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The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire

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The Ottoman Empire

Course No. 3160
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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4.4 out of 5
37 Reviews
83% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 3160
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  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, diagrams, illustrations, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it does feature maps that show an expanding and contracting empire - routes, battles, cities, and the movements of people, portraits, examples of art and architecture, as well as on-screen text to highlight non-English terms and help reinforce material for visual learners.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Learn why Sultan Suleiman I is considered one of the Ottoman Empire's most important political rulers.
  • Make sense of the public - and private - politics of the grand Ottoman court.
  • Appreciate the empire's many cultural contributions, including mosques and illuminated manuscripts.
  • Examine reasons why the Ottoman Empire collapsed after the First World War.
  • Ponder how the legacy of the Ottoman Empire continues to shape the Middle East today.

Course Overview

When confronting the future, nations and civilizations always look to the past for guidance, lessons, and a shared sense of purpose and meaning. For the peoples of the Middle East, that immediate past is the Ottoman Empire.

In the West, we often overlook the fact that the achievements of the Ottoman Empire at the zenith of its power matched those of contemporary Western Europe – as well as the other great Islamic states of Safavid Iran and Mughal India. According to Kenneth W. Harl, award-winning professor of Classical and Byzantine history at Tulane University, “the cultural achievements of Ottoman civilization still endure, and they speak of a wealthy and sophisticated Islamic civilization.”

It is by understanding the vast, dramatic story of the Ottoman Empire – from its early years as a collection of raiders and conquerors to its undeniable power in the 15th and 16th centuries to its catastrophic collapse in the wreckage of the First World War – that one can better grasp the current complexities of the Middle East, including geopolitical tensions between Turkey and its Balkan and Middle Eastern neighbors, the sustained political and cultural power of Islam, and the balancing act between religious tradition and cultural modernity.

What made the Ottoman Empire such a match with the empires of the early modern world? What, in fact, made this empire unlike any other in human history? What forces were responsible for shaping this brilliant civilization—and what forces led to its ultimate destruction? These are just some of the questions you’ll explore alongside Professor Harl in The Ottoman Empire. Over the course of 36 historically rich and enlightening lectures, you’ll investigate more than 600 years of history that cover the nature of Ottoman identity, the achievements and oddities of the Sultan’s court, and stories of confrontation and cooperation with the West. The result: a better appreciation for the ways in which the Ottomans created a unique way of life – and how that way of life echoes throughout Europe and across the Middle East. 

From “Sublime Porte” to “Sick Man”

To the emissaries of King Francis I in 1536, the Ottoman Empire was called the “Sublime Porte,” referring to the magnificence of the high gate within the empire’s grand Topkapı palace complex. More than 200 years later, Tsar Nicholas I referred to the empire— beginning to lose territory and power—as “the Sick Man of Europe.” Less than 100 years after that, the empire disappeared.

The Ottoman Empire guides you through the rise, flourishing, and fall of one of the most powerful forces in history in a way that makes historical themes and ideas easy to understand. Working chronologically from the empire’s medieval roots to its rebirth as the modern republic of Turkey, Professor Harl groups the lectures around a series of historical moments and themes.

  • An Empire is Born: You’ll get an in-depth look at how the Ottoman Empire was first created, and you’ll follow the learning journey it took up through 1632, during the reign of Sultan Murat IV. Along the way, you’ll meet rulers seldom equaled by any other dynasty, including Suleiman the Magnificent – who reigned from 1520 to 1566 and whose iconic rule is still hailed as the apex of Ottoman power.
  • The High Ottoman Empire: The classical age of the Ottoman Empire is commonly held as the time between 1453 and 1699. What were its political and religious institutions like? What cultural advancements were made? You’ll dive into two centuries of vitality and originality, covering everything from the imperial economy to Islamic building programs to the development of miniature manuscript paintings.
  • When East Met West: Central to the classical age of the Ottoman Empire was its complex relationship with its eastern and Western neighbors, from Safavid Iran to European traders, who both engaged with – and threatened – the traditional Ottoman order. You’ll consider how wars and treaties with the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, Russia and more shifted the balance of power that would pave the way for the empire’s ultimate decline.
  • Reform, Collapse, Rebirth: Starting in the late 17th century, the Ottoman Empire began its slow decline, collapse, and partition. After which, a rebirth occurred in the form of the republic of Turkey. Professor Harl unpacks the various historical forces responsible for this, chief among them the First World War and the leadership of Mustafa Kemal.

