READ: Ottoman Empire (article) | Khan Academy (2023)

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By the end of the second close read, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Looking at the map, what do you notice about the location of the Ottoman Empire?
  2. In addition to their political and military roles, what religious role did the Ottoman Sultans claim, and who were their officials and representatives?
  3. Like other empires, the Ottoman Empire had many provinces and lots of different religious and ethnic communities. How did it rule all of these groups?
  4. According to the article, what kinds of relationships did the Ottoman state and people have with others outside the Empire?
  5. What big global changes challenged the Ottoman State in 1750?

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At the end of the third read, you should be able to respond to these questions:

  1. Based on the evidence in this article, what aspects of the Ottoman Empire in 1750 seem unique, and what aspects seem to be part of a wider global pattern?
  2. If you could ask the author for one more piece of information about the Ottoman Empire—that isn’t included in this article—what would it be?

Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to read! Remember to return to these questions once you’ve finished reading.

The Ottoman Empire

Painting of the Ottoman Sultan, Selim III, sitting atop a golden throne with his court of advisors and servants standing behind him.

(Video) History of Ottoman Empire Part 1 तुर्क साम्राज्य Know full chronology from Rise, Expansion & Fall

By Eman M. Elshaikh

The Ottoman Empire stretched across Asia, Europe, and Africa beginning in the late thirteenth century. Centuries later, its growth slowed and it transformed in many ways.


The Ottoman Empire was founded in 1299 and rather quickly expanded from its origins as one of many Turkish states that rose to power after the decline of the Seljuq Turks in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). But it really began to expand and consolidate power in the fifteenth century, especially after the conquest of Constantinople. Much of this success was a result of the Ottoman military and an elite fighting force called the Janissaries. The Janissaries were composed of young male, Christian slaves taken from wars in the Balkans (modern-day Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, among others). They were raised in the Islamic faith and either became administrators for the sultan or members of the sultan's personal bodyguard and military. It was these troops that used new weapons, called harquebus, to make the Ottomans one of the first gunpowder empires.

The Ottoman Empire reached its greatest size in the late seventeenth century but lasted until 1922. It was one of the largest and most long-lasting empires in world history. At its greatest extent, the empire extended to three continents -- stretching from the Balkans in southeastern Europe across Anatolia, Central Asia, Arabia, and North Africa, thanks in large part to the Ottoman military and its use of gunpowder.

Map of Mediterranean region with the borders of the Ottoman Empire at it’s largest size highlighted in green.

The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent. By Chamboz, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Transformations and new directions

Throughout the eighteenth century, the Ottomans lost (and gained back) some important territories. Some historians say that this was partly to blame for the beginning of Ottoman decline. But it might be more accurate to consider this a period of transformation. For a few centuries the empire had grown under strong central authority. But now it was shifting and undergoing important changes. It's true that the Ottomans gained little territory after the seventeenth century. However, the Empire continued to exist into the twentieth century, just functioning differently than it had in the early centuries.

As the Empire stopped expanding, Ottoman leaders began to focus on consolidating territories that they already ruled. The borders of the Ottoman Empire became less fuzzy. The same was true of neighboring European and Asian states. The political structure started to shift around this time, too. For the first few centuries of its existence, the Ottoman Empire had been controlled by a chain of powerful warrior-sultans. They ruled and led military campaigns. But by the middle of the seventeenth century, this stable chain of sultans was interrupted. Many sultans were overthrown after only ruling for a short period of time. These short reigns were the result of political rivalries, military revolts, and resistance from elites.

At this time, European monarchies were becoming more centralized, meaning most European monarchs had absolute power over their territories and subjects. But Ottoman power was shifting mostly in the opposite direction. A civilian bureaucracy (an organized system of state officials) was becoming stronger as the sultans themselves gave up some power. At the top of this bureaucracy, powerful officials called viziers had a lot of authority, but power was also becoming less concentrated in the capital. Instead, provincial officials gained more political control.

