1 The Ottomans in contrast projected an unabashedly pluralistic and multiethnic

1 the ottomans in contrast projected an unabashedly

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1 The Ottomans, in contrast, projected an unabashedly pluralistic and multiethnic identity which was very much based around the project of accommodating diversity and incorporating it into the collective. 2 As we shall see below, such a difference was to have profound implications for the development of relations between the two powers, for in the end, it was precisely this marked divergence in the conceptualization of self which made the Ottomans seem so dangerous to their Lusitanian rivals. Since the Ottomans, unlike any of the indigenous peoples of the Indian Ocean, were so obviously racially and ethnically similar to the Portuguese, their self-confident cosmopolitanism posed a threat to the underpinnings of Portuguese ethnic solidarity, just as the strength of their navy posed a threat to Portuguese hegemony at sea. In their more reflective moments, Portuguese authors of the sixteenth century sometimes expressed their fears about such a challenge quite explicitly. Unfortunately, their views have tended to be overlooked by later scholars working within a conceptual framework steeped in nationalist notions of ethnicity wholly inappropriate to the early modern Ottoman state. Alongside a discussion of the actual ethnic composition of Ottoman ship crews in the Indian Ocean, therefore, the present work will seek to address the problems associated with even asking questions about “ethnicity” in an Ottoman context. 1 See Charles Boxer’s classic Race Relations in the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1415-1825 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 41-85. 2 On the Ottoman Empire’s mechanisms for incorporating religious and ethnic diversity, especially for earlier periods of Ottoman history, see, in addition to the numerous works cited below, Heath Lowry, The Nature of the Early Ottoman State (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003). G. Casale / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 122-144 123 ME 13,1_f8_122-144.indd 123 ME 13,1_f8_122-144.indd 123 3/29/07 4:53:03 PM 3/29/07 4:53:03 PM
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124 G. Casale / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 122-144 The Semantics of Ottoman Ethnicity Th e most basic obstacle to any discussion of ethnic identity in the Ottoman world is one of simple terminology. With relentless consistency, the vocabu- lary found in historical sources is not only problematic in itself but also seriously at odds with that employed in more recent scholarly works—even in cases where the very same word is being used. 3 For example, European authors of the sixteenth century, in common with most historians today, habitually referred to the Ottomans as “Turks.” If pressed, they might even have defined this term more specifically as “Turkish-speaking Muslims from Anatolia,” which corresponds more or less to its modern definition both in Turkish and in Western languages. But in practice, “Turk” was employed by Europeans quite differently, as an indiscriminate blanket term for a Muslim of any ethnic origin. Even Western Europeans who converted to Islam could be referred to as “Turks”—as in the English phrase
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