Ottoman Empire

   Islamic state of the Osmanli branch of the Turk-ish peoples, founded in the late 13th century by Osman I. It continued to be ruled by the sultans descended from him until its dissolution at the end of World War I. The empire was the most powerful political and military force in Renaissance Europe. Its beginnings lay in the Ana-tolian peninsula, which had been settled by Turks in the late 11th cen-tury. Taking advantage of the civil wars among contenders for the throne of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottomans seized control of Gal-lipoli on the European side of the straits in 1354, and in 1356 the sul-tan established his capital at Adrianople on the European side. The Turks rapidly pushed northward into the Balkan peninsula, reducing the kingdom of Bulgaria to vassal status between 1369 and 1371, crushing the Serbs at Kossovo in 1389, and then destroying the last vestiges of an independent Bulgarian state in 1393. These victories established an Ottoman rule over the Balkans that lasted until the 19th century.
   By the end of the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire was limited to the city of Constantinople and a small area around it, and while popes and western European rulers talked of a crusade to preserve the ancient Roman capital, they were more interested in exploiting the Byzantine state than in preserving it. In 1396 a crusade organized by the Holy Ro-man Emperor Sigismund marched southward into the Balkans, but the Ottoman sultan Bayezid destroyed this army in the battle of Nicopolis. Great numbers of Latin knights were captured and, in reprisal for their massacre of all Muslim prisoners, were either put to death or sold as slaves. Bayezid then completed his conquest of most of the Greek main-land and in 1402 demanded the surrender of Constantinople. At this mo-ment, however, Tamerlane, a Turkish prince from central Asia, attacked the Ottomans and demolished their army. The sultan was taken prisoner and died in captivity. Tamerlane soon directed his military efforts else-where and died in 1405.
   This catastrophe saved Constantinople for more than a generation, but the next sultan, Murad II, reorganized his army and soon was pressing northward into the Balkans and also resuming military pres-sure on the Byzantine capital. In 1451 a new sultan, Muhammad II (1451-1481) began systematically preparing for the conquest of Constantinople. At the end of May 1453, the Turkish army breached the city's walls and overwhelmed the defenders, ending the last direct remnant of the ancient Roman Empire. Constantinople—now called Istanbul—became and remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Then Muhammad rounded out his conquests in the Balkans, driving the Venetians out of the Morea (southern mainland Greece), seizing most of the Greek islands, establishing control over Serbia and Bosnia, and briefly establishing a base at Otranto in southern Italy. His successor Bayezid (1481-1512) faced internal political difficul-ties. Under Selim I (1512-1520) Ottoman power turned eastward, de-feating the Persians and annexing much of northern Mesopotamia, then conquering Syria and Egypt. Under him, the Ottomans also be-came a sea power. Under Selim's successor Suleiman (1520-1566), the Ottomans reduced the Muslim states of North Africa to vassal sta-tus, and the Ottoman navy dominated the western as well as the east-ern Mediterranean.
   In 1526 Suleiman inflicted a disastrous defeat on King Louis II of Hungary and virtually wiped out the kingdom of Hungary, leaving only the western third in the hands of Louis' brother-in-law, Ferdi-nand of Habsburg, and allowing most of the country to be adminis-tered by the leading Hungarian nobleman, John Zápolyai, who be-came a vassal of the sultan. Suleiman threatened the southern regions of Bohemia and Poland, but his attempt to conquer Vienna and enter southern Germany in 1529 failed after a long siege. The Ottoman state reached its greatest extent in Suleiman's reign. Under the next Sultan, Selim II (1566-1574), the Turks easily conquered the island of Cyprus, but their attempt to end Venetian rule of Crete was thwarted by a fleet of Christian allies in the battle of Lepanto (1571) off the western coast of Greece.
   By the end of the 16th century, some of the long-term weaknesses of the empire were becoming evident, particularly the increasing in-subordination of its armies and the corruption of its officials. The Ot-tomans remained powerful even in the later 17th century, besieging Vienna again in 1683, but by the end of that century, they had lost control of most of Hungary to the Habsburgs. By the 18th century, Turkey was on its way to becoming "the sick man of Europe."

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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