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To What Extent Is the Ottoman Empire’s Downfall a Result of Poor Economic Choices in the 16th Century?

Info: 2178 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

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 The Ottoman Empire was a long-lasting dynasty and controlled large parts of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Northern Africa for decades. They thrived off the land and are famous for their achievements in science, medecine, and art. In the late 1600’s, this world power of the time began its downfall. Over the next hundreds of years, the empire lost major parts of its land, until 1922 when they were officially eliminated. This paper will explore the economic reasons for the downfall of the Ottoman empire in the 16th century. 

Evaluation of Two Sources

  1. Alkhateeb, F. (2017). Lost Islamic History. London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd.

The origin of this source is a novel by Firas Alkhateeb, an American researcher and writer who focuses on Islamic history. He completed his BA in History from the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 2010 and has since been teaching Islamic history at the Universal School in Bridgeview, Illinois. The purpose of this novel is to educate and shed light on Islamic history. He deeply explores many empires and groups of people who were Islamic including the Ottoman Empire. Islam was the official religion of the Ottoman Empire. The value of this source is that it allows me to capture the big picture of the state of the Empire at the time. It delves into social, political, and economic issues of the time. Another value of the source is that it was published in 2014, so it is a relatively new source. A limitation of the source is it is told with a heavy influence of Islam and provides more information on that, rather than economics.

      2. Duranoglu, E. and Okutucu, G., 2009. Economic reasons behind the decline of the Ottoman empire (Master’s thesis).

The origin of this document is a masters thesis by two two M.Sc. students at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH). The students, Erkut Duranoglu and Guzide Okutucu, discuss the economic reasons for the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The paper is under the supervision of their Professor, Stig Tenold. Sig Tenold is a professor of economic history at the Department of Economic at NHH. The purpose of the paper is to take a unique approach on the fall of the Ottoman Empire and see it from an economic standpoint. The paper examines the decline through a global economic lens, including factors such as international wars and depressions. Taking a more domestic approach, the authors also explore the weakness of the government, the structure of the economic system, and the resiliency of the system. The value of this paper is that it provides an in-depth look at the affects on the decline of the Empire. They go into great detail examining many economic flaws of the time. The limitation of this source is that the authors reference multiple sources that include European or Turkish perspectives. Also, they do not discuss political or social issues at the time and the effect of these, this limits the usable information with regards to my topic of the economic decline. One last limitation is that Duranoglu and Okutucu are students, and not yet considered experts in the field. 


 Multiple factors influenced the decline of the Ottoman Empire from an economic standpoint in the 16th century. The reasons for this include the spice trade, lack of attention to the issue, inflation, and the cost of war.

The Spice Trade was a very prominent way of sharing goods in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries designed to mainly trade between Europe and Asia. Some of these spices include cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and tumeric. Most of the spices were taken along the Silk Road, which created large trading hubs and eventually the emergence of large cities. Late in the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire conquered more land, allowing leaders the freedom to place high tariffs on the spice trade. Countries also began looking for new and improved ways to get to Asia. “The Portuguese circumnavigation around Africa to India had opened a new spice route to Asia. Therefore, the Turks lost their monopoly on the spice trade going to Europe,” costing them a great deal of money (Russell). “Spices from Asia were being shipped by sea directly to Europe,” leaving the Turks without a percentage of the profits (Waal). Eventually, the Dutch and British closed the trade, hurting the Ottoman Empire’s economy. Losing the previously constant stream of money into their economy, the Turks then struggled greatly to attempt to make that money elsewhere.

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Another major issue lies in the hands of the leader of the Ottoman Empire. The sultans, the name for the leader, were not particularly interested in the study of economics for the benefit country. “Sultans being less severe in maintaining rigorous standards of integrity in the administration of the Empire” (Rogan). European merchants on the other hand, were traveling around the world in search of raw materials, markets and profits, while the middle class in the Ottoman Empire were looked upon by the sultans as a threat to their authority. The middle class in the Ottoman Empire was mostly interested in commerce. The middle class in the Ottoman Empire was prevented from growing by the sultans because the middle class was growing in influence as well as wealth. Another one of the reasons for the failure of the Ottoman Empire to initiate a process of economic growth was likely due to the policies that barred such a process. The principles that guided the Ottoman economic system might have hindered the introduction of new technology, which is the key determinant to economic growth since it triggers saving and investment. The Sultans and middle class not putting a lot of attention on the economic aspects of the country turned out to be a devastating mistake.

