The Ottomans

Khans, Caesars, and Caliphs


By Marc David Baer

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This major new history of the Ottoman dynasty reveals a diverse empire that straddled East and West.
The Ottoman Empire has long been depicted as the Islamic, Asian antithesis of the Christian, European West. But the reality was starkly different: the Ottomans’ multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious domain reached deep into Europe’s heart. Indeed, the Ottoman rulers saw themselves as the new Romans. Recounting the Ottomans’ remarkable rise from a frontier principality to a world empire, historian Marc David Baer traces their debts to their Turkish, Mongolian, Islamic, and Byzantine heritage. The Ottomans pioneered religious toleration even as they used religious conversion to integrate conquered peoples. But in the nineteenth century, they embraced exclusivity, leading to ethnic cleansing, genocide, and the empire’s demise after the First World War.  
The Ottomans vividly reveals the dynasty’s full history and its enduring impact on Europe and the world. 



To make the book accessible to the general reader, Ottoman and Turkish names have been rendered in modern Turkish spelling, and non-English terms have been translated into English. Those Arabic, Ottoman, and Turkish words generally known in English, such as pasha, sheikh, and the like, are presented in their English forms.

The Turkish letters and their pronunciation are as follows:

c as j in John

ç as ch in church

ğ is silent; it lengthens the preceding vowel

ı as i in cousin

ş as sh in ship

Istanbul or Constantinople? Despite the fact that the name Constantinople was used by the Ottomans themselves, it is convention to call the Byzantine city of Constantinople by that name only until the Ottoman conquest in 1453, and thereafter to use the name Istanbul, which derives from the Greek stin poli (to the city), the name officially given to the city only after the fall of the empire and the birth of the Turkish Republic in 1923. This book follows that convention.

Because the Ottomans used the term ‘Anatolia’ to refer to Southwest Asia/Asia Minor, this is the term used in this book. Likewise, the region often referred to as the Balkans—but which the Ottomans called Rûmeli (land of the Romans)—is rendered as ‘Rûm’. The approximate English translation of this is Southeastern Europe, the term most often used in this book.



Gazi Osman and Orhan

THE OTTOMAN STORY begins at the end of the thirteenth century, with one group of Turkic peoples among many. Turks and Mongols had dominated the political landscape of West Asia since the eleventh century. Osman (reigned ca. 1288–ca. 1324), the eponymous founder of the Ottoman dynasty, was one of the Muslim Turkic nomadic horsemen who migrated to Christian-majority Anatolia (the Asian part of modern-day Turkey). He was part of the wave of western migration of Turkic herdsmen with their sheep and horses that was part of the expansion of the great Mongol Empire from East and Central Asia. With a motley crew of mounted nomadic warriors—armed with bows, arrows, and swords—Muslim Sufis (mystics), Christian brothers-in-arms, and allied princes, Osman battled Christians and Turks alike in northwest Anatolia, established a small chieftaincy, and bequeathed it to his son Orhan, who greatly expanded it.

Turcoman, or Turkish groups of Central Asian origin, sought grazing land on the marches, unhindered by empires, sultanates, and principalities. The Turcoman established chieftaincies on the borderlands between the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire to the west and the Turkic and Mongol empires to the east. The Muslim-Turkic Great Seljuk Empire (1037–1118) defeated the Byzantines at Malazgirt (Manzikert) near Lake Van in 1071, opening the eastern end of the central plateau of Anatolia to unhindered Turcoman migration. The rout of the Byzantine army and their emperor in an ambush in a mountain pass at Myriokephalon in 1176 by the Great Seljuk Empire’s successor in Anatolia, the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm (1077–1307), opened the western end. Having been weakened by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Byzantines could do little to stop them. The Latin Christians captured Constantinople from their Greek Orthodox Christian rivals during the Fourth Crusade and held it for over fifty years, resulting in the partitioning of the Byzantine Empire. The Mongols paid them little heed, having no interest in western Anatolia. The Mongol defeat of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm in 1243 at Köse Dağ in northeastern Anatolia, which made the Seljuks as well as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia into tribute-paying vassals, sent larger waves of Turcoman herdsmen and their animals westward.

