Politics and Empires: A look of the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Empire in 17th century

In 1683, the Ottoman Empire lost the Battle of Vienna. This marked the downfall of Ottoman Empire’s Golden Age. Before failing the second Austro Ottoman War, the Habsburg continuously had to pay tribute to Ottoman Empire annually. Ottoman Empire declined in the shadow of poor military decisions, as well as religious and ethnic reasons. Austria on the other hand, was rising up with their religious alliances and expanding boarders. By comparing the political system of these two large, multinational entities, we as historians can understand some characteristics and the mindset of European history since the 16th century. The Ottoman Empire and Austrian Empire resembled each other by succession from acquiring territories, and differed by both their fundamentally different religious beliefs and different military power. In this paper, I will first assess the politics of these two Empires, then aim to argue that the succession of an Empire in 17th century is largely influenced by its religion, military decisions and economic factor.

Ottoman Empire’s poor military decisions started with its military forces. War making was central to the establishment of states for the Ottomans. By the end of sixteenth century, a large population of the civilians wormed their way into the status group, one of its reasons is the rapidly expanding military class. It was one of the prime symptoms of Ottoman ‘decline’, as an older generation of historians described this social factor. Ottoman Empire were known for its succession in military, when the rest of Europe’s military were weak and unorganized. However, by seventeenth century, ordinaries infiltrated the corps in order to gain tax exemption. They bribed their way into the military, some of them forged their genealogies, but yet they weren’t all that willing to patrolling. Increasing number of population with tax exemption caused a taxation pressure.

At the mean time of the internal chaos, external pressure was also a burden for the Ottomans: the anti-ottoman policies. The anti-ottoman policies were made by an alliance of other European countries, such as the German Alliances and Russia. This policy limited the amount of international trade that Ottomans can have with the rest of Europe. For example, Isfahan had an alliance with Russia in trading, ignored to keep Ottoman Turk at bay. “More than economic imperatives, it was the international political constellation, taking its cue above all from the Ottoman threat” .

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fought against the Ottomans. In the late 17th century, major wars like the Great Turkish War and the Russo Turkish War had this empire scarred and battered. The three wars with the house of Bourbon of France, makes the theme of 17th century about these two countries fighting for hegemony. The Spanish end of the Habsburg family had already acquired massive land in North America, Austria was benefitted from the epoch of colonization. The Austrian Empire put the expansion of French territory under control.

Another major side of the Austrian Empire, at the time, was the presence of a huge Christian component which, as seen during the long wars fought in Europe  halfway through the 16th century and up until the 17th century, played a significant role in the creation of Austria, as a country. One of these massive wars, and probably one of the bloodiest fought over a vast scale in Europe, was the thirty-years war, a fight which started as a conflict between the catholic and the protestant sides living in the old Holy Roman Empire but that later escalated into an all-out confrontation which saw the Habsburg family and the France empire as the contenders, started in the Central Europe in 1618 and finally ended in 1648 after the Peace of Westphalia. This epic conflict didn’t see just the act of establishing superiority over a different set of beliefs, as it was in the case of the Christians, but it was a much bigger attempt from the Habsburg empire to regain some lost territories both in East and in West Europe.

This war unfortunately wasn’t the last one fought between the Austrian Empire and the other European countries, both for territorial and religious matters, as we know another one, called the nine-years’ war, was fought a few years after the pace was supposedly established. This was, which is considered by many historians as the “first” example of world war, started as a conflict between the remains of the once-great Holy Roman Empire and the France Empire, led at the time of this conflict by Louis xiv of France, with contributes from other major forces such as Spain, England and the Dutch Republic, a the time still growing as a country. The main reasons behind this war were the control over some colonies in North America, India and the naval supremacy over the European sea.

