The West and the Middle East

Courtesy Reuters


In 1593 an Ottoman historian, Selaniki Mustafa Efendi, recorded the arrival in Istanbul of an English ambassador. He was not very interested in the ambassador, but he was much struck by the English ship in which the ambassador traveled. "A ship as strange as this has never entered the port of Istanbul," he wrote. "It crossed 3,700 miles of sea and carried 83 guns besides other weapons . . . It was a wonder of the age the like of which has not been seen or recorded."

Why was this sophisticated Istanbul historian so interested in a ship coming from a barely heard of island at what was then the wrong end of Europe? Selaniki Mustafa Efendi's wonderment is not that difficult to understand if one recalls what was happening at the time. The Portuguese had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and were active in Eastern waters, to be followed not long after by the Dutch and the English. Portugal, one of the smallest and least populous of the nations of Western Europe, was able to establish a maritime and commercial paramountcy in South Asia which three great Muslim empires -- the Ottoman, the Persian, and the Mogul Empire in India -- were unable to prevent or reverse.

A hundred years later, as the seventeenth century drew to a close, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire -- the dominant power in the Middle East, the shield and sword of Islam pointing toward Europe -- were becoming aware of the countries beyond the northwest frontier as something other than an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief. For a century and a half, the Ottomans and their Christian enemies had been locked in bloody stalemate in Central Europe. This was broken by the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, which ended in failure and retreat. During that war, Ottoman forces for the first time suffered major reverses on the field of battle; the peace treaty of 1699 was the first a victorious enemy imposed on

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.