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The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe.

The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe By Daniel Goffman Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003

The nature of the Ottoman empire and its intersections with the states and peoples of the lands comprising Europe are currently the subject of considerable reflection in the fields of history and English literature. This particular work is not so much a study of Ottoman-European relations as an attempt to present a clarified Ottoman world against which various notions of Ottoman-European relations can be assessed. Goffman's primary objective is not to explore the intricacies of diplomatic relations (or, for that matter, the narration of "turning Turk"), but rather to set out the ways in which the empire functioned and the ways in which it dealt with European states and merchants in what one might call the "long sixteenth century." The primary focus of the work is that period from the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to the end of the sixteenth century. Its final, substantive chapter shifts focus to the seventeenth century and what the author calls the "integration" of the empire into Europe.

Daniel Goffman is an Ottomanist historian whose earlier work has assessed the commerce of Izmir and the question of Britons in the Ottoman empire. He notes in the preface that this book is addressed to both general and student audiences. As such it works well, in large part due to the author's flowing prose, although it often presumes certain knowledge of the general framework of contemporary Euro-Asian and Mediterranean history (e.g., the identity of "the Mamluks" and the significance of claiming "the caliphal title"). Goffman provides a scholarly apparatus that makes his history accessible to the nonspecialist reader. The book includes chronological and dynastic tables, a glossary, an index, useful suggestions for further reading, and a set of visual aids including thirty black and white illustrations and seven maps. The illustrations (mostly European engravings of the sultan, his soldiers, and other Ottomans in quasi-real or imagined costumes) are generally well placed and lend themselves to classroom discussion of cross-cultural representation. Their captions, however, range from thoughtful and thought-provoking, to superficial and careless. The maps provide critical support for an audience that may be striving to envision the location of Aleppo or the spatial relationship of Venice to the Morea.

Beyond these enhancements, Goffman has employed several narrative devices to draw the reader into the Ottoman world that he presents. He begins each chapter with an extended quote, designed in most cases to provide a European description of Ottoman rule. These quotes enliven the narrative and provide the opportunity for a knowledgeable instructor to comment further. Unfortunately, some (e.g., 55, 59) contain caricatures lacking explanation or direct connections to the surrounding text, and hence their efficacy is diminished. Such quotes are a typical narrative device, but the author also ventures into the realm of fictional biography to enliven the reader's vision of Ottoman space. He begins each chapter with one segment of the story of an Ottoman personality named Kubad. The title character is an Ottoman cavus (messenger), the sultan's official emissary to the Venetian republic. Kubad was apparently a historical figure, but Goffman supplements the sketchy details available on his life and mission with imagined thoughts and dialogues, drawing what he believes to be likely scenarios. At its best, this approach can appeal to students, humanize the Ottomans (by showing them, for example, carousing and conversing with their Venetian counterparts), and enhance the text with the sights and sounds of Istanbul or Venice. At its worst, the tale of Kubad may become a bit tiresome, its vignettes lacking sufficient resonance with surrounding content. It is also worth noting that in the opening tale of Kubad's youth the date for the 1534 Ottoman campaign against Baghdad is misprinted as 1634 (23).

Goffman does an excellent job of synthesizing information from a variety of secondary sources, interspersing that information with insights from his previous work and allusions to primary source materials from the Ottoman archives. He routinely includes comparisons of events and processes in the Ottoman empire to those in Europe. These comparisons are sometimes forced (e.g., 64 on imperial and European marriage habits) but they are always thought-provoking, prompting the reader to avoid assumptions about the necessarily distinctive nature of Ottoman and European societies. As a teaching tool, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe could be paired with Donald Quataert's The Ottoman Empire 1700-1922, which is part of the same series. (1) Scholars and teachers requiring more expansive or detailed treatments of the Ottomans in this era should consult other sources beginning with Goffman's suggestions for further reading. (2)

The book suffers from the gaps and interpretative errors common to this type of short introductory work. For example: the reader must wait until the second chapter to find a history of the emergence and coming to prominence of the Ottoman state; the characterization of Ottoman elite cadres as "owned" men may confuse readers unfamiliar with the scope of their power; and the discussion of the roles of Muslim merchants in enhancing cross-cultural contacts could be more developed. Nonetheless, the reader is left with a coherent, unbiased vision of the workings of the empire in this era, and a set of insights on Muslim relations with nonMuslims that serve as a corrective to standard textbook fare and to contemporary notions of unbreachable communal divides.

