What does Ottoman success really say about a possible Byzantine renewal?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by NolanFoster, Oct 26, 2019.

  1. NolanFoster Hobbes Fan Club

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    In discussions about the late Byzantine empire, you often see something like the following argument:

    The Ottoman state began with a similar economic and population base as the late Byzantine empire had at points from the empire of Nicaea onward. The Ottoman expansion to encompass a vast empire stretching from Algiers to Mecca and Tiflis to Budapest proves that nothing was really holding back the late Romans from recovering the entirety of the former eastern empire - perhaps a few good emperors or generals, or some other reform can get the empire to survive into the modern era, like the Ottomans.

    How much weight does the late Byzantine/early Ottoman analogy have?
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2019
  2. Jimbo808 Well-Known Member

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    It's all about momentum
     
  3. Ian Henderson Well-Known Member

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    One major counterpoint is the difference between the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantines versus the Islam of the Ottomans. Namely, Islam has ways to integrate Christians under their rule, even if in a subordinate position, while the Byzantines had no method to integrate Muslim subjects into their empire. They might tolerate small colonies of Muslim traders, but otherwise when they conquered areas,the Byzantines have the Muslims the choice of expulsion or conversion. There were also time where they had Muslim vassal and client states, but they never showed the ability to exert long term rule over Muslim subjects. Now, developing ways for a Christian empire to rule Muslim subjects is not impossible, the Russians would manage this, but it's a capacity that the Byzantines never had historically.
     
  4. BBadolato Fifth Picturewraith

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    It doesn't, because you are talking about two different states. The Byzantines had an issue with succession that seemed to stretch back to the Roman Republic, any military leader that makes a name for themselves could establish their own dynasty. It was this problem that helped lead to the sack of 1204 in the first place. If nothing is done to address this problem than any Byzantine potential is pretty much theoretical.

    Military wise what give the Ottomans an edge was both a quick adaption of Gunpowder and weak disunited enemies. The Byzantines would need a new military that can be proven to be reliable both in battle and with loyalty.

    Also, the Ottomans had several weaknesses. The Ottomans had a tendency to engage in fratricide, that if it is unchecked then a succession war could break out especially if certain factions start playing politics. Factional disputes could also be an issue, in the Ottoman Empire you had Turkish Nobles, the Janissaries as slave soldiers, converted natives as Pasha's and Bey, native bureaucrats and priests, and several wives all of whom may be looking out for their own mutual exclusive interests. Especially once the Janissaries go the way of your typical Middle East Soldiers and want more power.

    In terms of conquests, the Ottomans found themselves stretched thin. Mesopotamia became a backwater, and the Ottomans had issues enforcing their authority in Egypt at times, and also found themselves driven out of Yemen. So again I would not try and make a 1-1 on the potential of a surviving Byzantium based on the Ottomans.
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2019
  5. Goldensilver81 Well-Known Member

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    the diference is that the romans didnt have fratercide , they didnt really would have been as tolerant as the ottomans , also despite how " great" it was even it its good years the ottoman empire had its very large problems
     
  6. Wendell Wendell

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    The idea presented in the OP is much of the basis for the argument that the Roman Empire endured into the twentieth century through the Ottomans instead of dying in 1453 with the taking of the city, or subsequently with the fall of Trebizond and the Morea. While Anatolia had long been the backbone of the Empire, and what allowed it to thrive, it was no longer so really at any stage during the Palaiologian era, and was only partially so under the Laskarids in large part to it being their literal base of support after 1204.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2019
  7. Nivek Mental Anime,Videogames,Football And Baseball Fan

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    Nothing, comparing apple to orange, anything else, the greco romans were lucky to endure so long
     
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  8. NolanFoster Hobbes Fan Club

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    Why were Islamic empires more successful in that respect? Specifically, why did the majority of the middle east convert through the middle ages instead of turning into a running internal conflict, or ending in forced total conversions or expulsions with lingering suspicion, like Spain? Was it simply a case of the new Muslim regimes providing stability and protection to everyone, and social staking and advancement to converts?
     
