Lessons from the Ottoman Harem (on Ethnicity, Religion and War)

48 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2008

See all articles by Murat Iyigun

Murat Iyigun

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Economics; Harvard University - Center for International Development (CID); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Abstract

The Ottoman Empire had a profound impact in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at the apogee of its power, covering the era between 1453 C. E. and 1699 C. E. In this paper, I exploit the empire's unique culture and institutions to examine the roles of ethnicity and religion in conflict and war. Based on one theory, the Ottoman conquests were driven by the Gaza ideology according to which the empire's central motivation was provided by a spirit of Holy War in the name of Islam. This is generally emphasized as the reason why the Ottomans initiated more conflicts in the West, and why on the eastern fronts, more conflicts were started by its rivals. Another not necessarily mutually exclusive theory claims that the Imperial Harem wielded considerable political power in Ottoman affairs. Accordingly, the members of the Harem with different ethnic or religious backgrounds often lobbied the Sultan to influence the geography of Ottoman conquests. Using comprehensive data on Ottoman wars and conflicts between 1401 C. E. and 1700 C. E., I document that Ottoman conquests were concentrated in the West throughout the mid-16th century. Then, I show that the ethnic background of Valide Sultan (the queen mother) was an important and independent determinant of whether the empire engaged in military conquests in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East. Depending on the empirical specification, the reign of a sultan with a European maternal genealogy was enough to offset more than 70 percent of the empire's western orientation in imperial conquests. Still, these findings do not rule out the possibility that the sultans' ethnic and cultural heritages - but not the politics of the queen mothers or their Harems - influenced Ottoman conquests.

Keywords: conflict, religion, production and appropriation, family economics

JEL Classification: C72, D74, N33, N43, O10

Suggested Citation

Iyigun, Murat F., Lessons from the Ottoman Harem (on Ethnicity, Religion and War). IZA Discussion Paper No. 3556, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1150745 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0042-7092.2007.00700.x

Murat F. Iyigun (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Economics ( email )

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Boulder, CO 80309
United States
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Harvard University - Center for International Development (CID) ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
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