Ottoman Empire



Enver Pasha, 1881-1922

The BBC produced a fascinating documentary on the Ottoman Empire in World War I with rare footage. This is archived online on Youtube in several parts.

Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5

from Sabah, Nisan 2, 2013

The last 77 members of the Ottoman dynasty, which are spread out throughout a wide geography spanning from the United States to Jordan, are now in communication with one another through a group formed on the popular social networking website Facebook.

Some were forced to get by through selling pages of gold-engraved Korans. Others were forced to sleep on the coast and to travel by coal trains. Then there were the ones who died before being able to scramble up the money for a ticket to return to their homeland when Turkey finally granted permission for the members of the Ottoman dynasty to return after being forced to spend 50 years in exile. The remaining members of the dynasty who were forced into exile following the downfall of the Ottoman Empire gathered for the first time ever in the London Embassy in February in an event hosted by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

SABAH went and knocked on the door of one of the remaining members of the Ottoman family who resides in England. The oldest remaining member of the dynasty, Osman Selaheddin Osmanoğlu, who is the grandson to Sultan Murad V, relayed to us his experience of being one of the remaining members of such a legacy:

THEY TRAVELLED FROM COUNTRY TO COUNTRY: “My father, Ali Vasıb Efendi was born in the Çırağan Palace. He was a graduate of Galatasaray High School and was sent into exile at the age of 21. They first went to Budapest, Hungary where they stayed for six months. Then he and my grandfather settled in Nice, France where they lived for 11 years. My mother is the granddaughter of Sultan Mehmed V. They later went to Egypt, which became a central location for members of the Ottoman dynasty. I was born there during World War II.” (more…)


A Seated Scribe, 1479-80, Attributed to Gentile Bellini, Italian, 1429–1507

The painting above is located in the Gardner Art Museum in Boston. Here is the description posted on their website:

Curious visitors who lift the cover from the unassuming Seated Scribe will be richly rewarded by what they see: an intimate painting in miniature of a young member of the Ottoman court bent intently over a writing pad. Dressed in a navy velvet caftan woven with gold, the elegant youth wears bright silks at his arms and neck. The generous folds of his turban hold in place a ribbed, red taj – headgear worn in the court milieu of Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (1432–1481), who nurtured a passionate interest in portraiture and particularly in western traditions of the genre.

Striking for its gleaming tones and stunning delicacy of line, the Seated Scribe is spectacular not only visually, but also in historiographic terms. The painting’s original dimensions have been trimmed, and a later hand has taken care not only to embellish the image, but also to frame, mount, and, ultimately, historicize it. An added inscription in Persian records the image as the “work of Ibn Muezzin who was a famous painter among the Franks.” Scholars have never doubted that a European or “Frankish” artist painted the Seated Scribe. The pressing issue of late has been who, precisely? Whether the Venetian Gentile Bellini, a renowned portraitist sent to Istanbul in 1479, or Costanzo da Ferrara, a court artist at Naples who also sojourned at the Porte, the specificity of detail in the Seated Scribe leaves little doubt that the artist drew from life.

Once the debate over attribution subsides, the more intriguing issue to raise is whether one can call the work a portrait. Might western pictorial realism have been the point of the exercise? A pronounced crease just above the youth’s elbow suggests the image was initially handled as a loose-leaf, autonomous work of art before being mounted (and in this way preserved) in a sixteenth-century album. Like other western-style works Mehmed II commissioned or obtained during his sultanate, the Seated Scribe may have been used as a pedagogic tool for rising artists of the Ottoman royal workshop. A slightly later copy of the miniature (Freer Gallery of Art, Washington) certainly affirms its value for Ottoman and Persian artists as a pictorial model worthy of imitation. If the pictured youth is not a scribe but an artist, shown in the act of drawing while he himself is being drawn according to Western pictorial practices, the Seated Scribe taught by poignant example – it sits indeed at the nexus of Ottoman art and European traditions of representation.

Source: Susan Spinale, “A Seated Scribe,” in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 97.

When the British diplomat Claudius James Rich wrote his travel account of Kurdistan, little was known in Europe about the history of the Kurds as a distinct cultural group. At the end of his narrative, Rich provides a table of major events in the then “recent” history of the Kurds, as noted below:

(more…)


Ottoman ensemble in a Suleymaniye manuscript

For anyone interested in Ottoman music, or music as such, check out the nice webpage just uploaded in the Ottoman History Podcast.

Ottoman Classical Music: History and Transformations
with Mehmet Uğur Ekinci
74. Music of the Ottoman Court

While the Ottoman Empire was undoubtedly home to rich and diverse musical traditions, the subject of Ottoman music has often evaded historical analysis due to the scant nature of pre-nineteenth century sources on the subject. In this podcast, Mehmet Uğur Ekinci provides a general outline of the history of music during the Ottoman period along with its various waves of transformation and discusses his upcoming publication of Kevserî Mecmûası, an eighteenth century musical treatise that provides a rare glimpse of notation in Ottoman music before the nineteenth century. We also provide a number of recordings of Ottoman music composed during different periods.

[One of the great moral tales of the 18th century is Voltaire’s (1759) Candide, a book well worth reading and rereading from time to time. Here is an excerpt from the end of the book, but it is not Orientalism in the Saidian sense of negative portrayal; indeed it is the honest Turk which stands in contrast to tyrants of all stripes.]

During this conversation, news was spread abroad that two viziers of the bench and the mufti had just been strangled at Constantinople, and several of their friends impaled. This catastrophe made a great noise for some hours. Pangloss, Candide, and Martin, as they were returning to the little farm, met with a good-looking old man, who was taking the air at his door, under an alcove formed of the boughs of orange trees. Pangloss, who was as inquisitive as he was disputative, asked him what was the name of the mufti who was lately strangled.

“I cannot tell,” answered the good old man; “I never knew the name of any mufti, or vizier breathing. I am entirely ignorant of the event you speak of; I presume that in general such as are concerned in public affairs sometimes come to a miserable end; and that they deserve it: but I never inquire what is doing at Constantinople; I am contented with sending thither the produce of my garden, which I cultivate with my own hands.” (more…)


In a previous post I presented an account of the geography of Arabia and Turkey in an 1879 geography school text. Here is the discussion on the European part of the declining Ottoman Empire:

1. TURKEY, constituting the European dominion of the Ottoman Empire, comprises the middle portion of the great southeastern peninsula of Europe.
2. The Climate in some places is severe, but is healthful and favorable to the growth of all the common cereals.
3. The Soil is productive, yielding in abundance the useful grains, tobacco, and grapes, as well as the olive and mulberry. Much attention is given to the culture of plants yielding medicines and perfumes. (more…)


In a previous post I continued a thread from an 1879 school geography text. At the time much of the Arab World was under the control, nominal at times, of the Ottoman Empire. This text divided the Ottoman holdings into those in Asia, discussed below, and those in Europe, to be given in a separate post.

1. Arabia is a great plateau, abounding in deserts, and possessing but few fertile districts, except along the coast. Its area is about 1,000,000 square miles.
2. The Climate is the dryest in the world, rain seldom falling anywhere, and the heat being intense, especially in the lowlands and deserts.
Arabia has been divided into three parts: – ARABIA FELIX, happy or fertile; ARABIA PETRAE, stony; and ARABIA DESERTA, desert. The fist of these divisions borders on the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea; the second lies on the northeastern shore of the Red Sea; and the third includes all of the central portion of the country. The cultivated tracts are generally near the mountains, from which rivers descend in the rainy season and thus enrich the soil. Numerous oases re found in the desert regions. (more…)

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