The Ottoman Empire and Eastern Question

We have read in one of the earlier posts that the Holy Roman Empire was divided into two parts:

  1. Western Roman Empire
  2. Eastern Roman Empire

Eastern Roman Empire to Ottoman Empire

Constantinople, Eastern Roman Empire

In 326 CE Constantine founded the city of Constantinople, near the seat of old Byzantium. He shifted the capital of his Empire all the way from old Rome. Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) stands on the edge of Europe looking out towards mighty Asia. It is a kind of link between the two continents.

There was a continuous invasion of barbarian tribes, the Goths. The Western Empire with its capital at Rome did not long survive the shock. This led to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. However, Eastern Roman Empire was hard to withstand the attacks of the Huns and others.

Constantinople not only survived these barbarian attacks but also carried on century after century in spite of continuous fighting against the Arabs and Turks. For approximately 1100 years Eastern Roman Empire survived. At last, it fell in 1453 CE when Ottoman Turks captured the Constantinople.

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire 1453-1683
Ottoman Empire 1453-1683

When the Mongols had advanced across Asia, 50,000 Ottoman Turks came before them. They founded an Empire in Asia Minor region, called Ottoman Empire. They looked up to an ancestor named Othman or Osman. Hence they were called Ottoman or Osmani Turks.

Initially, these Ottomans took refuge under Seljuq Turks in western Asia. When the Seljuq Turks weakened, Ottoman Turks had overthrown the Seljuq Turks and founded the Ottoman Empire. They went on spreading. Instead of attacking Constantinople, Ottoman Turks passed it by and crossed over to Europe in 1353.

They spread rapidly and occupied Bulgaria and Serbia and made Adrianople as their capital. Thus the Ottoman Empire was on the either side of Constantinople, both in Asia and Europe.

Fall of Eastern Roman Empire

Till now, the proud Eastern Roman Empire of 1000 years reduced to just the city of Constantinople and had practically nothing more. Although the Turks were rapidly swallowing up the Eastern Empire, but there were friendly relations between the Sultans and the Emperors. They married into each other’s families. Ultimately in 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks.

Even since then, for nearly 500 years Constantinople or Istanbul as Ottoman Turks called it, has been in the possession of Ottoman Empire. From here they rapidly marched into Europe and came right up to the walls of Vienna.

The Greeks of Constantinople welcomed Ottoman Empire. Initially, they preferred the Turks to the Pope and the western Christians. It is said that during the last siege of Constantinople in 1453 a Byzantine nobleman said:

Better the turban of the Prophet than the tiara of the Pope.

The Turks under the reign of Ottoman Empire built up a peculiar corps, called the Janissaries. This corps of Janissaries became a pillar of the Ottoman Empire. Soon, Ottoman Sultans, by taking Constantinople inherited many of the evil habits if luxury and corruption from their predecessors.

Decline of Ottoman Empire

Almost all the Eastern Europe trembled before the sword of the Ottoman Turks. Pious Christians in the west considered the Turks as the “Scourge of God“. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Asia minor region was ruled in a relatively decentralised manner. The trade, commerce, innovation flourished in their reign.

The Ottoman Empire connected three continent- Europe, Asia and Africa. It was located at the heart of the world trade route between East and West. But, when the incompatible Sultans came to the throne they started disturbing this ancient trade route. This was hurting the trade of European World and annoyed European Powers.

In the north-east side of Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia was growing bigger and bigger. On the other side i.e. South-Eastern Europe, there was a rising nationalistic feeling spread among the various ethnic groups. The Ottoman Turks refused to adapt themselves to the new surroundings. Soon, the Ottoman Empire’s old glory faded. Partly also this was brought about by racial and religious conflict.

In the last phase of the 19th century, Ottoman Empire was in deep trouble. Taking advantage of this condition, Eastern-European countries started declaring their independence. Montenegro (1799), Greece (1821), Serbia (1830) etc. declared their independence from the Ottoman Empire. This led to the power struggle between the Eastern European states. In which main contenders were Russia, Britain and France.

Eastern Question

Eastern Question
Eastern Question

Economic, political and social developments in Europe prepared the script for the First World War. The shooting took place in Eastern Europe under the Banner of “Eastern-Question”.

From the ancient time, the heart of the trade route i.e. Silk Route was in Asia Minor. All important civilisations were born on this route. Russia wanted to have its share on Silk Route, but its three doors were closed. So, the story of modern Russia started from the Peter the Great in the 17th century.

In 1628 Peter the Great came out with “Warm Water Policy”. Under it, Baltic sea and the Black sea became the target of Russia. Russia tried to turn these regions in its zone of influence. The attention of Russia towards Black sea started tension between Russia and Ottoman Empire.

At last in the 18th century, Catherine defeated the Ottoman Empire and compelled them for the treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774. By this treaty, Russia annexed Crimea and turned Crimea into “Oesophagus of Russia”. In the last of the 18th century when eastern European nations stood up against the Turkey. Russia took advantage of this situation and planned to completely eliminate Ottoman Empire.

Conclusion

Russia immediately sided with eastern European nations on the grounds of race and religion. This step of Russia annoyed Britain and France. Because elimination of Ottoman Empire would be led to the dominance of Russia on the Silk route.

The dominance of Russia was not in the favour of Britain and France. In this scenario, Britain and France sided with Ottoman Empire. This involvement of all powers in the affairs of eastern Europe in totality called as Eastern Question. The next important development was Crimean War of 1854.

We will discuss Crimean War of 1854 in next coming post.

Thank you so much. 🙂 Stay Connected. 🙂

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