The decline of the Ottoman Empire began after the end of the reign of Suleiman I and continued until the end of World War I. The official reaction to this decline went through different phases: that of the traditional reform (1566 – 1807), in which several attempts were made to restore the old institutions, and that of the modern reform (1807 – 1918), in the one in which the old methods were abandoned in favor of more modern ones from the West.
Reasons for decline
Until the middle of the 16th century The sultans relied on both the Turkish aristocracy and the Christian devshirme to carry out the administration of the Empire, ensuring that there was a certain balance between the two groups; However, during the reign of Suleiman, Christian converts gained control of power and began to exploit the state for their own benefit. At the same time, the Empire began to suffer from a population surplus as a consequence, in part, of the establishment of a stable peace. The high birth rates in both rural and urban areas were the result of unemployment caused by the limited availability of land and by the restrictive economic policies established for urban unions. Jobless, the oppressed masses formed groups of bandits whose activities affected both cities and towns. With a government made up of an incompetent ruling class and dubious moral integrity, the lands ceased to be cultivated and the Empire suffered severe endemic epidemics and diseases, as a result of which entire districts, sometimes even provinces, fell under the control of the notables of the provinces. In addition, the millets and guilds increased their autonomy and carried out the functions of the government whenever they considered it necessary. At the same time, nation states were beginning to emerge in Europe far more powerful than those that the Ottoman Empire had faced in previous centuries.
The Ottoman reaction to this decline was not very decisive for different reasons: firstly, the European countries were very busy with their own affairs, confronted by political and religious questions; For at least a century, the Ottoman Empire made no effort to take advantage of this situation; second, most of the members who belonged to the ruling class benefited from chaos that allowed them to make huge profits. Finally, the Ottomans assumed that the Islamic world was still ahead of Christian Europe, so the ruling class did not find the need for changes or reforms, favoring political and cultural isolation, being unable to increase the power they had established in Europe long ago.
However, Europe began to make attempts to achieve the internal weakening of the Ottoman Empire. In 1571, a fleet made up of several Catholic countries and led by the Spanish Juan de Austria advanced towards the eastern Mediterranean and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto. This victory was counteracted with the construction of a new fleet with which the Ottomans resumed naval control of the eastern Mediterranean that they would be able to maintain for another half century. However, in Europe began to have the impression that the Ottomans were not invincible, and the war against Austria (1593 – 1606), forced the Sultan to withdraw the taxes that Austria had previously agreed to pay; all this made Europe pay attention to the situation of the Ottoman Empire.
Reforms and losses
Only when there were foreign attacks that affected the privileges and wealth of the ruling class was it accepted to implement some type of reform. In 1623, Shah Abbas I the Great of Iran conquered Baghdad and eastern Iraq and incited several Turkmen revolts in eastern Anatolia. In response, Sultan Murat IV established the so-called traditional reforms that were supported by the ruling class and the Army. After the ruthless execution of thousands of members of the guilds (without respecting Islamic law and tradition), the Iranians were expelled from Iraq and the conquests in the Caucasus began (1638). On Murat’s death the previous decline resumed. A long war broke out with Venice (1645 – 1669), which came to bombard Istanbul ; The seriousness of the situation caused Sultan Mehmet IV (reigned between 1648 – 1687) to hand over the government, with full powers, to the Grand Vizier Mehmet Köprülü, a member of an Albanian family, thus initiating a dynasty of viziers (heads of government) who It lasted until the beginning of the 18th century and it aimed to carry out the most important reform attempt of the Ottoman Empire.
According to THESCIENCETUTOR, the restoration of Ottoman power spurred the last of the great Köprülü viziers, Kara Mustafá Pachá, to make further attempts to conquer Vienna in 1683. After a long siege, the Ottoman army was totally defeated, which made possible the creation of a new League formed by Austria and Venice, with the support of Poland and Russia that conquered some European areas of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) confirmed the loss of Hungary and Transylvania to Austria, Podolia and southern Ukraine to Poland, and Azov and the lands north of the Black Sea for Russia.
Few gains and many losses
At the beginning of the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire showed sufficient internal strength to correct mistakes and adopt new European weapons and tactics, even to the point of regaining some territories. In 1711, the Ottomans destroyed a campaign organized by Tsar Peter I the Great, after which they forced him to return the lost territories in Karlowitz; however, the war against Venice and Austria (1714 – 1717) meant the loss of Belgrade and northern Serbia. This stimulated a new era of reforms aimed at the Europeanization of the country during the reign of Ahmed III (1703 – 1730), Which is known as ‘period tulips’ (1715 – 1730); The Ottoman army was reorganized and modernized in keeping with this effort during the reign (1730 – 1754) of Mahmud I, when the French artillery officer Claude de Bonneval, with the help of Humbaraci Ahmed Pachá, created a new European-style artillery corps.
When the war against Russia and Austria broke out (1736 – 1739), the Ottomans were able to regain most of the lost territories in northern Serbia and on the northern shores of the Black Sea. Then followed a period of peace with the European powers, partly thanks to wars between them; but this truce made the ruling class believe once again that the danger had passed and put an end to the modernizing reforms of the Empire, maintaining its decline. The Ottomans succumbed in the two disastrous wars that took place between 1768 and 1792, and there were new losses of territories with what the Empire was close to a total collapse.