The Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest empires to have left its stamp on Eurasia. For the six hundred years this empire lasted, it stretched from the Adriatic to the Black sea, peopled by men of different races, language and culture. Besides military strength political intrigue and an organized administration, this empire also saw great patronage of the arts, literature and the sciences.
In Lords of the Horizons, author Jason Goodwin explores the rise of Ottoman power and chronicles the centuries of rule and the gradual decline of this empire. Beginning with the origins of the Ottomans from Anatolia in western Turkey, where many of them were warriors of the Islamic faith, the narrative moves to the fourteenth century, when the Ottomans under Murad I consolidated their empire. By 1400, the Ottomans had managed to extend their influence over much of Anatolia and even into Byzantine territory in Eastern Europe: Macedonia and Bulgaria. Under Murad’s son, Bayezit, the Ottomans first laid siege to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Goodwin’s text describes several anecdotes and incidents related to these conquests. We are told how the cruel and arrogant Bayezit met his Waterloo in the hands of Tamerlane, the central Asian warrior who imprisoned and tortured him till he dashed his brains on the cage walls.
One of the greatest events in the Ottoman Empire, indeed in the history of Central Asia, was the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks. Despite repeated sieges, this city did not fall to the invading army. From the Ottomans' point of view, the seizure of Constantinople was very strategic, as in addition to becoming a symbol of Ottoman power it would also help them control the East-West trade. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed, also called Mehmet the Conqueror, finally took this last remnant of Byzantium and renamed it Istanbul. Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Europe and, under the patronage of the Ottoman sultans, became one of the wealthiest and most cultured cities of the early modern world.
One of the most famous and admired Ottoman monarchs was Suleyman, often called Suleyman the Magnificent. During his long rule (he was often referred to as the Ottoman Queen Victoria) in the sixteenth century, he further expanded the empire, annexing the Mediterranean coast and parts of Europe.
The book also highlights the heights of human creativity and artistry that were achieved for centuries while this empire lasted. There was tremendous heterogeneity and regional specialties in the empire that the Ottomans encouraged and exploited. Goodwin quotes extensively from the works and writings of travelers that provide vignettes into the lives of the people in the empire. Overall Goodwin’s book offers not just a historical background and perspective on the rise and decline of this great empire but also the regional and religious complexities and conflicts that became its legacy.