Goffman's introduction begins by addressing the common stereotype of the Early Modern Ottoman empire as relentlessly and somehow uniquely militaristic. He highlights nonmilitary relations and commerce, arguing, quite correctly, that the empire must be viewed as an integral part of the European world. Edirne and Constantinople were, after all, "European" capitals; and Rumelia, in the Balkans, was (along with Anatolia) the central core of the empire and the source of much of its wealth and many of its officials. In drawing the essential connection between the empire and Europe, the author emphasizes the role of Jews and Christians as the conduits of cross-cultural exchange. This is an important point, although it can be overemphasized. The introduction concludes with an argument about periodization, suggesting that by 1700 "Europe" no longer feared "the Turk." While it is certainly the case that the Ottoman empire did not intimidate its European rivals in 1700 in the same ways that it had in 1600, it remained a potent military power that retained a prominent place in the European imagination. Tracts, travel narratives, and geographic literatures preserved the rhetorics of the Ottoman threat, even as political philosophers debated the utility of Ottoman absolutism.

Chapter 2, entitled "Fabricating the Ottoman State," invokes the historiography of Ottoman origins and clearly delineates the evolution of the Ottoman slave-based janissary corps and the "fief" (timar) system that supported its free Muslim cavalry. This is a strong chapter that deftly addresses the roles of race, religion, and gender in the Ottoman state system. The author makes the critical point that the "privileged class had no basis in ethnicity, race, or religion" (51), emphasizing the heterodox nature of the early Ottoman state and its accommodation of newly conquered Christian territories. Ottoman flexibility, in policy and in law, was a key element in the success of Ottoman expansion and in the overall longevity of the state. That theme of accommodation is repeated in chapter 6, which provides a nuanced and vibrant treatment of eastern Mediterranean commercial relations. Brief case studies on Florence, Dubrovnik, and Ottoman communities of Jews and Armenians illustrate the flexibility and variety inherent in the ways that the Ottoman empire treated both foreigners and its dhimmi (non-Muslim subject) populations.

Chapter 3 is another strong chapter elaborating on Ottoman institutions that were "neither comprehensive nor static by the 16th century" (60). Goffman explains the imperial household and the roles of religious and military-administrative elites, and non-elites. He employs a nuanced presentation of ethno-religious identities, illustrating, for example, the religiously mixed nature of the urban workforce. The Ottoman development of an elite slave culture (the kul system) is well outlined, demonstrating the ways in which a levy on boys from the empire's non-Muslim population produced a talented ruling class and a formidable infantry. The author's conclusion to this section, however, is rather extravagant. It was certainly much more than "happenstance" that a "pseudo-aristocracy" rather than "a system of plantation-style slavery" developed in the sixteenth-century Ottomans state (69). Further, while "pseudo-aristocracy" suggests both an approximation to European systems and some of the ways in which Ottoman pashas employed and retained power, in general it conveys a sense of lineage-linked privilege that does not suit the Ottoman hierarchy.

In Chapter 4, the author focuses on Ottoman themes in the context of the Protestant Reformation. He employs the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) as an illustration of Ottoman ceremonial and claims to world power, pointing out the sultan's "attentiveness to personal glory" in the forms of lawmaking, display, and patronage. In the course of this discussion, the author's characterizations of the empire as dependent upon the abilities of a single man, and of the Protestant-Catholic divide, are rather too sweeping. Long before Suleiman, the sultan was dependent upon extensive delegation of power to manage his troops and to cement control over conquered provinces. And while Luther may have viewed the Ottoman sultan as "the arch-enemy of his own archenemies" (110), sixteenth-century German woodcuts commonly depicted pope and sultan as compatriots, Anti-Christ variants, both leading "Christendom" into the abyss.

