The Role of the Ghazi in Ottoman History

The term ottoman is described as a Turk who has relationship to the family of Osman. The connection is based on a tribe, culture and language which originate from people of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire of Ottoman is the Turkish Empire which was formed by Osman I around 1300, reached its greatest territorial extension in the 16th century under the leadership of Suleiman and collapsed immediately after the First World War. The term ghazi originates from an Arabic word meaning an individual who takes part in military execution and raiding. Afterwards, emergence of the term ghazi took another twist when it was described as people involved in religious warfare.

During pre-Islamic culture, the ghazis were a raid group. They formed an organization that avoided direct confrontations but resorted to raiding and looting. Raiding involved stealing livestock from the neighboring communities. Ghazis were used differently by some colonial powers. For instance, French used them to raid in order to capture slaves from Africa, (mostly Central and Western parts).

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The Ottoman Empire was the first to apply for the organizations of ghazis during the start of their Empire. The significance of the ghazis in the formation of the Ottoman Empire is great and the history of the Empire should be traced from them. The role of the ghazis was clearly witnessed in the development of the Ottoman Empire. The paper discusses the role of ghazis in the historical development of the Ottoman Empire.

During the early stages of development of Ottoman Empire, Ghazi was described as a title of honor and also a sign of powerful and resilient leadership. In the early 1337, Orhan who was the second leader in the line of the Ottoman Empire used to describe himself as the true and prominent son of Ghazi. The ruler claimed that he was descended from the ghazi emperor and that was the reason why the power of leadership was bestowed to the lineage of their family. According to religion, during that time, the name Ghazi referred to the direct blessing from God. Ghazi was defined as an instrument of religion and a servant of God. A reference to the name of God was just to show that there were some elements of cleansing and spiritual affiliation.

Ghazi was used as a title of honor and those on the throne must have invoked the name as mandatory. The Ottoman chiefs used Ghazi as one of their names and this could be seen among the first nine of them who adopted the name as their official identity. The name Ghazi had some significance in the leadership since it showed the sign of authority. Nevertheless, the name was never used by other chiefs after those nine because there was a belief that the name did not fit the office held by the leaders.

Ghazi and the Political Supremacy

Loss of the title of Ghazi was attributed to political supremacy. During nomination and elections, the Muslim leaders vied against themselves. The contest involved the rulers bearing the name Ghazi and those bearing the name Sultan. The Ottoman Sultans defeated most of the Ottoman Ghazis. Eventually, the Ottoman Sultans were credited and acknowledged as the best compared to the ghazis. Sultans were seen more fortunate and successful than the Ghazis who represented unlucky groups. Political nature of the Ottoman Sultans ensured that privileges enjoyed by the ghazis were protected. For the demands of the Sultans they decided to fight the ghazis and continued to have victories over them so that they could lose the title. Ghazis’ loss of the title by would then favor the administration of Ottoman Sultans.

The case of political supremacy was witnessed in 1396, when the Christian knights were captured at Nicopolis because they were celebrating the win of one of the ghazis. Captured Christians were made to undergo a lot of humiliation on the hands of Muslims. Captured individuals were sent to Cairo and Tabriz and paraded along the streets to demonstrate the renunciation of their support towards the ghazis but to favor of Ottomans.

Ghazi title was also applied as honorary identity for different individuals in the Ottoman Empire. The term ghazi was associated with victory and success among people of senior rank in the Empire. The title Ghazi was given by the victorious people such as military officials of the highest rank to draw a distinction between the officers from non-Muslim enemies. This kind of honoring was used by Osman Pasha after playing defensive role for Plevna against the Gallipoli campaign. There were cases when the ghazi troupes were used as warriors. They could be used in a peacekeeping mission when the existence of religious and political differences across various ethnicities took place. The ghazis formed organizations which became popular and individuals could join them as warriors. Growth of the organizations resulted in conquering many different territories. The territories by then were known as the Anatolian territories. The Ottoman Empire emerged from the conquered Anatolian territories. The founder of the Ottoman Empire was Osman I through the inspiration of Ede Bali as the Shaikh.

The use of ghazis during Islamic History was seen as the success of extending the domains of Islam.

