The sultans of the Ottoman Dynasty ruled over a vast transcontinental empire from 1299 to 1922. At its height, the Ottoman Empire spanned from Hungary in the north to Somalia in the south, and from Algeria in the west to Iraq in the east. Administered at first from the city of Bursa in Anatolia, the empire s capital was moved to Edirne in 1366 and then to Constantinople (currently known as Istanbul) in 1453 following its capture from the Byzantine Empire.Although its early days remain shrouded in legend, the Ottoman Empire is regarded by most historians to have started in 1299, when Osman I, khan (leader) of the Kayı tribe of the Oghuz Turks managed to acquire sovereignty for his small Anatolian kingdom from the Seljuq Sultan of Rûm.The Ottoman Dynasty he founded was to endure for six centuries through the reigns of 36 sultans. The Ottoman Empire disappeared as a result of the defeat of the Central Powers with whom it had allied itself during World War I. The partitioning of the empire by the victorious Allies and the ensuing Turkish War of Independence led to the birth of the modern Republic of Turkey.
The Ottoman State was an absolute monarchy during much of its existence. The sultan was at the apex of the hierarchical Ottoman system and acted in political, military, judicial, social, and religious capacities under a variety of titles.[a] He was theoretically responsible only to God and God s law (the Islamic şeriat, known in Arabic as sharia), of which he was the chief executor. His heavenly mandate was reflected in Irano-Islamic titles such as "shadow of God on Earth" (zill Allah fi l-alem) and "caliph of the face of the earth" (halife-i ru-yi zemin).All offices were filled by his authority, and every law was issued by him in the form of a firman, i.e. decree. He was the supreme military commander and had the official title to all land. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Ottoman sultans came to regard themselves as the successors of the Roman Empire, hence their occasional use of the titles Caesar (kaysar) and Emperor. Following the conquest of Egypt in 1517, Selim I also adopted the title of caliph, thus claiming to be the universal Muslim ruler.[b] Newly enthroned Ottoman rulers were girded with the Sword of Osman, an important ceremony which served as the equivalent of European monarchs coronation.
Although theocratic and absolute in theory and in principle, the sultan s powers were limited in practice. The attitudes of important members of the dynasty, the bureaucratic and military establishments, and religious leaders had to be considered.Moreover, from the 17th century onwards, the empire entered into a long-term period of stagnation, during which the sultans were much enfeebled. Many of them ended up being deposed by the powerful Janissary corps. Despite being barred from inheriting the throne, women of the Imperial Harem—especially the Valide Sultan, i.e. the reigning sultan s mother—also played an important behind-the-scenes political role, effectively ruling the empire during the period known as the sultanate of women.
The declining powers of the sultans are evidenced by the difference in reign lengths between early sultans and later ones. Suleiman I, who ruled the empire when it was at its zenith in the 16th century, had a reign of 46 years, the longest in Ottoman history. On the other hand, Murad V, who ruled in the late 19th-century period of decline, had the shortest reign on record: he was in power for just 93 days before being deposed. Constitutionalism was only established during the reign of Murad V s successor, Abdülhamid II, who thus became the empire s last absolute ruler and its first constitutional monarch. Abdülhamid II s grandson, Prince Ertuğrul Osman, who has been living in exile in New York City since 1939, is the current head of the Ottoman Dynasty and pretender to the defunct Ottoman throne.