Ottoman Empire


The Ottoman Empire comprehends all countries over which Turkey has supremacy. The area and population are known only through estimates, the latest of which give the area as 2,406,492 square miles, and the population as 42,209,359. The most important part, that in Europe, was in 1878 greatly reduced in area and population. The latest estimates give the immediate possessions in Europe an area of 63,850 square miles, and a population of 4,490,000. The laws of the empire are based on the precepts of the Koran; the government is in the hands of the Sultan, whose will is absolute, unless opposed to the teachings of the Mohammedan religion. Capital, Constantinople; population, 600,000.

While military service is compulsory on all Mohammedans over eighteen years of age, there are some exemptions, and substitution is allowed. Non-Mohammedans are not liable, but must pay an exemption tax. Number of men under arms, 150,000; actual military strength, about 430,000.

The total value of exports, 1882, was $50,828,895; imports, $87,687,400. Principal exports: fruit, fresh and dried, $7,886,375; wool and mohair, $4,330,020. In 1883, the mercantile navy consisted of 10 steamers, of 8,866 tons; and 391 sailing vessels, of 63,896 tons.

As the Koran encourages public education, public schools have long been in existence in most Turkish towns. The Mohammedans are estimated to number 16,000,000.

The first railroad was constructed in 1865, 45 miles being opened for traffic that year. In 1882 the railroads numbered 1,076 miles, of which 904 were in Europe and 172 in Asia. In 1884 there were 14,617 miles of telegraph and 26,060 miles of wire.

History.—The Osmanlis or Ottoman Turks sprang from a small clan of the Oghuz, who assisted the Seljûk sultan of Iconium, early in the thirteenth century, to resist the Mongol avalanche.

In the fourteenth century, the Turks under Osmân or Othmân conquered the Seljûk kingdom, and became known as Osmânlis or Ottomans. By 1336 they pushed their way to the Hellespont; under Murâd I. (Amurath) they occupied Adrianople and Philippopolis, received homage from the kings of Servia and Bulgaria, and practically held all the Balkan peninsula except Constantinople, which, after much fighting, fell before Mohammed II. in 1453. In the same century they conquered Albania, Greece, and the Crimea; and in the sixteenth century Syria, Egypt, Tunis, Hungary, and South Russia, and had wars with the Russians, Persians, and Venetians.

Their star began to decline in the seventeenth century; in 1682 they were driven back from Vienna, and lost Hungary, Transylvania, and Podolia. In the eighteenth century the Russians were their most successful enemies, wresting from them the territories from the Dniester to the Caspian. Greece attained independence in 1828, though Egypt failed to throw off its allegiance. The Crimean war (1854-1857) was fought in aid of the Turks against the Russians.

The next great crisis was the Russian war of 1877-1878. The worst Armenian massacres were in 1895-1896. Turkey held her own against Greece in 1897.

Abdul Hamid was deposed and constitutional government nominally established in 1908. But unrest and intrigue still prevent settled conditions.

Until the disastrous war of 1912-1913 with the States of the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Greece, Servia, and Montenegro) the European dominions of Turkey extended westwards to the Adriatic and northwards to Bosnia-Herzegovina (Austria). Under the Treaty of London in 1913 the northwest portion of Turkey was a line drawn from Enos, in the Ægean, to Midia, in the Black Sea, thus excluding Adrianople, which had capitulated to the Bulgarians after a prolonged siege.

During the second Balkan war (Bulgaria against the other members of the Balkan States) Turkey took advantage of the military difficulties of Bulgaria and reoccupied Adrianople, thus recovering a considerable portion of the province of that name. In 1911-1912 Turkey lost the remaining portion of her African possessions through the occupation by Italy of Tripoli and Cyrenaica, which were ceded under the Treaty of Ouchy(1912).

Turkey joined forces with the Austro-Germans in November, 1914, and attacked Russia and invaded Egyptian territory. Far more important than any of the Turkish operations, however, was the attempt of England and France, in 1915, to force the passage of the Dardanelles, so as to take much needed supplies of arms and ammunition to Russia and in turn enable her to export the enormous stocks of wheat which had piled up at her Black Sea ports.


This Obelisk from Thebes, of rose colored granite, sixty feet high, was transported hither by Theodosius the Great, A. D. 390-395, and shows traces of bas-reliefs of that date, and Egyptian hieroglyphs thirty centuries old.

A combined English and French fleet, therefore, attempted to force the passage of the Dardanelles, battering at the Turkish forts from February 21 to March 18, when they attempted to force the Narrows, but were repulsed, with the loss of the British battleships Irresistible  and Ocean, and the French battleships Bouvet  and Gaulois, in addition to serious injury to a number of other warships engaged.


in the Beshiktash suburb, some distance north of Galata. The present Sultan resides in the Palace of Yildiz.