Clearly these were but excuses for the french king who, driven by his thirst for more power and glory, tried to impose his domain over the East of Europe as well. The conflict was ultimately decided by a sudden economic crises which hit both the French Empire and the coalition, made by Austria, Spain, the Dutch Republic and Savoy, and when the latter left the conflict. At the end of this gruesome war, the “Treaty of Ryswick” sanctioned the exact borders of the French Empire, created a fortress-like settlement for the Dutch Republic to protect its regions and ultimately saw William the third recognized as the rightful monarch in England. Unlike the Ottoman Empire, the Austrians are politically competent when it comes to geopolitics. “The military career of the successful candidate, Grand Master of the German Order, Ampringen, including his previous involvement in war against the Ottomans and some actions accenting his loyalty to Leopold, is described as proof of his competence.”

In terms of military forces, the Christian army was using wheel lock fire arms, which were unfamiliar to the Ottomans. In the light of seventeenth century Europe, military decisions, economic factor and religions had a causation relationship with the succession of an empire. An empire does not rise up in a vacuous environment, it most likely comes with the help from other nations and acquiring smaller states. Ottoman Empire has always been seen as an outsider for they had different religious beliefs with the others. Ottoman Empire only had some kind of alliances with France and other small states like the crimean peninsula over the century. Austrian on the other hand, were rooted with one of the most resourceful family, the Habsburg.

In order to establish and solidify an Empire, one must know who to fight with and what to fight for. In the case of seventeenth century, those who had the christian alliances and fought for the expansion in North America ended up with succession, the Austrian Empire included. By the quote “The Thirty Years War, for much of the Reich less a religious conflict than a fight against Habsburg drive for hegemony, had already internationalized the ‘German question’.”, the author of the book Austria’s wars of emergence indicated that as early as the 17th century, the Reich was already fighting for unifications. Not just religion, but economical and political aspects too, drove these two great Empire, one to its demise and the other to the pinnacle of its success.

This was the case for the Ottoman Empire ever since the Sultan started losing his control and power over the hundreds of different minorities and, without such control, people living both within and without the borders of that empire began amassing as one bigger force, found later as a part of the Austrian Empire, and rose to destroy the Ottomans. Clearly the reasons for its fall were not just religious, one may argue that the deep differences in beliefs of the many cultures were the driving force that brought the Sultan to the ground, as one of the biggest factors was undoubtedly the incapacity of the ruling class to follow the shifts in the political trends that were taking places all over Europe. The Austrian Empire, on the other hand, was much more successful in following those trends, because of its culture and religious background, and on the long run it managed to survive the many struggles that took places during the 17th century and it survived, not unscathed or unchanged but greatly improved both on the political and religious fields, to see the rise on the new century.

It’s arguable whether or not the political system adopted by the Habsburg family was truthfully better than that of the Ottoman Empire, as both had their pros and cons with the first one being less rigid in times of peace and swifter in those of war and the second one having a vary frail pyramidal society with just the Sultan at its top and thus subject to those struggles that are related to these games of power, but its undeniable to say that whilst the Austrian Empire may have relied solely on the downfall of the Ottomans before affirming its own presence on the political stage of the 17th century the Ottomans have surely and quietly waited for their downfall without realistically ever trying to change and to adapt to the continuous shifts that were occurring in Europe. We can therefore affirm that the religious component has been the main ingredient of the Austria’s sudden rise to power and that the political component has been too hard to handle for a country that had become too big for its own good.

Comparing the political system of these two large, multinational entities, Ottoman and Austrian Empire resembled each other by succession from acquiring territories, and differed by both their fundamentally different religious beliefs and different military power. This comparison matters because succession like the Austrian Empire and downfall like the Ottoman Empire happens in almost every Empire and in every period of the European History. And more so, it serves as an evidence of the European mindset in the light of seventeenth century. It is not only the seventeenth century, we can see history repeating itself when it comes to eras like the colonial time, WWI and WWII.

From what we have argued, the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Empire both had their share of success by acquiring and expanding territories. The economy of an Empire is also apart of the anatomy of success, but it was largely influenced by its connection with other nation  and its domestic administration. What really made those to empires different was their religions, which were the leading determining factor ever since the 16th century Europe, and will influence the entire Europe until 20th century. Modern Europe History started with innovatory view on religions, and was closely tied to it all through the time. Unfortunately, this paper was limited because none of the literature explored the correlation between the two Empires.