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Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire

Contrary to the popular belief which is often presented in the West, the Ottoman Empire was not a barbaric one. In fact, the Ottoman society remained isolated in time. The Ottoman Empire virtually stood stagnant, while Europe advanced.

Their economy was being primarily agrarian was based on tenant farming and weighed down by greedy tax farmers. Women were disguised and repressed, though the mothers of the Sultans and prospective Sultans in the Harem played an important role in deciding the future of the empire at times.

One of the attributes which contributes to the success of the social structure of the Ottoman Empire was the unity among its highly varied populations through an organization named as millets. The Millets were the major religious groups that were allowed to establish their own communities under Ottoman rule.

The Millets were established by retaining their own religious laws, traditions, and language under the general protection of the sultan. Plurality was the key to the longevity of the Empire.

As early as during the reign of Mehmed II, extensive rights were granted to Phanariot Greeks, while the Jews were invited to settle in the Ottoman territory. The Ottoman Empire's relatively high degree of tolerance for ethnic differences became one of its supreme strengths in integrating the new regions but this non-assimilative policy became a weakness after the rise of nationalism. The dissolution of the Empire based on ethnic differentiation brought the end, which the Ottoman philosophy failed to instill among the citizens.

The lifestyle of the Ottoman Empire was a mixture of western and eastern life. One unique characteristic of Ottoman life style was it was very uneven. It was the same millet concept which generated this fragmentation and enabled many to coexist in a medley of cultures. The capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople also had a unique culture, as prior to the Ottoman rule it had been the seat of both the Roman as well as the Byzantine Empires.

The lifestyle in the Ottoman court in many aspects brought together ancient traditions of the Persian Shahs, with many Greek and European influences. The culture that evolved around the Ottoman court was known as the Ottoman Way, which was epitomized with the Topkapi Palace.

There were also large metropolitan centers where the Ottoman influence expressed itself with a diversity similar to metropolises of today like for instance Sarajevo, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Dimashq, Baghdad, Beirut, Jerusalem, Makkah and Algiers which were small versions of the Ottoman Provincial Administration exhibiting the Ottoman court culture locally. The non-imperial places which were known as seraglio, in the context of the Turkish fashion, became the subject of works of art.

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire was a part of Ottoman society and was considered legal. Till about 1908 women slaves were sold in the Empire. However, it was in the 19th century that the Empire was pressurized by the Western European countries to prohibit the practice. Policies developed by various Sultans throughout the 19th century attempted to curtail the slave trade but since slavery had a religious backing and sanction, they were never directly able to abolish the institution completely.

Plague was a key event in the Ottoman society until the latter part of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750, 37 larger and smaller plague epidemics were recorded in Constantinople, while between 1751 and 1800, 31 cases came to be recorded.

Now considering the Ottoman Empire from its economic aspect, the Ottoman government purposely pursued a policy for the development of Bursa, Edirne and Constantinople an such other successive Ottoman capitals, and turned them into major commercial and industrial centers, considering that merchants and artisans were vital in creating a new metropolis. To achieve this, Mehmed and his successor Bayezid, encouraged and welcomed migration of the Jews from different parts of Europe, who were settled in Constantinople and other port cities like Salonica.

The tolerance shown by the Ottomans was whole heartedly accepted by the immigrants. The Ottoman economic mind was limited to the basic concepts of state and society in the Middle East in which the ultimate goal of a state was consolidation and extension of the ruler's power, and the way to reach it was to get rich resources of revenues by making the productive classes prosperous. The ultimate aim was to increase the state revenues without affecting the prosperity of subjects.

The organization of the treasury and chancery were developed under the Ottoman Empire more than any other Islamic government and, until the 17th century, they were the leading organization among all their contemporaries and has contributed to the success of many great Ottoman statesmen.

Thus, the economic history of the Ottoman Empire which covered a long period from1299 to 1923 can be categorized two distinctive sub periods. The first was the classic era which comprised a closed agricultural economy while the second period was the reformation era that comprised state organized reforms, beginning with the administrative and political structures through to state and public functions.

This site covers all areas Ottoman Empire History Facts. Besides the popular Ottoman topics like rise and fall, leaders, society, economy, Inventions, Religion, it also covers several other areas like comparison with other empires.

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