Imperial Spain vs Ottoman Empire

Jul 2018
Hong Kong
So the Safavids can now rival Spain too?
This logic would not work. I give an example.
In 1921, Great Britain was far much stronger than Greece.
Yet, which was the bigger threat to the newly-founded Republic of Turkey?Answer me.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
This logic would not work. I give an example.
In 1921, Great Britain was far much stronger than Greece.
Yet, which was the bigger threat to the newly-founded Republic of Turkey?Answer me.

But we don't even need to go there. The Europeans didn't treat the Ottomans as some kind of secondary threat. The Safavids posed a greater threat to the Ottomans for one simple reason; they were militarily powerful, and seriously threatened the Ottoman state. Battles in the 16th century showed that the Safavid cavalry was usually pound for pound, superior to the Ottoman army in field battle, who were at least comparable to European armies of the east.

Murphey also noted that Ottoman and European technology developed at the same pace, the former usually having their ration met more often;

"Overall the Ottomans kept pace with advances in military technology
throughout the period 1500 to 1700 and in some areas (such as sapping and mining) emerged as standard-setters in their own right.10 While the debate over the relative position in advancing technology of the Ottomans and their European contemporaries circa 1700 continues, the current consensus is that no serious divergence of methods and standards applied until after 1680... For virtually the whole period under study here the Ottomans maintained an enviable position both in terms of the weaponry deployed and the battlefield methods employed."

Murphey, p.15

Although terrains determine army types, Safavid armies in all likely hood would have annihilated European armies of similar sizes in the east in most terrains suitable for cavalry operation.

Safavid cavalries have consistently competed with or even defeated Ottoman armies which were much larger. Kenneth Chase demonstrated that wagon laagers and small artillery pieces were often still inadequate to deal with powerful Central Eurasian cavalries and large Empires had to use numerical superiority to overcome these cavalries. Other than 30,000 Safavid cavalry outmaneuvering 80,000 Ottoman soldiers in 1586, in 1603, 6,000 Safavid cavalry routed 5,000 Ottomans even though the later also deployed a wagon laager and manned it with musketeers and artillery. The Safavids generally avoided vastly superior Ottoman numbers and whenever confronted, they often won with cavalry charges throughout Abbas' reign.

In the battle of Chaldiran where the Ottomans supposed "demonstrated" their superior artillery and won the battle, the Safavid only had 20,000 against 70,000 forces. Even with vastly inferior numbers, the cavalry charge almost won the day, and both sides suffered heavy losses, and the Safavid only "lost" by withdrawing. This is also considering the fact that Ismail listened to his right wing Qizilbash commander to wait after the Ottomans deployed their cannons. According to Kenneth Chase, had Ismail listened to his left wing Qizilbash commander who urged him to attack before the cannons were deployed, he might have won the battle.

People who thinks large European powers already outpaced Central Eurasian powers like the Persians by 1600 needs to keep in tone with the reality of battle field performances of the time.
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Ad Honorem
Oct 2015
Matosinhos Portugal
No they didn't. The Ottoman Empire had more people and human resources than Spain.
The most representative estimate of the population of the Ottoman Empire is made by Omer Barkan who gives the following figures for Ottoman population in 1520-1535: Anatolia: 5.7 million, Rumelia: 5.3 million; Istanbul: 400,000 add 250,000 for non-enumerated classes and the total was about 12 million. By 1600, the population seem to increased to around 20 million.
See: Karpat, The Ottoman State and its Place in World History.

At the turn of the 17th century, Spain itself had around 8 million people, Portugal had another 1.1 million and the Spanish Netherlands adds 1.5 million, the Italian possessions Philip held would add another million, meaning Spain's European possessions would add 3-4 million, and thanks to the destruction the Spaniards brought, Mexico had as little as 1-1.5 million people in the turn of the 17th century (see: Whitmore, "Disease and Death in Early Colonial Mexico: Simulating Amerindian Depopulation"). The destruction brought upon the Incan empire likewise probably devastated over 90% of its population from a high of around 12 million. In another word, the entire Spanish America probably had no more than 3 million people. The Spanish census taken in the Philippines in 1591 yielded 666,712 people and adding other smaller possessions and those that might have escaped the census, the Spanish Empire in Asia had no more than a million people. This mean that at the turn of the 17th century, the population of the entire Spanish Empire was probably no more than 16 million, roughly equal, if not slightly less, than the population of the Ottoman Empire.

We must also consider that the Spanish Empire is more spread out, which mean logistically, it cannot mobilize its population resources as easily as the Ottomans. Because of that, we move on to our next point:

Spain's military is also smaller than those of the Ottoman Empire. According to Rhoads Murphy, "the potential timariot force in Süleyman’s reign had consisted of 90,000 men, about four-tenths of them concentrated in the European provinces, by the reign of Murad IV (1623–40) the total had risen to approximately 106,000. " Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700, p.37

To this we have to add the Sultan's personal standing army. In 1597, there was 45,000 Janissary corps, 17,000 standing cavalry, (along with 7,966 artillery corps in 1609); making a rough number of 70,000 total.
This makes a total of appoximately 170,000 standing soldiers in the late 16th century (although the numbers fluctuate constantly).

Geoffrey Parker estimated that "about 65,000 men remained the average nominal strength of the Army of Flanders for most of the Eighty Years War." This is the core of Spain's professional standing army.
This army probably peaked around 80,000 under Philip II, it could potentially increase to over 100,000, and in the thirty years war, Spain mobilized a total of 300,000, yet Spanish mobilization was typically only around 10,000-50,000. In comparison, the Venetian diplomat Alvise Contarini noted in 1640, that the Ottoman sultan could put into the field an army of 200,000 horsemen without spending a penny of the treasury’s money. And the Ottomans consistently mobilized armies in the range of 50,000-70,000, occasionally 100,000.

To quote Rhoads Murphey: "The Janissaries and members of the six standing cavalry regiments at the Porte (altibölük) were paid in regular quarterly pay instalments called mevacib (“necessities”) or ulufe (“fodder money”)."

Murphey demonstrated the cavalry regiments numbered around 20,000 by the turn of the 17th century. This standing army (kapu kulu) also included an expanding artillery corps, which reached over 7,000 by the early 17th century.

See Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700 p.45

The professional standing army of the Ottoman Empire including both the Janissary and the standing cavalry, numbers around 70,000-80,000. So, its roughly the same size or slightly larger than the Spanish Army of Flanders. The Timariot force however, meant the Ottomans usually had more forces at their disposal in total, probably at least twice the size of the Spanish forces.

Year 1527 population of Portugal 1 million 362 thousand


Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
Because transalting everything from Polish to English takes too much time and effort. But just look at this crazy way in which you discuss. You are completely blind on the arguments of the other side. Do you even allow the possibility of agreeing with the other side? If yes, then I will give you all you need to be convinced that the Spanish army was very weak in comparison to Polish one. Just tell me where do you need more details.
I don't know about him, but I for one, am curious to see the sources, any example is good.
Mar 2016
Do you count ghulams as Turks?
I do not know who Ghulams are, but I know for a fact that sizable portion of Safavid Empire was composed of Shii Turks what most call "qizilbash", literally meaning red head in Turkish.