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Reviewed by:
  • The Ottoman Age of Exploration
  • Emine Ö. Evered
The Ottoman Age of Exploration Giancarlo Casale Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010 304 pp., $49.95 (cloth)

Written to recast the history of the early modern Ottoman Empire within the broader context of world events and histories, Giancarlo Casale's book is an attempt to situate this phase of Ottoman history in terms of his conceptualization of a global politics. Though it seemingly implies an application of international relations theory to historical events, Casale's approach instead entails an analysis of the Ottomans from a world history perspective. In the study that emerges, Casale demonstrates how the Ottomans, like their European competitors, had the intentions, weapons, and technologies necessary to assert themselves in the wider region of the Indian Ocean. From this world history vantage, the book is a challenge to prevailing Eurocentric assumptions that hold that only Europeans possessed the "states capable of engaging in politics at anything more than a regional level" (9). Casale claims that the Ottomans both were able to engage in international politics and were eager to do so. Anticipating questions as to why the Ottomans were not interested in new discoveries, he asserts that Ottoman merchants already travelled from Morocco to Southeast Asia and thus were not as geographically confined as were European merchants. While Europeans focused on discovering new routes, the Ottomans sought to maximize their control over Indian maritime trade. In short, Casale argues, Europeans were driven by an imperative to acquire what the Ottomans already possessed.

Relying on Casale's analysis of archival documents and other materials (mainly in Turkish and Portuguese), The Ottoman Age of Exploration is divided into seven chapters and examines in particular the evolution of sixteenth-century Ottoman maritime policies. In doing so, each chapter highlights a prominent Ottoman statesman and reveals Ottoman developments in "soft empire" throughout the Indian Ocean. Comparing Sultan Selim I with Portugual's Henry the Navigator, Casale concludes that both shared common characteristics. Like Henry the Navigator, Casale's "Selim the Navigator" was a pious ruler with a keen interest in maritime development and mapmaking. The book thus also attempts to speak to the evolution of Ottoman cartography and the empire's patronage of geographic accounts for both competitive advantage and statecraft.

Aside from addressing parallel developments in weapons and maritime technology among European empires and the Ottoman Empire, the book points to the Ottoman acquisition of the caliphate [End Page 448] and its implications for empire building in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. Following their 1517 conquest of Egypt, Ottoman sultans employed the title "caliph" and became "protectors" of both the holy cities of Islam and Muslims engaged in pilgrimage. Although debates persist regarding the transition of the institution, Casale asserts that the Ottomans not only acquired the caliphate but also applied it as a tool of empire, using it to foster the allegiance of Muslim communities of the Indian Ocean. As such, the caliphate was an ideal mechanism for building a soft empire—a development that combined with missionary activities and further spread Islam throughout Southeast Asia. Following their conquest of Egypt, the Ottomans concerned themselves with establishing control over the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. A prized strategic location, their control of Yemen forced the Portuguese to acknowledge Ottoman power. In this context, the Ottoman Empire as a maritime power threatened Portuguese interests in the Indian Ocean, and they endeavored to upset the Portuguese monopoly over associated regional maritime trade and routes. Casale contends that Ottoman interests were especially economic but also political and religious. As protectors of Muslim holy places and guarantors of safe pilgrimage, Ottoman legitimacy was enhanced through control of sea routes as some pilgrims sailed by sea.

Not only challenging the notion that Islamic empires were interested solely in land-based expansions, Casale also reveals a dimension of the Ottoman Empire as built "soft" through commerce and religion. The Ottomans, according to Casale, were not the victims of this first era of European overseas expansion; they rather benefited from it. In doing so, Casale underscores the complexity of Ottoman decision making by comparing and contrasting various high officials and their views on international...


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pp. 448-449
Launched on MUSE
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