Explore Primary Sources
For 623 years, the Ottoman Empire knit together peoples of many ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Cosmopolitan in mindset, innovative in governance, fearsome in battle, and pioneering in the arts, the empire at its height showcased a combination of qualities that made it legendary on three continents. Yet in school curricula, the empire never quite emerges from the periphery; its story is a sidenote to the central action in Europe. In the standard textbook narrative, the Ottomans fail to take Vienna, decline for centuries, and see their remaining holdings carved up after World War I losses. Seldom noted are the flexible institutions and social structures the Ottomans built, their creative glories, or the lasting legacies of their rule in the Balkans and much of the Middle East. This cluster of sources from the 15th and 16th centuries aims to put the Ottomans at the center of the story by sharing their perspectives and achievements. An Ottoman "insider" offers an account of the conquest of Constantinople; an Ottoman miniature and German woodcut provide contrasting depictions of the first Ottoman siege of Vienna, and an Ottoman captain’s map of the "New World" illuminates the empire's participation in the Age of Exploration. These sources illustrate three approaches (among many) for integrating into the curriculum the achievements of an empire that spanned medieval and modern times.