  9. Nivek Mental Anime,Videogames,Football And Baseball Fan

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    A massive YES on that. And that the religion was popular itself too.
     
  10. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

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    If you refer to the Christian sections of the Mid East, especially the Syriac and Coptic worlds, these peoples had no or very little martial skills. There was nothing for them to rebel with or wage sectional conflicts with except to wait for an Eastern Roman resurgence, if they even wished that. The Arab rulers pushed these peoples around and considered them to be weak and hence established tributary relations and reception pacts over them (jizya-dhimmi). They also were intensely urban in comparison to some peoples and hence, had less conception of the so-called decentralized rebellion trend many folk tend to develop.

    In the Mid East, peoples who had martial cultures resisted actively Arabo-Islamic rule. Armenian populaces near constantly revolted before allowance of Islamic total rule. Arab Christians who did not convert to Islam sided with the Eastern Empire at various occasions and continued to resist Islamic rule in regions such as Jordan and Palmyra. Mazdakite and other syncretic Iranian religious groups erupted in sectional conflict against Islamic rule. Pagans, Jews and Gnostics who converted to Islam within Iraq transitioned themselves into different sorts of Islamic practice that subverted and ultimately resisted the Islamic caliphal narrative. Muslim converts across the Islamic world embraced forms of the religion that promoted sectionalism to a great degree, something that traditionally Islam did not permit.

    There was massive internal conflicts, certainly and not simply those of a political nature. The Middle Abbasid period was racked with religious conflict, that is intertwined with class, politics, ethnicity and economics.
     
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  11. NolanFoster Hobbes Fan Club

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    Do you have any recommended reading here?
     
  12. Socrates Well-Known Member

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    I think the combination of tax incentives and little religious oppression was huge. Christians didn't learn to hate Muslims and had a vested interest in becoming them.
     
  13. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    All absolutely correct; however, a basic point can be made that Muslim-dominated polities quickly developed and often maintained relatively consistent, established institutional frameworks to deal with internal religious pluralism (within a hierarchy); Christian states before the Modern Era rarely did so to the same extent or for the same duration (although of course Muslim history also has plenty of episodes of violent intolerance).
     
  14. TyranicusMaximus Irrational Statist

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    I wonder how much of a role the Byzantine resettlement of these Arab groups within their domains had in reducing resistance to Islamic rule.
     
  15. Melkart Baal Sur Member

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    Adding my five cents to what John 7755 said about martial cultures and conquered peoples: the same applies to conquerors.
    A key difference between the Byzantines post 1204 and the Ottomans is that the latter had something called Ghazi culture, which gave them a lot more momentum than the Romans. Turkish Anatolia was much less urbanized than Roman Anatolia way almost until the late 19th century, greatly because the turkic folks that rolled in after Manzinkert preferred to keep a nomadic or seminomadic lifestyle that mirrored as much as possible how it was in Central Asia. An integral part of it was their Ghazi warrior culture: turkic nomadic folk, just like the early arabs, shared a passion (or need depending on the perspective) for raiding and plundering. Islam was born within that context and fit their lifestyle almost perfectly. Being a succesful Ghazi carried huge social status for those guys and brought a lot of prosperity to their communities in the form of plunder and slaves.
    The Ottomans love for the institution of ghazw reaches back to the beginnings of their state:

    By early Ottoman times it had become a title of honor and a claim to leadership. In an inscription of 1337 [concerning the building of the Bursa mosque], Orhan, second ruler of the Ottoman line, describes himself as "Sultan, son of the Sultan of the Gazis, Gazi son of Gazi… frontier lord of the horizons." The Ottoman poet Ahmedi, writing ca. 1402, defines gazis as "the instruments of God's religion, a servant of God who cleanses the earth from the filth of polytheism." (Lewis, The Political Language of Islam, pp. 147–148, note 8)