Muhammad was the one of the Ottoman chiefs who used the title Ghazi in the name of Ghazwa to invade Waddan and the chiefs in order for the ghazi group to launch an attack on a Qurarysh caravan. Such kind of behavior was basically about raiding but at the same time this act showed elements of supremacy (the power battle). The ghazis were used by most of the chiefs to attack their enemies and also to keep the territory safe from enemies.

The Operations of Ghazi

The operation of the ghazis was quite organized and followed the cases of Islamic warfare. The main function of the ghazis was to weaken the defenses of the enemies for the preparation of raiding. The ghazis needed to accomplish that because the operating group did not have a required size or adequate strength to overcome the enemies. The ghazis deployed some tactics which instilled fear among their enemies. Perceived to be weak the ghazis managed to make sudden attacks on the enemies. The notion was to demoralize the enemies; this was done successfully by destroying resources that could help in the organization of military forces of the enemies. The system adopted by the ghazis concerning the fight and defeating majority of their enemies made the Ottoman Empire powerful.

The Ottoman rule was believed to be favorable for the needs of the Muslims. Muslims experienced some difficulties from their enemies who were Christians. The enemies could loot or destroy their properties and some of the groups were abducted and enslaved by powerful Christians. The situation was worse when ghazis attacked the villages with a view of threatening the enemies. The enemies learned their tricks and organized themselves to revenge against the attack.

The Attack of Ghazi

When the ghazis were under attack, the Ottoman Empire came up with a way of avoiding negative actions attributed to the ghazis. The Ottoman Empire made non-Muslims acquire the status of dhimmis who were living under full protection of the Empire. Acquiring the new status caused confusion among Christians on the Ottoman territory. The Ottoman Empire faced resistance and decided to denounce the protection of Christian states as not recognized and infective. Christians on hearing about security issues went to seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire.  This change led to expansion of the Empire, which thereby become a big territory. Since the population that sought refuge became a part of the Empire, resistance in the leadership roles reduced.

The attack caused by the ghazis was used to threaten the neighboring communities and victims to join the Ottoman Empire and enjoy a full protection, thus, leading to the expansion of the territory. At the same time the constant attack by the ghazis weakened the enemies by making them lose weapon. These attempts allowed the Ottoman Empire to extend its territory without any resistance even though they were not a part of the forces that were conquering other territories.

In the 19th century, there was existence of gazawat war. The war was described as holy and involved the resistance of Muslim fighters against the Russian military. This kind of resistance related to the ghazis in the Ottoman Empire. Used tactics were the same and could refer to the word ghazwa which has close relation to the term ghazi. The Ottoman Empire system did not end in the 16th century and remain its roots till now. The current case is about the terrorist attack that took place in France capital city (Paris). The Islamic State claimed the responsibility of the attack but termed the actions as ghazwa which according to ghazis means the raid. The Islamic State referred to the terrorist act as the Manhattan Raid.

Presence of the ghazis contributed to the rise of the Empire of Ottoman. The rapid growth of the Empire has long history and was caused by transition of different regimes led by various leaders. Period between 1300 and 1500 is the time when the Ottoman Empire established institutions in form of organization that resulted in the sudden change in organization of the entire territory.

After the death of Osman I, the Ottoman Empire adopted the full use of the ghazis, who contributed to the extension of the Empire. There was a massive extension of Eastern Mediterranean and of other parts of the Balkans initiated by the Orhan who succeeded the Osman 1 and who was also the son of Osman I. The new leader utilized the ghazi title to conquer other emperors to be a part of the Ottoman territory. The cities captured under the rule of Orhan include Bursa City in 1326, the Thessaloniki City in 1387, Kosovo in 1389 and Nicopolis in 1396.

The Ottoman continued dominating the Turkish region because it was very powerful during that period. They defeated most of their enemies and succeeded with precision. For instance, in the year 1396 when the battle of the Nicopolis occurred, the Ottoman Turks won the battle and took over the control of Nicopolis in the same year. The extension of the Empire was great and no organization or other empires could block it. This gave an opportunity for the Ottoman Empire to control all the lands which belonged to the neighboring cities. The lands of the Byzantine Empire which surrounded the city were under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

The Byzantine Conquest

The conquest of the Byzantine lands led to the great battle and the Byzantines got relieved at some point during the invasion of the Anatolia led by the ruler Timur in 1402. The invasion of the Anatolia happened during the Battle of Ankara. The war started but the Ghazi group was not strong enough to repulse a well-organized army. The tactics of the ghazis were to make a certain raid but they could not fight a strong army. The Timur troops defeated the ghazis of the Ottoman Empire and this resulted in the capture of Sultan Bayezid I. The Sultan was taken to prison by the Timur army. Turks did not have a leader by then since their ruler was trapped during the war and they remained disorganized for a period between 1402 and 1413.

