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The Ottoman Empire


Sunset and Istanbul
Hande Guleryuz Yuce/Vetta/Getty Images
Definition: The Ottoman Empire is the last and largest realization of a unified Muslim empire across ethnic, geographic and religious boundaries. But it was not an Arab-led empire.

Founded in the 13th century of what is present-day Turkey, the Osmanli Ottoman Empire at the height of its power at the beginning of the 18th century controlled all of Asia Minor and the Levant, southeastern Europe to the gates of Vienna and including all of Greece, the Arab Peninsula down to Mecca and Medina, North Africa to the edge of Fez and the Rock of Gibraltar, and, to the East, all of present-day Iraq, to its border with Iran.

The empire began as a scavenger of others' decline--first abrogating the power of Seljuk Turks in the 13th century, then profiting from the decline of the Byzantine Empire to acquire Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 1453, Balkan states and Hungary, and parts of Persia. Ottomans also took advantage of the Levant's and the Arab Peninsula's perennial tribal divisions to impose its will in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Constantinople served as the Ottoman Empire's capital from 1453 to 1923. By then, the empire was a shriveled remnant of former glories and bankrupt leadership. It served Ottomans poorly to ally themselves with Germany during World War I. With defeat came dismemberment as France and Britain carved up former Ottoman lands and occupied them under the pretense of "mandates." Thus Lebanon and Syria went to France while Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine were taken over by Britain.

Ottoman rulers hobbled on for a few years after World War I until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern (and secular) Turkey, overthrew the last sultan in 1922.

Also Known As: Osmanli
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