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The Case of Edirne: Behind the Scenes of the Rise Narrative
Wittek’s The Rise of the Ottoman Empire (1938) was one of the earliest texts many of us read as students of Ottoman history. Embedded in the title were two certainties: 1) there was something called the Ottoman Empire, and 2) it rose. That slim book grounded scholarship and synthetic writing alike about the period from 1300 to the conquest of Constantinople. This paper reconsiders the idea of Ottoman rise from the perspective of the city of Edirne, which was assigned a key role in the narrative of rise as the second Ottoman imperial capital. The case of Edirne demonstrates how a uniform “rise” narrative masked or minimized challenges to the formation of the early Ottoman state and society. The paper asks two pairs of questions: What was Ottoman about Edirne, and when did it become noticeably Ottoman? When was Edirne the Ottoman capital and what was an Ottoman capital at that point? Initial answers to these four questions suggest that from its conquest to the conquest of Constantinople, Edirne was a key location for the cohering of “Ottoman”, including forms of governance, ceremonial, architecture and identity. It was also the space where the Ottomans evolved the basic elements for a sedentary Ottoman capital, eventually realized in Istanbul. These proposed answers derive from a review of the sources and scholarship on Edirne’s early Ottoman history. Sources include Ottoman, Byzantine, and other constructions and intrusions into the local landscape, together with the written evidence of Ottoman and Byzantine historical accounts or documents and the written observations of people who passed through Edirne and Thrace during this era. None of these are very plentiful and altogether offer fragmentary evidence. Yet asking new questions compels a reconsideration of seemingly exhausted evidence and new ways to think about the answers.
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Ottoman Empire
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