A joint land and sea expedition was subsequently sent to accomplish what the fleets had failed to achieve.

The most desperate fighting continued there from the beginning of May. The allies employed British and French regulars—the famous Foreign Legion of France, British colonials from Australia and New Zealand, and troops from Egypt, the Soudan and North Africa—but they failed to capture the summits of the hills that command the Narrows and the great Turkish forts.

The land forces had the constant support of British and French fleets, which engaged the defenses at close range.

On May 11 the British battleship Goliath  was sunk, and two weeks later a German submarine made its way through the straits of Gibraltar, succeeded in torpedoing the British battleship Triumph  and the Majestic  and Agamemnon.

On January 9, 1916, the British and French forces entirely withdrew from the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the attempt to force the Dardanelles was abandoned.

Internal Communications.—The railways of Turkey have made great strides in recent years. Constantinople is now in direct communication with Salonica and Monastir by means of a coastal line, and with Sophia, Nisch, and Belgrade, by means of a line passing up the Maritza Valley, through Adrianople and Philipopolis, and thence over a pass between the Balkans and Rhodope Mountains. Salonica is further united with Uskub and Mitrevitza.

The postal and telegraphic services are a long way behind those of other European countries, and foreign nations still find it necessary to maintain their own post-offices in the large towns and ports.

Bagdad Railroad.—The most important step in the industrial progress of Turkey in modern times is the concession for the construction of the Bagdad Railroad, which, when completed, will connect the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf.

By a provisional convention, preference was given to a German company in 1903. England had a particular interest in the proposed scheme, as the line suggested would provide a short route to India; accordingly, in 1903, the British government objected to the railway being placed under German control, and discussion followed with a view to putting the line under international control. By the agreement of 1903 it was decided the German group should control forty per cent of the capital, the French, through the Imperial Ottoman Bank, thirty per cent, the Austrian, Italian, Swiss, and Turkish twenty per cent, and the Anatolian Railway ten per cent. In 1904, one hundred and twenty-four miles of the line were completed, from Konieh, through Eregli, to Bugurlu. In 1908 sanction was given to extend the line eastwards from Bugurlu across the Taurus to Adana.

The total length of the line will be one thousand five hundred and fifty miles and will run through Aintab and Berejik to Mosul, thence along the right bank of the Tigris to Bagdad.

TURKEY, or Ottoman Empire , comprises the wide but heterogeneous territories really or nominally subject to the Osmânlî Sultan, in Europe, Asia, and Africa. These territories, which once extended from the Danube to the cataracts of the Nile, and from the Euphrates to the borders of Morocco, have been greatly reduced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Asiatic Turkey  is now the true center of gravity of the empire; it includes Anatolia (the great plateau of Asia Minor), the lowlands of Mesopotamia, the highlands of Kurdistan and Armenia, and the island of Samos. The total area of the empire has been estimated as follows:

Area in Square Miles
Turkey in Europe 12,000
Turkey in Asia:
Anatolia 193,800
Armenia and Kurdistan 72,600
Mesopotamia and Syria 244,460
Turkish Arabia 172,000
Total 694,860
Estimated Population
Turkey in Europe 2,755,000
Turkey in Asia:
Anatolia 9,175,000
Armenia and Kurdistan 2,500,000
Mesopotamia and Syria 4,650,000
Turkish Arabia 1,100,000
Total 20,150,000

Of the above totals only 700,000 square miles (with a population of 21,000,000) are directly under Turkish government.

European Turkey  consists of the provinces of Adrianople, Constantinople and Chatalja, and is separated from Asia by the Bosphorus at Constantinople and by the Dardanelles (Hellespont), the only political neighbor being Bulgaria, on the northwest.


The Bosphorus, the straight connecting the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea, is so-called after Io, who swam over it in the shape of a heifer. On the western shore is the city of Constantinople. The Bosphorus at this point is about five hundred and fifty yards wide.

Physical Features.—Turkey in Europe is a mountainous country and the chief physical features as it is now limited is the strait of Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. The Bosphorus, which guards the approach to the Black Sea from the Sea of Marmora, is at the same time the focus of all maritime trade between the Mediterranean and Russia, etc., as well as of the overland routes from Europe into Asia Minor. It has fitly been likened to a tortuous river valley over whose wooded banks are scattered forts and towers, cities and villages, castles and parks. The southern gate of the Sea of Marmora is the Dardanelles, which gives an opening into the Ægean.

