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The ottoman empire

The Ottoman Empire: Focus on Society

By the 16th century, the vast and mighty empire of the Ottomans

had reached the zenith of its power. The lands under Ottoman

rule stretched from the heart of Central Europe to the deserts of

Arabia. In nearly every respect, the Ottoman Empire was strong

and well-organized. As such, it comes as no surprise that the

people under Ottoman rule were organized in a neat power

structure as well. From the royal Sultan to the villagers in the

rayyah class, the people of the Empire each had a unique position

in Ottoman society.

At the very top of the pyramidal societal structure was the

Sultan, absolute commander of all, and executor of decisions

concerning politics and state wealth (for the purposes of serving

the state's interests). A step below the Sultan were a small

group of wealthy, esteemed leaders, who were ascribed special

status because they were essentially the Sultan's "slaves". The

main duties of this select little group were to protect and

enlarge the financial assets of the state for the benefit of

the Sultan and the Empire. These leaders also ruled and defended

the far-flung Ottoman Empire.

While the Sultan invested wealth and the leaders protected it,

the majority of commoners, the rayyahs, had the task of actually

producing the wealth. The rayyahs had to pay part of their

profits from industry, commerce, and farming to the state in the

form of taxes. Townsfolk, villagers, and pastoral peoples made up

the eclectic mix of the rayyah class. The word "rayyah" literally

translates into "the protected flock of the Sultan".

While Ottoman society was clearly divided into distinct social

classes, these classes were neither closed nor confining, meaning

that with the proper attributes and luck, a man could raise his

social status. For example, to be a member of the small ruling

class below the Sultan, one had to possess the following three


- deep-rooted patriotism and loyalty for the Empire and the


- acceptance and practice of Islam, which was integrated into the

Ottoman lifestyle.

- knowledge and practice of the Ottoman Way, which consisted of

complex customs, behavior, and language.

If a rayyah possessed these qualities, he had a chance of

becoming one of the numbered leaders. On the other hand, if a

leader appeared to be lacking one or more of these qualities, he

could just as easily be removed from his position and sink to

being a rayyah again. The shaping force behind the Ottoman Empire

was most definitely the religion of Islam. As a result, religion

became a foremost guiding factor in people's lives. To maintain

religious harmony and unity among the diverse Muslim and non-

Muslim sects of the Empire, the rayyah class were given the right

to organize themselves as they wished. What happened next is that

people gravitated towards religion-dictated groups. The people of

each important religion and/or sect organized themselves into

self-centered, self-governing communities called millets.

Millets were like mini-states, that regulated smaller civic

matters such as marriages, deaths, etc. In a sense, the Ottoman

Empire was like the United States is today; a powerful "federal"

government that ruled from the seat of power in Istanbul, while

"millet state" governments ruled over their small vicinities. The

significance of millets is that they kept diverse peoples from

clashing too much, since each cultural/religious group maintained

a dignified distance from each other. This is not to say that the

populace of the Ottoman Empire could not get along together

though. The people of the Ottoman Empire were united through

other common interests, morals, and ideals, as well as by an

overwhelming unanimous loyalty to the Sultan himself.

Such was the harmonious and organized society of the Ottoman

Empire, the huge empire that left its mark on Turkey - and the

world - forever. Neatly categorized into unique positions, each

individual in the Ottoman Empire had his or her own part to play

in society, a role to fulfill in order to contribute to the

overall success of the state.

Word Count: 614

Source: Essay UK -

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