|The Family Crest of the Imperial House of Osman|
Bayezid began the long process of taking over the Byzantine Empire. He laid siege to Constantinople in 1494 and continued for seven years, even defeating a short-lived crusade sent against him by the King of Hungary. But Bayezid's fate was sealed when Tamerlane rose up in the east and defeated Bayezid, taking him away in captivity. Bayezid left many children behind and no clear successor and so a short civil war developed that has become known as the Ottoman Interregnum. Each son pieced off a little portion of the empire for himself. Mehmed was the favored choice of Tamerlane, but his brothers fought hard to keep their portions. Eventually, Musa allied with Mehmed against Suleyman and Suleyman was defeated and executed. However, Musa was now much more powerful. The two brothers clashed and Mehmed arose triumphant, single sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
|Mehmed II entering Constantinople|
His son, Bayezid II, continued the Ottoman desire for conquest. He pushed against Venetian holdings in the hopes of becoming a strong seafaring power. He also fought against the Persians who were trying to push for a Shi'a empire. One of his best contributions was transporting many of the Jews, who were being removed from Spain, to the Ottoman Empire, where they could contribute to the wealth and grandeur of the Ottoman state. Bayezid's reign ended with infighting between his two sons, ending in one of their deaths. He decided to abdicate in 1512, in favour of the surviving son, rather than risk murder by that son.
During Selim I's reign, the Ottomans conquered the majority of the Middle East, Persia excepted. With the capture of Egypt from the Mamluks in 1517, the Ottomans passed the succession of the caliphate, up until then held by the Abbasid caliphs, to themselves, imprisoning the last of the Abbasid line. That same year, Selim captured the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, thereby establishing Ottoman control of the Sunni Islam religion.
|The Ottoman Empire at its maximum extent (1683)|
Suleiman I, known as the Magnificent, was the next of the many sultans. He reformed the state and brought its military to the very borders of the Habsburg Empire. But his army was checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529, and the Ottoman military never ventured that far into foreign lands again. The Ottoman Empire reached its largest expanse during his reign, covering over 1 billion acres. Most of northern Africa was conquered, as well as the remaining parts of the Middle East and southern Persia. The Ottoman fleet was unbeatable and it ruled the Mediterranean, Red and Black Seas, and the Persian Gulf. His reign was the longest in the dynasty and when he died in 1566, his throne passed to his son Selim II.
|The Battle of Lepanto|
Selim II prompted the decline of the Ottoman dynasty and power in the region. He didn't care much for warfare and he met a great defeat against the Russians in 1570. His loss at the Battle of Lepanto the next year signaled the end of Ottoman dominance in the Mediterranean, although the fleet was rebuilt soon after its defeat. The successive sultans quickly passed power on to their wives, mothers, or Grand Viziers. Sure, they still killed their brothers (and sometimes sisters) to secure their power base, but then they were happy just letting someone else rule in their name. Many problems were also attributed to the fact that the sultans stopped killing their siblings...at least all of them. That meant that there were rivals for power around constantly, and this helped make quick ends to numerous sultans. Murad IV temporarily revived the authority of the throne, but nearly ended the dynasty as well when he ordered the death of the last Ottoman upon his deathbed.
|Mahmud II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire|
The final straw was World War I. Through the reign of Abdülmecid I, the empire had shifted irreversibly into a constitutional monarchy with the sultan having little real power. However, as figurehead of the empire it was Mehmed V that made the last call to Jihad by a Caliph against the Allied Powers in 1914, signaling Turkey's entry into the Great War. Throughout the war, Mehmed hosted dignitaries from the other Central Powers but had little to do with the war effort. He died just months before Turkey's defeat. In the ensuing Treaty of Sevres in 1920, Turkey lost the majority of its claims, passing them off as protectorates to France and the United Kingdom, or losing them outright to independence. Turkey was now confined to the Anatolian Peninsula with borders matching today's. The dynasty was officially removed from power in 1922, although a member of the family remained the titular Caliph of Islam for another two years until he too was removed.
|Mehmed VI leaving for exile, 1922|
The story of the Ottomans is long and hard with much tragedy, infighting, and death. It was once one of the greatest, most advanced, and most intellectual dynasties in the world, but that fell away with pride, arrogance, and contentment. Now, the Middle East is a piecework of various states all created by the aftereffects of the Ottoman Empire. Each state traces its history back to when the Ottomans were removed from the region. But Turkey isn't likely to return the sultan any time soon. The dynasty's pretenders still live on in Paris today, fondly remembering a time when their siblings would have been dead meat.