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The Ottoman Conquest of Arabia from the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

17th January 2008

Jointly with the Council for British Research in the Levant and the Society for Arabian Studies

Andrew Petersen, University of Lampeter

Lecture abstract

This paper will discuss the Ottoman presence in Arabia from the initial Ottoman conquest of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century based on archaeological and historical research.

Our ideas of the Ottoman presence in Arabia are to a large extent influenced by the events during the First World War when T.E. Lawrence and others instigated the Great Arab Revolt against an ailing Ottoman Empire in alliance with Germany. Within this view the Ottoman Turks are presented as weak, morally corrupt, and ineffective as a fighting force against the Bedouin Arabs who were by contrast strong, noble and unified by a need to expel the Turks. Whilst this view may have some superficial validity in relation to the early twentieth century it bears little relation to the four hundred odd years of Turkish rule which preceded the First World War. In particular little attention is paid to how the Ottomans gained control of Arabia in the sixteenth century and how they successfully retained at least part of the peninsula throughout four centuries.

Ottoman control of Arabia can be identified in three geographical areas, North Eastern Arabia and the Hijaz, Yemen and Eastern Arabia centering on the oasis of al-Hasa. The Ottoman conquest of each of these areas occurred within the first part of the sixteenth century though by the beginning of the seventeenth century (1600’s) only the Hijaz remained under Ottoman control. This paper will investigate the impact of Ottoman rule in each of these areas and suggest why the Turks retained control of this poverty stricken region in the face of serious competition from European and other Muslim powers. Within these three hundred two main periods will be identified, during the first period the principal threats to Ottoman rule came from outside Arabia whilst in the second period the main threat was from within the Arabian Peninsula.

Andrew Petersen is Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Lampeter

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