A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk

A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk

A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk

A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk


The Ottoman Army had a significant effect on the history of the modern world and particularly on that of the Middle East and Europe. This study, written by a Turkish and an American scholar, is a revision and corrective to western accounts because it is based on Turkish interpretations, rather than European interpretations, of events. As the world's dominant military machine from 1300 to the mid-1700's, the Ottoman Army led the way in military institutions, organizational structures, technology, and tactics. In decline thereafter, it nevertheless remained a considerable force to be counted in the balance of power through 1918. From its nomadic origins, it underwent revolutions in military affairs as well as several transformations which enabled it to compete on favorable terms with the best of armies of the day. This study tracks the growth of the Ottoman Army as a professional institution from the perspective of the Ottomans themselves, by using previously untapped Ottoman source materials. Additionally, the impact of important commanders and the role of politics, as these affected the army, are examined. The study concludes with the Ottoman legacy and its effect on the Republic and modern Turkish Army.

This is a study survey that combines an introductory view of this subject with fresh and original reference-level information. Divided into distinct periods, Uyar and Erickson open with a brief overview of the establishment of the Ottoman Empire and the military systems that shaped the early military patterns. The Ottoman army emerged forcefully in 1453 during the siege of Constantinople and became a dominant social and political force for nearly two hundred years following Mehmed's capture of the city. When the army began to show signs of decay during the mid-seventeenth century, successive Sultans actively sought to transform the institution that protected their power. The reforms and transformations that began frist in 1606successfully preserved the army until the outbreak of the Ottoman-Russian War in 1876. Though the war was brief, its impact was enormous as nationalistic and republican strains placed increasing pressure on the Sultan and his army until, finally, in 1918, those strains proved too great to overcome. By 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk emerged as the leader of a unified national state ruled by a new National Parliament. As Uyar and Erickson demonstrate, the old army of the Sultan had become the army of the Republic, symbolizing the transformation of a dying empire to the new Turkish state make clear that throughout much of its existence, the Ottoman Army was an effective fighting force with professional military institutions and organizational structures.


The history of the Ottoman military in the western world tends to be episodic and focused on particular periods, leaders, or wars. A recent comprehensive guide to the literature of military history contains no specific entry beginning with the word “Ottoman.” There are instead the following: Kemal Atatürk; Balkan Wars; Crimean War; Greece—War of Independence; Habsburg-Ottoman Wars; Islamic Warfare; Near East Warfare; Russo-Turkish War; Suleiman the Magnificent; Turkey—armed forces; World War I (WW1): armed forces, Turkey; WW1: Balkans; WW1: Dardanelles; WW1: Mesopotamia; and WW1: Palestine. Moreover, the existing nonspecialist western historiography was written from the European perspective and was often the derivative product of faulty or biased contemporary observations by Europeans about what the Ottomans were doing. Sometimes the literature was tainted by a lingering memory of “the terrible Turk,” which presented the Ottomans as the last of a long line of racially Asian destroyers of western civilization. Even though the history of the Ottoman military is by no means wholly lacking in either scholarship or ideas, no one has yet undertaken a general survey of the Ottoman military from the very beginning until the end.

A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk is intended to rectify this lacuna (or, more properly, terra incognita) in military history by telling the story of the foundation, development, and transformation of the Ottoman military. However, it is not a military history of the Ottoman state and its army—rather, it is a military history of the Ottoman army. The authors recognize that since it is not a campaign and battle-oriented study, it may disappoint some readers, but we present the idea that an understanding of an army must come before descriptions of what it did. Limitations of space have kept us from providing details, and we have been forced to summarize more often than we would have liked. We have not attempted to cover naval affairs, for example, in spite of the fact that they were closely related with some of the issues covered in the text. We also had to sacrifice most of the descriptive footnotes that would have been important to the specialists. Regrettably, no historical survey of so vast a subject as the Ottoman military can possibly provide definite coverage of every topic it includes. Therefore, this book is a modest attempt to illuminate how the Ottomans built, trained, organized, led, and sustained their army over a period of nearly 700 years.

The Ottoman army had a significant effect on the history of the modern world and particularly on that of the Middle East and Europe. As the world’s dominant military machine from 1300 to the mid-1700s, the Ottoman army led the way in . . .

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