Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In the late 13th century, Osman I established a small beylik, or principality, in what is now Turkey. In just a few generations, this beylik outmaneuvered more powerful neighbors to become the vast Ottoman empire. What enabled its rapid rise? In Osman's time, the Anatolian peninsula was a patchwork of Turkic principalities sandwiched between a crumbling Byzantine Empire and weakened Sultanate of the Seljuk of Rum. Osman quickly expanded this territory through a mixture of strategic political alliances and military conflicts with these neighbors, attracting mercenaries first with the promise of booty, then later through his reputation for winning. Osman was the first in a line of Ottoman rulers distinguished by their political shrewdness. Often prioritizing political and military utility over ethnic or religious affinity, they expanded their influence by fighting along certain sides when needed, and fighting against them when the time was right. After Osman's death his son Orhan established a sophisticated military organization and tax collection system geared towards funding quick territorial expansion. The Ottomans' first major expansion was in the Balkans, in southeast Europe. The military employed a mixture of Turkic warriors and Byzantine and other Balkan Christian converts. They captured thousands of young Christian boys from villages from across the Balkans, converted them to Islam, and trained them to become the backbone of a fierce military elite force known as the Janissaries. The captured enslaved boys could rise to the high position of a vizier in the Ottoman government. Rulers of conquered areas were also allowed, even encouraged, to convert to Islam and take positions in the Ottoman government. Meanwhile, non-Muslims who belonged to Abrahamic religions were allowed religious freedom in exchange for a tax known as Jizye, among other strict conditions— for example, they were not allowed to join the army. By the end of the 14th century, the Ottomans had conquered or subordinated most of the Anatolian beyliks as well as the Balkans. But in the first half of the 15th century, as Sultan Beyazit I focused on Western expansion, the Central Asian ruler Timur attacked from the east. He captured Beyazit and carted him off in an iron cage, sparking a ten year struggle for succession that almost destroyed the Ottoman empire. Sultan Murad II turned this trend around, but fell short of one of his loftiest goals: capturing the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. His son, Sultan Mehmed II, or Mehmed the Conqueror, vowed to succeed where his father had failed. In preparation for the attack on Constantinople, he hired a Hungarian engineer to forge the largest cannon in the world, used Serbian miners to dig tunnels under the walls of the city, and ordered his fleet of ships to be carried overland, attacking the city from an unexpected direction. He laid siege to the city and in the spring of 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. It would become the Ottoman capital, known by its common Greek name, Istanbul, meaning “to the city.” By the time Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, the city was a shadow of its former glory. Under Ottoman rule, it flourished once again. On an average day in Istanbul, you could hear people speaking Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Persian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Albanian, and Serbian. Architects like the famous Sinan filled the city with splendid mosques and other buildings commissioned by the sultans. Through Istanbul, the Otttomans brought commodities like coffee to Europe. They entered a golden age of economic growth, territorial acquisition, art and architecture. They brought together craftspeople from across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia to create a unique blend of cultural innovation. Iznik ceramics, for example, were made using techniques from China's Ming dynasty, reimagined with Ottoman motifs. The Ottomans would continue to expand, cementing their political influence and lucrative trade routes. The empire lasted for more than 600 years and, at its peak, stretched from Hungary to the Persian Gulf, from the Horn of Africa to the Crimean Peninsula.