As part of the answer, several theories and ideas have been put forward and
discussed among historians.16 Although the literature constitutes a great deal of variety
in content, it was analyzed under certain headings. The first proposition came from an
American scholar and his work soon became the mainstream among western historians.
Herbert Adams Gibbons published his work under the name of The Foundation of The
Ottoman Empire- a History of The Osmanlis up to the death of Bayezid I(1300-1403) in
England in 1916. He explains the formation of the Ottoman state as an achievement of a group of nomadic people, which was migrated from the east with the crucial help of the
native Anatolian Greeks. This presumption led Gibbons to produce his idea of ‘mixed
race’. According to Gibbons, Osman was pagan when he first came to Bitynia and his
name was Ataman, a Turkish name coming from Central Asia. In the course of time the
tribe of Osman and local Greeks living in that region got into close interaction and
started a process, which led to produce a new race i.e. Osmanli. By this way the
elements of Byzantine heritage and Greek civilization entered into the mechanism,
which was actually the main source that provided a suitable ground to build an empire.
This explanation is based on the premise that it is not conceivable to accept that a
nomadic tribe can found such a world empire. Gibbons supports his assertion by arguing
that, the Ottomans developed so rapidly both in military and demographic terms. He
rejects the possibility of Turkoman immigration as the main reason for this rapid
increase and explains it by referring to the intermingling of local Greeks and Turkomans
under the umbrella of “Ottoman”. Gibbons goes further and asserts that Ottomans
converted to Islam during the time of Ataman who himself took the name Osman, which
is the name of the third Chaliph of Islam. This conversion supplied the spiritual energy
for their constant raids towards Christian neighbors. To sum up, Gibbons finds the
material in Greek civilization and the energy in the dynamism of a newly converted
society, since they would be striving to preach and to spread their new religion, in the
establishment process of the Ottoman Empire.

Though Gibbons’ thesis has been vulgarized widely in general history, it was not
so long that criticisms raised especially by philologically-based historians such as M.Fuad Köprülü17, Paul Wittek18, and Friedrich Giese19. Gibbon’s idea of mixed race and
conversion attracted severe criticism and was not accepted as a whole among scholars
specializing in the field. Meanwhile, this book maintained its important place in
Ottoman Historiography because of two reasons; one is related to its function that
Gibbons was the first who formulated the problem in a compact manner and attracted
the attention of modern historiography to the problem. The second comes from the fact
that, although his ideas were severely criticized among modern historians, Gibbons, at
the same time, started one of the two main streams, in the historiography related to the
early periods of Ottoman state, which pays much more attention to the Byzantine
elements and their role in the formative period of the Ottoman State and tends to
interpret the problem in a frame which is very loosely connected to Islam, Islamic terms
and other Islamic states. Gibbon’s approach later on found adherents among various
scholars such as George G. Arnakis, Colin Imber, Rudi Paul Lindner, with significant
However, the hottest debate on the emergence of the Ottomans took place on the
role of the idea and practice of “ghaza” in that process. It was fist underlined by Köprülü
as an important factor that was effective during thirteenth and fourteenth century
western Anatolia. Köprülü was inspired by Ashikpashazade, a fifteenth century
chronicler, in classifying contemporary society, which is defined in Aşıkpaşazade’s
Tevarih-i Al-i Osman as four groups; Gaziyan-ı Rum, Ahiyan-ı Rum, Abdalan-ı Rum, and
Bacıyan-ı Rum. In his pioneering work The Origins of The Ottoman Empire, Köprülü briefly analyses these four groups. According to Köprülü “This group, which
Ashikpashazade calls gaziyan-ı rum and other sources call by such titles as alps and alperens,was a social organization that existed not only at the time of the collapse of the
empire of the Anatolian Seljuks, but also during the very first conquests in Anatolia”.20
The special meaning of the term “ghaza” in the thirteenth and fourteenth century
Anatolia is traced back to two sources: one is pre-Islamic Turkish tradition, and the other
is related to Islamic tradition. Before they converted to Islam Turks used the title alp to
mean “hero, warlike”. After they embraced Islam they continued to use this title
sometimes alone and sometimes together with ghazi in religious sense. Köprülü says that
in the realm of Islam, the term “ghazi” was first used to refer to a special group in the
time of Abbasid caliph Al-Nasir, who mingled warriorship with sufi brotherhood,
namely futuwwa organization, and created a form of Muslim cavalry having high ethical
values as well as social status.21

