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The institutions of the Ottoman state

The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power - Colin Imber

For the past several decades, readers seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire have turned to Halil Inalcik’s seminal book The Ottoman Empire; The Classical Age.  Written by the dean of Ottoman history, it provided an overview of its history and an examination of its components that has stood the test of time.  Over the three and a half decades since its publication, however, a wealth of new scholarship has emerged that has refined and developed our knowledge.  The fruits of this can be seen in Colin Imber’s study, one that treads much of the same ground as Inalcik but does so with the benefit of an additional generation of study.


The layout of Imber’s book is similar to that of Inalcik’s (which Imber helped translate); an initial section chronicling the political and military history of the period followed by chapters providing an analytical overview of various aspects of the empire.  But whereas Inalcik’s book provided a broad‑ranging survey that included its cultural and religious elements, Imber focuses more narrowly on the institutions of state: the palace, the bureaucracy, and the military.  This allows him to provide a more detailed examination of the military state, one that describes its development and shows how it both conquered and governed the lands of three continents.


Clearly written and well grounded in the literature of the field, Imber’s book is a detailed and up-to-date account of the factors underpinning Ottoman power in the first centuries of its existence.  Anyone seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire would do well to start with it.  With its concentration on imperial institutions and its closer examination of such things as the Ottoman navy (which has received far more scholarly attention in recent decades than it had when Inalcik wrote his book), it complements rather than replaces Inalcik’s longstanding survey, providing readers with a good foundation for exploring in more detail the last and greatest of the Muslim empires.