Military of the Ottoman Empire

From Academic Kids



The first military of the Ottoman Empire was an army that was organized by Osman I from Turkish tribesmen inhabiting western Anatolia in the late 13th century. These horsemen became an irregular force of raiders used as shock troops, armed with simple weapons like bows and spears. They were given fiefs called timars in the conquered lands, and were later called timariots. In addition they acquired booty during campaigns. Orhan I organized a standing army paid by salary rather than booty or fiefs. The infantry were called yayas and the cavalry was known as müsellems. The force was made up by foreigner mercenaries for the most part, and only a few Turks were content to accept salaries in place of booty. Foreign mercenaries were not required to convert to Islam as long as they obeyed their Ottoman commanders.

The Kapikulu

This regular army was commanded and paid by some important fief-holders who gained power and became a sort of noble class. The mercenaries became a tool for their rise to predominance over the sultan, who simply could not afford to hire so many mercenaries that they would outnumber his nobles'. Therefore, in the middle of the 14th century, Murad I built his own personal slave army called the kapikulu. The new force was based on the sultan's right to a fifth of the war booty, which he interpreted to include captives taken in battle. The captive slaves were converted to Islam and trained in the sultan's personal service. The most famous branch of the kapikulu was the Janissary corps who were recruited among young christian boys by the devshirmeh tax, but there were also several other troops types such as the Halberdier corps (Baltaçi). Their numbers increased rapidly and this force became the most important element of the Ottoman army. In order to man the force, Murad II developed the devşirme system of recruiting youths in form of taxes from Christians in the empire. Murad used the strength of the Janissaries and played them off against the nobility, forcing them to pay taxes or land so that the treasury could obtain the money it needed to maintain the kapikulu army.


In 1389 a system of conscription was introduced in the Ottoman military. In times of need every town quarter and village should present a fully equipped conscript at the recruiting office. The new force of irregular infantrymen was called Azabs and it was used in a number of different ways. They supported the supplies to the front-line, they dug roads and built bridges. On rare occasions they were used as cannon fodder to slow down enemy advance. A branch of the Azabs were the bashi-bazouk (başıbozık). These were specialized in close combat and were sometimes mounted. They became notorious for being brutal and indisciplined and were recruited from homeless, vagrants and criminals.

Elite Cavalry

An important part of the Ottoman warfare was also the Six Divisions of Cavalry (Altı Bölük), a mounted Úlite force. The most important of these divisions was the Spahis. A force of professional raiders called akinçis pillaged enemy territory ahead of the regular army. They also served as scouts.

Introduction of Firearms

The Ottomans began using guns sometime between 1444 and 1448. Following that, other troop types began to appear, such as the regular rifle infantry (Payade Topçı, literally "foot artillery"), regular cavalry armed with rifles (Svari Topçı Neferi, literally "mounted artillery soldier") and bombardiers (Khımbaracı), consisting of grenadiers that threw explosives called khımbara and the soldiers that served the artillery with maintenance and powder supplies.

The Ottomans began to develop a navy during the late 14th century following the first Ottoman in 1453 and for more than one hundred years from that point the Ottoman navy was one of the foremost naval powers in the world, effectively controlling most the Mediterranean Sea.

The Battle of Lepanto in 1571, however, marked the first major victory for the Christians against Ottoman forces. The Ottoman navy never recovered from the battle and as with the military, the Ottoman Navy fell into decline after the 17th century, mainly because it did not reform like its Western European counterparts.

From the mid-19th century onward, the Sultans sought to establish a modern fleet. This grew from steam-powered ironclads in the 1860s to a force including battleships, cruisers, and destroyers by World War I. Yet, the Ottoman Navy was no match for its enemies and could not even be compared to the might of its ally, the German Navy. Following the war, the Navy was reduced to a small coastal force.

See World War I ship list at (


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