Köprülü never sees, though he appreciates its importance, “ghaza” as the only or
prime factor that led the Ottomans to a world power. It was Paul Wittek’s hand that the
word “ghaza” gained a special meaning and became the raison d’étre of the Ottoman
power. Wittek explained his “ghaza formulation” in a series of lectures, at The
University of London, which was published soon after, in 1937.22 Wittek proposed that
the meaning of “ghaza” in the 13th century Anatolia did not merely refer to Islamic
notion “war against infidels”, but it had gone beyond and pursued more specific
meaning. After vigorous conquests of Islam, Byzantine Empire managed to stop
Muslims and a borderline appeared in Syria. According to Wittek, continuos wars in the  frontier region produced special conditions and led to a special military organization in
the districts on both sides of the frontier. He calls these districts on both sides as
“marches” and points out that marches differed from hinterland in many respects. The
community of Ghazis at the marches was a peculiar corporation dedicated to “holy war”
and pursued chivalrous ethic of futuwwa. The principal economic basis was booty from
raids to infidel lands, i.e. the other side. On the Muslim marches, already in the ninth
century Turkish elements became dominant. In terms of culture and religion, marches
became the center of diversity and heterodoxy. There was even a serious tension
between hinterland and marches.
Nearly half a century later that Turks poured into Anatolia after the victory of
Manzikert in 1071, and a relatively stable boundary was established in western Anatolia
between Anatolian Seljuks and the Byzantine Empire. Actually it was, according to
Wittek, not so much a frontier line but rather a border zone, a fairly wide strip of noman’s
land.23 There were ghazis in Seljuk side and Akritai in Byzantine side. If one
thinks of the Turkish migrants on constant move under the Mongol pressure in the
central lands of Islam and Seljuk government’s policy towards them, which was to direct
them towards frontier regions in order to protect cities and settled people from their
harassment, it would not be difficult to see how rich the men supply of these ghazis was.
Halil İnalcık, one of the foremost modern Turkish historians, considers ghazi groups in
the frontier as war-bands, which were waging holy war against the foes of religion but
could still act as mercenaries even in Christian armies24. He draws attention to a pre-Islamic Turkish tradition of nökerlik or comradeship. İnalcık emphasizes the importance
of the economic dimension of ghaza however. Since there were many jobless and
landless Turkomans whose numbers had been on constant increase in these marches,
booty from raids became very attractive for these rootless immigrant people. The
continuous raids for slaves and the opportunity for employment as mercenaries appears
to have brought about a specialization and social differentiation in the Turkoman frontier
society.25 Ghazi leaders became more and more powerful in the course of time since
they gathered a great number of warriors around them. Ghazi leaders were generally
tribal leaders who did not necessarily belong to the same clan. The distinction and
dominant position of the war leader in the clan was further enhanced by the “coming
under his flag” of ever increasing numbers of garibs or rootless wanderers of various
origins. These were always warmly welcomed by the leader and became “his people”,
his clients, personally attached to him and called by his name: Aydinli, Saruhanli, and

On the other hand, Köprülü, Wittek and İnalcık all point out the role of
dervishes, functioning as preacher and providing religious sanctity to the power of ghazi
leaders, in the advance of ghaza ideology in the frontier. According to İnalcık, the Holy
War ideology, which supplied moral and motivational support, as much as the success of
raids reinforced ties between the bands to produce a cohesive group centered around the
leader. It was dervishes who embodied the ghaza ideology and preached among the  warriors the virtue of fighting on the way of God.27 Wittek, underlines the heterodox
character of those dervishes and points out that these spreaders of heretical doctrines
were less welcomed in Seljuk towns. But in the marches they found security and warm
reception. As religious and, at the same time, political leaders of the population of their
respective areas they represented the spirits of resistance against Mongols and at the end,
were forced by the course of events to flee. They carried religious enthusiasm into those
dense masses who were prepared for any daring enterprise. At the frontier, they became
respected religious figures in the ghazi milieu and functioned as theologians in
sanctioning activities of the ghazis.28
The “ghaza ideology” of Wittek later became a canon in the field. Among
historians who do not reject the ghazi character of Ottomans (Köprülü, İnalcik,
Kafadar29, and Tekin,30 etc.) the main criticism towards Wittek had been his attitude of
reducing a multidimensional, complex historical event into the issue of ghaza. Although
the important place of Holy War in the political and military developments of the time,
one should take into account other factors and analyze ghaza in the context of a
historical complexity.
On the other hand, especially in the 1980s, strong criticisms, which reject the
ghazi thesis and assert that such ideas were formulated later, raised against Wittek’s
argument. According to historians such as Arnakis, Colin Imber, Rudi Paul Lindner,
Gyula Kaldy-Nagy, Ronald C. Jennings, Colin Heywood, there is not enough historical
evidence that can prove such a Holy War ideology. They question the authenticity and  reliability of Wittek’s two main evidence, which are Ahmedi’s poet and the inscription
on the wall of a mosque in Bursa, and point to early Ottomans’ practices, which were
difficult to fit in the concept of Holy War. There is information about the Ottomans
fighting other Muslim principalities and making alliances with Christians, which seems
quite pragmatic actions rather than being acts on the way of God.31
Wittek, in his search to discover underlining stimulus for the Ottoman success,
he first analyses tribal connections and blood ties. His result is that the genealogy of
Osman recorded in fourteenth century chronicles cannot be true. Rather they are
fabrication of later generations in order to legitimize their authority and to claim
supremacy over other Turkoman dynasties. And he concludes: “The unity of the
Ottoman state therefore can not be found in natural tribe connections, but most have
been built upon another basis”, which was the Holy War ideology.

