The Social, Economic, and Political Processes of Empire Building in the Spanish and Ottoman Empires

Updated on March 3, 2013
Citizen being punished during the Spanish Inquisition
Citizen being punished during the Spanish Inquisition | Source
Ottoman janissaries
Ottoman janissaries | Source
Spanish gold coins
Spanish gold coins | Source


Beginning in 1450 and stretching to 1800, the Spanish and Ottoman Empires used social, political, and economic processes to build their separate empires.

Social Processes

In order to build their empires socially, the Spaniards and Ottomans both used the religion as a process. In Spain, Christianity was the social norm and no other religions were accepted. Christian beliefs were strictly enforced both on the Spanish mainland and in their conquered territories across the water. However, the Ottomans created unity in their building empire by creating a religiously tolerant environment. Previously, the Ottomans had ruled using Sharia Law, an exclusively Muslim code that Ottoman rulers found to be silent on most secular matters. Therefore, the Muslim leaders created a legal code that addressed rights, duties, proper clothing, and Muslim to non-Muslim etiquette. This allowed various religions to feel safe and respected in the Ottoman Empire, creating a sense of unity through accepting differences. While both the Spanish and the Ottomans used religion to bring social unity, the Spaniards used strict laws and force and the Ottomans used tolerance and acceptance.

Political Processes

The Spanish and the Ottomans political processes for empire building are similar to their social processes, as it was often the government (which is undeniably linked to politics) enforcing certain social norms in both empires. Although the Spanish were Christian, and the Ottomans were Muslim, they both had a state recognized religion that was enforced by the government. In Spain, the Christian monarchy enforced Christianity with a “convert or die” mentality. Indeed, the purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to convert Jews and Muslims in Spain to the Christian faith or force them to leave the country. In the Ottoman Empire, they did not force their subjects to convert to Islam, but that did not mean they gave up Islam entirely. The Ottomans still had a fully Islamic government made up of the Janissary class. Janissaries were the young boys the Ottoman leaders trained in Islamic doctrine so they could be political leaders in the future. While the Spanish were forceful and the Ottomans were tolerant, both still used religion as a means of creating a strong government.

Economic Processes

The Spaniards and Ottomans differed completely in terms of their economic processes for empire building. For Spain, the New World had only just been discovered, and upon meeting the various native tribes in the Americas, the Spanish leadership saw dollar signs. Exploiting them for their wealth in gold and silver, the Spanish made slaves of the native peoples and managed to conquer them without destroying them completely, so Spain could continue to gain from their labor. The revenue that the America’s precious metals brought Spain was massive, and directly contributed to both their expansion and future downfall when heavy inflation occurred due to the overwhelming influx of currency. In the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans found a source of revenue in the caravan traders who frequented their territory. By setting up stops along trade routes where traders could rest themselves and their animals the Ottomans were able to tax those who travelled the routes through their land, creating an incredible source of revenue. While Ottoman leadership did have to pay off rogue tribes surrounding depots, to them it was an investment, a small price to pay to protect the traders from marauders and ensure the revenue taxation brought. Economically, the Spanish chose to build their empire by force and exploitation, while the Ottomans chose to build their empire through entrepreneurship by providing resources to traders for a price.

1405 was the beginning of two great civilizations, the Spanish and the Ottomans, expanding their empires socially, politically, and economically. While both differed in their methods, their intentions were the same: to build great and powerful empires that would last the test of time.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image


        6 months ago


      • Joy M profile image

        Joy M 

        7 years ago from Sumner, Washington

        Thank you for the great info. I'm looking forward to more great history hubs.

      • MasonZgoda profile imageAUTHOR


        7 years ago

        @Joy M I would recommend this website…

        It is the website of the textbook where I got my information from. You can search the various chapters for great summaries of information. Also, for more information on the Ottoman empire, specifically, I would recommend the book "What Went Wrong: the Clash Between Islam and Modernity" By Bernard Lewis

        Thank you for the comment!

      • Joy M profile image

        Joy M 

        7 years ago from Sumner, Washington

        Great summary of the topic - just a couple of questions. What sources did you use for your article? What books would you recommend for those who wished to study this subject further?


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