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Manufacture and transportation of gunpowder in the Ottoman Empire: 1400-1800
This thesis attempts to analyze the reasons for the Ottoman Empire’s successful expansion in the 1400s-1800s and its ultimate decline in the 1800s-1900s through the perspective of its national gunpowder factories and gunpowder transportation capabilities. Ultimately, all premodern firearms were only as powerful as the gunpowder they used, and a recurrent problem for all gunpowder armies was the unreliability of their powder. Such unreliability became the primary cause for the loss of a battle or an entire campaign. In comparison with their rivals to the west and to the east, the Ottomans displayed an unparalleled aptitude for the manufacture and transport of gunpowder. The abundance of natural resources, such as high quality saltpeter, sulfur, and the right kind of trees for producing charcoal, when combined with the Ottomans’ highly sophisticated state-run gunpowder works and excellent transportation network, was a major factor in their stunning successes between the 1450s and 1700s. By looking at several prime examples of the Ottoman manufacturing and transportation systems in action, we can see how a highly developed state-organized machine triumphed again and again against rivals who came to the battlefield with inferior gunpowder in some of the period’s most decisive battles. Between 1800 and 1900, however, state control over these vital wartime industries experienced a decline coinciding with the Empire’s inability to produce sufficient gunpowder and the financial burden which resulted from having to import it.