The religiously tolerant and eclectic Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire in the history of the world, controlled most of Eurasia at the time—save the westernmost part of the landmass, or Europe. Its eastern half was the empire of the Great Khans (the Yuan dynasty of China, 1206–1368). Its western half was divided into three realms, whose leaders converted from shamanism or Buddhism to Islam. The Kipchak Khanate or Golden Horde (1224–1391), north of the Caspian and Black Seas, included Kiev and Moscow. The Chagatai Khanate (1227–1358) in the centre in Transoxania, included Samarkand in today’s Uzbekistan. And the Ilkhanate Khanate (1255–1353) in the south, based in Persia, contained the cities of Bukhara, Baghdad, and Tabriz, and controlled what is today Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and most of Anatolia.

The first generation of Ilkhanids, who plundered Baghdad and ended the storied Abbasid Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid in Iraq and Iran in 1258, were originally heavy-drinking adherents of Tibetan Buddhism who favoured the Chinese arts and employed Christian ambassadors and Jewish government ministers.1 But in 1295, under the former Buddhist Ghazan Khan, they converted to Islam. Smashing Buddhist temples in their capital of Tabriz, the Ilkhanids became some of the greatest benefactors of Islamic art, architecture, and literature.2 Although they continued to build towers of severed heads as grand spectacle to dishonour their enemies and instil fear in the survivors, they also constructed some of the most monumental and beautiful mosques the world has ever seen, glazed in brilliant blue tile.3

An Ilkhanate vassal state, the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm, based in Iconium (Konya) in southwestern Anatolia, ruled part of eastern Anatolia. The Greek Kingdom of Trebizond on the Black Sea was to the north, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia on the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and various Arab and Kurdish principalities were peppered throughout Anatolia. To the far west stood the Byzantine Empire—based in Constantinople and the seat of the Orthodox Church—which still ruled part of western Anatolia.

In the thirteenth century, the majority of the population of Anatolia was Christian, mainly Armenian or Greek. A sizeable minority was made up of Muslim Turcoman, who had brought Islam to Anatolia from the east. Not all of the Turkic migrants were Muslim, however. Some Turcoman were Buddhist, Manichean (believing in a cosmic struggle between dark and light), or Nestorian Christian (uniquely denying that Christ’s human and divine natures are united in a single person). Some still followed the Central Asian custom of exposing corpses to the open air until they were pure and could be buried.4 A minority of Jews lived in urban centres. Most Muslims, the other demographic minority, were new to their faith. The Turkic peoples of the Central Asian steppe had originally been shaman, following ecstatic religious figures who communicated with the spirits through trances. But as they had migrated west, they had become Buddhist, Jewish, Manichean, Nestorian Christian, Taoist, and Zoroastrian. The preaching and alleged miracle working of Muslim spiritualists known as Sufis travelling along the Silk Road compelled others to become Muslim.

Anatolia at the time was an unstable patchwork controlled by Mongol forces, Armenian kingdoms, Byzantine Greek princes and governors, and other Turcoman, Arab, and Kurdish principalities, frequently at war.

At the far southwestern tip of Asia and the western end of the Silk Road, on the frontier between Christian Byzantium to the west and the Islamic Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm in the east, more than a dozen Turkic Muslim principalities emerged and disappeared between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. Most are forgotten today. The only principality we remember is the one that lasted the longest, the Osmanlı, named after Osman. The drama and tragedy of the Ottoman dynasty begins as the curtain rises on this nomadic warrior.