Industries and trade were weakened by inflation as well. The strict price regulations in the Empire, made it impossible to provide quality goods at prices low enough to compete with the cheap European manufactured goods. These goods entered the Empire without restriction because of the Capitulations agreements. Ottoman industries fell into rapid decline because of this. Christian subjects and foreign diplomats and merchants, who were protected by the Capitulations, largely drove the sultan’s Muslim and Jewish subjects out of industry and commerce into poverty and despair. “The Foundation of the Ottoman state was greatly weakened as corruption degraded the integrity and efficiency of the central administration. A general state of economic decline set in as prices of basic commodities increased” (Flow of History). In addition, the New World was being conquered across the Atlantic by France, Spain, and England. Their conquests brought them large quantities of gold and silver particularly from the Spanish in Mexico. The Ottoman economy was based on silver. Coins were minted in silver, taxes were collected in silver, and government officials were paid in silver. The huge influx of the precious metal coming from America drastically devalued the Ottoman currency according to the theory of supply and demand. For reference; in 1580, 1 gold coin could be bought for 60 silver coins. Ten years later, in 1590, it would take 120 silver coins to buy one gold. And in 1640, it took 250 silver coins in order to buy one gold. The Empire and everyday citizens were devastated by the raise in prices due to inflation.

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One of the vital sources of income in the Ottoman Empire was due to the money they won from fighting wars. “For the Ottoman Empire, economic weakness produced military weakness” (Duranuglu). As the Empire reached its maximum size in the mid-1500s, that source of income was no longer viable. Due to the empire’s large size, foreign nations were further and further away from the capital, making campaigns against those nations very expensive. It didn’t make economic sense to keep expanding. “In countries at lower levels of development, such as Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, and even Germany, the key feature of the war economy was a decline rather than an increase in GDP” (Broadberry). These smaller countries, much like the Ottoman Empire did not have the funds to continually be in a state of a war economy. 

In conclusion, factors including the spice trade, lack of attention to the issue, inflation, and the cost of war all led to the economic decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire fell over an extended period of time because the economic situation became more bleek each year, until the Empire was not longer able to hold on. 


First, I looked for sources that included information relevant to my topic and read them over. I checked the credibility of the material by researching information on the author, date, and sources to determine if it was a reliable enough source to reference. I then formed my own opinion and analysis with regards to my question. Using this information, I formed arguments to prove my take on the question and found evidence to support said arguments. Throughout this process, I have learned techniques historians use and the values and limitations of these techniques. I have also discovered that every source has values and limitations as well, whether it comes in the form of bias or the age of the source, the reliability of the source, or the source’s completeness. 

I discovered that the role of a historian in an everyday setting is to conduct historical research. They are constantly studying, analyzing and writing about the past. Another important part of their job is to interpret analyse and explore source credibility in depth. When focusing on a certain topic or writing a paper, historians collect data first, which is valuable because they use those facts to construct their views, similar to the process I used. There are limitations including not being able to find reliable information, not being able to find correct information, or sufficient information. They have to consider the reliability of a source for any data or analysis they find. Historians find the author of the source and research them to find where they are getting the information and why they are writing that information. They also inspect the date the source was written to find out how current the information is and they also look at the works cited for the source to see where the author is finding their data and determine if that is credible. Another challenge historians face is different interpretations of history. With mathematicians or scientist, there is only one accepted answer to a problem and it is considered a fact. For historians, there are many varying accounts of each event as it can be told, written, interpreted, or remembered differently.

I think it is extremely hard to tell history is an unbiased way. Even when the historian believes they are being unbiased or are attempting to be unbiased, it is extremely difficult to not be biased when telling history. Everyone has opinions and preconceived notions about people or places and those judgements creep into their writings of history whether they realize it or not. It can also largely affect the tone of writing.  

Works Cited

  • Alkhateeb, F. (2017). Lost Islamic History. London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd.
  • Benjamin, Thomas. “Empire, Ottoman.” Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, Thomson Gale, 2007.
  • Broadberry, S. N., and Mark Harrison. The Economics of World War I. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Duranoglu, E. and Okutucu, G., 2009. Economic reasons behind the decline of the Ottoman empire (Master’s thesis).
  • Rogan, Eugene L. The Fall of the Ottomans: the Great War in the Middle East. Allen Lane, 2015.
  • “The Flow of History.” FC106: Napoleon and His Impact (1799-1815) – The Flow of History, www.flowofhistory.com/units/asia/6/FC49.
  • “The Price Revolution in the Ottoman Context: Economic Upheaval in the Sixteenth Century” Dylan Lawrence Russell James Madison University, 2017
  • Waal, Thomas de. “The G-Word: The Armenian Massacre and the Politics 
of Genocide.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015, carnegieendowment.org/2014/12/16/g-word-armenian-massacre-and-politics-of-genocide


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