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  • ModelsA View from the Ottoman Margin
  • Fariba Zarinebaf (bio)

A growing number of Ottomanist scholars have started to study commercial, cultural, and diplomatic encounters between Europe and the Ottoman world and have moved away from essentialist arguments that draw hard and fast boundaries between the civilizations.1 Simultaneously, Ottomanist scholars are moving away from state-centric or purely provincial studies to ones that not only expose regional dynamics but also underline the interaction between state and local societies and economies. So the old paradigm of rise and decline that many historians incorporated to highlight the Oriental and absolutist character of the Ottoman state has been scrutinized and revised.2 If the field of Ottoman studies was once divided between those who emphasized its Asian (nomadic) and Islamic roots and those who highlighted its Byzantine-Greek heritage (Lindner, Lowry, Kafadar), the newer generation of scholars tends to see the Ottoman state as a hybrid model that borrowed from the East and the West and carried the legacies of Byzantine as well as Islamic institutions (Persian, Turco-Mongol) and culture.3

The formation of the Ottoman Empire took place in the former borderland of the Persian and Roman empires (Anatolia). With the conquest of Constantinople, the core of the empire moved to the center of the eastern [End Page 489] Mediterranean and Balkan networks of trade; the empire included not only the lands once held by the Byzantine Empire but also vast parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Its northern Black Sea border incorporated lands controlled by the Golden Horde (Crimea) as a tribute-paying principality, much like Dubrovnik, Moldavia, and Wallachia. The Russian Empire can be seen to have followed a similar trajectory from its Russo-Mongol origins to an empire that expanded to the east as well as the west. Its development path diverged from Peter the Great's Westernization project and reforms. In the Tulip Age (1703–30) the Ottoman Empire, too, embarked on Westernizing reforms, although it did not push them with the same intensity as Russia until the 19th century. A further area of resemblance between the empires is their position in the geopolitical imagination: the question of Russia's position on the East/West continuum has been a subject of intense historiographical debate.4

Thus the Ottoman Empire lends itself well to a comparison with the Russian Empire due to its geographical location, its Byzantine heritage, its historical ties to the Mongols, and its long and varied interactions with the empire of the North. A comparative history of the Ottoman Empire and Russia, however, has been lacking. This picture is slowly changing with the opening of Russian archives and the resulting interest in the borderlands of the two empires.5 We are slowly moving beyond general but useful comparisons of early modern empires (Barkey and Von Hagen) into more nuanced, deeper, and more detailed studies of imperial peripheries.6 Moreover, the borderlands (the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia) where empires interacted with one another and with local societies are receiving greater attention and becoming an exciting new field of scholarship.7

Some of the articles in this issue indeed demonstrate that Russia and the Ottoman Empire shared a great deal in their state institutions (Ágoston) in the heartland as well as in the administration of their borderlands (Pravilova). Taken as a set, these articles make an important contribution to revising the current historiography in light of new research in both Ottoman and Russian archives. They develop such topics as the development of military institutions, colonial [End Page 490] agrarian regimes and reforms, movements for autonomy in the borderlands of the two empires, and the role of transnational subjects in these movements and in encounters between the empires.

Gábor Ágoston's essay provides a historical timeline for the development of the military in both empires and traces some of the practices—such as recruitment, training, and military technology—to the Turco-Mongol legacy. The main question he addresses is how internal and external changes influenced the transformation of the military in both states. He argues that while the two empires developed their militaries in similar ways, the path of military development diverged in the...


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pp. 489-499
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