Although they differed in language and cultural background, Arabs of the peninsula were united in their calls for independence from Ottoman rule. In the far south, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) called for the reassertion of what he considered to be “the original Muslim truths.” Wahhab argued that Muslims were guilty of diluting the faith in their attempts to convert peoples living in southeast Asia. He was especially incensed by Sufi holy men and by the wide-spread veneration of Sufi saints and the adoration of natural sites. Wahhab considered these practices to be idolatry. In 1740, Muhammad ibn Saud, a local ruler, adopted Wahhab’s ideas and raised an army which he used to extend control over central Arabia. By the end of the 18th century, this new state, known as the Wahhabi Empire, established itself as a conservative Islamic state. Ultimately, this Empire would become present-day Saudi Arabia.


A map showing the geographical growth of the Wahhabi state in the 18th century. (Source: Wikimedia)


In the 18th century, Persia was squeezed between an aggressive group of Afghans in the east, the Ottomans in the west, and the Russians in the north. In spite of these political difficulties, Persians continued to engage in trade. A document of 1708 reports that camels carried loads of from 1000 to 1500 pounds between Tabriz in northwestern Persia and the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. In 1722, the Afghan Mahmud defeated a central Persian army and installed himself as ruler (called Shah in the Persian language). He later instituted a reign of terror, massacring Persian nobles and princes. Russia and the Ottomans agreed to divide Persia, but this plot was foiled by Nadir Kuli (1688-1747), a powerful chief of the Afshar tribe of Khorasan (part of Turkestan). Kuli first defeated the Afghans who had remained in Persia and then defeated the Ottomans. In the end, the Russians actually helped in this defeat of the Ottomans. In 1732, Abbas III (1732-1740), the last of the Safavid Dynasty, became the Persian Shah while still an infant, with Nadir still effectively in control. On the death of Abbas in 1736, Nadir became the shah.


A portrait of Agha Mohammad 1 (Source: Wikimedia)

Forty thousand northern Persians died in an earthquake in 1755. Intermittent wars, rebellions, and assassinations continued until the end of the century. Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar (1742-1797) founded the Qajar Dynasty. Agha Mohammad Khan’s reign oversaw a recentralization of administrative control in his efforts to unify Persia. A key to this unification effort was his decision to relocate the capital to Tehran. He was a cruel leader as evidenced by his actions during the re-subjugation of Georgia. When he sacked the capital city of Tbilisi, he oversaw the massacre of many of its inhabitants, and forcibly relocated 15,000 Georgian captives back to mainland Persia. He was assassinated in 1797. At the end of the century, the British East India Company concluded a political and commercial treaty in which the British agreed to supply arms and money to the Persian Shah in the event of an attack by Afghanistan or France.


In November 1710, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia and marched north from their secondary capital of Adrianople in Serbia. They were joined at the mouth of the Danube by Tatar cavalry who helped to raise the number of soldiers to a total of 200,000 men. Facing this large, formidable force, the Russians under Peter the Great were overwhelmed. The Tsar was forced to negotiate an end to the assault by signing the Treaty of the Pruth (1711) in which Russia again gave up Azov. This victory solidified the Ottoman Empire’s position as the central political force in a wide-spread Islamic world. From its heartland in Anatolia (Turkey), the Ottomans ruled over much of the Arab world. It protected those who traveled to Mecca for the annual Hajj, governed Egypt and much of North Africa, and ruled over millions of Christians living in the Balkans. Its leader, the Sultan, claimed the role of caliph, successor to the Prophet Muhammad, and was widely viewed as the leader and defender of Muslims.

However, throughout the 18th century, the Ottomans found themselves under siege as they were attacked by both Persia and Russia. By the end of the century, Russia had gained significant territorial areas around the Black Sea and in the eastern Balkans. The Ottomans progressively lost Hungary, the Banat (part of present Yugoslavia and Romania), Transylvania, and Bukovina (west Ukraine and northeastern Romania), as well as the north shore of the Black Sea, including the Crimea. As their military power declined, the Ottomans were forced to rely more on conference and diplomacy to maintain their prestige. French involvement in the declining Ottoman Empire was imperialism disguised as friendship and the Ottomans became the first French protectorate. During this time, the Phanariots rose to power. They were a Greek-Christian group, who had been living in the Greek ghetto of Istanbul, where the Muslims had allowed a center of Orthodox Christianity to remain under the control of the Patriarch. They became very powerful in the government and had visions of establishing a new Greek Orthodox domain through the framework of the Ottoman Empire. Phanariot families controlled the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and extended its jurisdiction over the formerly independent Serbian and Bulgarian churches.

Watch and Learn

Review the history of the Ottoman Empire by watching Part 3 of the PBS special, Islam: Empire of Faith.



Although the geographical area of Armenia was still controlled by Ottomans and the Armenian people were dispersed widely, many of the Armenian merchants and financiers played important parts in Istanbul and other Ottoman cities. Some Armenian merchants traveled as far as the Chinese frontier to trade silver for gold, a very profitable operation at that time. Even Lhasa in Tibet and cities in India were common “ports of call” for these businessmen.


Armenia Location (Source: Wikimedia)


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