Four decades after Wittek’s thesis, Rudi Paul Lindner appeared as the first
serious critique of his assertion and proposed an opposite explanation that the unity of
the Ottoman State cannot be based on the ghaza ideology, but on tribal basis. One must
immediately point out, however, that Lindner’s description of tribe is fairly different
from that of Wittek. Lindner, under the light of new anthropological research, put  “profit” to the center of the tribal organization in pastoral life, which was known as
blood ties during the time of Wittek. By his new description of “tribe”, Lindner opened
up a new dimension for the studies in the field. He develops a different picture of
nomadic society and to explain Ottoman advance in terms of tribal developments. His
attempt to give answer to the question of what a nomadic tribe was as follows: in the
process of building a tribe common profit was played more decisive role than kinship.
The latter was fabricated later in a tribe to reinforce the cohesiveness of the group and to
establish psychological ties between members of the tribe. In such an explanation, the
leadership of the tribe gains importance. Since the members come together around
common interest, as long as the leader manages to secure the profit of the members, the
number of newcomers to join the tribe will increase thus the tribe will become more
powerful. According to Lindner, Osman was a very successful leader. He says; “as a
tribal chief, Osman acted as a fulcrum or as mediator, protecting the rights of ethnically
and ecologically diverse groups. Acting to keep the piece and to help his tribesmen
prosper, the chief renders himself indispensable; and if he succeeds, his tribes grows”32.
Lindner, under the scarcity of clear evidence, argues that the zealous, and exclusionist
structure of ghaza, the Holy War, cannot explain Ottoman expansion. To him, the
inclusive structure of tribal organization as a political entity should be more appropriate
to explain this expansion.

In Lindner’s formulation of tribe, Osman, and later Orhan, gathered around
themselves even Christian population and reinforced the powers of their tribes. As for  the men supply of Osman and Orhan, on the other hand, Köprülü, Barkan, and İnalcık
underline the population pressure from east under the Mongol pressure. According to
İnalcık, dense Turkish immigration heavily affected demographic, ethnic, social,
cultural, and political situation at the turn of the thirteenth century Anatolia. He
combines ghaza ideology, inclusive tribal organization, and Turkish immigration
successively and summarizes the stages of the formation of Turkoman principalities as
follows: ” (1) it began with the seasonal movements of Turkoman nomadic groups into
Byzantine coastal plains; (2) it was intensified by the organization of small raiding
groups under ghazi leaders, mostly of tribal origin, for booty raids or for employment as
mercenaries; (3) it continued with the emergence of successful leaders capable of
bringing together under their clientship local chiefs to conquer and then establish
principalities in conquered lands; and finally (4) with the involvement of these ghazi
principalities, with their definite political and economic aims, in the regional struggle for
supremacy in the Aegean and in the Balkans, the previously undirected thrust of the war
bands became focused on new goals”33.
It seems that the discussion about the foundation of the Ottoman State will
continue. Since there are not enough historical sources it is really difficult to assert a
definitive proposition. Among modern historians it is Cemal Kafadar, who recently
attempted to combine all voiced ideas and to draw a general picture.34
If one would bring together the main theories hitherto put forward about the early
Ottomans, it is possible to take the following elements to construct a picture which
includes all elements of several theses that are not conflicting to each other: there are  three main elements that can not be excluded from the frame: ghaza spirit, tribalism, and
population pressure from east due to the Mongol invasion. In terms of the aim of the
present study, it is evident that when Turkoman nomadic masses fled from Mongol
pressure and invaded Asia Minor, among them were the sufi dervishes and sheikhs, as
called Abdalan-ı Rum by Ashikpashazade. And their roles, positions, and functions in
their society were significant in many respects. They represented, first of all, religious
authority in the pastoral world. Moreover, their mediating roles between ghazi or tribal
leaders and the Turkoman masses made them indispensable and crucial figures in the
scene of history. In this work, after a brief summary of the historical background of
Sufism that these abdals represented in Western Anatolia and in the Balkans, and of its
doctrines and beliefs, I will discuss military, political, religious, and social roles of these
dervishes during the formative years of the Ottoman power throughout the fourteenth
century mainly through the prism of velayetname literature.

