To what extent did the bureaucratic structure of the state that were required to sustain the Ottoman’s wealth and power undermine (damage or weaken) the foundations of the Ottoman state in the late 19th and 20th centuries?

The Ottoman Empire's bureaucratic structure meant that any new territories would have to follow the Sultan and would have to pay taxes. The more the Ottoman Empire invaded, the bigger and more powerful the nation got.

Since the Empire expanded its power by allowing its territories to maintain their identities if they acknowledged the Ottomans as the ruling power (and paid taxes) these local areas were given autonomy.

Was the religious and cultural diversity a core structural cause of the Ottoman Empire's decline?

  • 1
    That's basically colonialism. Britain gives india welfare, and India gives Britain troops to expand the British empire. It's almost a pyramid scheme.
    – D J Sims
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 1:52
  • 2
    "Britain gives india welfare, and India gives Britain troops to expand the British empire." Did they? Was deliberately destroying the transportation system of Bengal (that lead to the deaths of around 4 million people) giving "welfare"? Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:46
  • What bureaucratic structures of Ottoman Empire? According to some numbers the illiteracy was averaging right at 97-98% for much of it's history and about 80-85% from early 1800s. Also, some might argue that causes of the decline and then fall was internal tensions between muslim and non-muslim portions of the society, increasing in both areas affected and bloodines the closer we get to the end... Right along the increases in outside pressure from European powers.
    – AcePL
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 16:10

4 Answers 4


Religious and cultural diversity were part of the Ottoman Empire during its whole life, hence this alone can't be the reason of its decline. Also, the Empire reached its max size around 1680 and remained stable for a century or more.

What weakened the Ottoman Empire was:
- European industrialization
- Colonialism
- Nationalism

In short industrialization gave the european powers enough weapons and strength to defeat the Ottoman Empire. But also gave to european powers motives to search for new resources to supply their factories, new markets to sell their products and enough money to invest in other countries. This surplus gave to Europe the need to control foreign lands.
This is one of the reason that starts colonialism, were Europe starts to colonize several regions of Africa, Asia and Oceania. This turned Ottoman territory into a potencial place to colonize.
Finally, the surge of nationalism, one of the effects of French Revolution. This is somehow related to the question, because nationalism is related to cultural and religious differences. Nationalism gave a reason to european minorities (serbs, greeks, bulgars, romanians, etc.) inside the Ottoman Empire to fight for their autonomy.

Now, even though cultural and religious differences had an effect, the main reason was industrialization. Because the same effect ocurred in China, India or Persia, were european countries started to divide these countries in influence zones since they had the strength to do it. Only Japan was able to remain independent because they accepted western industrialization, and they were able to become a colonial power as well.

  • 2
    There's somewhat of a double standard employed here. Let's see if I can put the finger on it. The answer points to colonialism as if it was "a new (European) thing". But didn't the Ottoman sphere of influence grew by conquering or subduing other countries? Including e.g. Bulgaria? Then the answer points to nationalism as if it was "a new (European) thing". But the "European minorities inside the Ottoman Empires" had been (significant) states of their own before being annexed by the Ottomans, haven't they? (Not my best area / time, so I might be completely wrong, but this was my gut reaction.)
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 11:02
  • 3
    Indeed @DevSolar, you're right in the historical concept. But the main difference here was in the mind of people in that time. European minorities before nationalism did not have the right to rule themselves unless they had a legitimate king/queen/prince with an army to support them. But after nationalism you did not need neither an aristocracy or an army, because people had the right to rule themselves according to this new philosophy. That's the real meaning of French Revolution.
    – Santiago
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 13:20
  • Good point, I hadn't considered this.
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 13:24

More a comment than a satisfying answer, but since I am lacking the reputation to comment, I have to do it this way: Santiago's answer is more related to the acceleration of the decline.

The defeat of the Ottoman army during the second siege of Vienna in 1683 marked the beginning of the downturn of the Ottoman Empire - more than 100 years before European Nationalism and Industrialization were about to happen.

The reasons for the decline are numerous, various and actually not that easy to detect. E.g. a rigid bureaucracy and government, ethnical and cultural diversity, a policy of aggressive expansion & suppression and the economic burden of a great army and lost battles combined with inner conflicts weakened the empire as well.

After 1683 the Ottoman rulers attempted to regain old power and influence - but due to a growing technological gap to Europe and the emergence of nationalism in the 19th century (causing uprisings in the Balkans) as well as European colonization this attempts failed.

The history of the Ottoman Empire is quite interesting - yet this topic is broadly neglected in studies of European History (although the Balkans belonged to the Empire for several centuries).

  • Not to mention, the Ottomans had juuuust conquered Crete (1669) after a 21 year siege.
    – Spencer
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 21:46

There is no supply of reliable historical evidence indicating that cultural and religious diversity contributed to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. From its earliest beginnings, the major cities of the Ottoman Empire were some of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in the world, centuries before multicultural cities, such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto or Buenos Aires.

Cities, such as Constantinople itself/(the name , "Istanbul", does not come into existence until the 1920's), Thessaloniki, Izmir/(Smyrna), Cairo and Alexandria in Northern Egypt, had various ethnic and religious communities during Ottoman times. Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Egyptian Muslims and Christians had lived in these major Ottoman colonial cities for centuries and there was little disruption or internal disquiet that is historically documented during the early-middle years of the Ottoman Empire.

What contributed to the decline of the Ottoman Empire.......was the Ottoman Empire. From the failed 1683 siege on Vienna, into the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, was imploding. It was becoming an increasingly anachronistic imperial state that consisted of widespread corruption, as well as less than competent Sultans. It was also a part of the world that, despite its centuries long presence in Europe, was far from being European-(culturally speaking). In other words, the Ottoman Empire, during this above mentioned time, when compared with much of the European continent, was culturally and intellectually unsophisticated and at a long cultural distance.

These are the characteristics that may provide a solid foundation for better understanding the root causes and origins of the Ottoman Empire's 200 plus year internal decline.


it was ended by military defeats following the rise of the arabic nations near the Euphrates and the partitionning after WW1 and the laic reforms by the young turks who took power

  • 2
    I am sure the OP is well aware of why and how did the Empire fall. He/She is rather interested in how the why and how came to pass
    – NSNoob
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 7:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.