was based on a feudal hierarchy of allegiance of a vassal to a lord.

Recent converts to Islam, the Mamluks emphasized their rule as Muslims, even though many of them were not personally particularly devout. They allowed the exiled Abbasid caliph from Baghdad to reside in Cairo but successive caliphs exercised no real power.

The Mamluks encouraged metalworking, book binding, and textile industries. But Mamluk attempts to monopolize the trade on luxury goods, coupled with high taxes, discouraged many foreign and local merchants.

As great builders and patrons of the arts, the Mamluks encouraged scholars, including renowned historian Ibn Khaldun, to work in Cairo. Under the Mamluks, Cairo became a major intellectual and artistic center and grew into arguably the largest city in the region.

The Mamluks built hospitals, caravan-saries, public fountains, and massive mausoleums for their families. The mausoleum of Sultan Qaitbay (reigned 1468–96) was particularly impressive. Much of medieval Cairo dates from the Mamluk era.

Mamluk soldier
The Mamluk sultan Baybars (reigned 1260–77) drove the crusaders out of the eastern Mediterranean and repelled major invasions by the Mongols. A wily politician, Baybars also established alliances with potential enemies of Sicily, Seville, and the Turks.

The Black Death (plague) in 1340 reduced the population throughout Mamluk territories; in Cairo alone over 25 percent of the people perished. They were further weakened by Timurlane’s destruction in Syria. The expansion of Portuguese trading outposts along the African and Indian coasts led to mounting economic competition and as they lost control of trade from the east, the revenues from commerce declined.

In addition, constant disputes over succession weakened Mamluk authority and made them vulnerable to outside attacks. Their failure to forge a united front contributed to their defeat and the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517.