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Reviews of The Ottoman Empire: A Short History

“Professor Suraiya Faroqhi of the University of Munich has been one of a number of historians who have transformed Ottoman studies in the last generation. In a shelfful of books she has extended our knowledge of the social dynamics of the Empire by exploring economic issues, gender relationships at all economic levels, and the role of the pilgrimage. In this volume she gives us a concise overview of the current state of Ottoman studies.

“Until 40 years ago, outsiders looking at the Ottoman Empire were influenced by the notion of relationships with the West [and] the Westernization of the Empire. But Professor Faroqhi and other modern scholars place the Ottomans in a different geographical and cultural context. For centuries in Istanbul, relations with Persia were more contentious and likely to lead to armed conflict. And we must remember that the Black Sea was for centuries an Ottoman lake. Although the Ottoman Empire was ideologically Muslim, perhaps a majority of its subjects until the early nineteenth century were Christian. The Balkans were, in terms of recruitment for public and military service in the capital, as much of a heartland as Anatolia. These factors forced on the rulers an openness and even tolerance. Although the rise of Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries challenged Ottoman sovereignty in the Balkans, the lot of the peasants of the villages and craftsmen of the towns in the European territories of the Empire was far better than that of the serfs of the Romanov Empire.

“‘In spite of repeated condemnations by their men of religion,’ Professor Faroqhi points out, ‘many Christians and Jews preferred to bring their disputes before the qadis [Muslim judges].’ Modern historiography has moved on from the first generation of Balkan and Arab historians who saw seventeenth- and eighteenth-century revolts and disputes from provincial lands as harbingers of modern nationalism. The power brokers who resisted control from Istanbul were just that: power brokers. They had no identity with the people they ruled. Istanbul during the nineteenth century concentrated power that oscillated between the courts of the Sultans and a new class of bureaucrats whose numbers swelled vastly in the hundred years before the First World War. The bureaucrats built up their own culture, where patronage — and connections with dervish orders — vied with meritocracy. Although the French language was widely known among this new elite, any Western model was not of ‘liberal’ France or Britain, but the more authoritarian (and analogous) multinational Hapsburg Empire.

“Professor Faroqhi also places Ottoman history in a wider historical context. Another argument of a generation ago was how far the Ottoman Empire was the successor of the Byzantine, and what the successor Empire inherited from the former. Turkish nationalist historians stressed the uniqueness of the Ottoman Empire. But to some extent both were fashioned by geographic and demographic factors. The same trade routes were important to both. Trade was the basis of the economic prosperity that facilitated military and political power and influence. Constantinople/Istanbul was never able to control physically the outer-lying areas that were considered part of the Empire. So in both cases there were shades of sovereignty, from direct control to effective independence. This short history of the Ottoman Empire presents the issues of Ottoman history in an enlightening and most readable way. For the latter quality much credit is also due to the translator, Shelley Frisch.” — Asian Affairs, October 2010

“Christianity had the Roman Empire; Islam had the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire: A Short History traces the history of one of the longest-standing empires known to man. Chapters cover the post-Crusades period, the Ottoman Empire’s constant conflicts with Europe, Russia, and other neighbors who successfully resisted its rule, and much more. Looking at how the empire managed its own internal affairs and the strong role Islam played, The Ottoman Empire serves as a fine introduction to this historical entity, deftly translated from the original German by Shelley Frisch.” — Midwest Book Review

“The author sets the record straight about several longstanding inaccuracies, such as an alleged division of labor between different ethnic and religious groups, and an Ottoman women’s culture, which make the book especially worth reading. The book emphasizes social and economic developments more than political ones, following the methodology of Fernand Braudel.” — Deutsche Viertelsjahrsblätter