Empire was never an important concept in Ottoman politics. This did not stop Ottoman rulers from laying claim to three titles that may be called imperial: halife, hakan, and kayser. Each of these pertains to different translationes imperii, or claims of descent from different empires: the Caliphate, the steppe empires of the Huns, Turks, and Mongols, and the Roman Empire. Each of the three titles was geared toward a specific audience: Muslims, Turkic nomads, and Greek-Orthodox Christians, respectively. In the nineteenth century a new audience emerged as an important source of political legitimacy: European-emergent international society. With it a new political vocabulary was introduced into the Ottoman language. Among those concepts was that of empire, which found its place in Ottoman discourse by connecting it with the existing imperial claims.
Ottoman Concepts of Empire
Ottoman Conceptual History
Challenges and Prospects
Alp Eren Topal and Einar Wigen
In this article, we discuss the pitfalls and benefits of conceptual history as an approach to Ottoman studies. While Ottoman studies is blossoming and using a wider set of tools to study the Ottoman past, Ottoman intellectual history is still resigned to a life-and-works approach. This absence of synthesizing attempts has left intellectual history in the margins. In addition to the lack of new, theoretically sophisticated accounts of how Ottoman intellectual and political changes were intertwined, the old Orientalist works still hold canonical status in the field. Drawing on recent developments in social and political history, conceptual history may be a good way of doing self-reflective longue durée intellectual history. Ottoman conceptual history may also offer nonspecialists more sophisticated bases for comparison with non-Ottoman cases.