Islamic Gunpowder Empires


The term Gunpowder Empires is a general one that describes the three empires namely Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires. The three empires were known as the Gunpowder Empires because they rapidly expanded during the fifteenth to sixteenth century because they focused their attention to military exploits. This paper will compare the institutional, ideological, economical and military achievements in the three empires that contributed to their success. The comparison concludes that of the three empires, the Ottoman Empire was by far the most significant empire due to its long developed military power, economic power and organized and developed institutions that saw the empire expand and survive its rule until the nineteenth century. The middle east or near the Middle East was a much developed place in the sixteenth century. Three of the greatest West European empires were the namely the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal and were very powerful into the seventeenth century. The term gunpowder empires is used to signify the three empires military exploits especially the use of small arms and cannons for their military exploits. The three states had a centralized administration that had powerful manpower to collect financial and natural resources that they used to purchase cannon and gunpowder arms. They used their resources to train soldiers who could in turn use the weapons for protection and defend the empire. As Dale notes, from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century Islamic world contiguous territory encompassed the Near East, Central Asia and India Muslims dominated the military in those regions. The regions empires including the Safawid, the Ottoman, the Safavid and the Mughal represented a powerful military triumph and great political influence in the region. The ruling families in all these empires spoke related Turkic language and relied on military power to gain authority and control of the empires.
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The Ottoman Empire

This is the oldest empire and according to Dale, the most enduring of the four empires noted above. The Ottoman Empire was the longest of the three empires and it survived from the late thirteenth century onto the twentieth century. The Ottoman Empire was the first of the three empires to acquire and use gunpowder weapons. This was mainly because it faced a number of enemies and empires that possessed these gunpowder weapons that it attacked and ruled as it continued to expand. A defeat of Timur saw the empire embark on an expansion strategy which saw it capture the emperor of Bayazid in 1402. It faced more attacks and wars with other empires such as the Balkan and Hungarian that they fought and defeated. This saw the Ottomans acquire weapons quickly in their quest to win major wars and defeat their enemies. The Ottomans managed to seize Bursa and Balkans as they expanded into the Byzantine Empire. By 1430, the Ottomans had shown their worthy when they were successfully in the battle of Salonica. Dale further notes that the Ottoman military gained prosperity as it regularized use of firearms and other war artilleries that saw them continue winning a number of wars with the help of Janissaries. The Ottoman created a state controlled religious system and suppressed voices they thought were a threat. The battle of Chaldiran convinced the other powers (the Mughals and the Safavids) that the Ottoman use of artillery was well advanced. The use of cannons by the Ottoman saw the destruction of the Safavids empire albeit temporarily. Even in the midst of Ottoman military and political deterioration, Dale remarks that the empire still benefited from a pervasive and effective institution. The rulers shaped the ulama into state bureaucracy. They developed into a religious hierarchy that trained scholars and potential members of the ruling class. Their people became intelligent as a result of madrasas. Thus, the Ottomans had an effective way of collecting taxes. They were able to run an effective administration.
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The Safavid

The Safavids rise was related to the suspicion populism of the Ottomans. Located in Iran during the Mongol rule in 13th century, the Safavids gained prominence as leaders of the sufi. According to Dale, the Safavids rose to prominence in the early 16th century but precipitated in the 18th century; a short duration indeed. The Safavids influence was damaged later when their leader Shah Ismail was badly defeated by the Ottomans in 1514. However, after the defeat of the Chaldiran war, the Safavids retreated under the Shah Abbas. He managed to arm his troops and within two years he had strengthened his troops and asserted his authority. The Safavids first use of gunpowder was in the war against the Uzbeks after the death of Ismail I. their leader shah Tahmasp I led his army against the Uzbeks in 1528. The Safavids emerged the winner as shahs men used cannons with the help of the Janissaries. However, Mutthee first questions whether the Safavids state that lasted from 1501-1722 was even an empire enough to be categorized under the gunpowder empires. Mutthee first asserts that at first, the Safavids Empire enjoyed the trappings to call it an empire and categorize it as a gunpowder empire. These included the economic resources but once they were depleted, then the glue that kept the empire together saw its demise in the 18th century. Mutthee calls the case of Safavids an ambiguous one. The empire commanded very few economic resources than the Mughal or the Ottoman empires. They projected less military power and Mutthee concludes that the empire lacked the status ingredients that could make it an empire. Notable were the economic strength and a clear political center as its rulers were nomadic.

The Mughal

The founder of the Mughal Empire was Babur. Babur was invited by Lodi Khan to help him in his rebellion against Lodi Sultan Khan. Babur who was familiar with gunpowder artillery and the use of fire arms helped him establish the Mughal Empire in India. Babur led the India invasion from Central Asia. With his military experience and the use of artillery, Babur managed to consolidate power in Central Asia. By 1526, he had captured much of India including New Delhi. By 1530 the Mughal Empire had embraced most of India. Unfortunately for Babur, he died the same year and his son Humayun succeeded him. Humayun was defeated in two wars and he was forced to flee to Persia. After seizing Delhi, Humayun died and his son Akbar succeeded him. Baburs grandson (Akbar) ruled the empire through 1556 to 1605. He was a young charismatic leader who created an absolutist and centralized government. He was seen as a fairer leader and encouraged religious tolerance between the Hindus and Muslims. Akbar is seen by many as the real founder of the Mughal Empire, according to Rizvi. According to Rizvi, Akbars real assertion of imperial powers was in 1561 when he captured Malwa. His reasoning to abandon enslavement of war prisoners warmed him to his people. His rule was seen to be with a sense of fairness and his unique ability to combine and blend two competing religions and customs (like the Hindus and the Muslims) was a great feat for the new ruler. Akbars death in 1605 saw his only sons Prince Salim succeed him. There was infighting with Khusraw and this derailed the empire. The peak of the Mughal Empire happened under Aurangzeb rule, 1659-1707. Aurangzeb managed to expand the Mughal Empire to its greatest size that included almost the whole of India today safe for a small tip in the south. Aurangzeb was however different from Akbar. He never allowed the other religion or customs to thrive. He forced Islam on everyone within the empire as he destroyed Hindu temples. He taxed Hindus and this caused Hindus to resent his rule. The Mughal was later absorbed by the British as they permitted them to trade and establish bases on their empire.


The gunpowder empires refer to the three empires; the Ottoman, Safavid and the Mughal Empires. Having considerable amount of military success due to use of developed cannons and small arms in the early times put the three empires in the international map especially in their military, economic and organizational prowess. The Safavid Empire lasted the shortest time of the three empires. Although with limited resources, and considerable amount of artillery, they defeated the Uzbeks. But their defeat by the Ottoman damaged their credibility and they lasted only two centuries. The Mughal Empire too expanded and covered much of India with some good leader including Babur and Akbar. Aurangzeb rule saw him expand the empire but his hostility towards the Hindus spelled doom for the empire. The greatest of the three empires, the Ottoman Empire lasted longest and had credible rulers with sound institutions and economic resources. The Ottoman Empire was the first to use cannons and small arms that they used to defeat their enemies and acquire other small empires as they expanded. Had an organized system for the ruling family to learn, were organized in collecting taxes and had better military powers than the other empires. This ensured that the Ottoman Empire lasted longest until the ninetieth century.