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Ottoman Centuriesby Lord Kinross
Synopses & Reviews
Legend envelops the early history of the ottoman dynasty. Traditionally its founder was a small tribal chieftain named Ertoghrul, who, as he migrated across Asia Minor with a band of some four hundred horsemen, came upon a battle between two groups of combatants unknown to him. Chivalrously he chose, after consultation with his men, to back the losing side, thus turning the scales and assuring their victory. They proved to be the troops of the Seljuk sultan Ala-ed-Din of Konya, fighting against a detachment of Mongols. Ala-ed-Din rewarded Ertoghrul with a territorial fief near Eskishehir, comprising lands for summer and winter residence at Sugut, to the west of the Anatolian plateau. This was later enlarged in return for support of the sultan's declining fortunes in another victorious battle — this time against the Greeks. Here was a legend designed to establish for the Ottoman line a legitimate connection with the reigning dynasty, later to be confirmed by the sultan's bestowal on Osman, the son of Ertoghrul, of the insignia of sovereignty in the form of a banner and drum.
Further such legends, characteristic of dynastic mythology in medieval and indeed biblical chronicles, concern significant dreams by Ertoghrul and his son Osman. It is said that Osman once passed the night in the house of a pious Moslem. Before Osman slept, his host, put a book in his room. On enquiring its title he received the reply: "It is the Koran; the word of God given to the world through his prophet Mohammed." Osman, it seems, started to read the book and continued to do so, standing, throughout the night. He fell asleep toward morning, at the hour, so Moslems believe, most favourable toprophetic dreams; and indeed, as he slept, an angel appeared to him, saying the words: "Since thou has read my eternal word with so great respect, thy children and the children of thy children shall be honoured from generation to generation."
A subsequent dream concerned a girl, Malkatum, whom Osman sought to marry. She was the daughter of a Moslem kadi, or judge, in a nearby village, the sheikh Edebali, who for two years had refused his consent to the marriage. Then Osman, as he slept, received a further revelation. In this the moon rose from the breast of the sheikh, who lay by his side. When full it descended into his own breast. Then from his loins there sprang a tree, which as it grew came to cover the whole world with the shadow of its green and beautiful branches. Beneath it Osman saw four mountain rangesthe Caucasus, the Atlas, the Taurus, and the Balkans. From its roots there issued four rivers, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile, and the Danube. The fields were rich with crops, the mountains thick with forests. In the valleys were cities adorned with domes, pyramids, obelisks, columns, and towers, all surmounted by the Crescent. Their balconies rang with the call to prayer, mingling with the song of nightingales and bright-coloured parrots, perched among interlaced, sweetsmelling branches.
Their leaves started to lengthen into sword blades. A wind arose, pointing them toward the city of Constantinople, which, "situated at the junction of two seas and of two continents, seemed like a diamond mounted between two sapphires and two emeralds, and appeared thus to form the precious stone of the ring of a vast dominion which embraced the entire world." Osman was about to putthe ring on his finger when he awoke. He recounted the dream to Edebali, who interpreted it as a sign from God, and now gave his daughter to Osman in marriage, presaging the power and the glory of their posterity. The ceremony was performed, according to the strictest rites of the True Faith, by a holy dervish for whom Osman later built a convent, endowing it with rich villages and lands.
The first of these two legends suggests that Osman and his peoplethe Osmanlis-were not yet Moslems at the time of their settlement in the region of Eskishehir. The first wave of Turkish immigrants into Asia Minor from the eleventh century onward, as forerunners and followers of the Seljuk armies, consisted for the most part of converts to Islam through their previous association with the Moslem Arab world. But the second wave, in the thirteenth century, was composed mostly of pagans, and it was to this, so it seems, that the Ottomans belonged. Most of them came not as settlers but as refugees, driven westward by the invasion of the pagan Mongol hordes. Many of them remained in the eastern lands, to return home perhaps when the Mongols withdrew. But others, more warlike, pushed onward into the Seljuk lands.
Among these were the Ottomans, who thus came under the protection of Sultan Ala-ed-Din. Rather than enlist them as mercenaries in his own army, he preferred to grant them lands in the disturbed frontier districts, where they might keep order locally or fight for their newly won possessions against the Byzantine Greeks. This, it seems probable, was the stage at which the followers of Ertoghrul and Osman became converted to Islam. It was a conversion that inspired the Ottoman people ...
The Ottoman Empire began in 1300 under the almost legendary Osman I, reached its apogee in the sixteenth century under Suleiman the Magnificent, whose forces threatened the gates of Vienna, and gradually diminished thereafter until Mehmed VI was sent into exile by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk).
In this definitive history of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Kinross, painstaking historian and superb writer, never loses sight of the larger issues, economic, political, and social. At the same time he delineates his characters with obvious zest, displaying them in all their extravagance, audacity and, sometimes, ruthlessness.
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