1 Osman: The Warrior Prince Who Defeated the Crusaders
Who was Osman I? The founder of the Ottoman Empire
Osman I, or Osman Gazi, was the leader of the Ottoman Turks, and the founder of the dynasty that established and ruled the Ottoman Empire. The empire, named for him, would prevail as a regional powerhouse for over six centuries. Owing to the scarcity of historical sources dating from his lifetime, very little factual information about Osman has survived. Not a single written source survives from Osman's reign, and the Ottomans did not record the history of Osman's life until the fifteenth century, more than a hundred years after his death. Because of this, historians find it very challenging to differentiate between fact and myth in the many stories told about him.
The early life and ancestry of Osman I
The Kayı tribe and the Oghuz Turks
According to later Ottoman tradition, Osman's ancestors were descendants of the Kayı branch of the Oghuz Turks. The Oghuz Turks were a confederation of Turkic tribes that migrated from Central Asia to Anatolia in the eleventh century. They were divided into two groups: the Bozok (Grey Arrow) and the Üçok (Three Arrows). The Kayı tribe belonged to the Bozok group.
The role of Ertugrul, Osman's father
Osman's father was Ertugrul, who had established a principality centred at Sögüt, in the region of Bithynia in northwestern Anatolia. Ertugrul was a vassal of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, which ruled most of Anatolia at the time. Ertugrul fought against the Byzantines, who sought to defend their territories in Asia Minor, and also against the Mongols, who invaded Anatolia in 1243 and subjugated the Seljuks. Ertugrul died around 1280, leaving Osman as his successor.
The birth and name of Osman
The exact date and place of Osman's birth are unknown. Some sources suggest that he was born around 1258 in Sögüt, while others place his birth in 1254 or 1255 in another location. His mother's name is also uncertain, although some traditions identify her as Halime Hatun. Osman's original name was probably Atman or Ataman, which was later changed to Osman, derived from the Arabic form Uthman. The earliest Byzantine sources spell his name as Atouman or Atman, while later Greek sources use Uthman or Osman.
The rise of Osman's principality
The context of Anatolia in the thirteenth century
Anatolia in the thirteenth century was a turbulent and fragmented region, where various political entities competed for power and influence. The Seljuk Sultanate of Rum was weakened by internal strife and Mongol domination. The Byzantine Empire was also in decline, having lost most of its Asian territories to the Turks. In this situation, many Turkmen principalities emerged in Anatolia. The expansion of Osman's domain
Osman earned his first major success in 1302, against a Byzantine force sent to quash his expansion. Osman led a force of 5,000 men to meet the Byzantines at the Plain of Bapheus on the outskirts of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine forces were vastly outnumbered, and they were soundly beaten. This victory gave Osman access to the fertile lands around the Sea of Marmara and the strategic town of Nicaea.
Osman continued to raid and conquer Byzantine territories, taking advantage of their internal divisions and civil wars. He also forged alliances with other Turkmen principalities, such as Germiyan and Karaman, and received tribute from some of the Byzantine cities that he spared. By 1317, he had extended his domain from Eskişehir to the Sakarya River.
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Osman's most important achievement was the siege and capture of Bursa in 1326, after a long and hard struggle. Bursa was a rich and populous city, the former capital of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor. It became the first capital of the Ottoman state, and a center of commerce, culture, and learning. Osman died shortly after the conquest of Bursa, either in 1323 or 1324, according to different sources. He was buried in a mausoleum in Bursa, which still stands today.
The relations with the Byzantines and the Mongols
Osman's relations with the Byzantine Empire were complex and ambivalent. On one hand, he was an enemy who sought to destroy their power and take their lands. On the other hand, he was a neighbor who respected their culture and religion, and sometimes cooperated with them against common foes. Osman adopted some of the Byzantine administrative and military practices, such as the use of fiefs ( timars) and Christian mercenaries ( akıncıs). He also married a Byzantine princess, Theodora, who converted to Islam and took the name Rabia Bala Hatun. She bore him his son and successor, Orhan.
Osman's relations with the Mongols were also mixed. The Mongols had invaded Anatolia in 1243 and defeated the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, which became their vassal state. The Mongols imposed heavy taxes and tribute on the Seljuks and their Turkmen subjects, and interfered in their internal affairs. Some of the Turkmen principalities, such as Karaman and Germiyan, rebelled against the Mongol rule, while others, such as Osman's principality, accepted it as a necessary evil. Osman paid tribute to the Mongol Ilkhanate in Iran, and acknowledged their suzerainty over his lands. He also benefited from their protection against other hostile forces, such as the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria. However, he also exploited the weakening of the Mongol authority after the death of their ruler Ghazan in 1304, and expanded his domain at their expense.
The legacy of Osman I
The succession of Orhan, Osman's son
Osman was succeeded by his son Orhan, who had proved himself as a capable commander and administrator during his father's lifetime. Orhan continued his father's policy of expansion and consolidation, conquering Nicaea in 1331 and Nicomedia in 1337, thus encircling Constantinople by land. He also crossed into Europe for the first time in 1352, establishing a foothold in Gallipoli. He reformed the Ottoman army by creating a standing force of professional infantrymen called janissaries , recruited from Christian boys who were converted to Islam. He also improved the Ottoman navy by building a fleet of galleys that could challenge the Byzantine and Genoese ships in the Aegean Sea. He moved the capital from Bursa to Edirne (Adrianople) in 1365, closer to his European domains. He died in 1362, leaving behind a powerful and prosperous state that spanned two continents.
The establishment of the Ottoman dynasty and empire
Osman was the founder of not only a state but also a dynasty that would rule over it for six centuries. The Ottoman dynasty traced its lineage from Osman through his son Orhan and grandson Murad I , who became the first Ottoman sultan in 1383 after defeating the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo . The Ottomans claimed descent from Oghuz Khan , a legendary ancestor of many The establishment of the Ottoman dynasty and empire
Osman was the founder of not only a state but also a dynasty that would rule over it for six centuries. The Ottoman dynasty traced its lineage from Osman through his son Orhan and grandson Murad I , who became the first Ottoman sultan in 1383 after defeating the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo . The Ottomans claimed descent from Oghuz Khan , a legendary ancestor of many Turkic peoples, and also from the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali . The Ottomans adopted the title of caliph , the leader of the Muslim world, after conquering Egypt in 1517. The Ottoman Empire reached its peak of power and expansion under Suleiman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century, when it spanned three continents and controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. The empire gradually declined in the following centuries, facing internal decay, corruption, rebellions, and external threats from Russia, Austria, France, and Britain. The empire collapsed after its defeat in World War I , when it was partitioned by the victorious Allies.
The myths and legends about Osman
As the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman became a subject of many myths and legends that glorified his achievements and character. One of the most famous is the story of Osman's dream , which was recorded by the Ottoman chronicler Ahmedî in the fifteenth