People, Events, and Themes that Made an Empire

Befitting a story of such epic scope and grandeur, every lecture of The Ottoman Empire is a treasure trove of historical nuggets and fascinating insights into the people, events, themes, and locales responsible for shaping the story of this often overlooked empire.

Told with Professor Harl’s characteristic detail and insight, these and other topics are just a few of what you’ll find laid in these 36 lectures.

  • Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes. One of the central figures in the early spiritual transformation of Anatolia was Jalal-ud-din Rumi who, along with his followers, the iconic “whirling dervishes,” used Sufism to create a folk Islam linked to the mores of Anatolian village life.
  • Selim the Grim. An ambitious victor of a civil war in 1512, Selim earned his terrifying moniker, Yavuz (“the Grim”), after ordering the execution of all challenges to his rule, including his half-brother, his nephews, and his cousins.
  • The Sultan’s Deputies. Something of the Turkish sultan’s right-hand man, the grand viziers, after the mid-16th century, began to assume the foreign policy and administrative power from sultans, who found themselves more involved with spiritual and ceremonial matters.
  • Suleiman’s Wars. Not only was Suleiman I one of the Ottoman Empire’s most decisive, influential rulers, he also waged several fierce military campaigns against Safavid Iran (the empire’s main Eastern rival) that were less about territory and more about competing religious claims as to who would lead the Islamic world.
  • The Committee of Union and Progress. Between 1909 and 1911, the CUP dominated the Ottoman parliament as something of a shadow government ruling through repression. This is a political model that, Professor Harl notes, would be transmitted to the empire’s successor states in southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

A Fascinating Story Told by a Great Storyteller

Over the years, Professor Harl has been acclaimed by lifelong learners for his ability to untangle historical complexities and recreate the thrill of making historical connections. As a seasoned member of The Great Courses faculty, his expertise in the Classical and Byzantine eras (including scholarly work on classical Anatolia) makes him the perfect guide through centuries of fascinating history.

The winner of numerous teaching awards, including Tulane University’s Sheldon Hackney Award for Excellence in Teaching (on two occasions), Professor Harl has a preternatural ability to make the intricate layers and interconnections of an entire civilization’s history graspable.

A visually rich course, the video editions of The Ottoman Empire come complete with helpful maps that show the historic expansion (and contraction) of the empire; portraits that put a face with some of the many people you encounter in these lectures; photographs and illustrations of Ottoman architecture, illuminated manuscripts, and historic landscapes; and much more.

Welcome to a fascinating story of the triumph and tragedy, war and peace, intellectual progress and civil insurrection of a great empire that, for all its glory and grandeur, has left an important legacy that will shape the future of the Balkan nation-states, the Turkish Republic, and the Arab world – and those of us in the West as well.

