The Ottoman Empire

In the intervals of visiting Istanbul, I have been reading Norman Stone’s very readable, succinct short history of Turkey, since he’s the only person I know who makes the movement of eastern European politics intelligible.   I’m struck by his comments on the Ottomans, that most people in western Europe inherit a prejudice that the Ottoman Empire was incompetent and effete, if not murderous, as it perhaps became towards the end, but that in its heyday it was immensely successful, stretching in a great arc from the Balkans to Beirut and round to Morocco in the west.   He does not say, but it is obvious, that there is something inevitably sclerotic in these great Empires which rely on light rule and high taxation, although he does gently point out that the Ottoman record compares well with that of the British Empire ‘which – though a viceroy in 1904 thought that it would go on ‘for ever’ – lasted less than a century’.

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