Victory Secrets of Ottoman Turks

In the year 1299 a group of warrior shepherds from Central Asia led by a chieftain named Osman established a small state in central Anatolia aka Asia Minor. Osmanli, meaning The House of Osman, went on to grow an empire on 3 continents that stretched from the gates of Vienna to the shores of North Africa. Europeans called the Osmanli State Ottoman Empire. Osmanli Imparatorlugu, as it’s called in Turkish, lasted over 600 years until the end of World War I. It was history’s first multicultural state that provided a safe haven to those fleeing Europe’s hundreds of years of religious wars, pogroms and sectarian conflicts. While the Ottoman Turks’ military prowess played a major role in its expansion, it would be an oversimplification to explain the Empire’s success and longevity in military terms alone. Besides military superiority Ottoman Turks possessed leadership and organisational skills that excelled those in Medieval Europe. As their big guns eroded the power of feudal lords in their castles, their conquest of Constantinople in 1453 ended the Middle Ages and set the stage for Renaissance and the Age of Reason in Europe. Tactics and strategy they employed for the Empire’s expansion could provide lessons for all organisations in the 21st century.

Osman Gazi

Osman I, Founder of Ottoman Empire

 Ottoman Empire History’s First Multicultural State

Ottoman Turks established history’s first federated multicultural state centuries before the British Colonies in North America declared the United States of America. Conversion into Islam was voluntary and incentive-based. While Christians and Jews paid higher taxes and the Sultan was the absolute ruler in the kingdom, the Empire’s religious and ethnic tolerance made it a safe haven for those fleeing hundreds of years of religious, ethnic and sectarian violence in Europe.

Europe’s First Welfare State

Since charitable giving is one of the tenets of Ottoman Turks’ religion, Ottoman rulers encouraged the proliferation of charities, making the Ottoman Empire Europe’s first welfare state. While Europe was ravaged by war and pestilence, there was another reason why many took refuge under the Sultan’s protective umbrella.

History’s First Free Trade Agreement

While it took Europeans and North Americans hundreds of years to establish a free trade zone, Ottoman Empire established history’s first free trade agreement with France. The trade treaties were later extended to other countries, making Ottoman Empire the first and biggest free trade zone in the world. Like the United States, Ottoman Empire attracted talent, know-how and capital from all over the world for civilian and  military purposes.

 Conquest of Constantinople Ended Medieval Age

Ottoman Turks brought with them military and organizational skills  that were unsurpassed in Europe of the Middle Ages. Using European know-how and engineers they perfected the use of artillery to bring down medieval castles and fortresses. Ottoman guns eroded the power of feudal lords, tearing down their fortresses and the feudal power structure. Historians agree that the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople ended the Medieval Age and set the stage for Renaissance and the Age of Reason in Europe.

Conquest of Constantinople

Ottoman Sultan Mehmet moving his boats over the mountain


Can We Learn From Ottoman Turks To Deal With 21st Century Issues?

Ottoman Turks brought with them military and organizational skills that were a novelty in Medieval Europe. When they moved their ships over a mountain to conquer Constantinople they were displaying unconventional lateral thinking. The Janissary Corps, their elite combat troops, were a phenomenon in transformative education. With national boundaries and national interests melting away, today’s globalized business landscape is looking more and more like the feudal era in Europe. Can we learn from Ottoman Turks to grow a business, win in conflicts and deal with everyday problems in the 21st century? Inspired by Wess Roberts’ New York Times Bestseller “Victory Secrets of Attila The Hun”, “Victory Secrets of Ottoman Turks” addresses these questions.

The Following Essay About Ottoman Turks Is Based On A Chapter In The Book

Think of an obstacle as the Byzantine Chain of Constantinople. Move your boats over the mountain.

History is full of examples of how leaders overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles by determination and perseverance and, occasionally, flashes of ingenious thinking. Two of these were demonstrated in the year 1453AD by the defenders and assailants of the City of Constantinople, the last remaining fortress of the once mighty Byzantine or the East Roman Empire.

According to legend Osman, a central Asian warrior that came to found the Ottoman Empire, had a prophetic dream that was interpreted by a sage as the birth of a great state that extended from the outskirts of Europe to the shores of the river Nile. Part of this interpretation was that this state would conquer the City of Constantinople, a feat that was unthinkable at the time. Starting with the humble beginnings of a small Central Anatolian village in 1299 it took Osman’s descendants over 150 years to fulfil his dream when Ottoman Turks laid siege to Constantinople in 1453. Conquest of Constantinople is seen by most historians as the event that marked the end of the Medieval Age.

The heavily fortified city’s underbelly was the Golden Horn, an inlet that extended from the Marmara Sea into the center of the Byzantine fortifications. Every day the Ottoman navy sailed deep into the Golden Horn to wreak havoc with Byzantine defenders. The Byzantines could have filled the entrance, but a permanent blockage of the inlet was not a good solution since they needed the aid brought in by Venetian boats and other European vessels. Then they had a bright idea. They cast a huge chain that could be extended across the entrance. The chain could be lowered to admit friendly vessels when they wanted. One morning the Ottomans had an unpleasant surprise when they found that their boats could not sail past the chain into the Golden Horn. They also found that no amount of force could break, destroy or dislodge the chain. They had thus suffered their biggest setback since they laid the siege.

Not to be deterred by any obstacle, the Ottomans had a flash of genius of their own. They constructed a track that extended from the sea over a mountain into the Golden Horn. They built huge pulleys with the strongest ropes they could come up with and oiled the track. One night thousands of soldiers pulled the boats of the Ottoman Navy over the mountain into the Golden Horn. When they woke up the Byzantines had an unpleasant surprise waiting for them, Ottoman boats in the Golden Horn. This was a turning point for the defenders who realised that their city was not as invincible as they believed.

Most of us face seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives placed by employers, government, competitors, or adversaries. The workplace and the marketplace are virtual battlefields for many who want to achieve their goals and dreams. In this age of regulatory freaks nerdy bureaucrats and politicians who have not had to make a single penny in the marketplace are creeping more and more into the world of business to justify their existence. When we meet a strong obstacle like the Chain of Constantinople our first instinct is to fight to break it to remove it. Then we may waste time with the futile task of trying to reason with the people who placed it there, a power game where the odds are against most of us. It may occur to us to go around the obstacle instead of fighting and resisting it. That’s also called finding a loophole or a big enough hole to allow passage through the Chain. Good lawyers, and there are not many of them around, are wonderful creative thinkers that specialize in finding those holes, if your problem is a stupid piece of legislation created by brain-dead zombies. However, holes, loopholes and a suitable circumvention of the obstacle cannot always be found even by professionals.

We are creatures of habit, and our most dominant and compelling habit is our habit of thinking, which creates our perceptions and beliefs. Somewhere behind our belief may lurk the solution that escaped our perception of the problem. Unconventional solutions generally hide behind our beliefs about what is possible, and what we can and cannot do. Somebody must have said at that time “But we cannot sail on land.” You cannot sail on land but you can move your boat over the mountain.

Next time you are faced with the Byzantine Chain of Constantinople ask yourself how you can move your boats over the mountain into the Golden Horn.

“I believe this book can be made into an elective course to be taught in business schools. Ottoman history both during its glory and decline offers a great deal of insight for business executives for strategic decisions as well as for professionals who need to analyze complex situations and acquire the vision to tackle them. This is an inspiring and entertaining book, a must read for knowledge and pleasure.”


(former) Trade Commissioner for Canada in Istanbul, Turkey

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Victory Secrets of Ottoman TurksBridging History & Continents
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