Social Causes of Ottoman decline : Social Development

Social Causes of Ottoman decline

From the birth of the Ottoman state under Osman Gazi through its period of unrivaled power in the mid-1500s, the center of the Ottoman Empire was always the sultan. The Ottoman Empire was a dynastic one, so when a sultan died, his son would become the new sultan. These early sultans all took great pride in their jobs and had a central role in the direction of the empire. Sultans oversaw governmental meetings, hired and fired officials, and personally led military campaigns to the edges of the empire.

However, there was one aspect of the sultanate that was never fully formalized – succession. The early years of the Ottoman Empire were beget by numerous civil wars, as sons would fight each other for power after their father had died. Usually it was not much of a problem, as the sultans would make it clear which of their sons they preferred. At other times, however, wars within the empire lasted for years and were horribly destructive to the power of the empire.

Seeking to solve this problem, Sultan Ahmed I (reigned 1603-1617) instituted a new system for choosing sultans. Instead of a sultan’s sons being governors within the empire until their father died, they would stay at the palace in Istanbul until their time came. In most cases, they actually were not even allowed to leave the palace. This essentially made them prisoners until they became sultans.

While the intentions of Ahmed I were probably righteous, the effects of his policy were disastrous. Instead of sultans coming to the throne with experience in governance and policy, they were usually ignorant of anything but the pleasures of palace life. They were completely incompetent as rulers of a powerful empire. The 300 year old tradition of sultans being the powerful, resourceful, and able leaders of the Ottoman State was over. To give some context, the Ottoman sultans saw their job primarily as the commander-in-chief of the army. All Ottoman sultans led their armies into battle and saw that as a central aspect to their job. However, Sultan Murad IV was the last Ottoman sultan to lead his army into battle in 1638.

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