8.4 The Ottoman and Safavid Empires

By the 1400s, two powerful new empires had emerged in the Middle East: the Ottoman and the Safavid empires. Both were Muslim empires, and both ruled diverse peoples. Most important, both owed their success in part to a new military technology, gunpowder. For this reason, the Ottoman and Safavid empires are often called “gunpowder empires.” Gunpowder led to the use of new weapons such as cannons that blasted through defensive walls. Later, muskets made a new kind of army possible, giving firepower to ordinary foot soldiers and reducing the importance of mounted warriors.

Illustration of a castle wall being penetrated by a siege of cavalry, soldiers on foot, archers and catapult.

Until the Ottomans invaded, the high, thick walls and well-positioned defenses of Constantinople had repelled invaders for a thousand years.


  • Explain the impact of the Ottoman empire on Eastern Europe.
  • Describe the characteristics of Ottoman culture.
  • Explain how Abbas the Great strengthened the Safavid empire.

Key Terms

  • Ottoman
  • Suleiman
  • janizary
  • Safavid
  • shah
  • Isfahan
  • Qajar
  • Tehran
  • Istanbul
  • Istanbul
  • Shah Abbas the Great

Growth of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans Conquer Constantinople

Like the Seljuks, the Ottomans were a Turkish-speaking nomadic people who had migrated from Central Asia into northwestern Asia Minor. By the 1300s, they were spreading across Asia Minor and into Eastern Europe's Balkan Peninsula.

Ottoman expansion threatened the crumbling Byzantine empire. After several failed attempts to capture Constantinople, the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II finally succeeded in 1453. In a surprise move, the Ottomans hauled ships overland and launched them into the harbor outside Constantinople. After a nearly two-month siege, Ottoman cannons finally blasted gaps in the great defensive walls of the city, and it became the new capital of the Ottoman empire. From Constantinople, which gradually also became known as Istanbul, the Ottoman Turks continued their conquests for the next 200 years.

Suleiman the Magnificent

The Ottoman empire enjoyed a golden age under the sultan Suleiman (soo lay MAHN), who ruled from 1520 to 1566.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments