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What Was the Rise of the Ottoman Empire?
When talking about empires, “rise” is, of course, the counterpart to “decline.” Scholars have questioned the idea of Ottoman decline, its timing, and the mechanisms behind it, although we have not yet revised the relationship between “decline” and “fall.” On the other side of this paradigm, we can question (but not eliminate) the idea of an Ottoman rise, in that the Ottomans did begin, and did become more powerful and larger over time. However, the “gazi” debate was precisely about the mechanism and the timing of the empire’s rise, and there is more to be investigated around that concept. In addition, we need to question the nature of the rise more broadly, as this panel seeks to do. The paradigm of rise and decline posits that whatever made the empire rise in the first place, its absence made the empire decline. For a long time that was understood to mean military zeal on behalf of Islam, and that idea has been thoroughly debunked. Later advice works constructed the empire’s moving force as purity vs. corruption, which can also be debunked. Kafadar thought the force shaping the empire was the tension between centripetal and centrifugal movements; Lowry thought it was mainly greed and the incorporation of Byzantines. Part of their difference seems to me to be due to their respective focus on Anatolia and Rumeli, popular and state movements; hardly anybody considers the whole empire together. It is likely that “rise” meant different things to different people in different places and different periods. This paper is a historiographical and methodological look at the problem of conceptualizing the Ottomans' rise. It attempts to disaggregate the notion of “rise” and look at some of the forces pushing the Ottomans to create an empire, paying particular attention to the Ottomans’ Seljuk, Ilkhanid, and Byzantine imperial models. Incorporating the newer scholarship in the field, it examines the problems with the concept of “rise” and the ways these problems have been and might be addressed. In particular, it looks outside the borders of the Ottoman lands to see what “empire” meant in fourteenth-century West Asia and how the post-Mongol political landscape might have looked to the Ottomans.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
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