chapter  8
25 Pages

Firearms, Slaves, and Empires

WithArthur Goldschmidt, Aomar Boum

The spread of gunpowder and firearms was as momentous a technological change at that time as the proliferation of nuclear weapons has been since 1945. All of the empires—the Mamluks and the Il-Khanids, the Timurids and their Mughal descendants, the Ottomans and the Safavids—were Muslim military states in an era when possession and mastery of firearms became prevalent, then essential, for survival. But some of the states lasted a long time because they also set up institutions that harnessed their subjects' talents as soldiers and bureaucrats while keeping a power balance among their competing factions. When even this was lost, the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim states found another type of equilibrium that saved their independence—the European balance of power. The basic reason for the Ottoman loss of power, though, was the disappearance of the balance among the various forces within the ruling class.