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17.1 The Ottomans and the Mongols

Following the sack of Constantinople by crusaders and the Mongols’ defeat of the Seljuk Turks, the Ottomans emerged as a power in northwestern Anatolia. Under Osman’s successors, they crossed the Dardanelles into Europe, defeating the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo. When the Mongol conqueror Timur invaded the region, he defeated Bayezid, and the subsequent conflict among Bayezid’s sons splintered the Ottoman state. Timur’s empire came to include Persia, central Asia, and northern India, but Timur died before he could fulfill his plan to invade China.

Bayezid’s son Mehmed I and his grandson Murad II rebuilt Ottoman possessions in Anatolia and Europe. In 1453, among other victories, Mehmed II conquered Constantinople. He rebuilt the city, thereafter known as Istanbul, and invited scholars and artists from Asia and Europe. He was tolerant of his non-Muslim and European subjects and allowed them to remain in Istanbul, though historians see the flight of many scholars to western Europe with the preserved knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome as one factor that helped to spark the Italian Renaissance and the transition to the early modern era. Meanwhile, western European traders began to seek all-water, oceanic routes to South and East Asia.

17.2 From the Mamluks to Ming China

The Abbasids, Ayyubids, and Ottomans all depended on enslaved or formerly enslaved people to staff their armies and run their administrations. Christian boys were taken from their parents, forced to convert to Islam, and trained as soldiers and administrators. In the Abbasid and Ayyubid states, they were called mamluks. In the Ottoman state they were Janissaries. Enslaved women might also become members of the sultan’s harem and bear him children. Enslaved people were often placed in positions of trust because, having been taken from their families as children, they were entirely dependent on the ruler for their position and thus loyal to him.

In Egypt, the mamluk soldiers overthrew the Ayyubid sultan in 1250 and established the Mamluk Sultanate. Because succession to the throne was controlled and not hereditary, the Mamluk Sultanate could maintain sway over Egypt and the Levant and fight off challenges from the Mongols until it was defeated by the Ottomans in 1517.

The Ming dynasty came to power in China after revolts drove out the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty. The Hongwu emperor eliminated all challenges to his rule by creating a secret police force, eliminating the position of chief minister, and putting down rebellions in distant provinces. He forbade most foreign trade in order to protect China from foreign influences. The Yongle emperor resumed foreign trade and collected tribute, and Chinese silks and porcelains were traded in Europe, Africa, India, and western Asia. Despite China’s great power, the Ming had difficulty controlling the Mongols.

17.3 Gunpowder and Nomads in a Transitional Age

Early forms of guns were difficult to use and often inaccurate, but as they improved, rulers began to replace cavalry with infantry armed with guns. Where mounted warriors had been members of the aristocracy, this change often cost them their privileged position in society. Gunpowder also made it easier for armies to destroy fortifications, ending siege warfare. Centralized governments that adopted firearms technology and could levy taxes to pay for it grew more powerful and were able to dominate other states.

The adoption of firearms made the fighting style of nomadic societies less effective. These societies declined in size and number when governments forced them to settle. Sometimes settled people’s fear of nomads forced governments to take action against them. The competition for natural resources also encouraged many nomadic pastoralists to abandon their way of life.

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