Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Osman the First was the founder and legendary warrior who established the mighty Ottoman Empire. His visionary and ambitious drive to protect his people and expand their territories would eventually result in the establishment of one of the world’s most powerful and successful empires.
GENESIS OF THE OTTOMAN TURKS
The early ancestors of the Ottoman Turks were a nomadic people who had migrated across the Anatolian plateau towards what is now known as Turkey. For centuries they maintained their presence by breeding livestock, cultivating crops and searching for new pastures.
The Turkic tribes were at that point being led by a valiant warrior whose name was Ertughrul (1231-1280), who was later succeeded by his son Osman (1280-1324). Ertughrul’s army was only a tiny branch from the giant tree of the Turkish people. There were hardly more than two thousand of them living in four hundred tents. But these two thousand men were possessed of such drive that in a few generations they were to establish one of the world's greatest empires, ever.
OSMAN AND HIS DREAM
The Ottoman Empire was founded in Anatolia, approximately six hundred years after the advent of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula. At the helm of this new empire was a noble and courageous military commander and tribal leader known as Osman Ghazy, who according to legendary accounts – was informed in a magnificent dream that his rule and dynasty would spread throughout the land.
This was the dream that foretold the rise of a mighty Islamic empire, one that would rule for 600 years extending its magnificent reach to the footsteps of Vienna.
The full moon rises and sank into my chest until it was hidden from the eye.
Behold, the awesome tree springs forth, firmly entrenched to the earth its leaves and branches grow stronger, as its shade engulfed the glorious horizon.
Alas, four majestic mountains paint my vision . The Caucasus, the Atlas, the Taurus, and Haemus.
Rejoice at the sight before thee, O Osman Gazy! For at the root of this blessed tree flow the Nile, The Tigris, Euphrates and Danube.
Alas, the mountain sides are covered with lush forests. Springs and canals meandering through valleys and rose gardens heading towards cities adorned with domes, minarets, towers, pyramids and obelisks.
High above the heavens, the silver Crescent shines onto the summit the call to prayer filters the air and mingled with the songs of nightingales.
Congregating beneath the interlacing branches of this auspicious tree, its leaves shaped like short bladed swords.
Behold, a mighty wind blows, carrying the leaves towards Persia, Arabia and Rome.
Behold, Constantinople sits like pearl between two continents. A glistening diamond, fixed between sapphires and emeralds, adorns this ring.
Alas, as my yearning hands reach for this ring, and this dream is no more.
Though Osman’s dream has been written off by some scholars as a phantasm the reality of his vision was no mere dream, in fact – for the many competing empires of the day, it became a very real nightmare. What remains of Osman’s biography is enshrouded in a great deal of mystery and obscurity.
EARLY CONQUESTS UNDER OSMAN
Soon after consolidating ranks and gaining new territory, Osman directed his attention to the Byzantines. An ageing empire dating back to 330 AD when Constantine moved to Roman capital from Rome to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. It was once great but never recovered from the blow it took from the bloodthirsty crusaders who had besieged and sacked Constantinople in April 1204, culminating of the Fourth Crusade.
In the spring of 1302, unusually heavy rain water in the North Western region of Turkey flooded the valley floor and changed the course of the river, the fortification built along the riverbed by the Byzantines were now useless and gave Osman and his army an opening to attack. There was already a vacuum of power in North Western Anatolia which also contributed to the situation.
In July of the same year, the Byzantines responded to Osman’s raids and counter attacked with a mercenary army. Osman used a tactic he learned from the Mongols by using a small detachment to lure the Byzantines into a deadly ambush. After soundly defeating a Byzantine force near Nicaea, Osman began settling his forces closer to Byzantine controlled areas. His victory earned him the loyalty of his fighters and by 1307 his army had grown from 400 to 4000, they came to be known as Osmanis.
In the six centuries following Osman’s death, the Osmani Empire would extend to cover three continents
THE FIRST SULTAN
Following his father’s death, Orhan rose to power and began his rule by conquering new cities, the first of such conquests being the city of Bursa which he won by building two castles on either side of the city and blockaded it, starving its inhabitants into submission after 12 years of resistance. Following the victory, Orhan declared himself Sultan and made Bursa the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. Bursa enabled the Osmani dynasty to establish a seat of the government and to mark his dominion over the region, Sultan Orhan built schools and monuments. He even minted his own currency – the first to have done so in Ottoman history. By such efforts, Sultan Orhan had facilitated a cultural transition from the Bedouin life of his ancestors towards a more metropolitan life in Bursa.
Meanwhile, the Byzantine Empire imploded under the pressure of two warring factions resulting in a civil war between Emperor John Cantacuzene and John V Palaeologus. Struggling to defeat his contestant to the throne, Emperor John Cantacuzene solicited the help and support of Sultan Orhan resulting in a clear victory for John Cantacuzene, who rewarded Sultan Orhan by offering his daughter princess Theodora in marriage to the Ottoman Sultan.
Sultan Orhan gained a notable victory over a Byzantine army which attempted to lift the siege of Nice and added the principality of Karesi to his lands. Angora was regained from the Ahi Tribe and Cheembi Castle, Bolayir, Malkara, Chorlou and Tekirdagh were added to Ottoman territories and in just 60 years the Ottoman Empire had been transformed from a group of Nomads into the rulers of over half a million people.
The Ottomans also established themselves as the rightful standard bearers of Muslim civilisation, they set out to manage the vast region they now controlled by leaving the Byzantine clerks in their administrative posts while they focused on organising their new empire. They began their reformation with taxation and record keeping, this was as ambitious as any triumph in battle.
The emergent Empire was ruled by a single dynasty, the house of Osman. Like other empires the Ottoman Empire was multi ethnic and religiously diverse, the population included Turks, Albanians, Serbians, Bosnians, Greeks, Jews and several others.
The Ottoman’s policy of religious tolerance made it easier for them to rule over their Christian subjects, in many areas the Christians welcomed the Ottomans as liberators rather than oppressors as they had freedom of religion and paid less taxes than they had under previous administrations.
After 38 years of rule, Sultan Orhan died. He was succeeded by his son Murad I, who continue to expand the territory.
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