Social structure of the Ottoman Empire

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There is considerable controversy regarding social status in the Ottoman Empire. Social scientists have developed class models on the socio-economic stratification of Ottoman society which feature more or less congruent theories. We see the Ottoman Empire being described as a bureaucratic state, holding different regions within a single administrative and fiscal system (Hourani 1991, p. 207).

The Ottoman Empire lasted for over six hundred years (1299–1923) and encompassed what is modern-day Turkey, the Balkans and all of the Arab-speaking nation states. Thus the Ottoman Empire would be home to an extremely diverse population ranging from the Muslim majority to the minority population, specifically Christians and Jews who were referred to as the People of the Book.


The Ottoman state was founded by the first Osman and was one of the Turkish principalities generated by the expansion of the Seljuks and of the Turkish immigrants westwards into Anatolia (Hourani 1991, p. 214). These immigrants appeared as a new band of conquering people, the Ottoman Turks, who after a quick march through Asia Minor, were ready to project their power onto the European continent (Janos 2000, p. 35). Ultimately the Empire would be ruled by the Sultan and his family.

Power sharing

For example, there was the Vizier who was seen as the second most powerful figure in the Empire and was usually a slave. It was also possible for the Vizier to lose his position if he was not able to fulfill his responsibilities in a satisfactory manner according to the Sultan. Rather than having one of the Sultan's close relatives being granted the position of Vizier, a slave was given this position, implying that the minority population of the empire was successfully assimilated with little or no force required. Even more the minority population of the Empire were insured certain rights as long as those rights did not conflict with a Muslim who constituted as part of the majority population.

Education (qualification)

The integration of minorities into the such as Jews and Christians into every level of society; i.e. military, government, business and so on allowed a sense of unity to a certain extent and allowed the most qualified individuals to contribute their part for the Empire. Another example of the integration of minorities into Ottoman society was the creation of the Devşirme which served as a military draft for Christian people who were from the swap land where the people that will eventually have them take part of an elite military force known as the Janissaries. The slaves were well paid and received a far higher standard of living than even many Muslim members of society. Many Muslims tried to enroll their own sons. The Janissaries were considered as the best of the best in the Ottoman military machine.

In respect to the population within the Empire they were integrated into the financial market in conjunction with some farmers from the farm land who were used for trade and whose knowledge of the rough terrain was useful. Ultimately the successful assimilation of the Empire's minorities into Ottoman society helped the Empire to flourish with the Muslims in firm control.

See also