10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Ottoman Empire

Here’s an overview of one of the most fascinating historical periods of the Turkish region!

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Here’s an overview of one of the most fascinating historical periods of the Turkish region!

The Ottoman Empire ruled over the majority of the Middle East for the best part of 600 years, connecting the East and the West and the Middle Ages to the Modern World.

Here are 10 fascinating facts you didn’t know about the Ottoman Empire.

1. Nomadic roots

Waves of nomadic peoples have flown westward from Eurasia to the borders of China across Central Asia and beyond. One of the main groupings of the nomads were the Turks who, like the Mongols, founded empires including the previous 6th-century Gokturk Empire and the more lasting Ottoman Empire.

2. Helping the Irish during the famine

When the potato famine struck Ireland, the Ottomans actually came to the aid of the Irish more than Britain did. Sultan Abdulmecid wanted to send £10,000 to the victims of the famine but Queen Victoria ordered that the Sultan should only send £1000. The Sultan sent £1000 with five ships of food to which the British allegedly blocked from entry before the ship arrived secretly to which the Irish sent a letter to the Ottomans, thanking them for helping.

3. An impressive record

During the six centuries of the Ottoman Empire, they took part in 192 wars in which they won 155, lost 26, and had 11 with no result; quite the impressive record for anyone. This meant that the Ottomans had control of over 45 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

4. The ominous deliler

The deliler was a light cavalry unit used by the Ottomans during wars. Their roles were to shock the opposition on the front lines by engaging in guerrilla warfare and they would wear animal furs, heads, horns, wings and deform their faces to make them look frightening.

5. More flying

The first “flight” we know was by Abbas Ibn Firnas in 852 in Cordoba over 1000 years before the Wright brothers. But around 300 years before was the flight of Hezarefen Ahmet Celebi. He built a glider and flew from Europe to Asia. Istanbul’s airport for small planes and gliders is actually named after Hezarefen.

6. Foundations

The Ottomans were famed for caring for everyone and everything in the empire, whether it was visitors or even stray dogs. Some of the famous foundations established by the Ottomans were: street wall cleaning, free fruit to everyone, free clothes for students, free marriage services, and tree planting.

7. Wrestling

Oil wrestling was the most popular sport; this is where wrestlers, as the name would suggest, douse themselves with olive oil. Similar to Japanese sumo, special schools were set up which taught the art of wrestling along with being spiritual centres.

8. The foundation of coffee

Although coffee has its roots in Yemen and Ethiopia, it was the Ottomans who made coffee such a huge part of our shared culture. It influenced Ottoman culture so much that the Turkish word for breakfast, Kahvalti, means “before coffee”.

9. Sign language

Sign language was developed in the Ottoman court as silence was enforced – so the Sultans often used sign language to communicate. Deaf pages, doormen, executioners, and companions were often valued by the Sultans due to their ability to communicate in silence.

10. Modular

Being nomads, the Ottomans never forgot their roots, therefore they never were fond of permanent houses. They continued their ready-to-move tradition by using their houses for multiple purposes which included bedrooms being transformed into living rooms, divans transformed into other things, tabled turned into panels, and beds rolled inside furniture on the walls.


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