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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 11 - Ottoman and Safavid Empires

  What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did the Ottoman empire expand?
  • were the characteristics of Ottoman culture?
  • did Abbas the Great strengthen the Safavid empire?


 Expanding the Ottoman Empire
  • The Ottomans were yet another Turkish-speaking nomadic people who had migrated from Central Asia into northwestern Asia Minor. In the 1300s, they expanded across Asia Minor and into southeastern Europe. They established a capital in the Balkan Peninsula. 
  • Ottoman expansion threatened the crumbling Byzantine empire. After several failed attempts to capture Constantinople, Muhammad II finally succeeded in 1453. In the next 200 years, the Ottoman empire continued to expand.


 Expanding the Ottoman Empire
  • The Ottoman empire enjoyed its golden age under the sultan Suleiman, who ruled from 1520 to 1566. Called Suleiman the Magnificent by westerners, he was known to his own people as the "Lawgiver." A brilliant general, Suleiman modernized the army and conquered many new lands. He extended Ottoman rule eastward into Mesopotamia, and also into Kurdistan and Georgia in the Caucasus Mountain region. In the west, Suleiman advanced deeper into Europe. He was able to gain control of nearly all of Hungary through diplomacy and warfare. In 1529, his armies besieged the Austrian city of Vienna, sending waves of fear through Western Europe.


   Expanding the Ottoman Empire
  • Although they failed to take Vienna, the Ottomans ruled the largest, most powerful empire in both Europe and the Middle East for centuries. At its height, the empire stretched from Hungary to Arabia and Mesopotamia and across North Africa. 
  • Suleiman felt justified in claiming to be the rightful heir of the Abbassids and caliph of all Muslims. To the title of "Emperor," he added the symbolic name of "Protector of the Sacred Places" (Mecca and Medina).


 Ottoman Culture
  • Suleiman was a wise and capable ruler. He strengthened the government of the rapidly growing empire and improved its system of justice. As sultan, Suleiman had absolute power, but he ruled with the help of a grand vizier and a council. A huge bureaucracy supervised the business of government, and the powerful military kept the peace. As in other Muslim states, Ottoman law was based on the Sharia, supplemented by royal edicts. Government officials worked closely with religious scholars who interpreted the law.


Ottoman Culture

  • The Ottomans divided their subjects into four classes, each with its appointed role. At the top were "men of the pen"such as scientists, lawyers, judges, and poets" and "men of the sword," soldiers who guarded the sultan and defended the state. Below them were "men of negotiation" such as merchants, tax collectors, and artisans, who carried out trade and production" and "men of husbandry," farmers and herders who produced food for the community. 

 


Ottoman Culture
  • The Ottomans ruled diverse peoples who had many religions. The men of the sword and men of the pen were almost all Muslims, while the other classes included non-Muslims as well. Non-Muslims were organized into millets, or religious communities. These included Greek Christians, Armenian Christians, and Jews. Each millet had its own religious leaders who were responsible for education and some legal matters.


Ottoman Culture

  • Like earlier Muslim empires, the Ottomans recruited officers for the army and government from among the huge populations of conquered peoples in their empire. The Ottomans levied a "tax" on Christian families in the Balkans, requiring them to turn over young sons to the government. 
  • The boys were converted to Islam and put into rigorous military training at the palace school. The best soldiers won a prized place in the janizaries, the elite force of the Ottoman army. The brightest students received special education to become government officials. They might serve as judges, poets, or even grand vizier.

 


Ottoman Culture
  • Like the boys, non-Muslim girls from Eastern Europe were brought to serve as slaves in wealthy Muslim households. There, they might be accepted as members of the household. Some of the enslaved girls were freed after the death of their masters.


Ottoman Culture
  • The arts blossomed under Suleiman. Ottoman poets adapted Persian and Arab models to produce works in their own Turkish language. Influenced by Persian artistic styles, Ottoman painters produced magnificently detailed miniatures and illuminated manuscripts. 
  • The royal architect Sinan, a janizary military engineer, designed hundreds of mosques and palaces. He compared his most famous building, the Selimiye Mosque at Edirne, to the greatest church of the Byzantine empire. "With God's help and the Sultan's mercy," Sinan wrote, "I have succeeded in building a dome for the mosque which is greater in diameter and higher than that of Hagia Sophia."
  • By the 1700s, European advances in both commerce and military technology were leaving the Ottomans behind. While European industry and trade pressed ahead, the aging Ottoman empire remained dependent on agriculture. Russia and other European powers chipped away at Ottoman lands, while local rulers in North Africa and elsewhere broke away from Ottoman control. From time to time, able sultans tried to revive Ottoman power, but with limited success.


Safavid Empire
  • By the early 1500s, the Safavid dynasty had united a strong empire in Persia, present-day Iran. Sandwiched between two other expansionist powers, Mughal India and the Ottoman empire, the Safavids engaged in frequent warfare. Religion played a major role in the conflict. The Safavids were Shiite Muslims who enforced their beliefs throughout their empire. The Ottomans were Sunni Muslims who despised the Shiites as heretics.


Safavid Empire
  • The outstanding Safavid shah, or king, was Abbas the Great. Shah Abbas revived the glory of ancient Persia. From 1588 to 1629, he centralized the government and created a powerful military force modeled on the Ottoman janizaries. Abbas used a mixture of force and diplomacy against the Ottomans. He also sought alliances with European states that had reason to fear Ottoman power.


Safavid Empire
  • To strengthen the economy, Abbas reduced taxes on farmers and herders and encouraged the growth of industry. While earlier Safavids had imposed their faith on the empire, Abbas tolerated non-Muslims and valued their economic contributions. He built a magnificent new capital at Isfahan, a center of the international silk trade. Because the trade was controlled by Armenians, Abbas had thousands of Armenians brought to Isfahan. Even though they were Christians, he had a settlement built for them just outside the capital, where they could govern themselves.


Safavid Empire
  • Under Abbas, Isfahan flourished as a center of Persian culture. The shah welcomed artists, poets, and scholars to the court. Palace workshops produced magnificent porcelains, clothes, and rugs. Women and men wove intricately designed flowers and animals into marvelous garden scenes.
  • Abbas liked to walk the streets of Isfahan in disguise, mingling with the crowds in bazaars. Amid the cries of street vendors and swarms of traders and customers, he asked people about their problems. If he heard stories of corruption, he punished the guilty.


Safavid Empire
  • Safavid glory slowly faded after the death of Shah Abbas. One cause of the decline was continuing pressure from Ottoman armies. Another factor was that conservative Shiite scholars challenged the authority of the shah by stressing their own authority to interpret law. They also encouraged persecution of religious minorities. In the end, Sunni Afghans rebelled. They defeated imperial armies, captured Isfahan, and forced the last Safavid ruler to abdicate in 1722.
  • In the late 1700s, a new dynasty, the Qajars, won control of Iran. They made Tehran their capital and ruled until 1925. Still, the Safavids had left a lasting legacy. They planted Shiite traditions firmly in Iran and gave Persians a strong sense of their own identity.