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Ottoman Empire’s Legacy to Modern Turkey Term Paper

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Updated: Oct 1st, 2021


The major emphasis in the study of history has always been put on the political and social processes that were considered to be the dominant ones in the history of mankind. However, the recent research data have proven that the determinant factor in the development of every country is its economy. Consequently, when studying the history of a nation, one should pay close and careful attention to the economic context of the development of this nation because economics greatly influences all other spheres of life, including social and political ones (Cameron and Neal, 2003). Thus, the present paper will focus on economic history. The nation whose history will be considered is the Ottoman Empire. This paper will analyze its economic development and influence upon the economics of modern Turkey in the political and social contexts.

Ottoman Empire

General overview

The Ottoman Empire was the state on the territory of modern Turkey, which existed from the late 13th till the early 20th century and was one of the most powerful states in the world in respect of its financial and military forces. Founded and developed as the Empire of the expansion, conquest, and military force, Ottoman Turkey placed these branches of its economy to the paramount positions (Clay, 2001). The wealth of the country depended greatly upon its wars abroad and the benefit it could obtain from those wars in the form of contributions and captured goods and money. Another important branch of the economy of the country was agriculture which was considered to be the dominant domestic source of state benefit and development. State property over the land and material means for goods production excluded every possibility of private entrepreneurship and industrial development of the country. At the same time, the conservative administrative structure of the Ottoman Empire and the way of ruling the country, which was the authoritative monarchy, allowed only for the development of the already existing branches of the economy but not for the progress. Nevertheless, in the 19th – 20th centuries, the modern economic demands, especially in international relations, made the Ottoman government change its policies and modernize economics.


Demographics is one of the major economic factors that predetermine other factors, including the extent of the agricultural and industrial development, urbanization, export- or import-oriented economy, etc. Thus, the demographical factors of the Ottoman Empire were formed by the permanent changes in the territory and in population. Waging wars, Ottomans enlarged their Empire to the greatest extent in the 18th – 19th century when the European, African and Asian provinces constituted over one-third of the whole population – 10 million people out of about 30 million in the whole Empire. Urbanization increased in the middle of the 19th century when the development of transport and industry was on the rise, thus transferring the majority of the population from rural agricultural areas to industrialized urban territories (Quataert, 2005).

Agriculture, industry, and trade

As it has already been said, agriculture was the dominant income source of the economy of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. It could be explained by the fact that the soil is rather fertile in such provinces as Anatolia, Egypt, etc., and the majority of the population of the Empire was initially rural. Besides, the irrigational programs and favorable conditions for agrarian development were the basic factors for the agricultural wealth of the Ottoman Empire. The conservative way of the state organization also allowed for little progress and did not provide for the fitting of the country’s economy to the international standards (Quataert, 2005).

However, the demands of time and technological progress could not but influence the Turkish economy to a certain extent, thus reflecting the rightfulness of the mercantilist viewpoint according to which industry is the most significant point in the economy (Heilbroner, 1995). The impact of the shift in interest from agriculture to industry was the emergence of the great numbers of the labor force in the urban areas as contrasted to the constantly decreasing labor supplies in the villages. Thus, by the beginning of the 20th century, over 100 000 people were employed in the industry to satisfy the demands of over 26 million domestic and foreign consumers (Heilbroner, 1995).

Consequently, trade was one of the major points in the budget of the Ottoman Empire. Domestic trade constituted a large part of it, with the goods produced by the Ottoman Empire being rather successful in the international markets as well. However, domestic trade, although rather important and supplying over 20 million citizens with the goods they needed, was not the only way of trade and was accompanied by international trade. Thus, the export of cotton and goods made of it doubled in the middle of the 18th century, while the bulk of the goods were produced by slave labor force and exported from the province ports like Salonika or Smyrna. Thus, the modern Turkish economy is greatly influenced by its Ottoman past (Pamuk, 2001).

Modern Turkey

Thus, the economy of modern Turkey is the combination of the influences of the Ottoman past and the modern trends and directions of the economic development in the world. The economy of this country is nowadays dominated by industry mixed with the huge development of private entrepreneurship, tourism, banking, etc. Consequently, Turkey, as the country which is a member of almost all European financial and political organizations, including G-20 Industrial Nations, WTO, IMF, EU Customs Union, and many others, is aimed at satisfying the European standards in economy and becoming the EU member. The GDP of Turkey increases yearly, and the major parts of it are constituted by the three sectors. They are services, industry, and agriculture (Cameron and Neal, 2005).

In more detail, the sphere of services comprises over 55% of GDP for the current year and reflects the attractive position of Turkey for the development of international tourism. The industry is the second branch of the economy according to the speed of its development. Over 30% of GDP per year is produced by it, and industrial development is the major objective of the Turkish government. Agriculture, although paid less attention to, is the third branch of the economy according to its importance, and it still constitutes about 9% of the GDP. Export and foreign trade also are important factors of the Turkish economy nowadays (Cameron and Neal, 2005).


To conclude the present paper, the economy of modern Turkey is a phenomenon that is determined by numerous factors, among which its history and economic development of the Ottoman Empire play one of the central roles. Such factors as the modern economic trends, liberalism, and globalization are also rather significant for the Turkish economy, but the basis for it was formed during the centuries of Ottoman rule. The economy became export-oriented, rather dependant upon international trade and such spheres of domestic revenue as tourism, finance, banking, industry, and agriculture.

Works Cited

Cameron, Rondo, and Neal, Larry. A Concise Economic History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Clay, C. “A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire”. The Economic History Review, Economic History Society 54.1 (2001): 204.

Heilbroner, Robert. The Worldy Philosophers, The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers, 7th edition. London: Penguin, 1995.

Quataert, D. “Dilemma of Development: The Agricultural Bank and Agricultural Reform in Ottoman Turkey, 1888-1908”. International Journal of Middle East Studies, Cambridge University Press (2005): 210-11.

Pamuk, S. “The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy: The Nineteenth Century”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Cambridge University Press 23.3 (2001): 221 – 223.

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