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36 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Sublime Porte: Visions of the Ottoman Empire
    How should one consider the vast history of the Ottoman Empire? Professor Harl sets the stage for the lectures to come with a consideration of key themes in the empire’s journey from “Sublime Porte” to “Sick Man of Europe” – as well as the distorting images of Orientalism. x
  • 2
    Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor
    Ottoman sultans traced their origins to the Oghuz Turks of the Central Eurasian steppes, whose nomadic ways of life were transformed by Islam. Follow along as the subsequent Seljuk Turks evolve from raiders to conquerors–and spark conflict with Western Europe’s religious pilgrims. x
  • 3
    The Islamization of Asia Minor
    First, learn how the Seljuk sultans created an Islamic Turkish Anatolia, which would become the heartland of future Ottoman sultans. Then, explore Seljuk developments in architecture, decorative art, and religion – including domed mosques, medresses (religious schools), and “whirling dervishes.” x
  • 4
    Ottoman Sultans of Bursa
    Meet the sultans who transformed the Ottoman sultanate into an imperial state. Among these: Orhan, who made Bursa the state’s capital; Murad I and Bayezid I, who incorporated Asia Minor into the Ottoman state; and “the Thunderbolt,” who forged an empire of tributaries in the Balkans and Anatolia. x
  • 5
    Defeat and Recovery, 1402–1451
    The defeat of Sultan Bayezid by Tamerlane at the Battle of Angora revealed the fragile nature of the nascent Ottoman sultanate. Focus on the empire’s recovery under Mehmed I Çelebi and Murad II, who made the empire into a bureaucratic monarchy and defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Varna. x
  • 6
    Mehmet the Conqueror, 1451–1481
    Mehmet the Conqueror made the Ottoman sultanate a leading Muslim power by 1481. In this lecture, investigate his remarkable rule, which included the conquest of Constantinople, the remodeling of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, and the construction of the grand, walled mini-city of Topkapı. x
  • 7
    Selim the Grim and the Conquest of Cairo
    In 1512, Selim emerged victorious from the ashes of a civil war and executed all challenges to his rule (earning him the sobriquet “the Grim”). Go inside Selim’s military campaigns against Iran, Syria, and Egypt, which helped make the Ottoman Empire virtually synonymous with the “house of Islam.” x
  • 8
    Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520–1566
    Suleiman the Magnificent presided over the zenith of the Ottoman Empire. You’ll learn how, during his 46-year reign, he expanded civil bureaucracy, waged a naval war in the Mediterranean against Habsburg Spain, and also altered the imperial succession–sowing what some historians consider the seeds of the empire’s downfall. x
  • 9
    Sultans in Topkapı, 1566–1648
    Turn now to a period of decline, most notable for the emergence of the harem as a powerful political institution. Meet sultans including Murad III, a patron of the arts (especially miniaturist painting) and Ahmet I, an ineffective 13-year-old who presided over the “Sultanate of Women.” x
  • 10
    The Sultan-Caliph and His Servants
    Ottoman sultans played two roles: as sultan/warrior and as the caliph of Sunni Islam. Here, unpack the role of the sultan in the Ottoman Empire, including his relationship with the ulema (religious experts), his central administration (called the Porte"), and with his viziers." x
  • 11
    Timariots, Peasants, and Pastoralists
    Between 1500 and 1800, the Ottoman Empire spread across more than 1 million square miles–but economic activity varied from region to region. Discover how groups like pastoralists and the Muslim gentry (timariots) played their own critical roles in the drama and resiliency of the rural Ottoman economy. x
  • 12
    Trade, Money, and Cities
    Trade was vital to the Ottoman Empire – as well as a cause for its decline from “Porte” to “Sick Man of Europe.” Trace some of the empire’s most prominent trade routes, including the iconic Silk Road, as well as the British penetration of Ottoman markets in 1838. x
  • 13
    Arabs under the Ottoman Caliph
    For 300 years, Ottoman Sultans ruled the majority of Arabs. How did “the Porte” successfully administer the diverse Arab provinces under its control? How did “the Porte” respect Islamic traditions? Why were the Arabs so loyal to the empire up until the early 19th century? x
  • 14
    Christians and Jews under the Porte
    Under the Ottomans, Christian and Jewish subjects were classified as dhimmi (“people of the book”) and were afford legal protection and the right to practice their faith. Explore daily life in some of the Christian and Jewish communities (millet) scattered across the empire. x
  • 15
    Sunni Islam and Ottoman Civilization
    Go deeper inside the details of Ottoman civilization. Among the topics you'll explore are the transformation of Turkish into a new literary language; the importance of calligraphy and miniaturist painting; intellectual developments in history and geography; and, finally, the cultural influence of the Sufis. x
  • 16
    Ottoman Constantinople
    What was Constantinople like under Ottoman control? Professor Harl shows how the empire became a veritable paradise among Muslim cities, with markets and mosque complexes, social activities and public spaces, and the grandeur of Topkapı, which you’ll see through the eyes of French Ambassadors sent in 1536. x
  • 17
    The Sultan at War: The Ottoman Army
    Sultans between the reigns of Murad II and Mehmet IV commanded one of the finest armies in Eurasia. Discover how the Ottoman imperial army matched Europe's best, how money was raised to meet the rising costs of war, why the Ottoman army suffered decisive defeats, and more. x
  • 18
    Sultan and Shah: Challenge of Safavid Iran
    The Ottoman Sultan and the Safavid Shah clashed frequently over strategic lands between the two civilizations. First, learn why Safavid Iran was the religious and ideological rival of “the Porte.” Then, examine five major wars the Ottomans waged against their rivals between 1514 and 1722. x
  • 19
