By Stephen Lewis
A Published Coincidence: Prof. Heath Lowry, the 14th-Century Ottoman Advance into Europe, the Importance of Infrastructure, and Bubkes in Print
Professor Heath W. Lowry's newly published book "The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans, 1350-1550: The Conquest, Settlement & Infrastructural Development of Northern Greece" is an archival- and field-work-based study of the expansion of the Ottoman, the nature of the Ottoman state, and the obliteration of centuries of Ottoman heritage during the post-Ottoman rise of of homogeneous nation states. The book is also a valuable visual Baedeker for travelers seeking to traverse northern Greece and penetrate historical myths.
June 1, 2008
Last week I began reading "The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans, 1350-1550: The Conquest, Settlement & Infrastructural Development of Northern Greece" By Heath W. Lowry (Ataturk Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies at Princeton University). The book combines the author's extensive field work in the once-Ottoman provinces of what is now northern Greece with decades of research into the immense stores of centuries of Ottoman administrative documents still preserved in the state archives of modern-day Turkey.
What propels me through "The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans" is not just its compelling text and scores of photographs and maps but the author's thesis. Based on his decades of work in the archives and the field, Professor Lowry sets out to reconsider the nature and motivations of Ottoman expansion into Europe. He presents the early Ottoman state as decentralized and its advance into Europe as the work of semi-independent frontier lords more intent on establishing stable, long-term rule than, as traditional European myths and contrived Balkan national histories would have it, on short term raids, booty, and forced conversion.. Rather, as Lowry shows, the method of Ottoman advance was to finance, build and secure the infrastructure of trade, travel, worship and defense and to establish institutions that incorporated local populations into economic, social, and administrative processes.
To prove his thesis, Prof. Lowry takes readers on a journey across what is now northern Greece along the route of conquest of Haci Evrenos Bey, founder of one of the main dynasties of Ottoman frontiers lords. Along the way, Lowry presents and analyzes remaining monuments -- caravansaries, baths, bridges, defensive works, and the unique institution of combined imarets and zaviyes (i.e. soup kitchens open to travelers of all faiths combined with meeting houses where locals mingled with the heterodox dervishes who were the spiritual arm of the Ottoman advance). The dervish orders by the way, were so central to the Ottoman advance that frontier lords such as Evrenos honored deceased dervish sheikhs with monumental mausoleums (for a look at the parallel phenomenon just to the north in what is now Bulgaria click here: www.bubkes.org/2006/01/30#a83). One proof of the dedication of Ottoman frontier lords to such infrastructure is the strength and solidity that ensured its survival until recent times.
Following Greek independence in the 19th century and the final withdrawal of the Ottomans and large scale expulsions and flight of Muslims and Turks from northern Greece in the early-20th, many mosques, dervish lodges were demolished while other were converted into churches and shrines dedicated to Christian saints. Professor Lowry's skill in uncovering of the true origins of numerous such monuments encountered in his travels lends detective-story-like suspense to several of the book's chapters.
My thanks to Heath Lowry for including several of my photos (some of which have appeared on the site mentioned below) in "The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans" and for his citations from and kind references to my old stand-by paper The Ottoman Architectural Patrimony of Bulgaria as published in the Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies. "The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans" is published by Bahcesehir University Publications and is available online from Eren Kitap, Istanbul (www.eren.com.tr/goster/kitap/kitap.asp?kitap=263184&SID=611223145471).
By Stephen Lewis - 6/1/08; 11:08:06 AM