Warfare of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans were at first a set of tribes from Central Asia making their way inhabiting Turkey (Asia Minor). These tribes were called the Turks, the Ottomans though was one of the tribes out of all of them that have succeeded in taking lands of the Byzantine Empire bit by bit. The Ottoman Turks have grown to become a leading power after their legendary conquest of Constantinople in 1453 bringing an end to the Byzantine Empire and beginning a new one, the Ottoman Empire. From 1453 until the 1600’s, the Ottoman Empire was the dominant empire of Europe especially in the Mediterranean taking the place of Byzantium, and also ruled their powerful empire from the city of Constantinople. The Ottoman Empire has grown through expansions particularly by having a powerful army with diverse and extremely detailed military units. The Turkish military units focused here are those from the time of the height of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th-18th centuries.

Ottoman Empire map
Ottoman Empire map
flag of the Ottoman Empire
Flag of the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman imperial symbol
Ottoman imperial symbol

First of all, the Ottoman Empire was mainly an Islamic Empire but a powerful one, dominating the Mediterranean world (Europe, Africa, and Asia) for about 200 years. They started all out as Nomadic tribes migrating from central Asia to the Middle East and converted to Islam. The empire first of all started with Osman their first sultan, the empire and I slowly expanded with their Byzantine conquests weakening Byzantium. In 1453, the Ottomans successfully captured Constantinople; the Byzantine capital led by their sultan, Mehmed II and from then ended Byzantium bringing their empire in, also reorganizing the army. Afterwards, the empire continued to grow with their conquests in Wallachia, Greece, and most Eastern Europe. It was their sultan, Selim I in the early 1500’s that brought the empire to its largest extent conquering Egypt, most of North Africa, and parts of Persia and during the reign of Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent; the Ottoman Empire was at its height of power. The empire continued to remain strong until the Italians and Spanish crushed their navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, but still remained strong until the 1700’s. Afterwards, the Ottoman Empire began to decline after losing wars with Russia, the Greek liberation in the 1800’s, and the overthrow of the sultan in the early 1900’s. The Ottomans though ha powerful army units changing throughout history but had the same strategies. Their units were mostly infantrymen but also some cavalrymen and have battle tactics, which were mostly Asian, inspired. Like the Byzantines, the Ottomans relied a lot on range combat, cavalry, and artillery but had more modern weapons including guns and gunpowder and cannons too. The Ottomans too were one of the first in Europe to have a standing army rather than unprofessional soldiers only coming in time for war like the rest of Europe at that time.

the Ottoman imperial navy (1500's)
The Ottoman Imperial navy (1500’s)
Ottomans siege Constantinople (1453)
Ottomans siege Constantinople (1453)
full scale Ottoman army
Full scale Ottoman army
painting of the Ottoman cavalry troops
Painting of the Ottoman cavalry troops

The most famous of the Ottoman military units were the Janissaries, the elite imperial guard forces. The Janissaries were mainly elite guard forces guarding the emperor (sultan), especially in battle; they were based in the cities of Constantinople and Edirne. The Janissary units started out in 1383 by Sultan Murad I, they were at first a slave army made of Greek Christian boys but later grew into the elite military forces and were even powerful enough to be feared by citizens. The Janissaries have a standard uniform having no armor but thick robes that could hold up 1 or 2 long swords called kijil and yatagan and either 2 pistols or a rifle together wit gunpowder flasks and daggers. Their main weapon was basically firearms, which mainly a long and narrow but also an effective musket (rifle) designed for the Ottoman army being more effective than European muskets, it was loaded with musket balls and gunpowder and ornate in design. Janissaries also used pistols instead of a rifle as it would be lighter and also used he same gunpowder and musket balls. As a secondary weapon, they used a long curved sword for close combat and a dagger for sidearm, yet they also used early versions of grenades. These units were clearly infantry but some were mounted placed beside the emperor in battle, when war was not going on, they were stationed guarding major cities. The Janissary uniform was distinct from the rest of the army as they had a standard headpiece used as a hood, except only covering the back and softer clothes; they were also the highest paid units. In battle, some of them were equipped with drums or musical instruments to play music to command other troops of Janissaries and other units. They served in the conquests of sultans Selim I and Suleiman I in expanding the empire.

Janissaries in battle
Janissaries in battle
an Ottoman Janissary
an Ottoman Janissary
Janissaries in Assassin's Creed Revelations
Janissaries in Assassin’s Creed Revelations

Another type of Ottoman infantry units were the Piyade (Yaya), the common infantry troops, they were not as trained and professional as the Janissary units but had a major use in battle. The Piyade units had a set of light armor, basically chain mail and pads compared to the Janissaries, though were an earlier type of units. As weapons, they used long curved swords, spears as well as axes and clubs, some of them were archers as well using either bows or crossbows but barely used guns. These units were basically light infantry but had good use as well.

a Piyade spearman
 Piyade spearman
Piyade units spear formation
Piyade units spear formation

