David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
Building an Empire
Have you ever wondered why there's a country in the Middle East called Turkey? It's not because they enjoy Thanksgiving but because the inhabitants are known as Turks. For nearly five hundred years, an empire ruled by the Turks had control of almost all of the Middle East. Known as the Ottoman Empire, this kingdom expanded from a very small part of Turkey and eventually become one of the great empires of history.
Turks called themselves Ottomans because of the founder of their empire, Osman. Osman ruled in the 1200s but the Ottomans first put themselves on the map two hundred years later. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered of the city of Constantinople, known today as Istanbul. This gave them control over an important part of land and water known as the Mediterranean Sea, which extended their power into Europe and the Middle East. By 1516, the Ottomans took over Syria. The next year they took over Egypt, and the year after that they conquered Algeria in northern Africa. By then, all of Europe feared the Ottomans.
The 1500s to the 1600s are considered the height of Ottoman culture. Their 'sultan', or leader, was the emperor Suleiman. Suleiman is known as 'The Magnificent' due to his achievements. During his time as emperor of the Ottomans, Suleiman's power was vast. His warships controlled much of the Mediterranean Sea and his armies achieved many of the empire's great conquests.
Suleiman wasn't just a conqueror, however. He famously wrote poetry and created new systems of law. His builders are responsible for many fantastic mosques, or Islamic churches, throughout the Middle East. Under Suleiman's rule, Ottoman art like pottery and calligraphy, or artistic handwriting, flourished.
By the end of the 1600s, the Ottomans were no longer the big dogs. The heirs to Suleiman were very different: instead of taking charge, they let someone else do all the hard work. European countries like Spain, France, and England became very powerful with their colonies. Eventually, European warships controlled the Mediterranean and pushed the Ottomans out of Europe altogether.
During the 1700s, the Ottomans fought their neighbors constantly, especially Russia. The Ottomans and Russia were like two siblings that both wanted to play with the same toys. They went to war in 1711, in 1768, and again in 1787. The Ottomans lost wars and money often. By the 1800s, the Ottoman Empire was known as the 'Sick Man of Europe' because they had lost so much of their land and had so little money left.
The End of an Empire
At the start of the 1900s, the Ottoman Empire had an alliance with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This drew them into the First World War, which was a disaster for them and their allies. The Ottoman enemies successfully created rebellions throughout their empire. The Arabs of modern-day Saudi Arabia revolted and formed their own country. In 1922, the Turks overthrew the last Ottoman sultan and created the country of Turkey.
For five hundred years, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of the Middle East. At its high point in the 1500s, the Ottomans ruled over a huge stretch of land and sea, creating beautiful artwork and buildings. They fell into a decline, losing wars and money, and collapsed after World War One.
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