Since Columbus' voyage in 1492, the Europeans began to explore and colonize the Americas. During the next century, the Spanish (and the Portuguese?) extracted a lot of wealth from the Americas, beginning the expansion of territories, and power, resulting in Empire that became the dominant naval and economic powers at the expense of Islamic powers, such as the Ottoman Empire.

How did policymakers in the Muslim world react to this development? Especially in the parts that interacted with the Europeans, such as the Ottoman Empire, Morocco, or the Barbary States? Did this come into their attention, and did they plan some response to stop or disrupt it?

  • 4
    Good question, although 'policymakers' is an odd choice of words.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 4, 2015 at 13:28
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    I think "policy makers" is a very well chosen term.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 4, 2015 at 15:16
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    @MarkC.Wallace given that the Ottoman empire and the Barbary states were absolute monarchies, it's a weird choice of words.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 4:13
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    Precisely; had OP asked how the rulers reacted, that would have resulted in one answer; by asking about policymakers, OP has broadened the question. The autocrats of the Ottoman empire did not, as I recall, ignore religious stakeholders, and in many places military and bureaucratic players significantly influenced policy.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 16:50
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    What you think enormous wealth, if was enormous only on European scale. Ottoman Empire and empires of the East were much more wealthy at that time, and for them it wouldn't seem to that great of a business.
    – Greg
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 3:48

4 Answers 4


During the time period from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until its dissolution in 1918, the Ottoman Empire was pre-occupied with the Balkans, Middle East, and North-East Africa. During the height of the Age of Exploration, the Ottoman Empire was very successfully expanding into the Balkans, besieging Vienna in 1529 under Suleiman the Magnificent and being repulsed in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna when attempting to do so again.

The Lower Danube valley and Anatolia were the powerbase of the Ottomans; and until after the battle of Vienna in 1683, their army was respected, even occasionally feared, by the Christian states of Western and Central Europe. Remember that one of the motivations for finding alternate routes to the Indies was the fearsome power of the Ottoman Empire that dominated the lands around Eastern Mediterranean even after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

As for the Barbary States, they were independent slave-trading city states much more akin to the Hanseatic League than to any of the new nation-states that emerged in Western Europe during the Renaissance. Their interests and profits simply did not extend beyond the coastal waters of the Southern Mediterranean and South-Eastern North Atlantic, which they dominated for several hundred years.

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    So, are you saying most likely they didn't care about the discovery that was going on?
    – user69715
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 16:42
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    As far as I remember the United Stated paid tribute to the barbary states, until they were strong enough to win a confrontation. It was a substantial amount, like double digit percentage of the yearly income.
    – WalyKu
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 10:03

I do not think that Muslim "policy makers" were much concerned. They had more immediate things to be concerned about. In the 16th century the Portuguese empire was expanding more to the East than to the West. In the East it was in the immediate contact with the Muslim traders, and the Portuguese defeated Muslim forces several times.

This shows by the way, that European dominance was NOT due to colonization of America: Portuguese dominance in the East came before this colonization. Then the Muslim "policy makers" had a lot of problems in Europe, and not only with Spain. In the 17th century their main problems were with Eastern Europe (Austria and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, later with Russia, the countries having no overseas empires).

So, on my opinion, colonization of America was of little concern to the Muslim rulers.

  • The Map of Portuguese Empire shows very small holdings in traditional Muslim power houses of Middle-East, North Africa and South Asia. Can you elaborate how was Portugal expanding more in specifically Muslim East?
    – NSNoob
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:23
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    Portuguese "holdings" were small indeed: they were trading posts and naval bases. But using these trading posts and bases they controlled the sea trade. Unlike the Spaniards, Portuguese did not try to obtain large territories. They wanted to control the trade instead.
    – Alex
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 13:06

This is not a direct answer to your question, but . . .

There's the argument by the historian Cipolla that at the time, no Muslim power had a (merchant or military) navy suitable to the Atlantic, while at the same time, they had plenty of trade opportunity with each other and India. So for them, the Americas were not that interesting at first.

But Cipolla is writing about how technology affects history, so I'm sure there's more angles here.

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    Yeah, likely they didn't have the technology to do that, but I'm interested in 'how did they react' not 'why did they not do it too'. For example, if the US started colonizing Mars and extracting wealth from it, other countries might not have the technology to go to Mars too but there sure would be reactions..
    – user69715
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 17:03
  • Pity I don't have the Ciopola book anymore. I think it was along the lines of "we don't care much, we have better trade routes" but I'm not that sure.
    – mart
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 19:56
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    Muslim pirates were in the Atlantic too. Not sure about the century, but after Portugal was fully formed, it certainly had trouble with muslim slave raids, monasteries and villages destroyed. Even in Açores or Madeira. Afterwards, the Portuguese navy kept a watch west of the gilbraltar strait up to the XIX century against these pirates.
    – Luiz
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 19:49

The discovery of the Americas and the large imports of Gold and Silver to Europe had some influence on the devaluation of the Akçe, the Ottoman Currency.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ak%C3%A7e

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