Central authority still mattered—but the balance had shifted. Local leaders and imperial officials worked with the sultan to manage the vast empire. Provincial leaders sent taxes to the capital. They also recruited soldiers for imperial wars. The capital and the provinces relied on each other for legitimacy. This was also the case with sultans and the powerful officials who controlled the political life of the empire.

An empire of nations

Since this one massive empire held territories across three continents, it's hard to imagine a single identity unifying all the peoples. In fact, there was no such single identity. Like the Qing dynasty in China and the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire was multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Islam did play a big part in the empire, however. The Ottoman state based its authority on religion. The first warrior-sultans expanded the empire in the name of Islam. Sultans claimed the title of caliph, or successor to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Alongside the sultans, religious scholars, called ulama, played a significant role in running the state. This was particularly true in the courts.

How did the Islamic nature of the empire affect the non-Muslim population? For the most part, non-Muslims had relatively lower social status than Muslims. They were also subject to special taxes and had other economic restrictions. However, non-Muslims had some autonomy (independence) under the Ottoman millet system. The system allowed religious communities to regulate their own religious and civil affairs. Each millet, or nation, had a religious leader that managed the community.

Ottoman hierarchies

The millet system shows that clear boundaries between different social groups were important for Ottoman political control. There were even Ottoman laws that specified the kinds of clothing that people in different communities could wear, much like those that existed in the Qing dynasty. Despite this, it's hard to simplify a set of rules governing Ottoman society. It was incredibly diverse. Generally, bureaucrats, religious scholars, and military officials had the greatest social power. Warrior-aristocrats, who were mostly Muslim, benefited from tax exemptions and the timar system of land grants. Under this system, in return for military service, warriors were given land.

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Painting of an Ottoman soldier as he cleans the barrel of his gun. The soldier wears a blue tunic and a fur coat made from a large cat.

Depiction of a janissary from a book about costumes from the late seventeenth century. Public Domain.

Painting of an Ottoman administrative official sitting outside in a garden on an ornate, red carpet. Mothers and fathers look on as their young, Christian sons are taken as a form of tribute.

Illustration of recruitment of Christian boys for the devşirme. Ottoman miniature painting, 1558. By Ali Amir Beg, Public Domain.

The rest of society made up the lowest class. It included merchants, farmers, herdsman, manufacturers, and seafarers. Though they had the least official power, they powered the engine of the empire. They were the main producers of goods and revenues (through taxes). They supported the military, bureaucracy, and religious establishment. Hierarchy was important, but it wasn't totally rigid. Religious, gender, and economic differences put people into different groups. But there were a lot of overlaps. Commoners could be wealthy or poor. They could be peasants, townspeople, or nomadic pastoralists.

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People also were able to move across groups or gain social power. Merit was often rewarded regardless of wealth, lineage, or social status. In fact, enslaved or common people in the Ottoman military or bureaucracy, such as the Janissaries, often rose through the ranks. They ended up in some of the highest positions in society.

Throughout the Ottoman Empire's history, women were dependent on the men in their families for money and social position. This was the case in many medieval societies. Generally, older women or women with children had relatively more power in a household. Women's lives were relatively stable over the centuries. This is largely because religious ideas ruled gender relations. Islamic law granted women certain rights, like divorce and inheritance. It also allowed them to use their property and wealth to start and maintain institutions like schools and mosques. But religion was also used to limit women's power. For example, women had different rights in the courts. Also, some interpretations of Islam were used to justify keeping women at home.

The Ottomans and the world

With the empire extending across continents, its borders touched numerous states and other empires. But it also had tense relationships with some of them. For example, it was involved in conflict with the Safavid Empire to its east for centuries. The Safavids also had a Muslim leadership and claimed religious legitimacy, but it was based on a rival Islamic school of thought. The Ottomans also had a strained relationship with its European neighbors. This was particularly true of the Russians and Austrians.

