HISTORY OF THE OTTOMAN STATE, SOCIETY & CIVILISATION Edited by E. Ihsanoglu Research Centre for Islamic History, Art & Culture (IRClCA) 2002, Vol 1 , 827 pages, Vol.2, 822, 9290630531 Hb

The story of the birth, rise and decline of the Ottomans is a complex one. On the one hand, it is a history dominated by endless wars, conquests, territorial losses and alliances. On the other, it is six centuries of tremendous cultural and artistic achievements.

The History of the Ottoman State, Society & Civilisation is perhaps the first of its kind to provide an integrated approach to this once multinational and multicultural empire. The work covers in detail a widerange of topics as diverse as law, finance, industry, society, literature, science, art and architecture.

Ottoman history has been discussed many times before, but usually from a European perspective and largely on the basis of European sources. In an attempt to balance the picture, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and his team of experts have relied on Ottoman archival sources, chronicles and works published by contemporary scholars world-wide.

he History of the Ottoman State, Society & Civilisation is a collective publication divided into two volumes. The first focuses on the history of the Ottoman state and society from the formation of the Ottoman beylik (principality) until the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Its companion volume, deals with the history of Ottoman culture and civilisation.

Particularly fascinating is the transformation from state to empire and the Ottoman policy of integration. When new lands were conquered, the process of Ottomanization was gradual and tolerance was shown to the local population and their customs. This tolerant attitude characteristic of the early phase of the Ottoman state, is attributed to the inclination of the Ottomans towards mysticism. Often the sultans themselves were connected to a Sufi path. The connection is not surprising considering that the Ottoman Empire was built on the foundations laid by the Seljuks, who were themselves patrons of some of the most celebrated literary figures and mystics such as Nizami, Attarand Rumi.

One of the book’s most important contributions is the highlighting of the relationship between Ottoman social history and culture. It is interesting that the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Empire’s most representative manifestation, was the administrative and educational centre of the Ottomans for over 400 years. The hierarchical layout and progression of the palace with its public, administrative, educational and private areas – not to mention the Imperial Treasury, Tower of Justice and the artisan workshops is a microcosmic representation of the Ottoman social system.

The Ottoman concept of society stems from an interpretation of a verse from the Qur’an (43:32). This understanding forms the basis of Ottoman social order and political philosophy expressed in a formula called “the circle of justice”. “According to the Ottoman worldview, die loops that form the ‘the circle of justice’ are: justice, state, the Shari’a, sovereignty, army, wealth, and people … If one of the loops is missing, the state and the society are destined for destruction.” Taking into account the constant shift of power; the wars, defeats and successes, it is remarkable how the Ottomans were able to preserve such unity for over 600 years. Indeed, the Ottomans are one of the greatest empires ever to exist wiüi respect to longevity and geographical expanse. With the decline of the empire, there was a move towards westernisation. With the exception of calligraphy, all aspects of Ottoman life fell under European influence, including clothing, music, architecture and the traditional art of illumination.

The History of the Ottoman State, Society & Civilisation is a significant contribution to the field of history, and contains a rich bibliography, chronology and detailed index. It also includes, maps, photographs, diagrams and tables. Although it is primarily a scholarly work, it is nevertheless highly readable. An indispensable resource for anyone interested in Ottoman or World History.

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