According to the story the Ottomans would tell centuries later about their origins, Osman’s grandfather was Suleiman Shah. After Suleiman Shah was swept away along with his horse by the mighty Euphrates river in northern Syria, his sons, including one named Ertuğrul, travelled northeast along the route of the same river and settled in northeastern Anatolia in the regions of Erzincan, Erzurum, and Sürmeli Çukur (today Iğdır, Turkey). Ertuğrul had three sons. One was named Osman. With their hundreds of nomad tents, Ertuğrul and his followers perpetually sought the most suitable land for their clan and hardy animals. Wishing to go raiding in that part of land that had fallen under the sovereignty of a vassal of the Mongol khan of the Ilkhanate Empire, the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm, Ertuğrul asked Sultan Ala al-Din for permanent grazing grounds on which to build a homeland.5 We do not know whether it was Sultan Ala al-Din I, or II, or III, or whether it was the middle of the thirteenth or the late thirteenth century. It is much more likely that Ertuğrul and his sons were actually part of the mass wave of migrants moving with or ahead of the Mongol irruption in the east and were not connected to the Seljuks.6

The Ottomans would later claim that Ertuğrul and his sons had been sent by the Seljuks westward, passing through Ankara to settle in Söğüt in northwestern Anatolia.7 Söğüt is located in a valley at the foot of rolling hills fifty kilometres northwest of the ancient city of Dorylaeum (today’s Eskişehir). Centuries later, Ottoman chroniclers remembered Söğüt being located between Osman’s first two conquests, what they termed the Christian castles of Bilecik (thirty kilometres to the north) and Karaca Hisar (outside Eskişehir). But Karaca Hisar was actually in the hands of their rival Turcoman Muslim principality, the Germiyan.8

When Ertuğrul died and his tomb was erected in Söğüt, Osman succeeded him in that frontier town, although we do not know in what capacity, holding what title, or ruling in whose name. We know that Seljuks battled Mongols. Since the majority of the Mongol armies were made up of Turkic horse nomads, this meant Turks fought Turks. Much later, after the Mongols were no longer present in Anatolia, yet while multiple Sunni Muslim Turkic rivals abounded, Ottoman chroniclers searched for a way to distinguish their ancestors. They concocted a bizarre story of emasculating the enemy to turn the Ottomans into the legitimate heirs of the Seljuks, thereby distancing themselves from the Mongols and Ghazan Khan, to whom Osman actually owed his liege.9 They related that one field of battle was known as ‘the Plain of Testicles’ because the victorious Seljuks cut the testicles off the defeated Mongol troops, sewed the skins together, covered them with felt, and made tent awnings out of them.10


The use of tents reminds us that the Ottomans originated among a nomadic people. The Ottoman Empire first took root in that region of Anatolia most resembling the steppes of Central Asia. The great central plateau of Anatolia, which rises to one thousand metres and has the great salt lake Tuz Gölü at its centre, is a semiarid steppe grassland characterised by warm, dry summers and very cold winters. It receives little rainfall, has very few forests, provides little water or wood, and is largely unsuitable for cultivation. Ringed by mountain ranges and surrounded on three sides by coastlands and their ancient Byzantine and Armenian cities, ports, and agrarian regions, the central plateau offered ideal conditions for the nomad. Befitting his Turco-Mongol background, Osman is described in the Ottoman chronicles as having lived a nomadic lifestyle.11 He migrated with his herds of horses, oxen, goats, and sheep annually between summer and winter pastures, the former in the hills, the latter in the valleys.

Nomadic men such as Osman relied on strong, independent women who played leadership roles or provided much of the labour that sustained their lifestyle. Arabs travelling on the steppe in Central Asia to the Kipchak Khanate were surprised by the respect shown to women by the Turkic peoples, their freedom and near equality to men. The women did not veil themselves as Arab women did.12 Mongol women played an open role in politics. Each Friday after the midday prayer, the khan—who had declared Islam his religion upon coming to power in 1313—held a public audience in a tent together with his four khatun (the royal wives, one of whom was a Byzantine princess), who sat on either side of him. In full view of the assembled public and without the use of any screen or veils, when the senior khatun entered the tent, the khan walked to the entrance to meet her, saluted her, took her by the hand, and sat down only after she had taken her seat on the divan.13 While we do not learn as much about the ordinary women in Osman’s principality, such as whether they took part in raids or not, we do know that they milked the animals to make cheese, butter, and cream, and that they wove their hair into the elaborate-yet-durable round felt tents in which they lived and the carpets upon which they sat.

