Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ottomans in the Indian Ocean

by Salman Hameed

The Age of Exploration - spanning roughly from the 15th through the 17th centuries - is usually centered on European expeditions. A new book by Giancarlo Casale looks at the expeditions of the Ottoman Empire during that time and it looks like a fascinating read (tip from Jenny White's fantastic blog, Kamil Pasha). Here is a review by Christopher Mott at Muftah:
In The Ottoman Age of Exploration, author Giancarlo Casale tackles the Ottoman Empire’s naval exploits in the Indian Ocean during the 16th century, a topic long-neglected by scholars. While demonstrating the importance of these exploits to Ottoman geopolitical grand strategy, Casale also works to challenge the Eurocentricism that surrounds the Age of Exploration, the era in the late 15th through 16th Centuries when European states began to project their power over significant parts of the globe, and highlights the campaigns waged by other powers in the Indian Ocean region against these European explorers. 
In contrast to the Ottoman naval build up in the Bosporus or North Africa (where the Empire’s navies secured coastlines for amphibious landings and to facilitate military goals), Ottoman exploration in the Indian Ocean did not grow out of the Empire’s expansionistic drive. Instead, its involvement in the region was a defensive reaction to Portuguese incursions into Indian Ocean trading zones. 
The Ottomans originally regarded the Indian Ocean as foreign and removed from their sphere of influence, as did most of the European powers of the time. The Indian Ocean was a self-contained trading system stretching from the Swahili Coast all the way to South-East Asia. The sailors and merchants who dominated the region were largely Arabs from the Gulf area while India served as the geographic lynchpin and largest market of goods within this network. 
In 1498 the Portuguese rounded the southern tip of Africa and broke into this trading system. Vasco de Gama saw the immense wealth and opportunity and immediately set about re-aligning trade relations in Portugal’s favor, often at the point of his ships’ cannons. 
And so a new, dynamic, and destructive force exploded onto the scene: the heavily armed Portuguese galleon. Even with the Portuguese strong-arming their way into strategic possessions along the trade routes scattered throughout India and Africa, the Ottomans only became actively interested in exploring opportunities within the region after 1517 when they successfully invaded and annexed the Mamluk Sultanate, which was based in Egypt but extended to the Levantine Coast. While the Ottomans initially expanded into the Indian Ocean with the purpose of securing the southern flank of these new territories, they quickly realized they too could reap significant financial rewards by securing the region’s trade routes.
Read the full review here.


Epiphenom said...

Looks like an interesting book. Of interest was that the Mamluks had the support of the Ottomans and Venetians for a critical battle - the Battle of Diu, 1509 CE. They all had an interest in stopping the Portuguese and the new round-Africa trade route. Mamluk Egypt fell to the Ottomans shortly thereafter.

Salman Hameed said...

Tom - this is fascinating. I didn't know about this battle - and didn't know about this Egyptian-Ottoman-Gujrat alliance.

We were taught about Vasco de Gama in school - but skipped on the opposition to the Portuguese :(

ingrid mitrasing said...


My dissertation 'the Age of Aceh and the Evolution of Kingship 1599-1641
analyses local (Islamic) opposition against the Portuguese in the Malacca Straits. I also refer to the assistance Aceh received from the ottoman in 1567 (Pacta islamica)

Ingrid Mitrasing

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