    This meant that a huge chunk of the muslim turkish male population, regardless of social status, had both the means (a horse, bows, weapons) and the motivation (religion/culture) to risk his life and take part in raids that eventually grew up to become all out conquests. The Sultans almost always had huge armies at their dispossal because most of the young men of their vassal tribes were capable to go on campaign without having to worry about any farms "back home", since they were either nomads or seminomads. In the case they weren't nomads, many still enlisted as azaps, dudes who lived on cities yet were almost always ready to jump on whatever raid or campaign the sultan was planning, living mainly on the plunder they got.
    Ever wondered how Bayezid was able to field 85 000 men(almost as much as the Romans in Cannae) in Ankara when not even Justinian or Basil the ll could go beyond 40 000 in the zenith of the Byzantine era? There's your answer. Add more political stability and you get the powerhouse the Ottomans were.
    Unless the Byzantines were able to somehow replicate a similar, equivalent warrior culture either through a kind of Conquistador or Crusader on roids Spirit+a different kind of Theme system that used more slaves to free the small land owners to equip themselves and train to be soldiers a la Spartans and Helots system, I don't see how they could compare.

    Not sure if the Ottomans were significantly more tolerant to Christians than the Byzantines were to Muslims post Macedonian Renaissance or even pre Yarmouk if Heraclius got the tolerance reforms he tried to implement IOTL. The Sultans of Constantinople were no friends of Shi'a muslims and committed their fair share of atrocities to pagan black africans. The life of Christians under their rule was not rosy either after a while. Feel free to correct me.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
  16. Melkart Baal Sur Member

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    I would argue its not that simple: more christians got to live under muslim rule mainly because the latter conquered a lot more christian lands than vice versa, at least on the first centuries of their co existence. Christian states got way less opportunities to experience the same kind of religion pluralism for several centuries and show what they could do... and even then we got to see remarkable examples of Christian tolerance in the Crusader Kingdoms (after the initial conquest phase), in the Armenian Kingdoms, in Ethiopia, in the reign of Alfonso the Wise in Castille and Frederick the ll in the Holy Roman Empire, in the Poland Lithuania Commonwealth (Tatar muslims), in the Russian Tzardoms, etc. Even the initial laws promulgated by the Catholic Kings in Spain after the conquest of Granada were incredibly tolerant (on ink, at least) towards muslims, not even requiring them to pay any kind of religious or blood tax.
    Both Christian and Muslim states were comparably similar in their cruelty towards pagans, either of african, turkic, kurdish, native american or whatever origins you can name. People who compare the treatment of Spanish Habsburgs towards Indians to the tratment Ottomans gave to christian Dhimmis in the Balkans are not being fair.
    If there's a real alternate universe where, somehow, Christian states conquered more muslim lands than IOTL in the Middle Ages, they would have developped similar systems to that of Dhimmitude and Jizya, perhaps something more humane or not.
     
  17. Melkart Baal Sur Member

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    If I'm not mistaken, most of the Christian Arabs that were expelled or fled from Arabia after the Ridda Wars in the 7th century ended up settling in southern Anatolia. The rest would be expelled or forcedfully converted as the centuries passed, to the point that the only Christian Churches in Arabia today are archeological sites. The Spanish were not the only ones expelling people on the base of their religion.

    I think I can recall that the last coptic Roman soldiers in Egypt fled to Constantinople shortly after they realized the Caliphate armies were not the liberators they seemed to be initially, or maybe my memory fails me. If I'm right, that would have meant that the last traces of "warrior culture" that could oppose the Caliphate's rule in Egypt effectively spirited away early, rendering the land completely unable to rebel against the Muslims even if they wanted to.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
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  18. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

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    There is much to what you say in this respect. I would agree more or less to what you say regarding the culture of ghazw (looting or pillaging).
     
  19. funnyhat Well-Known Member

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    Religion is a huge difference here. The Ottomans claimed to be the rightful Caliphs of Islam and said they wanted to unite all Islamic lands. Now certainly there were also many Christians living in the Near East and Egypt at that time, but they had lived as dhimmis for a few centuries and were lower in social status. The aristocracy was Muslim and would support a Muslim ruler much more willingly than a Christian ruler.
     
  20. Melkart Baal Sur Member

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    Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, mate. This is surely a fascinating topic where we can all learn.