The presence of horses attests to the fact that Osman and his supporters fought as nomads do. Their travelling camps included ironmongers who made their swords, daggers, and axe heads, along with their cauldrons for cooking stews, which were suspended by chains over fire. Osman’s first battle recorded in contemporary sources in the region occurred in 1301 or 1302 against the Byzantines at Bapheus on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara close to Nicea (İznik), over eighty kilometres north of Söğüt. Having inherited Mongol military tactics with a force of lightly armed archers mounted on horseback, Osman and his men engaged in guerrilla warfare. Utilising their mobility, speed, and ability to travel long distances, their stratagems were ambushes and surprise attacks—seizing roads, villages, and the countryside, raiding Byzantine forces at night, and retreating to forests and mountains when pursued.14 Under Osman, they were unable to launch lengthy sieges and take large, heavily guarded forts and cities. Accordingly, they acquired little territory of their own.


From the beginning, the Ottoman dynasty relied on Muslims to give it their spiritual blessing, while using Islam to cultivate loyalty to the leaders and dynasty, to strengthen the bonds among its followers and supporters, and to motivate and mobilise them against its enemies. Yet in every era, radical Muslims and their ideas also served as a potentially destabilising, rebellious force that threatened to overthrow the dynasty.

Many of the Muslims in Osman’s sphere were Sufis, or mystics. Sufis were not a separate Islamic sect, but Sunni or Shi’i spiritualists. Marked by the master-disciple relationship and ceremonies of initiation such as girding of swords, Islam in Anatolia often took on a Sufi dimension. Sufi beliefs were expressed in unique rituals, such as whirling to music or repeating God’s ninety-nine names. Sufis kept a genealogy of teachers linking the order’s founder back in a chain of transmission to Ali—the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and husband of Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter—with whom Muhammad had reportedly shared esoteric teachings. Sufis erected tombs for their founding saints, which became pilgrimage sites, and, alongside them, hostels. There, Sufis lived, prayed, and offered hospitality to a public whose hearts were opened through ecstatic worship, bellies were filled in Sufi soup kitchens, and minds were attracted to the associations of like-minded spiritualists. Many believed in the Sufis’ preaching and eclectic beliefs and accepted the stories of their moral purity, ordeals endured, marvels performed, and miracles ascribed.15

We need to go back to the Sufis’ religious background before going any further. Sufism was foundational to the spread, expression, and interpretation of Islam from its earliest centuries. It was fundamental to the Ottoman understanding and practice of the religion. A couple of generations before Osman, in the early thirteenth century, a Muslim from Spain named Ibn Arabi had compiled the most comprehensive synthesis of Sufi thought, enumerating the individual paths to God.16 After migrating to the Middle East, Ibn Arabi travelled widely in Arabia, Syria, and Anatolia, developing his ideas. Composing a practical guide to obtaining spiritual enlightenment, he defined the stages and terms institutionalised in Sufi orders and provided a blueprint for how to advance along the path to becoming a Sufi.