Turkey in Asia is still more mountainous. The two almost parallel ranges, Taurus and Anti-Taurus, which are the basis of its mountain system, cover almost the whole of the peninsula of Asia Minor or Anatolia with their ramifications and offshoots, forming the surface into elevated plateaus, deep valleys, and enclosed plains. From the Taurus chain the Lebanon range proceeds southwards parallel to the coast of Syria, and, diminishing in elevation in Palestine, terminates on the Red Sea coast at Sinai.

The Euphrates, Tigris, Orontes, and Kizil-Ermak are the chief rivers. (See Asia Minor.)

Climate.—The climate of Turkey in Asia is as varied as the physical features. The great plateau on the north has a distinctly continental climate, rigorous severe winters with intense scorching heat in summer; in the eastern part of the plateau region the mountains are covered with snow for two-thirds of the year, and some of the principal ranges are capped with perpetual snow; here the peasants build their dwellings underground to escape the severity of the seasons. Towards the west the winters are not quite so severe, but the variations of temperature are excessive.

Products and Industry.—The soil of European Turkey is for the most part very fertile, and the cultivated products include most of those usual in central and southern Europe—maize, rice, rye, barley, millet, besides tobacco madder, and cotton. The mineral products are iron in abundance, argentiferous lead ore, copper, sulphur, salt, alum, and a little gold; some deposits of coal have been found, but none are worked. Sheep-breeding is largely carried on.

In Asiatic Turkey the mineral wealth is great; coal and iron are found together in considerable quantities; rich mines of copper exist in the mountains on the south of the Black Sea, and in the Taurus near Diarbekir lead and silver are found at intervals along a line connecting Angora, Sivas, and Trebizond in the north, and the eastern Taurus in the south; green, black, and white marble, and the finest quality of granite, are to be had in many parts of the mountain section.

With a fertile arable soil and a suitable climate, nearly every agricultural product flourishes. Oats, barley, and wheat are produced in great abundance. Almost all kinds of garden produce and orchard fruits abound, grapes and oranges are to be had all round the Mediterranean coast, as well as the choicest tobacco, opium, valonia and madder.

The mulberry is everywhere cultivated for feeding the silkworms, and cotton is grown in most of the western valleys. Vast groves of boxwood and other valuable trees clothe the seaward slopes of the hills. Dates are produced for export in the Babylonian plain, where wheat is indigenous. Petroleum and bitumen springs are found in the Euphrates valley.

Angora is famous for its flocks of goats, which produce the mohair of commerce, and enormous quantities of wool come from the countless flocks of sheep tended by the wandering Bedouin and Kurd shepherds.

There are at present no manufactures worth mention. The sponge fisheries of the Mediterranean are a source of great wealth.

Commerce.—The exports include tobacco, cereals, fruits, silk, opium, mohair, cotton, coffee, skins, wool, oil-seeds, valonia, carpets, etc., and are largely derived from the Asiatic provinces. Recently large quantities of wine and of raisins for the manufacture of wine have been exported. Since the establishment of the Anatolian railway by German enterprise the export of cereals, chiefly malting barley, has largely increased.

People.—The population consists of a singular mixture of races. Turks, Greeks, Slavs, and Albanians are largely represented, besides Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Tartars, Jews, Circassians, and Frank residents. 

The established religion is Islam or Mohammedanism, but most other creeds are recognized and tolerated. The Protestant religion was for the first time officially recognized in 1845.

Education in all departments has of late been notably improved and has largely contributed to the complete overthrow of the antiquated and despotic system of government.

Government.—Until 1908 the government of Turkey was a pure despotism. An amazing change was swiftly and peacefully carried through in the autumn of that year. In connection with the troubles in Macedonia between Christians and Moslems, Greeks and Bulgarians, a Turkish military revolt took place, which, under the guidance of the “Young-Turkish” party (mostly educated abroad), became a great national movement. The sultan, overawed, had to acquiesce; parliamentary government was planned and carried out; equality before the law proclaimed to all races and religions of the empire; and a large measure of local self-government promised not merely to Turks but to Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Armenians, Syrians, Kurds and Arabs.

The enormous difficulties of the crisis were complicated by Bulgaria proclaiming its independence, and Austria-Hungary annexing the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But government by a national assembly has taken root in Turkey.

The term “Sublime Porte,” sometimes given to the Turkish government, is derived from the name of the chief gate of Constantinople.

Cities.—Of the towns by far the most populous is the capital, Constantinople (1,200,000), while after it come Adrianople (83,000), which by reason of its central position in the Maritza valley, commands an extensive inland commerce, Midia, and Gallipoli, the chief port on the Dardanelles.

The principal towns of Asiatic Turkey are Smyrna, 260,000; Bagdad, 150,000; Damascus, 150,000; Aleppo, 125,000; Beyrout, 120,000; Scutari in Anatolia, 80,000, and Broussa, 80,000.