The last sultan of the Ottoman Empire resigned on November 1, 1922, thus ending six hundred years of the sultanate. Declared persona non grata, he left Constantinople two weeks later and a year after that, the former empire officially became Turkey.
Six hundred years of empire seems like quite a lot – the British Empire effectively lasted only a couple of centuries – but although the Ottoman is in the top ten, it can’t hold a candle to the Romans or even the Koreans for longevity. The Silla Empire on the Korean peninsula ruled for a thousand years; the Romans are first with 1900 years of rule.
The Ottomans however displaced both the Eastern (Byzantine) and Western Roman empires and the sultans, at the peak of power, ruled an estimated 15 million people. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottomans ruled as far north as Budapest and twice tried to capture Vienna.
That was under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent, whose reign of 46 years set a record. Though he is called ‘the Magnificent’ in the west, he is Kanuni Suleiman in the east – Suleiman the Lawgiver. The empire was under sharia law of course, but he took those bits not covered by it – criminal offenses, land tenure and taxation – and created a new legal code. Surprisingly thorough, he assembled all the rulings of the nine sultans who preceded him, threw out the duplicates, and created a new legal code based on precedent.
Notably, the new laws gave more protections to Jews and Christians than previously. It so improved their lot, that some serfs in other countries fled to the Ottoman empire to take advantage of the liberality.
A couple of centuries later, the empire had fallen behind in military technology and its once all-powerful navy no longer ruled the Mediterranean. Gradually territory slipped away until finally WWI did it in. Nationalist movements resulted in the end of the caliphate and the 36th sultan left.
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