Ibn Arabi introduced four revolutionary concepts concerning the relationship of people to God that were to have a major impact on Ottoman political and religious history. The concept of the ‘poles of the universe’ posits four figures who are the true deputies of God. They are the centre of the universe, the mirror of God, and the pivot of the world, ruling through their seven secret deputies and the heads of the Sufi associations, God’s visible representatives.17 ‘Saints’ are those who are close to God; in other words, they are God’s friends. The theory of ‘the unity of being’ or the oneness of existence holds that nothing exists other than God. All that exists is therefore a manifestation of the attributes of God, God’s ninety-nine names. The ‘perfect human’ is the perfect Sufi saint who knows God totally, whose spiritual authority is total, but whose identity is secret. These electrifying concepts about the hierarchy of men ruling the universe would offer charismatic Sufis the opportunity to stake politico-religious claims—including to their own messiahship, obviating the need to obey the sultan—and foment revolution. Over the centuries, individual Sufi sheikhs in Ottoman lands would convince their followers to revolt against political authorities by claiming that God had spoken to them and deputised them, as poles of the universe, to establish justice in the world by overthrowing the oppressive, illegitimate Ottoman dynasty.18

While Ibn Arabi’s concepts were potentially rebellious, another contemporary Sufi leader, Mevlana (‘Our Master’) Rûmi, and his followers pursued the love of God following the example of Muhammad within Sunni Islam and Islamic law. Based in Seljuk Konya, in south central Anatolia, Rûmi and his followers focused on the inner meaning and intention behind religious acts and rituals rather than on the deeds themselves. They valued spiritual experience rather than mere book knowledge. The Mevlevi Sufi order established by the conformist majority of his followers was thus politically quietist. It numbered Seljuk sultans among its patrons and members, and they offered royal patronage and protection in exchange for spiritual blessings.19

Rûmi’s masterpiece, The Spiritual Couplets, injected Islam with ecstatic expressions of love. It opened a path for men’s ritualised gazing at young boys as the expression of absolute beauty and male-male devotion. For some men, such ecstasy was part of a culture of man-boy love. Rûmi depicted himself as having been impregnated by the spirit of his older soul mate, Şams al-Tabrizi.20 Preaching to Christians, Jews, and newly Islamised Turcoman, Rûmi argued that neither language nor words was important. What mattered was ‘intent and rapture’, for ‘Love’s folk live beyond religious borders’.21

Some of the most important Muslims in Osman’s circle were another type of Sufi, referred to as deviant dervishes for their blatant transgression of social norms. While Rûmi’s ideas called for his followers to obey rulers and the law, the followers of Hajji Bektaş were religiously transgressive and politically suspect.22 Believing themselves to have overcome the ego and to have ‘died’, the dervishes who surrounded Hajji Bektaş lived in absolute poverty, bereft of proper food, shelter, or clothing. Reflecting the views of Ibn Arabi that God was present in all creatures and that they themselves were saints, they refused to comply with social and legal norms.

Hajji Bektaş was a contemporary of Rûmi (and, like Ibn Arabi, lived before Osman). Like Rûmi, Hajji Bektaş migrated to Anatolia from northeastern Iran. Especially popular among the Turcoman of central Anatolia, Hajji Bektaş and his followers were rivals of the Mevlevis. Rûmi condemned the Bektaşis for not following the way of Muhammad and Islamic law.23 Hajji Bektaş traced his spiritual lineage to Baba İlyas-i Horasani. A Turcoman self-proclaimed messenger of God from Khurasan, Horasani united the poor and nomads, Turcoman and Kurds, together with deviant dervishes in a utopian, revolutionary movement opposed to the Seljuk upper class and the Mevlevi order.24 After Horasani died, other deviant dervishes continued his movement, lurking as a potential threat.25

Hajji Bektaş claimed to be the recipient of the teachings of the Qur’an from Muhammad, who taught him the literal meaning, and Ali, who revealed to him its secret meaning.26 At Hajji Bektaş’s shrine in the town named after him in central Anatolia, five hundred kilometres east of Söğüt, a banner declares him a ‘saint’ or ‘friend of God’ who is also the reincarnation of Ali.