At the same time, the Ottoman state often collaborated with other European powers. They also wanted to imitate European models. For example, Ottomans enlisted European military advisors, because some leaders felt that recent military defeats were due to their less technically advanced militaries. Western nations could afford these new technologies partly because of New World wealth.

Ottoman elites also became more connected to global cultural movements, particularly the Enlightenment. Translations became more widely available with the Ottoman adoption of the printing press in the 1720s. Together, these trends of military and technological innovation and cultural worldliness gave rise to a series of reforms of education, the military, and finance beginning in the 1830s. Called the Tanzimat, these reforms were also a response to the diversity of the empire. They gave civil rights to minorities, including the guarantee for Armenian and Syrian Christians, Jews, and other millets (communities of different religious and ethnic minorities) to practice their religion. However, religious conservatives challenged these trends, insisting that the rise of secular education and other reforms were harming Ottoman society.

In a parallel development, Ottoman elites also began buying many global products and following trends from abroad. They collected foreign art, luxury goods, and foods. Personal spending likely rose across the different social classes. Foreign goods became more common. As it had done in the past, the Ottoman state played a crucial role in this circulation of goods. Many of those living in the empire continued to be engaged in the production and distribution of food, raw materials, and other goods, in much the same way as Arabs had for centuries. The state did its best to ensure that state officials, military employees, and people living in the capital had access to what they needed. Silk Road trade networks had enriched the Ottomans for centuries. But new sea routes that bypassed Ottoman trade routes shifted the power away. This is not to say that regional trade networks ended during the eighteenth century, but the global sea networks that strengthened after the sixteenth century transformed the prestige and position of the Ottoman Empire. With a reduction in overland trade in favor of trade along global networks and with newly established colonies in Asia, European power grew as Ottoman power faded.

Author bio

The author of this article is Eman M. Elshaikh. She is a writer, researcher, and teacher who has taught K-12 and undergraduates in the United States and in the Middle East and written for many different audiences. She teaches writing at the University of Chicago, where she also completed her master’s in social sciences, focusing on history and anthropology. She was previously a World History Fellow at Khan Academy, where she worked closely with the College Board to develop curriculum for AP World History.

[Sources and attributions]

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What was the empire of Ottoman Turks answer? ›

The Ottoman Empire was a transcontinental empire based out of modern-day Turkey, which covered much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was one of the three 'Gunpowder Empires' of the late medieval period.

What did the Ottomans call themselves? ›

In the early modern period, many Ottoman Turks, especially those who lived in the cities and were not part of the military or administration, instead commonly self-identified as Romans (Rūmī, رومى), as inhabitants of former Byzantine territory.

What religion did the Ottomans follow? ›

Officially the Ottoman Empire was an Islamic Caliphate ruled by a Sultan, Mehmed V, although it also contained Christians, Jews and other religious minorities. For nearly all of the empire's 600-year existence these non-Muslim subjects endured systematic discrimination and, at times, outright persecution.

Why were the Ottomans so great? ›

The empire's success lay in its centralized structure as much as its territory: Control of some of the world's most lucrative trade routes led to vast wealth, while its impeccably organized military system led to military might.

Did the Turks fight the Ottomans? ›

The Turks almost captured the Empire's capital of Vienna, but the King of Poland, John III Sobieski led a Christian alliance that defeated them in the Battle of Vienna, which shook the Ottoman Empire's hegemony in south-eastern Europe.

What empire did the Turks destroy? ›

Ottoman troops first invaded Europe in 1345, sweeping through the Balkans. Though defeated by Timur in 1402, by 1453 the Ottomans, under Mehmed II (the Conquerer), had destroyed the Byzantine Empire and captured its capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul), which henceforth served as the Ottoman capital.

Who was a powerful sultan in the Ottoman Empire? ›

Ottoman cultural, political, and economic power reached its zenith under Sultan Süleyman I (reigned 1520–66), his son Selim II (reigned 1566–74), and his grandson Murad III (reigned 1574–95), who all ruled from the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul (fig. 25).