    Sultan and Emperor: War in the West
    Visit the empire’s northern border in Europe to explore its military clashes with the West. Why was fighting in Central Europe so indecisive? Why did the Long-Turkish War prove so embarrassing for three sultans? How did “the Porte” come to ease tensions with the Habsburgs after 1605? x
  • 20
    Sultan and Venice: War in the Mediterranean
    Learn why Ottoman success at sea in the 1500s stemmed from Suleiman's strategic vision and the skills of his admirals. Along the way, you'll investigate Suleiman's war against Venice, the Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and battles with another European naval power: Portugal. x
  • 21
    Köprülü Viziers and Imperial Revival
    Professor Harl reveals how a dynasty of Grand Viziers and bureaucrats rescued the Ottoman Empire from factions and court intrigue, then guided the empire through various crises between 1683 and 1699, helping to end the ruinous war against Venice, as well as end political instability within the House of Osman. x
  • 22
    The Empire at Bay, 1699–1798
    In this lecture, learn why the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz is a turning point in Ottoman history–another that marked the empire’s steady decline into the “Sick Man of Europe.” Central to this lecture: the Ottoman military’s engagement with a powerful new Christian foe: Catherine the Great. x
  • 23
    Napoleon Invades Ottoman Egypt
    France's occupation of Egypt from 1798 to 1801 compromised the restoration of Ottoman rule in the country. And, as you'll learn, Napoleon's invasion also marked the first instance of the Muslim Middle East's encounter with modernity and political reforms based on the principles of the French Revolution. x
  • 24
    Crisis: Muhammad Ali and Balkan Nationalists
    Learn how Muhammad Ali exploited the confusion in Egypt after Napoleon's departure and, in 35 years, became the first successful Muslim ruler to transform Egypt into the literary and intellectual center of the Arabic-speaking world. Also, consider several Serbian and Greek revolts that rocked the Ottoman Empire. x
  • 25
    Tanzimat and Modernization, 1839–1876
    First, examine how the reforms of professional ministers led by Mustafa Reşid Paşa ushered in a massive reorganization (Tanzimat) of both the Ottoman State and Ottoman society. Then, consider how Tanzimat widened divisions within Ottoman society and failed to make the empire a member of the Concert of Europe. x
  • 26
    Defeat and Retreat: The Sick Man of Europe
    How did the Crimean War vindicate the reformers of Tanzimat? Why was the Treaty of Paris a strategic victory for “the Porte”—that came at a high price? What impact did the empire’s catastrophic defeat during the Russo-Turkish War have on its future with the Concert of Europe? x
  • 27
    The Sultan Returns: Abdül Hamid II, 1876–1908
    On December 23, 1876, Sultan Abdül Hamid II proclaimed the first Ottoman constitution. Eleven months later, it was suspended, along with its Parliament. Go inside this period of continued reform, which tied “the Porte” to an alliance with Germany and ultimately led to Sultan Hamid II’s downfall. x
  • 28
    Constitutional Reform, 1908–1913
    Turn now to the Second Constitutional Period, which raised hopes for imperial recovery and reform but ended with the domination of power by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). Thus emerged a shadow government that became an unintended dress rehearsal for future one-party dictatorships. x
  • 29
    War in Libya and the Balkans, 1911–1913
    Discover why the Ottoman government was ill-prepared for both the Italo-Turkish War and the First Balkan War. Experience its stunning defeat by the improbable alliance of Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria. Learn why the Treaty of Constantinople almost assured the outbreak of another Balkan war. x
  • 30
    The Road to World War I
    Using recent research (based on Russian and Ottoman archives), learn why the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War. What role did the defeats of 1911–1913 play in the road to war? Why did Ottoman ministers negotiate favorable terms with Germany in exchange for entrance into the war? x
  • 31
    The Empire at Total War, 1914–1916
    Though it entered the First World War enthusiastically, the Ottoman Empire was not prepared for total war. In this lecture, focus on the empire's offensives against the Russian Caucasus Army and the Suez Canal, as well as its struggle against an impending British invasion in the Dardanelles. x
  • 32
    Ottoman Collapse, 1916–1918
    By 1916, the Ottoman Empire was fighting for its very survival. Professor Harl reveals the impact of the Russian Revolution on the war, the steady deterioration of the empire over the course of the fighting, and the army's ultimate collapse, which came suddenly and unexpectedly, in late 1918. x
  • 33
    Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk
    Meet the “father of the Turks”: Mustafa Kemal. By following his life and career, you’ll come away from this fascinating lecture with a well-rounded understanding of how he came to play such a decisive role in the modernization of Turkish civilization and the creation of the Turkish Republic. x
  • 34
    Casualties of War and Ethnic Cleansing
    The best estimate is that a total of 800,000 Armenians died between 1915 and 1921. In this powerful lecture, examine why the destruction of the Armenian community has come to be seen as the first in a series of similar events that would wreak havoc on the 20th century. x
  • 35
    The Emergence of the Turkish Republic
    Under Mustafa Kemal, Islamic tradition was seen as an obstacle to joining European civilization. How did Kemal and the Turkish Parliament approach the daunting task of transforming the imperial heartland into the Turkish Republic? How are Turks today wrestling with their Ottoman legacy? x
  • 36
    Nation-States, Islam, and the Ottoman Legacy
    Conclude with an insightful look at how the legacy of the Ottoman Empire still influences the Middle East–and will continue to do so in the future. Each of the empire’s successor states, you’ll learn, has its own perceptions of this legacy, and its own lessons learned from history. x

