Before being known as ” the sick man of Europe “, in the Ottoman Empire he came to control, directly or indirectly, much of the North African coast, the holy places of both Christianity and Islam, the Middle East to the Persian Gulf, the southeast of Europe to the Dalmatian coast and present-day Austria and Ukraine, and all of Anatolia.
His story is exciting, and although to summarize it is always to do a risky exercise, I’m going to try it.
The Turkic peoples were born in the steppes of Central Asia, and gradually migrated towards the Anatolian peninsula.
Today there are languages related to Turkish in the Central Asian area and in Caucasians, in addition to Turkey itself. Migration was, like all migrations of large population masses, partly peaceful and partly bellicose.
In the 10th century, these Turkic peoples reached the Anatolic Peninsula, making a gap between the Abbasid Caliphate (they would be one of the causes of their fall) and the Byzantine Empire , of which they would be bitter rivals and which they would gradually weaken.
Towards the year 1000, the Turks already occupied the interior area of the Peninsula, with the coast still dominated by the Byzantine Empire. The Mongol expansion to the east of these territories will make the Turks definitively set their sights on the west to grow and expand.
It will be with the enthronement as sultan of Osman I, whose Turkish name was Uthman or Othman, in 1290, that the Turkish community will expand to become the Ottoman Empire.
Obviously, the name of the Empire derives from the one considered as its first ruler.
The Turkish political-social structure back then was still heavily based on clans or small semi-independent kingdoms that owed obedience to the Sultan, from whom they also had autonomy.
Osman I achieved semi-independence from the Seljuk Empire, which was consolidated and expanded by his successors.
The nascent Ottoman Empire was elbowing space with its neighbors, taking advantage (as Machiavelli explained a century and a half later) of the weaknesses of each at the right time.
The warrior spirit of the Turks (let’s not forget, coming from the Asian steppes, a territory historically given to forging warlike peoples) was transcendental in this expansion, having left us jewels like the body of the Jenízaros.
Parallel to its expansion into Anatolia and later into the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was also expanding on European soil, at the expense of the Byzantine Empire. The latter happened from 1361.
It was also from the 1360-1370s that the Empire began to press on Constantinople, as they spread around the Byzantine capital, mainly in ancient Thrace and the Balkan area.
In 1389 the Battle of Kosovo occurs, in which the Ottomans defeat the Serbs and absorb what had been until then the Serbian Empire, reaching the gates of Hungary.
From then on, and for more than a century, there were continuous border rifirrafes between Ottomans and Hungarians.
As an anecdote, explain that one of the leaders who offered resistance to the Turks, managing to temporarily contain the expansion of the Empire was the Wallachian Vlad Tepes (Vlad III), known as The Impaler , and that centuries later he would inspire the character of Dracula (his birth name was Vlad Drăculea).
In 1453, and after decades losing territories in favor of the Ottoman troops, the Byzantine Empire fell: the Turks took Constantinople
This fact marks a point and apart in European and world history. It has set the beginning of the Modern Age (which other authors set in the discovery of America in 1492).
With the fall of the Byzantine capital, the only political entity that could claim itself as heir to the Roman Empire and, therefore, to the classical tradition was lost . The Ottomans soon made the city their new capital.
Furthermore, the loss of this stronghold freed Ottoman troops who could act on other fronts, since it gave continuity to the land possessions of the Empire.
The Ottomans soon resumed their European expansion with greater vigor and, in 1526, defeated the Hungarians at Mohács, taking over the country. In 1529 they would put siege to Vienna, although without managing to take it.
This fact marks the maximum Ottoman expansion in Europe. From that moment, it would expand through Asia (present-day Syria, Iraq and Iran), and along the southern coast of the Mediterranean (especially Egypt).
Turkish corsairs and pirates also unleashed the terror of the Christian kingdoms in the Mediterranean, arriving to break into the north of the Iberian Peninsula.
That is why the different powers united repeatedly against the Empire, winning the decisive Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
At the end of the 17th century, a reborn Kingdom of Hungary came under attack against the Ottoman Empire, gradually recovering territories.
The Empire was beginning to show signs of weakness, normal in any empire when its expansion slows. Along with the Hungarians, Austrians, Poles and the Holy Empire they also took advantage of Turkish weakness to push the Ottomans towards the Balkans.
From here there was only one way left: if until then the Ottoman Empire had risen, it was now descending. In 1683 the second siege of Vienna fails miserably.
Beginning in the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire plunges into a spiral in which ethnic problems and the corruption of elites come together.
Very representative of the latter will be the fall of the body of Jenízaros, once a powerful military machine, later plunged into corruption by the political power they accumulated.
The retreat in the Balkans would culminate in 1823 with the independence of Greece, to which would be added the loss of Egypt in 1882. But the worst was yet to come.
As it languished, the Ottoman Empire faced an attempt to remake itself and survive. From this time, from its territorial losses, the nickname of “the sick person of Europe” comes to the Empire.
In 1914 World War I broke out, and the Ottoman Empire aligned itself with the central powers.
Despite having modernized its army, the Empire suffered heavy defeats (as in the Caucasus against the Russians) and ended up being the victim of a structure gnawed by the corruption of its high positions and personal and political interests, as well as poor equipment to support a long-lasting conflict.
Neither German support could stop what was seen for sentencing, and in 1918, the Empire was dismembered and reduced to Anatolia and Istanbul by its enemies.
The official end of the Ottoman Empire occurs in 1922 with the abolition of the sultanate by Mustafá Kemal, known as Atatürk (father of the Turkish homeland), and the proclamation of the Republic, as well as the renunciation of any possibility of recovery of the Empire.
Healthy to the envy of the other powers at its origin, the Ottoman Empire had spent almost two centuries of decline until disappearing into the mists of history, which will never forget what was once its great splendor.