What nationality were the Ottomans? ›

Ottoman Empire, empire created by Turkish tribes in Anatolia (Asia Minor) that grew to be one of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries.

What do Turks call Greeks? ›

The Greeks of Turkey are referred to in Turkish as Rumlar, meaning "Romans".

Where is Ottoman family now? ›

Osman became the Head of the Ottoman dynasty in 2021 upon the death of his older brother, Dündar Osmanoğlu. He lives in Istanbul and has nine grandchildren.

How did the Ottomans treat Christians? ›

Christians under the Ottomans

Christians, though, had an inferior position to Muslims during the Ottoman Empire, and were required to pay a special tax. Compared to religious minorities in Europe, however, Ottoman Christians were treated with tolerance.

What did the Ottomans think of Christianity? ›

Under the Ottoman Empire's millet system, Christians and Jews were considered dhimmi (meaning "protected") under Ottoman law in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax.

How Turks became Muslims? ›

The Turks began converting to Islam after the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana through the efforts of missionaries, Sufis, and merchants. Although initiated by the Arabs, the conversion of the Turks to Islam was filtered through Persian and Central Asian culture.

Who was the greatest Ottoman warrior? ›

Mehmed II, byname Fatih Sultan Mehmed (Turkish: Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror), (born March 30, 1432, Adrianople, Thrace, Ottoman Empire—died May 3, 1481, Hunkârçayırı, near Maltepe, near Constantinople), Ottoman sultan from 1444 to 1446 and from 1451 to 1481.

Who was the biggest Ottoman leader? ›

Under Süleyman, popularly known as “the Magnificent” or “the Lawmaker,” the Ottoman empire reached the apogee of its military and political power. Süleyman's armies conquered Hungary, over which the Ottomans maintained control for over 150 years, and they advanced as far west as Vienna, threatening the Habsburgs.

Who was last ruler of Ottoman Empire? ›

On Nov. 17, 1922, the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed VI Vahideddin, fled Istanbul in the early morning hours after learning of threats to his safety, never to return.

What was the old name of Turkey? ›

Land areas occupied by present-day Turks were known by various names over the centuries, including Asia Minor, Anatolia and eastern Thrace. But Turkey formally became the Republic of Türkiye (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti) after independence in 1923, following the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate.

What led to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire? ›

Siding with Germany in World War I may have been the most significant reason for the Ottoman Empire's demise. Before the war, the Ottoman Empire had signed a secret treaty with Germany, which turned out to be a very bad choice.

What made the Ottomans unique? ›

The Ottomans were known for their achievements in art, science and medicine. Istanbul and other major cities throughout the empire were recognized as artistic hubs, especially during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Who destroyed the Ottomans? ›

No one person destroyed the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were part of the Central Powers, which lost World War I. After the end of the war, the Allies broke up the empire. This is how the nation of Turkey was formed.

Did Turks defeat Mongols? ›

The Battle of Köse Dağ was fought between the Sultanate of Rum ruled by the Seljuq dynasty and the Mongol Empire on June 26, 1243, at the defile of Köse Dağ, a location between Erzincan and Gümüşhane in modern northeastern Turkey. The Mongols achieved a decisive victory.

Who stopped Ottoman Empire? ›

The aroused defenders, led by the Polish king Jan Sobieski (ruled 1674–96), not only held out but also built a major European coalition that was to bring destruction to the Ottoman Empire during the 18th century.

What were the horrors of the Ottoman Empire? ›

During the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), Turkish forces committed mass rapes and civilian massacres when they overtook Greek villages or cities. Between 250,000 and 500,000 Assyrians and around 350,000 Greeks were killed during the Ottoman Christian Genocide. Hundreds of thousands more were displaced.

How many Turks died in war? ›

The Ottoman war dead were estimated as 325,000, of which 85,000 were combat related and 240,000 were due to diseases. The total number of permanently wounded, sick and missing added up to 1,965,000.

How many Greeks were killed by the Ottoman Empire? ›

25 000 Greek soldiers were killed or injured, while the civilian death toll has been estimated at over 600 000.

