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Response to Review no. 431

Rather than requiring a response, Dr Heywood’s review of my book allows me to bask in flattery. However, it does at the same time make some suggestions as to how I might have approached the subject differently. The most important of these are, first, that my approach could have been broader, and perhaps more combative than it is and second, that it would have benefited from a comparative approach. Both of these are good points, and ones which other reviewers have also raised.

To begin with the second point, I would agree that the Ottoman Empire was not sui generis. It shared many features with other pre-modern polities and a comparative study would undoubtedly improve our understanding of how the Empire functioned (or at times malfunctioned). However, my feeling is that this task should be undertaken separately. My concern here was with taking the first step towards making such a study worthwhile, by giving a clear and coherent outline of the most important institutions of the Empire and their development between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is only when this has been competently done that detailed comparisons can be made. I could perhaps add that in thinking about problems in Ottoman history, I have usually looked for historical parallels. For example, in my previous work on the ‘origins’ of the Ottoman Empire – or more precisely, on the Ottoman texts which appear to inform us on this subject – I have made use of the analyses by mediaeval historians of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. The parallels with the Ottoman ‘historiography’ of the Empire’s foundation are quite striking. To take another random example, I found that Henry Kamen’s work on imperial Spain was invaluable in its emphasis on how the ‘Spanish’ Empire was, in reality, multinational. Again the parallels with the ‘Turkish’ Ottoman Empire are instructive. What I have not done, however, is to discuss these parallels in the text: this would require a separate – or much longer – book.

In this context, I am also taking the opportunity to justify my decision – which other reviewers have criticised – to include a lengthy chronological outline. Chronology, I realise, is not fashionable, nor does it make for an especially enjoyable read. It is, however, essential. To write history without a good grasp of chronology is like trying to write a language without knowing its grammar, and since there is no other place to which I could direct readers for a chronology, I had to write one myself. My hope was that the chapter would also be a useful source of reference for Ottomanists, who are very prone to chronological errors and oversights, which occasionally lead to mistaken conclusions. (I once read, for example, that the 1680s – a decade of continuous warfare and dramatic territorial losses – was a ‘quiet period’ in Ottoman history.)

The review’s mild-mannered implication that the book could have provided a broader treatment of the subject is justified, as is the specific comment that it needs a chapter on the finance bureaucracy. My immediate answer to the first point is that I was working to a word limit, and also within the limits of my competence. The cut-off point is, to a degree, arbitrary and to have brought the study down to 1699 might have been more logical. However, in terms of space, this would have required major sacrifices of existing material. Equally important, I am unfamiliar with the sources for the Köprülü era and the nearly two decades of war which followed, and in the absence of reliable monographs and a scarcity other secondary sources for this period, I was unwilling to venture beyond the mid-seventeenth century. The absence of a chapter on the finance bureaucracy is, I feel, a more serious lacuna, and one which I may one day be able to remedy. However, it will require either a major research effort on my part, or a body of competent secondary literature to which I can refer. At the moment, as in many other fields within Ottoman studies, the latter scarcely exists.