The Ottoman Age of Exploration By Giancarlo Casale (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. hbk. 292 pages)

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Tzvi Langermann



This very interesting treatise describes in detail the expansion in the
sixteenth century of the Ottomans south and east, from Yemen and Eritrea
through the Indian Ocean and as far as Sumatra. Pivotal events were the
Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, which opened up for them the routes to
Mecca, Medina, and points east—and their final expulsion from Yemen in 1636, depriving them of their key staging point in the area. The expansion
took on various forms: the increase of military power (mainly naval), the
development of economic interests, and the strengthening of ties with local
Muslim populations. At times, the direction and initiative came directly
from Constantinople—especially when the “Indian Ocean faction” was
able to exert its influence—but more usually from Ottoman functionaries
in Egypt and Yemen, or even ambitious pirates. The main rivals in the area
were the Portuguese and their allies. However, developments elsewhere
bore heavily on this contest, which, at times, took on global proportions.
Ottoman interests in the Indian Ocean were strengthened by their role as
guarantors of the Holy Cities and the pilgrimage routes to them, as well
their defense of Muslim merchants throughout the area. For their part, the
Portuguese viewed their affairs as part of a plan that would, they hoped,
lead ultimately to the conquest of Egypt and the Holy Land. The Ottoman
conquest of Iraq was at least in part an attempt to outflank the Portuguese and
prevent a Portuguese-Safavid alliance. Ultimately, though, the protracted
conflict with Persia launched by Murad III in 1577, apparently swayed
by opponents of the Indian Ocean faction, seriously drained Ottoman
resources, and was likely a factor in their ultimate failure to control the
Indian Ocean. At various times the Ottomans considered joining forces
with the French pirates or Dutch Protestants against the Portuguese. By the
early seventeenth century, neither the Ottomans nor the Portuguese were
contesting for dominance in the Indian Ocean; the key players there were
the English, Dutch, Safavids, and Mughals ...

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