Ottoman Trade Final Update

The Ottoman Empire was the longest lasting single dynasty empire, surviving for roughly six centuries.  Despite its long life, according to traditional historical thought, it had been in decline for almost three and a half centuries.  This is over half of its existence, which does not quite make sense. Historians have focused on this curious issue and numerous reasons have been given for its deterioration, with one of the most significant approaches being through economic and trade policies. I compared the approaches of historians Cemal Kafadar, Donald Quataert, Ilkay Sunar, Avni Önder Hanedar, and Halil Inalcik on the fall of the Ottoman Empire, specifically focusing on issues surrounding Ottoman trade. While they all conclude that trade played an important role in the decline, the specific role is a point of contention.  These historians vary not only on the specific role, but also in terms of “big picture” / “narrow picture” approaches to their studies. While all contribute to our understanding of the connection between trade and decline, some are more successful than others.

We can divide these studies into two kinds of groupings–those with large historical questions that cover a wide swath of Ottoman decline and those with narrower approaches that focus on specific economic areas.  While all of these arguments or explanations for the decline of the Ottoman empire in regards to trade appear to be very credible, the one that I would argue as being the most credible is found in Ilkay Sunar’s “State and Economy in the Ottoman Empire.”  This is because he provided the necessary big picture of the decline while diving deeply into specific areas to prove his points, rather than skimming the surface. Inalcik and Quataert both also provided plenty of details; however I found their approaches to be too narrow, Quataert even more so than Inalcik.  Similarly, Hanedar also took a more narrow approach. Instead of looking at trade in general, he paid specific attention to the use of boycotts. While this is not a case study like Quataert, it does look at the effects of only a handful of actions on Ottoman decline.  While Kafadar and Sunar had similar arguments, Sunar had more evidence regarding specific Ottoman economic policies. Regarding the kinds of historical questions, Kafadar attempted to answer a much larger question than Sunar did, which can be difficult to. Sunar was able to find the proper balance between looking at the broader picture and still having a focused approach with detailed support.


  1. Hi Zoe! I was reading your through your research and I can’t believe that the Ottoman Empire was in decline for more than half of its existence. Now that you’ve concluded your research, do you think that failures in economics/trade were the primary reasons for their decline, or did you find that other factors (perhaps political or simply natural disasters) were more responsible?

  2. labubader says:

    Your approach of looking at these historians is useful. There will often be cases in research when authors have contradictory opinions and it is very important to have the skills to differentiate between what they say and why they may be saying it. Especially in a context like this, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, where Historians agree in general but not on smaller details. I think you were able to understand the point of view and reasoning of these historians very well.

  3. cmaufderheide says:

    This is an awesome project, and I’ve been waiting to read your updates ever since I saw the abstract! The Ottoman Empire and its trade networks are fascinating. Thank you so much for your posts, and I’d love to read your paper when you’re finished with it!

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