Between Two Worlds:
The Construction of the Ottoman State

Cemal Kafadar

University of California Press 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997
Early in the 14th century, Osman, son of Ertogril, became the leader of a minor beglik, one of many small political units on the Anatolian marches of Islam. Through a combination of commitment to gaza (loosely, "holy war"), alliances with other gazis (and a pragmatic attitude to alliances with the heathen), an advantageous geographical location, an unusual commitment to unigeniture, and a good deal of luck, this beglik was to expand, under Osman and his successors, into the Ottoman Empire. Despite defeat by Timur at the battle of Ankara in 1402, the Ottomans were to cross into Thrace and, in 1453, take Constantinople. As the Ottoman state expanded, politically centrifugal and religiously heterodox elements of the original gaza ethos were discarded in favour of a centralising ideology and religious orthodoxy.

It is not till the last chapter of Between Two Worlds, however, that Kafadar describes the story of the Ottoman rise to power and the construction of the Ottoman state. He begins with an overview of the background history and some brief remarks on national identity and influence, trying to give the reader a feel for the struggles that have been, and continue to be, fought over national histories. Also helpful for the novice to the period — or for those, like me, who only know it from a Byzantine perspective — are a chronology of events and a list of the regnal years of the Ottoman begs and sultans from Osman to Bayezid II. (The absence of a map is unfortunate, however, since many of the places referred to don't appear, or appear under other names, in modern atlases.)

After this introduction, Kafadar surveys the historians of the early Ottomans: their engagements with issues of nationalism, their approaches to the sources, and their differing stresses on religious, economic, geographical, and ethnic factors. He touches briefly on Knolles (who wrote in the sixteenth century) and Gibbons, but his chief focus is on Köprülu and Wittek and their attempt to place the Ottomans within the broader context of Anatolian history. The field has been dominated by Wittek's gaza thesis, which stressed the role of gazis and the gaza ethos in the Ottoman expansion. Kafadar argues that "refutations" of this thesis based on discrepancies between gaza ideology and Ottoman practice miss the point, since the gaza thesis is not bound to idealised and anachronistic definitions of gaza.

Kafadar devotes his longest chapter to a critical analysis of the sources for the period. Little in the way of early Ottoman writing survives, but there are two other important bodies of sources. Stories from Anatolian frontier culture provide essential background for understanding gaza and gazis and the religious experience of the milieu, while the later Ottoman chronicle tradition, though it has been filtered through later orthodoxy and must be used with extreme care, provides critical information. Kafadar looks at several individual works and episodes in detail, but stresses that the sources must be evaluated as parts of evolving complexes of traditions.

And so, before they come to the actual history, the reader has an understanding of the different ways historians have approached the period and of the sources and the debates over their use. Such integration of history and historiography makes for an elegant and sophisticated study. Between Two Worlds is both a scholarly review and an introduction accessible to the newcomer, and for me it was a hundred and fifty pages of pure pleasure.

September 1997

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%T Between Two Worlds
%S The Construction of the Ottoman State
%A Kafadar, Cemal
%I University of California Press
%D 1995
%O paperback, notes, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0520206002
%P xx,221pp