Hajji Bektaş allegedly worked miracles: curing the sick and the infertile, multiplying food, resurrecting the dead, and taking the form of animals or birds. According to his followers, Hajji Bektaş was celibate yet his woman disciple Kadıncık Ana gave birth to three sons after being impregnated by drinking his used ablution water.27 He is said to have migrated to Anatolia by taking the form of a pigeon and flying from Khurasan. He converted many people to Islam, making them into his disciples. He lived as an ascetic and frequently withdrew to caves and mountains for forty-day periods of seclusion before settling permanently in a cell that became his dervish lodge and mausoleum. The tomb, with its telltale dome consisting of a pyramidal roof built on an octagonal base, was built by a Mongolian princess and decorated by Greek craftsmen in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries.28

The Bektaşis and numerous deviant dervish groups whose names we will encounter again and again—the Abdals, Haydaris, Kalenderis, and Torlaks—combined asceticism with anarchy. They withdrew from society while keeping one foot within it, conspicuously mocking its social customs. Arising at the same time as the mendicant Franciscan and Dominican orders in Western Europe, they practised ascetism through begging, homelessness, and wandering, settling temporarily in the wilderness or in cemeteries, refusing to work, rejecting marriage and sexual reproduction, and cultivating poor health, including through self-harm. The latter practices were manifestations of the philosophy of disregarding the human body and killing the ego before one’s death and return to God.

Deviant dervishes deliberately practised abhorrent behaviour to make their open renunciation of society and social norms complete. They were not recluses. They were nonconformists who aimed to shock their metaphorical parents, namely, other Sufis. The deviant dervishes attracted men who had broken their social bonds: adolescents who had broken ties with their parents, students who had been disaffected by their teachers, cavalrymen who had broken with their masters, upper-class youth who had dropped out of society, and the young offspring of respected Sufis, military commanders, elites, rulers, and royalty who were rebelling against their fathers.

These nihilist dervishes refused to pray and fast, two of the obligatory practices common to Sunni and Shi’i Islam, or to engage in any other religious obligations. They went about stark naked or with a few leaves covering their private parts, symbolising Adam’s fig leaf. Some wore loincloths or woolen sacks, furs, or animal hides. They went barefoot. Contravening Muslim male practice, which held that hairlessness was affiliated with a lack of honour and status, some shaved their hair, eyebrows, beard, and moustache. A smooth face, they argued, symbolised their readiness to face the divine without need of veils. Along with their outlandish outfits, they marked their bodies in shocking ways: wearing iron rings, metal earrings, neck collars, bracelets, anklets, and genital piercings.

Especially outrageous were those who wore their cloaks open to expose the iron rings hung on their pierced penises. Some sported tattoos of Ali’s sword, the name of Ali, or snakes. They carried strange paraphernalia: hatchets, clubs, bones, and horns. All groups openly consumed marijuana and hashish and were frequently intoxicated and screaming. The wine-drinking dervishes also displayed this ecstatic tendency. Like other Sufis, they enjoyed music and dance, but to an extreme. They were notorious for their large, public gatherings where they played tambourines, drums, and horns, sang loudly, and danced ecstatically, chanting to God. Some included young boys in their retinue, referred to as boy dancers or hashish servers. Their enemies accused them of sodomy and bestiality. A group of itinerant women Sufis, called the Sisters of Rûm, were also well-known in that era in Anatolia.

Gazing at young boys, being impregnated by spirits, shaving the hair, piercing the genitals, engaging in self harm, taking drugs, and dancing in ecstasy: in the thirteenth century and early fourteenth century, Islam could be interpreted and practiced in ways that are unrecognisable to Muslims today. Turkic chieftains such as Osman—for whom Sufis were crucial for providing approval for his rule and propagating Islam in his domains—were anything but narrow-minded. They had an ecumenical understanding of who was a Muslim that included perfect humans, poles of the universe, and saints and messiahs who took animal form and flew like birds. Osman’s success was based in part on his ability to mobilise a variety of Islamic groups to join his side without trying to reconcile their differences, let alone judge whether they were ‘true’ Muslims or not.


