Long neglected in world history, the Ottoman Empire was a hub of intellectual fervor and geopolitical power. At the height of their authority in the sixteenth century, the Ottomans, with extraordinary military dominance and unparalleled monopolies over trade routes, controlled more territory and ruled over more people than any world power, forcing Europeans out of the Mediterranean and to the New World.
Yet, despite its towering influence and centrality to the rise of our modern world, the Ottoman Empire’s history has for centuries been downplayed. But today’s guest Alan Mikhail presents a recasting of Ottoman history, retelling the story of the Ottoman conquest of the world through the dramatic biography of Sultan Selim I (1470–1520) in his book “God’s Shadow.”
Born to a concubine, and the fourth of his sultan father’s ten sons, Selim claimed power over the empire in 1512 and, through ruthless ambition, nearly tripled the territory under Ottoman control, building a governing structure that lasted into the twentieth century.
It was the Ottoman monopoly on trade routes, combined with military advances, that thrust Spain and Portugal out of the Mediterranean, forcing the merchants and sailors to become global explorers. This included Christopher Columbus, who cut his military teeth as a “Moor-slayer.” Also, Selim’s conquest of Yemen allowed his army to control the “first truly global commodity”—coffee—and subsequently made it the phenomenon it is today, a product that “energizes nearly every kind of social interaction across the world.
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