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The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power.

The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power. By Colin Imber. (New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Pp. xiv, 405. $27.95.)

This work is a valuable contribution to the small number of general histories of the Ottoman Empire. The author provides a political history of the empire that emphasizes political and especially military organization. Colin Imber perceives the need for a general synthesis of Ottoman history because it is necessary to understand contemporary problems in areas of the world that were ruled by the empire. Therefore he provides a context for the nonspecialist to approach more specialized works of Ottoman history.

The author begins with a long chapter, which chronologically summarizes Ottoman history until 1650. This is followed by seven chapters of varying lengths on the dynasty, recruitment, palace, provinces, law, army, and fleet. Imber concludes that the empire was a dynastic state, in which power was maintained by ties between the ruler and his subordinates, especially the elite of the empire. Although the sultan's power has often been depicted as absolute, in fact, Islamic law limited it. He controlled the governing class but not every action of government; he depended on his personal army (the Janissaries), his Imperial Council, and other favorites, such as the women of the imperial family. The bureaucrats of the empire were essential to its survival during the troubled seventeenth century because they ensured the functioning of the state despite dynastic turmoil and civil unrest.

In many ways this is a traditional history of the empire, with its emphasis on the military might of the empire and its focus on the "institutions through which the Ottoman Sultan projected his power" (xiv). The reader will not find information on social, cultural, economic, or intellectual history, or noninstitutional power. Nor does Imber place Ottoman institutional developments in the broader historical context of the period, comparing them with developments in neighboring states in Europe or the Middle East. Although Imber laments that there are few debates in Ottoman history and that major questions have not only not been answered, they have not even been asked, he does not address such debates or questions as do exist in the field. The author does not discuss why his book ends in 1650, which, given the debate on periodization in the Ottoman Empire, requires some explanation. He does not address historiographical issues, which, especially for the history of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, are crucial. Although Imber refers to primary sources throughout the text, often quoting from them, he has no footnotes to them. He lists "Sources Quoted" at the end of the book, but with no specific references. Imber also sometimes translates Ottoman terms into English. This may make the text more readable for the nonspecialist, but it also leads to potential misinterpretations. For example, he uses "collection" for devshirme and "college" for medrese. Since Imber provides a glossary at the end of the book, it would have been preferable to use Ottoman terminology.

In summary, this is an excellent text for the study of Ottoman political and institutional history and could profitably be used by both the general reader and Ottomanists.

Christine Isom-Verhaaren

Benedictine University

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Author:Isom-Verhaaren, Christine
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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