ABSTRACT

In a previous chapter1 we touched on some of the uncertainties associated with the technical side of warfare in the early modern period and concluded that available technology lacked sufficient power and consistency to allow it to act as a principal determinant factor in warfare. There is, however, a persistent view that Ottoman deficiencies in the development and use of weaponry influenced their ability, especially in the second half of the seventeenth century, to confront the West successfully. It will therefore not be amiss if we scrutinize in greater detail in this chapter some of the main elements of the argument that posits the emergence of a technological gap between Europe and the Ottomans towards the end of our period of analysis. The first matter to be confronted is the issue of the pace of technological change and the likelihood, in abstract terms, that significant technological lag should develop. In twentieth century warfare the gap between the nuclear and non-nuclear powers, already broad in itself, is constantly widening as new discoveries are made and old weapons systems replaced. The time span between scientific discovery and implementation has also been dramatically shortened in modern warfare. The assumption that such rapidity either of change or implementation should apply to the seventeenth century is clearly anachronistic. Neither the Ottomans nor their competitors in the seventeenth century produced weapons under conditions of strict quality control. Standardization of weaponry without centralized production was clearly impossible. The quality of the siege guns produced at the central foundries of Istanbul attached to the Imperial Arsenal (Tophane-i Amire) were

not noticeably differ ent from guns produced elsewhere. All guns were produced using the prevailing technology of the day that was itself far from infallible. The view that the Ottomans’ adoption of technology or indeed their general competence in the military sphere, including the sphere of siege warfare, differed significantly – as the result of cultural, religious or other influences (e.g. general “backwardness”) – from that found in other parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean world, is not supported by the evidence. Ideas, techniques and, most importantly, the technicians who implemented them travelled with relative ease and rapidity from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. As for religion, the multiplicity of faiths and general tolerance for religious nonconformity found in the Ottoman empire meant that economic migrants, especially those with artisan skills, who came from other regions representing the heartlands of other religions could be unobtrusively absorbed into Ottoman society. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Ottoman labour market also offered favorable terms of employment by comparison with some other parts of the Mediterranean. From the standpoint of technology transfer, therefore, the Ottoman Empire, far from putting up barriers to change, represented one of the most porous and receptive environments for the introduction of new ideas.2