The Ottoman and Persian Empires were two of the most dominant and expansive powers of their time. Their centuries of rule left the world a legacy that are still applied up to this day. There is a lot to be learned from the rise and subsequent downfall of these empires, one of which is that even the most effective leadership or the most powerful military does not guarantee invincibility.
The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire began from one of the small tribes established in northwestern Anatolia in 1299. It was named after Osman I (1), the first Ottoman ruler who expanded his empire into the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor. During his reign, Osman united the independent states in Anatolia under a single rule. He also established a formal government and allowed the people he conquered to practice religious freedom. (2)
The Ottomans were Muslims and religion played an important role in the empire. (3) But, the Ottomans did not force the people they conquered to convert. In fact, they allowed Jews and Christians to worship and practice their traditions without persecution. (4) As a result, they kept the people they conquered from rebelling, which allowed them to rule for many years.
During the height of its power, which happened during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, (5) the Ottoman Empire encompassed a huge portion of the Middle East as well as Eastern Europe, including Greece and Hungary and it ruled for more than 600 years. Suleiman the Magnificent was considered by many Muslims to be the near-perfect ruler because he was reputed to be just and humane. He was also a noted poet and patron of the arts. One of Suleiman’s greatest legacy was codifying Ottoman law, which allowed the Sultan to use analogy to extend the law where Sharia has no definitive ruling. The rules covered both the regulation of the military and taxation.(6) While the ruler’s law was considered sacred, it was deemed to be impersonal and administered impartially, which was why even Christians and Jews at that time brought their cases to Muslim judges for their reputation for being fair.
In the late 1600s, the Ottomans were defeated at the Battle of Vienna, which was the beginning of the empire’s decline.(7) They lost most of their territories in Europe during the Balkan Wars and the Young Turks,(8) a stoutly nationalist group composed of mostly ardent military graduates, gained virtual dictatorial power by means of a coup. During World War I, the Ottomans sided with the Central Powers and they were defeated.(9)
Poor leadership and internal corruption eventually led to the dissolution of the empire. This gave rise to present-day Turkey, which was declared a republic in 1923. (10)
The Persian Empire
The Persians were a nomadic people that are related to the Hittites, Greeks, Scythians, and Romans. As nomads, they traveled around Central Asia, bringing their horses and cattle who grazed on the vast fields of grass. (11)
The Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great who first conquered the Median Empire 550 BC, then the Lydians and Babylonians after. (12) With a territory that encompassed Mesopotamia, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey, the Persian Empire eventually stretched its borders for over 3,000 miles from east to west, which made it the largest empire on earth during its time.(13)
Cyrus the Great was known to be a merciful and generous ruler. (14) Under his reign, the Persians allowed the people they conquered to keep their own religions and to practice their cultures and traditions in exchange for the payment of taxes as well as obeying the laws and rules of the Persians. The Persians themselves believed in Zoroastrianism, a religion based on monotheism or the belief in one god. Zoroastrianism was founded by the prophet Zoroaster, or Zarathustra in ancient Iranian. (15)
Unlike other empires, the Persians worked to improve the local economies of their territory by developing official coinage, standardizing weights, and implementing universal laws. They also imposed a tax of 20 percent on all agriculture and manufacturing activities. Moreover, they taxed religious institutions, which were previously non-taxed. To maintain control, the Persians divided their empire into 20 provinces. Each province was ruled by a governor called a satrap, who enforced the law and collected taxes. The vast territory of the Persians was connected by a postal system as well as many roads, the most famous of which was built by King Darius the Great. The 1,700-mile long road extended from Sardis in Turkey to Susa in Elam, and along the path were lodging houses that provided fresh horse and supplies to the royal couriers. (16)
In 490 BC, The Persians, under the rule of King Darius, attacked Greece because they felt that the Greeks were causing rebellions within the empire. While they successfully conquered several city-states, the Persians failed to seize control over Athens after being defeated by the Athenians during the Battle of Marathon. (17)
Xerxes I, Darius’s son, attempted to conquer all of Greece again in 480 BC after he amassed one of the largest armies ever assembled during ancient times. The Persians initially won the battle over a smaller army from Sparta, (18) but the Greek fleet defeated the Persian navy during the Battle of Salamis. (19) They were forced to retreat soon after.
In 334 BC, the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, invaded Central Asia and in 331 BC, he finally put an end to the reign of the Persians, which lasted a little over 200 years. (20)
Summary of some of the differences between the Ottoman and Persian Empires:
- The Ottomans were ruled by a sultan while the Persians were ruled by a king.
- The Ottomans were followers of Islam while the Persians believed in Zoroastrianism.
- While both empires were powerful in their time, the Ottomans ruled for over 600 years but the Persians reigned for just more than 200 years.
- Corruption and poor leadership eventually led to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire while the Persian Empire fell because Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated the Persian army in several battles.
- The Ottomans’ legacy to the world includes the spread of Islam, cutting-edge military practices, great architectural wonders, and artistic pursuits. The Persians, on the other hand, are credited with creating the foundations of the postal system, allowing autonomy for various ethnicities, the use of a network of roads, the adoption of a single language for administration, as well as the practice of bureaucracy.
Although the Ottoman and Persian Empires fell, their successes and downfall left the world with valuable lessons and present-day world powers would be wise to learn from those lessons to enjoy the same triumphs and avoid the same end.