The weakening of the ghazis and Turks led to the civil war for the period between 1402 and 1413. The son of the captured Sultan succeeded his father after a great fight. The fight was not easy and the Ottoman Empire could not come to its feet for a long period of time. The power of the Ottoman was restored during the reign of Sultan Mehmed I that brought the civil war to an end.

During the civil war, the Ottoman Empire lost the cities of Kosovo, Macedonia and Thessaloniki and they were taken back to the Empire by Murad II in the period between 1430s and 1450s. The entry of the Sultan Murad II led to reorganization of the ghazis. They transited from being raiders to becoming warriors. Warriors were believed to be more organized than raiders. Warriors at least could react to the enemies any time and defeat them. Murad 11 rebuilt the army within the Empire and acquired weapons which were superior to their enemies. The well-established army under the leadership of Sultan Murad II could be witnessed during the defeat of Hungary and Wallachia in 1444. The Hungarian and Polish armies were under the leadership of Wladyslaw III, the king of Poland and who was also ruled Hungary. 

The reorganization of the ghazis by Sultan Murad (II) also aided in resounding defeat of the army under Hunyadi which resulted in capturing of the Varna. 

During the existence of the ghazis in the Ottoman Empire and within the Turks, the kingdom continued to face resistance by other people from different territories. The kingdom constantly rejected the growing strength of the Ottoman Empire across the Turkish territory. Wladyslaw III and Janos Hunyadi were not pleased by the defeat and crafted another plan to attack the Ottoman Empire. Janos Hunyadi revenged by preparing large troops to attack the Turks. The Turks by then under the leadership of Murad II accomplished a full transformation of the ghazis from raiders to warriors who served in their army. The Janos Hunyadi was again defeated in the war in 1448 which was described as the 2nd Battle of Kosovo. The defeat of the subsequent rulers could clearly explain the role of the ghazis in the rise of Ottoman Empire. The Turks who were the Ottomans controlled the territory because of the ghazis.

Sultan Mehmed who was the son of the Sultan Murad II became a great conqueror. The power of the Ottoman Empire and Turks was recovered by Mehmed. Sultan Mehmed took over the rule of the Ottoman Empire by reorganization of the ghazis to a military form. At a young age, Mehmed built a strong military and purchased warfare weapons. The military was modernized and became powerful in the region.  The strength of reorganized army under the rule of Mehmed could be observed in the capturing of Constantinople by total precision in 1453.

The Collapse of the Ottoman Empire

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was caused by the First World War where the Turks lost their territory to the Germans who were in the mission of capturing all the kingdoms. Tactics and weapons used during this war were superior to the military of the Ottoman Empire. The ghazis were totally eliminated leading to the dissolution of the Empire. The Ottoman could be seen as powerful on the prowess of the Ghazis. The defeat of ghazis led to the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1922s.


The role played by the Ghazis in the history of the Ottoman Empire was discussed and they were majorly involved in wars and conquering of various territories. The description of the Ghazi was all about military. The ghazis were used as raiders and later improved to become warriors. The role of ghazis was very important in the leadership of the Ottoman Empire and the name could be associated with a title of honor. According to this the leaders and people of senior rank in the leadership or even in the military would always include the name of Ghazi in their official names. The first application of Ghazi title was experienced during the Ghazi raids. The group was not well-organized and could use surprises in the attack of enemies. The surprise attacks instilled fear among neighbors and this led to the strength of the Empire of Ottoman. Thus, the rise of the Empire of Ottoman was connected to the establishment of ghazi. 

Rulers of the Ottoman Empire made use of the ghazis to capture and conquer other territories to expand the Empire. The collapse of the Empire had direct connection to the defeat of the ghazis as well. During the First World War, the weapons became improvised and sophisticated that ghazis could not manage. The ghazis were defeated and eliminated leading to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The role of the ghazis in the history of the Ottomans was prominent since it assisted in security and establishment of the powerful Ottoman Empire.

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