PRE-20TH CENTURY HISTORY: Guns for the Sultan, Military Power and the Weapons Industry in the Ottoman Empire

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PRE-20TH CENTURY HISTORY Guns for the Sultan, Military Power and the Weapons Industry in the Ottoman Empire, by Gábor Ágoston. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xvii + 205 pages. Maps. Figures. Tables. Appendix to p. 241. Notes to p. 247. Bibl to p. 259. Index to p. 277. $75.

Startling revisions in Ottoman military history are emerging as a new generation of scholars tackles the rich holdings of the Ottoman archives. Consequently, many traditional Eurocentric views about Ottoman history, which are based almost entirely on Western sources, are rapidly falling by the wayside as the lens of the Ottoman record refines our understandings of the empire's economy, society, and military capability. The book under review falls into this category. Gábor Ágoston's Guns for the Sultan challenges the long held idea that Islamic conservatism retarded technological growth, in this case of firearms and cannon, causing the Ottoman Empire to fall behind the West in a field of critical strategic importance.

Ágoston's introduction frames the question of how important gunpowder and armaments industries were to societies from the 15th through the 18th centuries. Chapter 2 presents the Ottomans as receptive users and innovators of gunpowder technologies in a well-developed exposition of military organizations and tactics. Chapter 3 is an intricately detailed look at Ottoman cannon and firearms manufacturing and development. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 study the key elements of the Ottoman weapons industry: saltpeter and gunpowder manufacturing and cannon casting. Ágoston's conclusions in Chapter 7 are that the Ottomans approached the gunpowder age pragmatically and developed a self-sufficient mass production capability of technically competitive cannon and firearms. He attributes the devastating defeats of the 18th Century in Hungary, Russia, and the Balkans more to the over extension of the empire itself rather than to the technological inferiority of its military capability.

Guns for the Sultan complements the work of Rhoads Murphey and adds to our understanding of how the Ottomans dealt with the issues of modernization and the maintenance of technological competitiveness with Europe. …