The Ottomans had cavalry army units as well; in fact their original units were cavalry. One of the units was called the Sipahi, these were armored cavalrymen using lances, bows, swords, axes, or clubs as weapons. The sipahi were heavy cavalry units with full armor and chain mail as well as a helmet for head protection and a few pieces of cloth for lining. These units were used to perform shock charges in battle first by shooting arrows at the enemy then charging at their lines, these units were their version of the Byzantine Cataphracts. The Akinci was another type of cavalry unit, which were less armored, only having robes and swords or bows as their weapons. Their main use in battle was to scout on the enemy and do skirmish attacks by shooting arrows. The Silahtar on the other hand were the elite cavalry assigned to protecting the sultan in battle. They did not have armor but had distinct outfits. These units were more of the imperial cavalry bodyguards and were the highest ranking among the soldiers.

dismounted akinci unit
Dismounted Akinci unit
Sipahi cavalry unit
Sipahi cavalry unit
Silahtar cavalry unit
Silahtar cavalry unit
Ottoman armored Sipahi unit dismounted
Ottoman armored Sipahi unit dismounted
Sipahi unit infantry
Sipahi unit infantry

Another of the most skilled units in the Ottoman army was the riflemen. These units were basically stationed in the front lines of the battle but also in hiding spots to shock the enemy attack. The Ottoman riflemen did not have much armor on them but had a pointed helmet with scarves lining it. Their main weapon was a long and thin rifle using gunpowder and musket balls and as a sidearm, they were equipped with a dagger or short sword. Another thing the riflemen used were grenades with different explosions, mostly smoke explosions but some with gunpowder with heavy impact.

Ottoman rifleman concept art
Ottoman rifleman concept art
Ottoman Turkish rifles
Ottoman Turkish rifles
Ottoman rifle close-up
Ottoman rifle close-up

Another part the Ottomans took seriously in battle were their artillery, particularly the cannons. In battle they had all sorts of cannons, the most famous one being the bombarders, short round cannons, use during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. The commonly used cannon of the Ottomans was the battering gun (darbzen), having heavy fire, used usually in sieging walls and attacking large ships. The “balyemez” was a medium size cannon with a longer range, usually used in ships and the sahalaz was a light cannon used in light fire attacking small ships. The later cannons the Ottomans used had more effect such as grapeshot, round shot, and chain shots.

regular Ottoman cannon
Regular Ottoman cannon
bombarder cannon
Bombarder cannon
Ottomans using large cannons in seige
Ottomans using large cannons in siege

The Ottomans had all sorts of weapons from bow and arrows to heavy fire rifles. First of all, the swords were the most common weapons, the Ottomans had 2 basic types of swords, the “yataghan” and “kilij”; the yataghan was long curved edge sword with a fine tip used by the Janissaries and navy men while the kilij was a long, thin, and curved sword used by infantry soldiers especially the Janissaries. The Ottomans also used round edged maces of clubs as a basic weapon in close combat, used by the Sipahi cavalry and infantry units. They also used bows with the same type of arrows but the bow size made the range and impact of fire different; the look as well happened to be different as it was completely a bent semi-cricle  the infantry units were sometimes equipped with bows and arrows for long range combat or crossbows for short range combat. Spears or pikes were also used for thrusting at the enemy as a melee weapon. Daggers as well were used as a sidearm, so were pistols, used by the Janissaries and most units. The rifles the Ottoman used for long-range combat were long and thin making the shots accurate and the fire too was strong. They too used grenades, in fact one of the first using them to create mini explosions with gunpowder.

Turkish kilij sword
Turkish kilij sword
Turkish Yataghan sword
Turkish Yataghan sword
Ottoman Turk mace
Ottoman Turkish mace
Ottoman Turkish bow and arrows
Ottoman Turkish bow and arrows
hybrid spear/ axe tips
Hybrid spear/ axe tips
Ottoman grenades (hand-held)
Ottoman grenades (hand-held)

To fully describe the warfare of the Ottoman Turks, it also involves a mix of culture and is not all about fighting without skill or design but it has a bit of music, art, design, and different cultures in it. Most of Ottoman Turk warfare is based on Asiatic cavalry warfare from the early days, which includes horse archery and shock charges. Although a part of Ottoman warfare comes from Arabic, Syrian, and Persian warfare, which is mostly the armor the Ottoman forces wear looking similar to the armor of Islamic warriors during the time of the crusades especially the weapons they use. A part too of Ottoman warfare comes from Byzantine Greek war culture, which includes especially the siege tactics, large melee weapons and battle formations; it has also a mix of Renaissance European war tactics as it involves cannons and guns. Overall, Ottoman warfare is a mix of the warfare of these cultures put together as one making it its own.

Ottomans siege Constantinople 1453
Ottomans siege Constantinople, 1453 (the aftermath)

With a unique warfare, which only fits in as theirs, the Ottomans were able to build a large and powerful empire lasting for centuries.

The end, thanks for reading!

2 Comments

  1. Are you a reliable source? I am trying to write a paper and my teacher says you aren’t reliable. Where did you get your information?

    Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s