The Economy in the Ottoman Empire


The Grand Bazaar in Instanbul



 The world famous and historic Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The city of Istanbul was the crossroads of trade between the East and West. Caravans ans ships carried silk, tea,spices and porcelain. From the Black Sea and southern Russian came ships with furs,grain and amber and from Europe mirrors and drugs. Ships from Venice and Genoa carried goods to Europe. The Ottomans inherited the Seljuk caravan stops ( kervansaray ) which were about 25 miles apart on the main trade routes of the empire to protect the caravan trade and the Ottoman navy delt with pirates in its waters.

There was considerable state supervision in commerce and many regulations and a tax on almost every transaction. Licenses were needed for merchants, sea captains and others in business. When an employee left a company, the government was notified. Markets were patrolled by a kadi (judge) with the power to punish on the spot those who tried to cheat. Profit was limited to 10% and the government tried to insure trade was conducted fairly and moved securely over the trade routes .Foreign trade needed the permission of the government and exports were tightly controlled.the main exports were leather,skins and wool. Items needed for the military such as wood for shipbuilding, minerals and food were rarely allowed to be exported. The early Moslem leaders recognized the importance of commerce to the health of the empire and welcome productive immigrants such as the Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 1492. Almost every man in Turkey was engaged in some trade, even the sultan learned a trade. Mehmed I made bow strings, Selin I was a goldsmith.  and demonstrated the nobility of work.

The early Ottoman allies, the French were the first Europeans to be granted trade rights in 1534. The English were allowed in 1567 and in 1581 Queen Elizabeth I granted the Turkey Company an exclusive charter to trade with the Ottoman Empire.


Coffee became associated with the Ottomans for Europeans. European merchants in Istanbul brought coffee to Europe and there were coffee houses in London by the 1650s.


Turkish coffee, known as kahve, is made from finely ground coffee with a dash of cardamom.It is served in demitasse cups. Coffee was banned at  sme points for being un-Islamic as were coffeehouse as being meeting places for sedition.


 Turkish Coffee History & Demonstration


Guilds (esnaf and taife). Janissaries played an important role in the growth of guilds till the Janissaries were eliminated in 1826 as many Janissaries became involved in some sort of trade and the destruction of the Janissaries were a terrible blow to the guilds and they began to disappear and decline in importance and production grew among those outside the guild framework. Most trades had a guild with a specific dress. Guilds were very important to the social structure. By the 16th century laws had grown up governing the place of work and tools and help monopolies and a certain number of workers were allowed to work in a certain area as was the number of shops. A license, called a gedik gave a workman permission to practice his trade.The guilds, while they were restrictive, brought order,standards and professional solidarity.Each guild had a room or hall, called a lonja, where guild matters were discussed.Most disputes were settled withing the guild.The guild would also loan money to its members. Apprentinces studied for years under a master . To be accepted as a master of the guild the apprentice gave examples of his work to the guild elders and if approved became a master of the guild. The government had an inspector of the guilds for the collection of dues and supervise the guild and had the right to destroy substandard products and punishment. Janissaries began to enter the guilds in the time of Suleyman the Magnificent. Most guilds were linked with a certain religious sect and one or two patron saints and there were religious cerimonies in the initiation ritual. The guilds attained a high degree of workmanship, but advances were slowed by all the regulations.



Taxation and the Treasury


Ottoman coin

1876 with tugra (monogram) of sultan

Abdul Hamid II

Taxation was not applied uniformly throughout  the empire, usually between 10-20%. Taxation on Muslims was done with tithes, non-Moslems paid a poll tax. There were also numerous taxes in everyday life which Moslem and non-Moslems paid, marriage tax. After Mehmed II, the job of tax collection was given to the highest bidder. There were two Treasuries, one for the government and another for the sultan.The sultan received a fifth of all booty, a 10 % death tax and all property of civil servants on their death in addition to the numerous luxurious gifts he received sultan owned all lands except for those of the mosques. Official registers were kept of all the animals,crops of the large timar and zimat military fiefs.

Ottoman Empire - Gold & Silver Coins


 Ottoman Empire coins

Decline of the Ottoman Economy


The Ottoman and Malmuk stranglehold on trade with the East and their excessive markups caused Europeans to seek other routes to Asia, launching the Age of Discovery and the international trade which flowed through the empire declined . Also, the silver which poured in from the New World caused inflation and other economic troubles for the empire, which was based on a silver standard.

In 1600, the Ottoman empire was an important market for Europeans, by 1900 it was much less important. Internal trade was more important than international . Industrial Manufacturing emerged in the 1850s with the production of Oriental carpets for domestic and international sale.


The principal industries of the early empire were geared toward producing war materials and brought prosperity. It has been estimated that there was a population of 25-30 million in the Ottoman Empire in 1800, as the empire became reduced, the population was about 26 million by 1914. A great bulk of the empire's population was in Turkish held Europe - the Balkans.throughout its history, the largest sector of the economy was the agricultural sector. engaging an estimated 80-90% of the working age population.




 The Harem


 Movies Taking place in

the Ottoman Empire