Who was the most loved sultan? ›

Suleiman I (Ottoman Turkish: سليمان اول, romanized: Süleyman-ı Evvel; Turkish: I. Süleyman; 6 November 1494 – 6 September 1566), commonly known as Suleiman the Magnificent in the West and Suleiman the Lawgiver (Ottoman Turkish: قانونى سلطان سليمان, romanized: Ḳānūnī Sulṭān Süleymān) in his realm, was the tenth and ...

Who was the smartest sultan of the Ottoman Empire? ›

Time changed and finally on August 31st, 1876, Prince Abdulhamid ascended the Ottoman throne with the title Sultan Abdulhamid II. The cash he had earned from trade when he was a prince and the experiences he had gained, were significant. He was a smart, wise sultan with political genius.

What were the Ottomans called before? ›

The Ottoman Empire, historically and colloquially the Turkish Empire, was an empire that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries.

What Ottoman means? ›

: a member of a Turkish dynasty founded by Osman I that ruled the Ottoman Empire. : a citizen or functionary of the Ottoman Empire. [French ottomane, from feminine of ottoman, adjective] : an upholstered often overstuffed seat or couch usually without a back. : an overstuffed footstool.

How many countries did the Ottoman rule? ›

At its height, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire encompassed 43 present-day countries in southeastern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa.

Why so many Turks have Greek DNA? ›

The region of Thrace in Turkey today has the highest percentage of Greek DNA. This is due to its close proximity to Greece and the fact that it was once part of the Byzantine Empire, which had a large Greek population.

What did the Turks call Turkey? ›

Turks have called their country Türkiye since the country declared its independence in 1923. Türkiye wants its name back. Nearly 100 years after becoming an independent republic, the country more widely known globally by its Western name, Turkey, is moving to reclaim its rightful identity on the global stage.

Is Istanbul Greek or Turkish? ›

Istanbul, Turkish İstanbul, formerly Constantinople, ancient Byzantium, largest city and principal seaport of Turkey. It was the capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The old walled city of Istanbul stands on a triangular peninsula between Europe and Asia.

Are there any sultans left? ›

Brunei and Oman are the only independent countries which retain the title "sultan" for their monarchs.

How many wives did the Ottoman Empire have? ›

Turkish sultans were allowed four wives and as many concubines as they wanted.

Who was the last living Ottoman soldier? ›

Yakup Satar (11 March 1898 – 2 April 2008) is believed to have been the last Ottoman veteran of the First World War. He died at age 110.
Yakup Satar
Born11 March 1898 Crimea, Russian Empire
Died2 April 2008 (aged 110 years, 22 days)
AllegianceOttoman Empire Turkey
Years of service1915–1923
1 more row

What were Christians called in the Ottoman Empire? ›

The Ottomans allowed the “religions of the book” to be organized in millets: the Orthodox Christians or Rums, the Armenians, and the Jews. Non-Muslims had to be part of a millet to be considered citizens of the empire.

Did the Ottomans force Christians to convert? ›

For strategic reasons, the Ottomans forcibly converted Christians living in the frontier regions of Macedonia and northern Bulgaria, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those who refused were either executed or burned alive.

What was the religion in Turkey before Islam? ›

"Anatolian religion".

Did Christians serve in the Ottoman army? ›

Recruitment in the Ottoman imperial army was achieved by the forced enlistment of Christian children every five years. The devşirme came up out of the kul system of slavery that developed in the early centuries of the Ottoman Empire, and which reached this final development during the reign of Bayezid I.

Was the Ottoman Empire violent? ›

Across a few short weeks through October and November, militias, tribesmen, soldiers, and even ordinary Muslims killed around one hundred thousand Armenians in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, mostly in a brutal and wild fashion. These killings marked the apogee of anti-Armenian violence in the mid-1890s.

Who did the Ottomans have more troubles with Christians or Muslims? ›

Who did the Ottomans have more troubles with, Christians or Muslims? The Ottomans had the most trouble with Muslims because they opposed Ottoman control.

What ethnicity is Turkish? ›

The Turkic peoples are a collection of diverse ethnic groups of West, Central, East, and North Asia as well as parts of Europe, who speak Turkic languages. According to historians and linguists, the Proto-Turkic language originated in Central-East Asia, potentially in Mongolia or Tuva.

When was hijab banned in Turkey? ›

The headscarf was banned in public institutions because of the 'public clothing regulation' issued after the 1980 coup and began to be implemented in a radical way after the 1997 military memorandum. However, the ban on the headscarf for public personnel was lifted by the democratization package in 2013.

What tribe did the Turks come from? ›

These records refer to tribes called the Hsiung-nu, an early form of the Western term Hun, who lived in an area bounded by the Altai Mountains, Lake Baikal, and the northern edge of the Gobi Desert and are believed to have been the ancestors of the Turks.

What were 3 major achievements of the Ottoman Empire? ›

Ottoman Art and Science

The Ottomans were known for their achievements in art, science and medicine. Istanbul and other major cities throughout the empire were recognized as artistic hubs, especially during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.

What are some major facts about the Ottoman Empire? ›

It was one of the largest and most long-lasting empires in world history. At its greatest extent, the empire extended to three continents -- stretching from the Balkans in southeastern Europe across Anatolia, Central Asia, Arabia, and North Africa, thanks in large part to the Ottoman military and its use of gunpowder.

What is an important fact about the Ottoman Empire? ›

The Ottoman empire lasted almost 600 years, from the early 1300s until the aftermath of the first world war. The word Ottoman derives from the Arabic version of Osman – the name of its first ruler. The empire had a humble beginning as a provincial principality in Anatolia (now part of Turkey).

What are important facts about the Ottoman Empire for kids? ›

The Ottoman Empire began in what is now Turkey in about 1300. Eventually, it grew to cover much of the Middle East, southeastern Europe, and North Africa. During the 1400s and 1500s the Ottoman Empire was one of the world's great powers. In the 1900s the remains of the empire became the Republic of Turkey.

What was the Ottomans greatest victory? ›

In terms of geopolitics, perhaps the most seminal event of the Middle Ages was the successful Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453.

Who destroyed Ottoman Empire? ›

The Ottoman Empire sided with Germany in World War I (1914–18); postwar treaties dissolved the empire, and in 1922 the sultanate was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who proclaimed the Republic of Turkey the following year.

What was the greatest victory of the Ottoman Empire? ›

The Battle of Vaslui (also referred to as the Battle of Podul Înalt or the Battle of Racova) was fought on 10 January 1475, between Stephen III of Moldavia and the Ottoman governor of Rumelia, Hadım Suleiman Pasha.

What caused the downfall of the Ottoman Empire? ›

Siding with Germany in World War I may have been the most significant reason for the Ottoman Empire's demise. Before the war, the Ottoman Empire had signed a secret treaty with Germany, which turned out to be a very bad choice.

How many countries were in the Ottoman Empire? ›

At its height, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire encompassed 43 present-day countries in southeastern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa.

What made the Ottoman Empire fall? ›

Upon the Ottomans' defeat in World War I, a combination of nationalist movements and partition agreements among the Allied powers forced its disintegration into numerous territories, with Turkey as the empire's immediate successor.

What did Ottoman Empire invent? ›

Did You Know? Ottomans invented currently used surgical instruments such as forceps, scalpels, and catheters. The capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans caused many scholars to flee to Italy and bring with them knowledge that helped spark the Renaissance.

What is the real history of Ottoman Empire? ›

It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt (modern-day Bilecik Province) by the Turkoman tribal leader Osman I. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe and, with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire.

Where did the Ottomans originally come from? ›

The Ottoman Empire was founded in Anatolia, the location of modern-day Turkey. Originating in Söğüt (near Bursa, Turkey), the Ottoman dynasty expanded its reign early on through extensive raiding.


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