Founded in 1299 by Osman I, a Turkish tribal leader, the Ottoman Empire grew to be one of the most powerful states in the world. By the early 1500s, its lands extended from the Arabian Peninsula in the east, to the Balkans in the west, and to Egypt in the south.
Imperial expansion required naval prowess, and among the most important figures was the great admiral and cartographer, Piri Reis of Gallipoli (c. 1465-1553).
At the time, the rule for being a bona fide world empire was to control the Mediterranean archipelago. Piri Reis’ magnum opus, ‘Kitab-ı Bahriye’ (Book of the Sea) contains 290 exquisite maps of the region at a time when the Ottomans were battling the Habsburgs for supremacy. It also contains Piri Reis’s observations and experiences as a sailor, his descriptions of landmarks and facilities offered by each port, local history and mythology, and excerpts from naval battles.
Completed in 1526, the Book of the Sea was dedicated to Sultan Süleyman I (Süleyman the Magnificent), who cast himself as the only legitimate heir to the Roman Empire, according to Harvard scholar Pınar Emiralioğlu.
Marc David Baer, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, put this in context: “Like its language, the Ottoman Empire was not simply Turkish. Nor was it made up only of Muslims . . . Like the Roman Empire it was a multi-ethnic, multilingual, multiracial, multireligious empire . . . It was a European Empire that remains an integral part of European culture and history.”
But the Ottomans eventually overextended themselves. They replaced tolerance with oppression, prompting a tidal wave of nationalist uprisings that proved their undoing.
Our fine selection of 10 Ottoman maps from the Book of the Sea is reproduced with permission from the David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Center in gratitude for its exemplary public service.