Chapter 5, on the Ottoman-Venetian association, is weaker than the preceeding chapters. A vignette on Kubad in Venice concludes with the protagonist expressing indignation at Venice's supposedly overbearing Catholic communalism, a characterization that would have surprised many sixteenth-century Venetians. Despite an initial assertion that war was the exception in Ottoman-Venetian relations of the era, the bulk of the chapter is devoted to a recitation of the Ottoman-Venetian wars. While Goffman rightly points out the potential that Ottoman-Venetian relations provided for "cultural chameleons," he exaggerates the extent to which influential Venetian notables had spent, or wanted to spend, time in Istanbul. Indeed, Venetian notables tapped for service in the empire often tried to dodge those assignments because of the burdens such service placed on finances and health. The author also exaggerates the scope of seapower in the sixteenth-century Mediterranean and preserves the distorted notion of a radical shift in Mediterranean affairs in the aftermath of Lepanto. Ottoman fleets could not control the seas; and Venice's appearance in the Eastern Mediterranean after 1539 did not "hinge upon the indulgence of the rival Ottoman state" (149). Nor did the infamous battle of Lepanto in 1571 at once end an era of Ottoman naval dominance and launch a new one of piratic activity. After 1571, Goffman argues, "the very nature of warfare on the Mediterranean changed ... No longer did large and treasury-depleting armadas cruise open waters" (161). In fact, the change was more gradual, and although the Ottomans did mobilize formidable naval power in the sixteenth century, it never consisted of large armadas cruising open water. Rather the norm was smaller fleets that spent a majority of their time in harbor or attempting, with little success, to quell corsairing raids against Ottoman coasts and merchant shipping.

The final substantive chapter, chapter 7, is juxtaposed to the rest of the book, because it focuses on the seventeenth century and on the rise of the trading nations of France, England, and the Netherlands. In 1575, shortly before the queen authorized the formation of the English Levant Company, the Ottoman Porte "granted Edward Osborne and Richard Staper permission to trade in its domains, and three years later William Harborne settled in Istanbul as their envoy" (195). These men were soon followed by other traders, entrepreneurs, and clergymen from England. Goffman uses the stories of two such clergymen, Isaac Basire de Preaumont and Robert Frampton, to explore the legal status of foreigners in Ottoman lands and the limits of Ottoman tolerance for proselytizing. Basire, once a chaplain extraordinaire to Charles I, spent the greater part of fifteen years, beginning in 1651, traveling in the empire. During that time he preached in Ottoman Greece, presented an Arabic version of the Anglican catechism to the Patriarch of Antioch, and enjoyed the protection of the Ottoman regime. Frampton, an evangelist appointed as chaplain to the English factory in Aleppo in 1655, spent twelve years in that city, becoming fluent in Arabic and numbering among his friends the Orthodox patriarch and the chief Muslim judge. Goffman argues that the Ottoman world made such fraternization possible, although it certainly did not encourage Christian proselytizing. The Ottoman empire, he concludes, was more a part of Europe in the seventeenth century than in the sixteenth, in part because the empire no longer posed a significant military threat and in part because "cliched understandings of the 'Terrible Turk' in northern Europe began to break down" (222-24). Nonetheless, older modes of representing Ottoman sovereignty, society, and territory remained very resilient. Even in the seventeenth century, the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople could still be recounted as "temporary," and Ottoman lands continued to be depicted (and named) as the sites of classical and Church history, without regard for the events or occupiers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The varying ways in which the Ottomans were mapped onto Early Modern European consciousness thus remains a subject for more scholarly investigation.


(1.) Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

(2.) For example, Halil Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 13001600 (rpt. ed. Phoenix Press, 2001); Stanford Shaw, History oft he Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol. 1, Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire 1280-1808 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire (London: Palgrave, 2002); Metin Kunt and Christine Woodhead, eds., Suleyman the Magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World (London: Longman, 1995); Halil Inalcik and Cemal Kafadar, eds. Suleyman the Second and His Time (Istanbul: Isis Press, 1993); Leslie Peirce, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Rhoads Murphey, Ottoman Warfare 15001700 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999); and Palmira Brummett, Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).

Reviewer: Palmira Brummett
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Author:Brummett, Palmira
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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