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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The Ottoman Empire is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 37.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Content, but Poor Delivery Dr. Harl obviously knows the subject matter very well. I think it is important in these times to know more about the history of the middle east. This course does well in providing this material. Dr. Harl's delivery style, however, must be an acquired taste. He provides a lot of information, but oftentimes too much. He also stutters a lot while apparently looking for words, inserting the annoying "uh" and "um". If you can get past that, then there is a lot of material here that will give you background on why the middle east is the way it is today.
Date published: 2017-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Harl is among the very best. Ties the various threads together and brings them to our current time. I have enjoyed his other courses such as the Byzantine Empire which is a natural first act to The Ottoman Empire.
Date published: 2017-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Ottoman Empire My interest in Prof. Harl’s courses at TGC started with the Vikings. From there, I quickly picked up his courses on The Era of the Crusades, Alexander The Great, The Peloponnesian War, Rome and the Barbarians and every single one after that. His courses are well researched, well designed, well organized, and demonstrate an incredible passion for his subject matter. Every lecture is carefully introduced and builds rapidly upon each succeeding topic. I cannot begin to express how excited I was when I saw that he had come out with this latest one on the Ottomans. I have watched every single lecture in all of his courses – a number of them more than once – and I can easily say that The Ottomans lecture series does NOT disappoint.
Date published: 2017-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well researched and presented course I had purchased an earlier course -- Vikings -- taught by Prof Harl, and enjoyed his presentation and style. This one did not disappoint, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the history of a culture that has often been seen as an adversary to the West, yet which has been so central to European history. One finishes the course wishing it had covered even more--a real recommendation for any course. My only quibble, and one which perhaps applies as much to the editors as to the instructor, is that many names spelled out on the video screen were fairly obviously pronounced inconsistently with what one reads--a bit of editing could have avoided these glitches. The instructor's enthusiasm for and photos of the Ottoman architecture make you want to get to Istanbul and other Ottoman cities ar the first opportunity. His handling of the post WW I years, especially the Armenian diaspora, seems balanced and nuanced--surely a difficult task.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from prices I've been purchasing courses for over 20 years, originally cassette tapes then mainly CDs. I think your pricing has become a bit like Jos. A Banks-way over the top then given discounts -sales etc. Some of these courses are quite old so I'm sure you've made money on the popular courses-how much does it cost to pop out a CD?
Date published: 2017-09-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Solid Course by Prof who respects the Ottomans For a novice (like me) I learned a lot about the Ottoman Empire, and the way it was led. I found the presentation a little dry. I would have preferred more focus on the personalities (Leaders & general population)
Date published: 2017-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All the Ottoman you ever wanted to know In true Kenneth Harl fashion this course has added greatly to the great deal I thought I all ready knew about the Ottoman Empire. And the second time through will add even more; there is no way to absorb all there is to learn in one viewing, or even two.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Finally, I understand the Ottoman Empire Fascinating teaching about the Ottoman Empire. One nugget: I learned about the word 'bey' that was given to governors appointed to oversee provinces. So during my recent pre-surgery consultation, I asked my doctor about his hyphenated last name ('-bey') and was its meaning 'royal and governing.' He smiled, said no one has asked him before knowing its meaning and responded that, yes, its means governor and that his family served as governor in North Africa 10 generations ago. The surgery went very well.
Date published: 2017-09-19
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