The very first Ottoman chroniclers linked the royal house to Sufis, both to the conformist orders and to the orders of deviant dervishes. Even the spiritual biography of Hajji Bektaş claims that the deviant dervish had announced that God’s sanction would be removed from the Seljuks and transferred to Ertuğrul, Osman’s father.29 Hajji Bektaş’s followers believed that, due to his proximity to God, he had the power to intercede in the transmission of secular authority.


  • “This forceful history takes aim at the notion that the Ottomans represent the antithesis of Western Europe, asking readers ‘to conceptualise a Europe that is not merely Christian.’”—The New Yorker
  • “Mr. Baer organizes his material according to contemporary concerns…thereby eking out surprisingly fresh insights from this hitherto well-plowed terrain… Highly readable, original and thorough.”—Wall Street Journal
  • “Highly readable... Baer’s fine book gives a panoramic and thought-provoking account of over half a millennium of Ottoman and — it now goes without saying — European history.”—The Guardian
  • "Magnificent… [An] important and hugely readable book — a model of well-written, accessible scholarship."

    Financial Times
  • “Baer offers a fuller, fresher view of the dynasty that ruled an empire for 500 years and helped shape the West as much as the Habsburgs or Romanovs… A major achievement. [Baer] is a writer in full command of his subject.”—The Spectator
  • “A winning portrait of seven centuries of empire, teeming with life and colour, human interest and oddity, cruelty and oppression mixed with pleasure, benevolence and great artistic beauty.”—Sunday Times
  • “A wildly ambitious and entertainingly lurid history."—The Times
  • “Sweeping… Baer’s elegantly written narrative is full of bloody state building…along with intriguing, counterintuitive takes on Ottoman culture.”

    Publishers Weekly
  • “There’s no study more masterful than Baer’s on the lengthy rule of the Ottoman Empire…Baer is especially skilled at presenting extensive information in an engaging and accessible way.”—Library Journal
  • “A book as sweeping, colorful, and rich in extraordinary characters as the empire which it describes.”—Tom Holland, author of Dominion
  • “A compellingly readable account of one of the great world empires from its origins in thirteenth century to modern times. Drawing on contemporary Turkish and European sources, Marc David Baer situates the Ottomans squarely at the overlap of European and Middle Eastern history.  Blending the sacred and the profane, the social and the political, the sublime and the absurd, Baer brings his subject to life in rich vignettes. An outstanding book.”—Eugene Rogan, author of The Fall of the Ottomans
  • “A superb, gripping, and refreshing new history—finely written and filled with fascinating characters and analysis—that places the dynasty where it belongs: at the center of European history.”—Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs
  • “Marc David Baer’s colorful, readable book is informed by all the newest research on his massive subject. In showing how an epic of universal empire, conquest and toleration turned into the drama of nationalism, crisis, and genocide, he gives us not only an expansive history of the Ottomans, but an expanded history of Europe.”—James McDougall, University of Oxford
  • “Marc David Baer’s The Ottomans is a scintillating and brilliantly panoramic account of the history of the Ottoman empire, from its genesis to its dissolution. Baer provides a clear and engaging account of the dynastic and high politics of the empire, whilst also surveying the Ottoman world’s social, cultural, intellectual and economic development. What emerges is an Ottoman Empire that was a direct product of and an active participant in both European and global history. It challenges and transforms how we think of ‘East’ and ‘West,’ ‘Enlightenment,’ and ‘modernity,’ and directly confronts the horrors as well as the achievements of Ottoman rule.”
     —Peter Sarris, University of Cambridge

On Sale
Oct 5, 2021
Page Count
560 pages
Basic Books

Marc David Baer

About the Author

Marc David Baer is professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of six books, including Honored by the Glory of Islam: Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe, which won the Albert Hourani Prize. He lives in London.   

Learn more about this author