The Rise of the Turks

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

Time Line

1055 Turks take Baghdad
1071 Battle of Manzikert
1095 First Crusade
1146 Second Crusade
1187 Saladin takes Jerusalem
1188 Third Crusade
1198 Fourth Crusade
1217 Fifth Crusade
1250 Mamluk sultanate begins in Egypt
1258 Mongols sack Baghdad
1291 Mamluks capture Acre
1354 Ottomans invade Balkans
1363 Tamerlane becomes khan at Samarkand
1389 Ottomans take over Balkans at Battle of Kosovo
1453 Ottomans take Constantinople


The Rise of the Turks

The beginning of the second millennium saw the rapid rise to international power of the Turks—the universal name for the peoples descended from the nomadic warrior tribes of the steppes of Central Asia. The Turks are ethnically and culturally related to one another, hence it is reasonably accurate to use the same designation for all of them.

Geography and environment were the forces dictating the Turks’ development as herding and roaming peoples. The steppes were grasslands that were not conducive to farming or permanent settlement because there were few sources of fresh water and very little rainfall. The Turks were always on the move with their herds because if they stayed in one place for too long, the animals would have eaten all the grass.

Persians, Arabians, and Egyptians had great respect for the Turks’ skilled horsemanship and their fearlessness in battle, often enslaving them or hiring them as mercenaries. Because the concept of slavery in the medieval Near East was very different from the racism and insistence on total subordination that would characterize North American slavery in the nineteenth century, Turkish slave soldiers had the potential to rise high in the army. Military life encouraged communication, mass gatherings, and bonding among the troops, and, of course, it also provided them with weapons, clearly defined leadership, and the habit of discipline. By the early eleventh century, the Turks were using these assets to seize power from their masters. By 1500, Turks ruled Egypt, southeastern Europe, the Near East, and India.

The ancient Greeks had lost to the Romans on the battlefield, but Greek culture remained supreme under the Roman Empire. In the same way, the Arabians gave way to Turkish military might, but the Turks continued to practice the Arabian religion of Islam throughout the region.

The armies of Western Europe united against the Turkish Muslims in a series of military expeditions called the Crusades. The Christians briefly took over the eastern Mediterranean, but they recognized defeat at the hands of the Turks before 1300.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Rise of the Turks Practice Test

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