Transformation of the Ottoman Empire

The Transformation of the Ottoman Empire, also known as the Era of Transformation, constitutes a period in the history of the Ottoman Empire from c.1550 to c.1700, spanning roughly from the end of the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent to the Treaty of Karlowitz at the conclusion of the War of the Holy League. This period was characterized by numerous dramatic political, social, and economic changes, which resulted in the empire shifting from an expansionist, patrimonial state into a bureaucratic empire based on an ideology of upholding justice and acting as the protector of Sunni Islam.[1] These changes were in large part prompted by a series of political and economic crises in the late 16th and early 17th centuries,[2][3] resulting from inflation, warfare, and political factionalism.[4] Yet despite these crises the empire remained strong both politically and economically,[5] and continued to adapt to the challenges of a changing world. The 17th century was once characterized as a period of decline for the Ottomans, but since the 1980s historians of the Ottoman Empire have increasingly rejected that characterization, identifying it instead as a period of crisis, adaptation, and transformation.[6]

The Ottoman Empire in 1683, at the peak of its territorial expansion

In the second half of the 16th century, the empire came under increasing economic pressure due to rising inflation, which was then impacting both Europe and the Middle East. Demographic pressure[further explanation needed] in Anatolia contributed to the formation of bandit gangs, which by the 1590s coalesced under local warlords to launch a series of conflicts known as the Celali rebellions. Ottoman fiscal insolvency and local rebellion together with the need to compete militarily against their imperial rivals the Habsburgs and Safavids created a severe crisis. The Ottomans thus transformed many of the institutions which had previously defined the empire, gradually disestablishing the Timar System in order to raise modern armies of musketeers, and quadrupling the size of the bureaucracy in order to facilitate more efficient collection of revenues. In Istanbul, changes in the nature of dynastic politics led to the abandonment of the Ottoman tradition of royal fratricide, and to a governmental system that relied much less upon the personal authority of the sultan. Other figures came to play larger roles in government, particularly the women of the imperial harem, for which much of this period is often referred to as the Sultanate of Women.

The changing nature of sultanic authority led to several political upheavals during the 17th century, as rulers and political factions struggled for control over the imperial government. In 1622 Sultan Osman II was overthrown in a Janissary uprising. His subsequent regicide was sanctioned by the empire's chief judicial official, demonstrating a reduced importance of the sultan in Ottoman politics. Nevertheless, the primacy of the Ottoman dynasty as a whole was never brought into question. Of seventeenth-century sultans, Mehmed IV was the longest reigning, occupying the throne for 39 years from 1648 to 1687. The empire experienced a long period of stability under his reign, spearheaded by the reform-minded Köprülü family of grand viziers. This coincided with a period of renewed conquest in Europe, conquests which culminated in the disastrous Siege of Vienna in 1683 and the fall from grace of the Köprülü family. Following the battle a coalition of Christian powers was assembled to combat the Ottomans, bringing about the fall of Ottoman Hungary and its annexation by the Habsburgs during the War of the Holy League (1683–99). The war provoked another political crisis and prompted the Ottomans to carry out additional administrative reforms. These reforms ended the problem of financial insolvency and made the transformation from a patrimonial to a bureaucratic state a permanent one.