Department of History
Bilkent University


16 In this work I want to start discussions from a semi-scholar work, H.A.Gibbons book, and exclude the  old Turkish-nationalist thesis, which could not go beyond being of the continuation of the manufactured  ideas of early Ottoman Historians, from the frame of discussion since they could not manage to get a scholarly form. In those nationalist circles the problem is seen as a unique historical event, which was merely isolated from world history. The explanation could not get rid of dense influence of nationalist feelings and made in terms of holy guidance. The compilation of that kind of ideas can best be seen in a verse of Namık Kemal, who was one of the foremost nationalist poets in the last decades of Ottoman Empire; ” We created a world empire from a small tribe of four hundred tents”.

17 M. Fuat Köprülü, The Origins of the Ottoman Empire, trs. Gary Leiser, New York, 1992.
18 Paul Wittek, The Rise of the Ottoman Empire, London, 1965.
19 Friedrich Giese, “Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nun Kuruluşu Meselesi”, in Oktay Özel and Mehmet Öz, eds.,Söğüt’ten İstanbul’a, Ankara, 2000.

20 M.Fuat Köprülü, p.89.
21 Köprülü, p. 93.

22 See Paul Wittek, 1965.
23 Wittek, p.23.
24 Köprülü also says that those war bands with distinct costumes and ethical principals, whose members  participated in brigandage, robbery and bullying in the large cities whenever there was an opportunity,existed before Anatolian conquest of Turks in Transoxiana, Khurasan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and North Africa.
And they served as volunteers or mercenaries in domestic struggles or on the frontiers. See Köprülü, p.91.
25 See Halil İnalcık, ” The Question of The Emergence of The Ottoman State”, International Journal of  Turkish Studies 2/2, 1981.
26 İnalcık, pp. 75-76.

27 İnalcık, p.
28 Wittek. P.31.
29 See Cemal Kafadar, Between Two Worlds, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1995.

30 See Şinasi Tekin, “XIV. Yüzyılda Yazılmış Gazilik Tarikası ‘Gaziliğin Yolları’ Adlı Bir Eski Anadolu  Türkçesi Metni ve Gaza/Cihat Kavramları Hakkında”, Journal of Turkish Studies, 13, 1989.
31 For broader reading on this subject see George G. Arnakis, Hoi protoi othomanoi, Athens, 1947 (I have  not been able to consult this work); Colin Heywood, “A Subterranean History: Paul Wittek (1894- 1978)  and the Early ottoman State”, Die Welt Des Islams- International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam,vol. 38, 1998; Colin Imber, “What Does Ghazi Actually Mean?”, “Paul Wittek’s De La Defaite d’Ankara  a la Prise de Constantinople”, “The Ottoman Dynastic Myth”, “The Legend of Osman Gazi”, “Canon and
Apocrypha in Early Ottoman History”, in Studies in Ottoman History and Law, Istanbul, 1996; Rudi Paul  Lindner, Nomads and Ottoman in Medieval Anatolia, Bloomington, 1983; Lindner, “Stimulus and  Justification in Early Ottoman History”, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review Offprint, vol. 27, 1982;Lindner, “What was a Nomadic Tribe?”, Society for Comparative Study of Society and History, 24, 4,1982; Gyula Kaldy-Nagy, “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunun İlk Yüzyıllarında Kutsal Savaş (cihat)”, Ronald C.Jennings, “Gazi Tezi Üzerine Bazı Düşünceler”, both in Söğüt’ten İstanbul’a, eds. Oktay Özel and  Mehmet Öz, Ankara, 2000; Linda T. Darling, “Contested Territory: Ottoman Holy War in Comparative
Context”, Studia Islamica, Paris, 2000.
32 Rudi Paul Lindner, Nomads and Ottomans in Medieval Anatolia, Bloomington, 1983, p.25.

33 İnalcık, “The Question of the Emergence of the Ottoman State”, p. 5.
34 See Kafadar, Between Two Worlds.



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