Composite Monarchy - Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was the best example of a composite monarchy in the early modern period. Remnants of the Byzantine Empire from Eastern Europe were united under Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II by 1453, and the empire incorporated a vast collection of territories surrounding the Mediterranean. The Ottoman Sultan had succeeded in “superimposing” the Byzantine empire with Ottoman Rule. Ottoman lands contained a wide variety of cultural legal and religious traditions.

The Ottomans maintained an aeque principali empire where local customs and traditional practices were perpetuated. In many cases, the Ottomans allowed subject peoples including Christians of many denominations and Jews have their own communities where their own peculiar laws and customs were practiced as a part of the Ottoman whole; which often included separate legal codes for each territory that included the retention of many local customs and traditions. This approach is somewhat similar to the approaches of other composite monarchies except that the Ottoman territories included a much more diverse population. The diversity of the empire was also reflected in the Ottoman ruling class. Unlike most western European examples, the Ottoman ruling class included a wide variety of people and cultural traditions. Entrance to the Ottoman ruling class was not exclusively by birth, but many other cultural and linguistic traditions were included.

The Ottoman Empire’s most striking difference with other composite monarchies in Europe was that it allowed religious freedom to a much greater extent than the Europeans did. Religious warfare proliferated in the early modern period (especially in the 16th and 17th centuries). The Ottomans did not require that their subjects adhere to the religion of the monarch, a requirement that usually was a major part of composite kingdoms. The Ottoman Empire was extremely diverse and there were relatively few restrictions on activity of minority groups. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Hungarians, Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, guildsmen, bureaucrats and slaves were free to work and live throughout the empire. This level of religious freedom was largely alien to the rest of Europe during the early modern period. The Inquisition in Spain, and the Ghettos in Italy are examples of the religious restriction and intolerance within non-Ottoman Europe. This lack of religious toleration is a major difference between the rest of Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

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