The Ottoman Empire (1299 to 1922) (Old Ottoman Turkish: دولت عالیه عثمانیه Devlet-i Âliye-yi Osmâniyye, Late Ottoman and Modern Turkish: Osmanlı Devleti or Osmanlı İmparatorluğu, also known as the Turkish Empire or Turkey by its contemporaries, was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Turkish-ruled state which, at the height of its power (16th – 17th centuries), spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, stretching from the Strait of Gibraltar (and, in 1553, the Atlantic coast of Morocco beyond Gibraltar) in the west to the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf in the east, from the edge of Austria, Slovakia and parts of Ukraine in the north to Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen in the south.
The empire was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire contained 29 provinces, in addition to the tributary principalities of Moldavia, Transylvania, and Wallachia. With Constantinople (today known as Istanbul) as its capital, the Ottoman Empire was in many respects an Islamic successor to earlier Mediterranean empires — namely the Roman empire. As such, the Ottomans regarded themselves as the heirs to both Roman and Islamic traditions, and hence rulers of a "Universal Empire" through this "unification of cultures".
From the beginning of the Muslim expansion, even before the ascent of the Turks, the Jews in the East were known for siding with the Caliphate in attempts to destroy the Byzantine Empire. This stretched back as far as the 7th century Battle of Yarmouk, in which the Christian Levant was invaded by the forces of the Rashidun Caliphate. This anti-Christian preference continued during the Crusades.
With the rise of the Mamluks more Jews living in Christendom began to move east into the Ottoman Empire. Especially after the Alhambra Decree of 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain. This immigration was encouraged by the Sultan, Bayezid II. The Turks especially settled them in occupied Greek areas such as Constantinople, Salonika and Athens, as well as other cities throughout the Empire. The Jews came to dominate finance, banking and business, which saw them in competition with other groups in the Empire.
Jews were an influential minority, although still placed under the various restrictions and discriminations applied to non-Muslims. Some had been expelled from Christian areas during Jewish expulsions, possibly causing resentment.
- "Additionally, some Sephardic Jews 'were...prominent merchants with European markets' who were even regarded as 'potential allies, diplomats, and spies' during times of war against Christians."
The most powerful of the Sephardic Jewish dynasties were the Mendes family. One relative of this family, Joseph Nasi, was made Duke of Naxos and the Seven Islands and was powerful under both Sultans Suleiman I and Selim II. He was involved in actively encouraging the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus from Venice and was a proto-Zionist, advocating Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Sephardim were the key money-men during the Ottoman wars in Europe, particularly against the Holy Roman Empire, the Republic of Venice and the Knights Hospitaller. This included the successful occupation of parts of Hungary, as well as Rhodes, Crete and other places.
As is usual for occupying empires, the Ottoman Empire was backed by Jewish background financial operators. Usually before the Turkish army appeared, Jewish bankers ruined the finances of the country to be occupied, this way weakening the self-protection of the country to be occupied. Also revolutions were a similar mean. In Hungary, for example a Jew, called Imre Fortunatus, emptied the Hungarian treasury with speculations around 1510, and also a peasant revolt was incited 1514, which made the way free for the battles in 1526 won by the Ottomans. With the Turks a large number of Jews appeared in Hungary, and in 1690, when Hungary was freed from the Turks, some Jews fiercely fought on Turkish side to avoid the end of Turkish rule in Hungary. Some of them fled Hungary for western Europe, and they often called themselves "Ofener" adopted from the name of Buda at that time.
More recently, in association with the creation of Israel, Jews were expelled or emigrated from many of the Muslim successor states of the former Ottoman Empire, as discussed in the article on Jewish expulsions.
- Fisher, Professor Dr. W.B., The Middle East, Methuen & Co., London, Fourth revised edition, 1961.
- Pamuk, Sevket, The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism 1830-1913, Cambridge University Press, U.K., 1987, ISBN: 0-521-33194-3
- Kennedy, Hugh, F.S.A., The Court of the Caliphs, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004, ISBN: 0-297-83000-7